Why the digital skills gap is good for you

Why the digital skills gap is good for you

It’s our personal responsibility to grow and learn through our career - we owe it to ourselves. So why are many marketers still playing catch up and what can than they do to change that?

A study from the Digital Marketing Institute found that small businesses have notably weaker digital marketing skills than their larger competitors. 25% lower, in fact.

  • 83% of marketers also failed to achieve entry-level competency in digital marketing – Digital Marketing Institute
  • 89% of business leaders don’t believe graduates possess the expertise needed to enter the workforce – Harvard Business Review

That’s a lot of people working in marketing who don’t know what they are doing and a massive gap in skills that need to be filled.

It's not all doom and gloom, it’s an opportunity. An opportunity for those ready to dig a little deeper.

A career in digital marketing can be financially rewarding. Starting out at £20k for entry-level positions, before moving up to £40k and over for managers and ending with marketing directors breaking the £100k ceiling.

You shouldn’t just look at it from money in your pocket angle. Digital marketing offers a varied career where you can be working on a YouTube video one day and then a killer app the next. Personal achievement and growth are big tick boxes you can mark off.

So how do you stay on top of your game, especially when that game is ever changing? You learn.

Learning and innovation

Learning has always been something I've fostered as a manager. Doing so by encouraging my team to learn during their personal and working hours in areas they want to develop and is of benefit to the business.

One of the benefits of having this culture is that it aids innovation and it has helped us solve many a problem. The biggest, so far, involved moving all of our email marketing to responsive design in 2013. This increased conversion rate onsite by 189% and was definitely time well spent.

Adobe’s Kickbox is another scheme we are implementing that encourages innovation by giving team members carte blanche to work on any idea they want. Along with a prepaid credit card for $1,000, 40 hours free to test and valuable aides such as a prepaid Starbucks card and sugar.

All Adobe ask for in return is data. Whether the experiment was a success or didn’t deliver, it doesn’t matter as long as you learn from it.

photoeditme.com was one project that emerged from this, which matched designers with people who needed some photoshop work done.

This could be removing the background of an image, making someone look like a comic book hero or a bit of airbrushing - all for a nominal fee.

Adobe hasn't shared what they learned from photoeditme.com. It could have taken off, or it could have tanked.

The beauty of learning and innovation is that it is a win/win situation for the individual and the company.

When you let people solve problems they care about, you mix together passion and purpose. You empower individuals who then make positive changes to their career and your business.


Talking of positivity, I can’t stress how important it is to be positive. It gives you the power to look at all challenges and find the opportunities. Making your end product better.

Werner Vogels, CTO of Amazon, has talked about the word ‘no’ being discouraged in meetings. If someone says no to a new idea, it is up to them to prove why it’s not a good idea.

I love this approach as it discourages people from just saying no as a default response. You have to be realistic, but having a closed mind is toxic to progression.

the happiness advantage, Shawn Achor

'The Happiness Advantage' by Shawn Achor provides you with some very effective and simple measures to implement, that will make you look at your work, your career and your personal life in a way that gives you a positive advantage. It shows you why being happy improves innovation.

Every Monday morning marketing meeting begins with us each writing down on post-it notes three successes we had last week, along with three opportunities for the week ahead. These are not always work-related.

We then stick them up on the wall and tell the other team members why it was a success and why it’s an opportunity.

This kicks the week off on a positive note and also gives you valuable insight into what your colleagues’ mindset is.


When I started at the Learning People, four years ago, there was just myself in marketing and we were running 13 email campaigns a month. This month, we are running close to 100, going out to over 15 million email addresses.

That’s a lot of growth, which has meant we’ve had to be pretty organised - well as organised as we ever are in the marketing team.

We’re also just a small team and can be out of the office a lot, and from time to time - out of the country. asana helps us keep on top of things, wherever we are, by being an efficient and easy to use project management tool.

Plus, as we are a small team, it’s free to use. Always a bonus.

Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried

'Rework: Change the Way You Work Forever' by David Heinemeier Hansson and Jason Fried will reset the way you approach work. Some great bit that I took from the book were:

Meetings are toxic - they take up to much time, aren’t productive and cost your money.

Good is enough - don’t get wrapped up in the perfect product before you launch. Get it working. Get it out there. Get it right as you go.

Starting out on your own - only expand your team, your office and your facilities as fast as you need to. Being small and agile is very important in the early stage and you don’t want to take on more than you can chew.

Work life balance - overworking yourself is not good for your mind, your health or the company you work for. Working harder and longer does not mean you will produce better results. Chill out a bit and make work fun. Not always easy to do, but the benefits are really worth it

Think of Rework as growth hacking your mindset and the way you work; helping you to be more efficient, proactive and in control of your environment.


Quirkology by Richard Wiseman

'Quirkology' by Richard Wiseman is not a marketing book at all, but it’s packed full of great examples of why we act in certain ways. One example is our perception of luck, there’s no such thing as a lucky person. People who are perceived to be, try more things and eventually they get something right. They take more risks.

One example is our perception of luck, there’s no such thing as a lucky person. People who are perceived to be, try more things and eventually they get something right. They take more risks.

You are also more likely to be seen as lucky if you are born in the summer months than the winter.

Make of that if you will, but perhaps summer babies have more freedom from their parent when they hit one year old, as it’s not cold. Mums are happy to let their babies play and not wrap them up in protective layers.

Mind you, not sure how that logic transfers to a British summer…

'Webs Of Influence' by Nathalie Nathai has fantastic insights on how our mind works when we are exposed to branding, colour, conversion rate, user experience and the general makeup of a website.

This book turned on a massive light bulb in my head and took me down a path I’m still following.

Two images still really stick in my mind of an AB test of a nappy advert. One has the baby looking at you, in the other the baby is looking at the call to action.
As we are wired to look at eyes, the first advert only achieves in making us look at the baby. The second advert goes further and we follow the direction the baby is looking and move our view to the call to action.

The heat map of where a test audience was looking shows how effective eyes are in your marketing.

heatmap - readers eyeheatmap - readers eye


Why buy a pair of trainers for £100 when a pair of equal quality, from a lesser known brand, costs £50?

All Marketers Are Liars by Seth Godin

'All Marketers Are Liars' by Seth Godin shows that we all believe the lie that the more expensive trainers are the best ones to own.

Seth deserves the status of legend and what he is really saying here is that all marketers are storytellers - but that’s not as catchy a title.

As consumers, we all want to believe the story that the product is amazing and it will enhance our lives.

As marketers, it’s our duty to tell that story. Although, if you really are lying and your product is shitty then you will be found out for the fraud you are.

Epic Content Marketing by Joe Pulizzi

Epic is definitely the word when it comes to Joe Pulizzi’s 'Epic Content Marketing' - the definitive guide to how you should be managing and creating your content.
It’s packed full of information you can start to implement today - no matter your budget - and is brimming with ideas and motivation on what you can do with even the most mundane of subjects. Like tractors.

A great piece of advice within is one I’ve quoted many times since reading it, "a blog post is like a mini skirt. It has to be short enough to be interesting, but long enough to cover the subject”. Very true.

Emphasised through Epic Content Marketing is that it’s not just good enough to create epic content, you have to get it in front of people.

Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook by Gary Veynerchuk

'Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook' by Gary Vaynerchuk carries on with that theme and really digs into how you should be natively marketing across your social channels.

The book is packed with examples of the good, the bad and the ugly of business working in social media.

Such as UNICEF’s poor use of Katy Perry - too much copy, not enough images and should have been a series of posts - through to Twix’s fantastic “If a Twix snaps in the forest” campaign.

Less is more.



Podcasts are meant to be experiencing their second wind, but for me they’ve never gone away.

When I do manage to hit the gym, a podcast or an audiobook is my preferred listening. You may as well learn something when you are sweating away on a cross trainer…

A great place to start, if you haven’t already, is the Internet Marketing Podcast, which I first subscribed to when I moved to Brighton.


No matter how good, or bad, a conference may be, all you need is one insight from the day.

I complained about an email marketing event in London once because it was full of useless advice.

However, one person in the audience mentioned responsive design for email so that their campaign can be optimised for mobile. The panel had no idea what the person was talking about.

As we send a lot of emails each month this was an idea that stuck in my mind, as it could be transformational for the Learning People. It was.

Responsive email – well, adaptive email for the email geeks out there - was a whole new world for us and there wasn’t much talk of it online.

Our developer did a fantastic job of learning how to do it the hard way, through trial and error.

The success we now achieve through email was only made possible by attending that terrible conference and realising we needed to learn something new.

BrightonSEO is great for me as it’s just down the road - always handy - and is a fantastic event with valuable insights from first class seo, ppc, social and content marketers.

The Next Web involves a trip to Amsterdam, a great reason to go in its own right, but The Next Web is one of Europe’s leading tech events and attracts an amazing line up of top end speakers. My Evernote account is always bursting with ideas when I come home.

What has all of this taught me?

How to be positive and happy at work, for a start. We’ve all had jobs that we’ve not enjoyed, but it’s important to realise that you have more control of your happiness that you may realise.

I’ve also developed a much finer understanding of user experience and how learnigpeople.co.uk should develop to ensure it’s meeting the needs of our students.

There’s no point having a great looking website if people can’t find what they are looking for. My job as a digital marketer to make finding information easy.

All of the mentioned books, audiobooks, podcasts and conferences have provided much valued information, insights and inspiration. Which, in turn has helped me improve user experience and ultimately conversion rate.

Three things

What can you do today to start your learning path? Three simple things:

  1. learn everyday
  2. immerse yourself in digital marketing
  3. certify your skills

Some people may see the digital skills gap as a problem, but it really is an opportunity that’s waiting to be seized upon.

Make sure you don’t miss out.

Steve Linney
[email protected]

I've been a marketer for the last twenty years, covering a wide number of areas. Including e-learning, the music industry, and corporate responsibility.