Marketers’ digital skills have declined during the pandemic

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Marketers’ digital skills have declined during the pandemic Duncan is an award-winning researcher, with 20 years experience of analysing the technology industry, specialising in cloud computing, edge computing, blockchain, cybersecurity and marketing technology.

Digital marketing skills have stagnated or declined during the pandemic, research from training body Target Internet, in association with the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), has revealed.

Their report has found that unlike many other sectors – which saw digital skills accelerated by the pandemic – the majority of digital marketing skills stagnated or declined between 2020 and 2021. This decline has occurred across almost all sectors, and at all job levels, with skills in Analytics & Data falling the most (-6%), followed by Content Marketing (-4%) and Social Media (-2%).

The results from a benchmarking test of digital marketing skills of more than 7,000 marketing professionals was carried out by Target Internet in 2018 and repeated in 2020 and 2021. The test requires professional marketers to complete a series of tasks aimed at testing their knowledge in 12 areas of marketing, with a particular focus on digital skills. The results, therefore, are said to be an accurate and comparable assessment of the digital skills of individual marketers. 


Interestingly, previous data from CIM’s recent ‘Impact of Marketing 3’ report found that six in ten (60%) marketers who were furloughed used the downtime on personal development, with their focus shifting to upskilling in areas such as brand, copywriting and strategy. This is supported by today’s findings that shows the only discipline to significantly improve over the last 18 months was ‘general marketing’, which saw an increase of 7%. 

This report should act as a warning to both employers and employees. The current recruitment market is seeing a high volume of marketing jobs across all areas, but a shortage of candidates with the right skill sets. This means marketers need to be even more mindful of where they are focusing when it comes to their professional development, whilst not losing sight of those all-important digital marketing skills which have long played a critical role in marketing. 

Commenting on the results of the benchmarking study, CEO of Target Internet, Daniel Rowles, said: “The results of this year’s benchmark help us get a better understanding of the state of UK marketers’ digital skills, presenting us with a real opportunity to upskill the sector. Organisations who have invested in individuals and allowed their skillset to flourish will stand out from the crowd and attract better talent in the long run.”

The last edition of the report found that marketers from agencies were significantly more advanced in the implementation of digital marketing techniques than the sector as a whole. Whilst agencies saw skills drop off in a comparable way to many other sectors, they continued to score well compared to the industry average, with nearly a quarter (24%) of its workforce in the top two quintiles – one of the highest concentrations of scores of any industry. This could also be reflective of the shift from using in-house marketing teams to outsourcing over 2020, with 50% of agencies revealing in CIM’s CMO50 report that they saw increases in revenue, which in turn drove a need to upskill staff to meet demand.

For the first time in the skills benchmark’s history, the findings have shown a closer alignment between seniority and level of digital marketing skills. In most cases, the more senior the marketer, the higher their digital marketing skills ranked. Whilst this might seem like a positive, it is reflective of a stagnation of skills amongst marketers at management level roles.


Gemma Butler, director of marketing of the Chartered Institute of Marketing, said: “The latest Digital Marketing Skills Benchmark should act as a prompt for organisations across the sectors. With marketing technologies and social media platforms continuing to innovate at pace – and consumer use of digital channels showing no signs of slowing – the range of skills expected from marketing professionals will continues to expand. 

“Whilst there are many challenges out there and a distinct shift in focus to the broader marketing skillsets, this cannot be to the detriment of digital skills. Marketing teams must find a balance which enables them to work effectively, meeting the needs of both their customers and their organisation’s objectives. 

“The risk of getting left behind needs to be highlighted on the basis that technology isn’t going to wait, and the need to continue upskilling in order to just stand still was apparent before the pandemic, the risk now is that it will only continue to grow and the skills gap could become unmanageable. Employers must invest in the on-going development of their marketing teams.”

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