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Help Us Help You: Bridging the Marketing Skills Gap

Andrea Fryrear Sep 29, 2016 0 Comments

If you work in, with, or around marketing, chances are you’ve heard about the alarming (and growing) skills gap. Marketers, the argument goes, simply don’t have the skills necessary to keep up with the rapid pace of change and increasingly high level of sophistication that digital marketing needs.

While marketing managers and executives may be wringing their hands over this issue, we were curious about the marketers themselves had to say.

So, this week’s Data Byte presents an alternative look at the marketing skills gap, and why we shouldn’t expect marketers to fix it on their own.


Inconsistency in Marketing Skills

Some of the most often cited research into the marketing skills gap comes from the Online Marketing Institute’s 2014 study, “State of Digital Marketing Talent.” For this report, 750 executives from Fortune 500 enterprises and ad agencies weighed in on how their marketing teams stack up.

A whopping 71% of them indicated that while their digital marketing teams were strong in some areas, they were weak in others. Only 8% felt that their teams were strong in all areas of digital marketing, and a dismal 15% felt their teams were mediocre across the board.

While this might seem more than a little insulting for the digital marketers who are on the front lines, these insights were collected from individual marketers themselves, not just team and company leadership.

When we asked them how their current skill set and comfort level with their job role aligned with their current responsibilities, their confidence levels were high. Most reported that they felt at least adequately prepared to execute their duties:

Marketing Responsibility

Percentage that Feel Prepared



Social Media




Events/Trade Shows


Digital Advertising



Figuring it Out on Our Own

For those who don’t feel that they’re “very prepared” for their role, most of us are trying to make time to educate ourselves.

Over half of us make time to read up on the latest marketing trends and tactics via blogs, articles and books, and nearly as many are attending online or in-person trainings to bolster their skills.

Only 7% of the marketers we surveyed are doing nothing to develop their professional skills.

Additionally, many of us would like to be doing even more than we already are.

The extremely high number of marketers who’d like to have one-on-one meetings with a mentor but aren’t able to do so is troubling. Regardless of where we find ourselves in a career, having a mentor to help us take the next step can make the difference between success and stagnation.

If marketers are left adrift with guidance from more experienced professionals, the skills gap could potentially worsen.

Unfortunately, the constraints of reality (time and money) are keeping us from doing more to educate ourselves and forge mentor connections.

But in all four educational areas, time and resources were cited as the top two reasons marketers aren’t employing these tools:

Educational Tool

% of Marketers Not Using Because of Lack of Time

% of Marketers Not Using Because of Lack of Resources

Blogs, articles, books



One-on-one time with a mentor



Attending online or in-person trainings



Attending conferences




Training Is Not a “Nice to Have”

The Boston Consulting Group partnered with Google to investigate the potential pitfalls for organizations that fail to properly train their marketing teams to close these gaps.

First of all, they’re clear that this is not a problem that can be fixed with a recruitment or hiring band-aid. They argue that most companies:

[R]equire a transformation in their marketing functions: making the development of digital capabilities a top business priority, rewiring the organization accordingly, and significantly boosting L&D [learning and development] programs to produce the needed skills.


Where to Start Bridging the Skills Gap

Our marketers felt the least prepared to tackle social media, digital advertising, and content. Given the rapidity with which social media and online advertising evolved, these aren’t surprising. Content is still a newer marketing skill, so it’s place on the list is also to be expected.

Given these results, any of these three skill sets are a great beginning for any ongoing education efforts.

While a shift in mindset and marketing functions should be the ultimate goal of these learning and development plans, you can start with simple steps to help bridge your own unique skills gaps:

  • Leverage the existing skills on your team to cross-train others in areas where they’re weaker.
  • Commit to sending team members to in-person events in your area, and ask attendees to prepare a report for those who didn’t attend.
  • Run lunch-and-learn sessions that stream online courses and provide a meal for your marketing team.

Whatever approach you decide on, be public about your commitment to professional development. 85% of the marketers we surveyed planned to still be working in marketing in five years, so you stand to reap the benefits of your efforts for a long time to come (if you can hold on to top performers).


Risks of Ignoring the Gap

I’m a marketer myself, so I argue for the development of marketing skills out of sense of solidarity with my colleagues. But for those unmoved by this argument, the business benefits are also undeniable.

The Boston Consulting Group puts it well, so we’ll close with their warning:

Better talent will lead to better business performance. Moving now and moving quickly can deliver long-lasting improvements in both skills development and the marketing organization’s ability to drive top-line results. Given the shortage of digital talent, and the time it takes to revamp L&D programs and push the results through large, multilayered organizations, those companies that get a head start will have a huge opportunity to accelerate ahead of their peers and build sustainable long-term advantage.

Andrea Fryrear is the chief content officer for Fox Content, where she uses agile content marketing principles to drive content strategy and implementation for her clients. She also writes for and edits The Agile Marketer, a community of marketers on the front lines of the agile marketing transformation. She geeks out on all things agile and content on LinkedIn and Twitter

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