During my 20-year career as a marketer, there were numerous times I was pushed outside my comfort zone when I needed to embrace change and move forward in uncharted waters. Change is never easy, and frankly it made me nervous. Well, it has become abundantly clear that digital has shaken up the marketing trade. As a result, today’s marketers find themselves performing their work outside their comfort zone. Marketers seem to be experiencing a crisis of confidence. They doubt their skills, their effectiveness, and their ability to measure impact.

According to an Adobe survey titled “Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night?

  • only 48 percent of marketers feel highly proficient in digital marketing,
  • only 40 percent think their company’s marketing is effective, and
  • most digital marketers don’t have formal training and 82 percent of respondents say they learn on the job.

While the marketing world has changed, the schools that teach marketers have not always kept up with the changes. Sure, the universities are doing a good job of teaching marketing fundamentals—branding and the four Ps (product, price, place, and promotion). However, the people staffing marketing departments do not have an understanding of Big Data, and they don’t understand the impact it has on marketing.

The advent of digital has opened up a Pandora’s box of new skills that marketers need to be proficient. There are new concerns to think about like what is SEO and SEM and what does an SEO or SEM strategy look like? What is behavioral, contextual, and look-a-like targeting, and how do they work in optimizing media? How does one deliver a customer experience that is personalized to the individual versus a mass segment?

What Skills Are Needed?

Digital marketing has caused marketers to think in terms of the entire customer experience and moving them on the road from acquisition and usage to conversion and eventually retention and loyalty. How do marketers do this?

1. Testing is key. You will never get everything right. Knowing how and what to test becomes paramount. You need to be agile, and in a world of digital, the marketing department needs to become a testing machine.

2. You need to know what tools are available that can assist in doing your job. It is not necessary to have a full understanding of the technology. Instead, you need to know what’s available. You need to have some knowledge of social sentiment and influence, targeting, personalization, media optimization, Web management, and more.

3. You need to know how to capture data, translate it into insight, and interpret it. You need to figure out ways to go from data to insight to action.

4. You need to be skilled in breaking down silos and working effectively with cross channels, cross media, and privacy and security concerns.

Industry and School Partnership

To prepare marketers for today’s digital realities, colleges and MBA programs need to think of their curriculum differently. Companies who make the tools to measure, optimize, and monetize digital marketing need to do their part to help marketers learn the necessary skills and share industry best practices.

At Adobe we host an annual Summit, the premier digital marketing conference, where every year more than 5,000 marketers gather to learn the latest innovative strategies and get expert insights and hands-on experience necessary to succeed in digital marketing.

The schools that educate marketers are working hard to close the gap between teaching just marketing fundamentals and educating future marketers in all things digital.

I recently had the chance to talk to Sanjog Misra, a professor at the UCLA’s Anderson School of Management, and Michael Schinelli, chief marketing officer at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, to get their perspective on how marketing curriculum needs to change in the face of the new digital realities. Misra explained:

“Marketing is fundamentally changing. No longer are firms and managers satisfied with decisions made solely on intuition and gut, but require these decisions to be validated based on testing, data and a verified analytic approach. This is even more pronounced in the digital marketing and advertising space where unprecedented amounts of data are now available at a cost point that doesn’t make you flinch. At the UCLA Anderson School of Management we recognize that data, analytics and digitization are not a fad but are seismic changes in how marketing is done. We and leading edge firms like Adobe are re-vamping the marketing curriculum and establishing a new focus on data and analytics. The aim is to train and educate a new breed of marketing managers who will come to this digital market environment with an analytic mindset and a toolkit that fosters data-driven decision making.”

Schinelli commented further:

“Marketing is now as much science as art due to the confluence of two simultaneous revolutions.  The first is technological advances in platforms like Adobe Marketing Cloud, that allow marketers to gather, analyze and elegantly visualize large and complex data sets to gain customer insights. The second is the explosion of digital devices and channels—from smart phones to social media—which are the common currency of digital natives whose lives are transacted in pixels.

“Competitive advantage and revenue growth will come from being at the right digital intersection at the right time with the right offer. UNC Kenan-Flagler offers both digital marketing and data analytics courses to prepare tomorrow’s marketing leaders to be as much chief revenue officers as chief marketing officers. Fluency in digital marketing analytics will be a pre-requisite for these roles.”

Like it or not, we are all part of the brave new world of digital now.