Must have skills for digital marketing This past year, I placed more Digital Marketing Managers, Directors and Vice Presidents of Digital Marketing than all other categories combined. As businesses continue to shift marketing budgets away from traditional advertising and into digital, the demand for digital marketing leaders has never been greater. Organizations are hungry for candidates who are well grounded in the fundamentals of online commerce including analytics, mobile, social media, content marketing, ecommerce, search engine marketing, search engine optimization, digital advertising, email marketing, and affiliate marketing. Even those who work in more traditional advertising roles are expected to have a solid understanding of online marketing. Type “digital marketing” into the search box at, and more than 47,000 results come up, and that’s up almost 12% from a year ago.

Certain attributes stood out that made the difference between the digital marketing leaders who got the job and those who got rejection emails (and that’s if they got one at all). I call it my “top ten” list, the ten things that will help set you apart. If you’re just getting started on this exciting career journey, take this list and put it somewhere where you’ll never lose it:

Shifting from finding customers to getting found

Highly effective digital marketing leaders know that good content (such as white papers, email newsletters, videos, webinars, or a blog) engage website visitors and stimulate prospects to re-tell the brand’s story and promote that brand through viral efforts. By offering content they believe will be of genuine value rather than just serving up sales promotions, marketers can drive awareness, generate leads, and convert those leads into sales.

They break through silos to erase seams between channels and experience

Consumers can interact with brands through a dizzying number of channels and platforms: One day they might order online with their smart phone, and the next day they might call a customer service rep. I saw an infographic once that mapped out the number of potential consumer touchpoints with a typical multichannel marketer: Between all the different devices, channels and platforms there were more than 100 different points of interaction. The goal is to deliver a consistent, personalized on-brand experience from initial research to purchase, from fulfillment to customer service, and even returns. That’s why the best digital marketing leaders think “outside the bun”, to borrow a phrase from Taco Bell. They think beyond a specific channel. They understand the importance of having a holistic view of the customer, and how to integrate channels to improve transactions and the overall customer experience.

They use data to target precisely and measure relentlessly

Digital marketers work with mountains of data to understand consumer behavior and identify opportunities. They help translate those insights into integrated marketing strategies across channels, with clear and measurable goals. Employers often say they’re on a quest for “relevant digital insights.” I like to call it being “strategically data savvy”. The ability to interpret and derive insights from data that can drive the business will always set you apart as highly sought after digital marketing leaders.

Test and challenge assumptions

In my book “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” practically every job function I discuss, across the entire spectrum of online sales and marketing, includes some mention of the word “test”. Great digital marketers test, then test again, and test again. Thomas Edison would have been a great digital marketer. As an inventor, Edison made 1,000 unsuccessful attempts at inventing the light bulb. When a reporter once asked, “How did it feel to fail 1,000 times?” Edison replied, “I didn’t fail 1,000 times. The light bulb was an invention with 1,000 steps.” So it is with digital marketing. Actually, legend has it that Edison’s wife also may have played a role in Edison’s final breakthrough. One evening after dinner she went out to the garage where he was working and yelled out, “Would you hurry up with that? It’s getting dark in here.” (Just a dumb joke, folks).

Ditch the pitch in favor of authentic engagement

Consumers get turned off by pushy salespeople whether they’re at your front door, or you’re in a store, or you’re on the web. Sure, you might buy something from them once if it’s a pressing need, but what are the chances you’ll buy from them again or recommended that person to a friend? Employers want digital marketers who put strategic emphasis on creating relationships. I heard that theme over and over again from employers at last year’s Midwest Digital Marketing Conference at the University of Missouri, St. Louis. Their message was clear: We want digital marketers who can create a brand experience that will resonate with our audience.

Highly adaptable

I talk about this one frequently in my writings and presentations, and I’ve identified it as being right up there among the top attributes that employers look for in digital marketers. As a digital marketer, you will test new ideas and new features on websites and get almost instantaneous results. As a result, anyone engaged in digital marketing must be prepared to change the course of a given campaign, unexpectedly and quickly.

Able to bridge the business and technical divide

Another topic I write about a lot. Opportunities are huge for digital marketers who have the ability to translate complicated findings into recommendations that senior-level decision makers can understand. Communicating technical ideas clearly and effectively to non-technical people is a highly valued and sought-after skill.

Intellectual Curiosity

In digital marketing, it’s not just about “what.” It’s also about “why.” Why did a particular email campaign produce better ROI than an another? Why is a particular product selling better than another one? A great example of intellectual curiosity at work was demonstrated in the movie “21”, the real life story of a bunch of MIT students who gamed the blackjack tables in Las Vegas by counting cards. There was a particular scene with actor Laurence Fishburne, who played the casino security chief. It was his job to keep his eyes peeled on a wall stacked with closed circuit television monitors to watch for cheaters. To put this scene into proper perspective, you need to know that earlier in the film, Fishburne and his boss talked about the coming of new face-recognition software, and how it could potentially displace human watch-dog security experts like themselves. One night, the MIT gang racked up some unusually big winnings, so Fishburne decided to review the video tapes. After watching and rewinding and watching and rewinding again, he picked up on some hand signals and other subtle movements by the students. He turned to his manager. “See. There it is!”, he exclaimed. “They’re working together.” After a pause, he then added, “Let’s see face recognition software do that!” Fishburne’s character was drawing upon his years of experience and his boundless curiosity to identify clues that no one else in the room could see. That is a hallmark trait of highly effective digital marketing leaders!

Thirst for knowledge

You can’t be in digital marketing and not hope to learn something new every day. In recent years, there has been a spike in the number of continuing education programs that teach digital marketing, particularly among online schools. Most are asynchronous programs that allow you to study at your own pace, but degree programs in ecommerce and in the broader category of digital marketing are also popping up at both the undergraduate and graduate levels at colleges and universities all over the country.  Google the phrase “digital marketing schools” and hundreds of websites appear, with listings ranging from the biggest universities to the smallest online learning portals, and some employers will actually help pay for your classes. I remember working with one candidate recently whose top criteria for his next job was whether the company had a tuition reimbursement program!

Business Acumen

When you think of business acumen, you might think of senior executives or other leaders whose daily decisions and actions directly impact the operation and performance of the business. But business know-how has become more than just a critical competency for digital marketing leaders. Digital media experts must also understand what’s important to other departments such as marketing, finance, and sales. At a minimum, they should be able to speak the basic language of marketing: Lead generation, conversion, revenue, and bottom-line results. Why is that important? Because everything a digital marketer does contributes to one of three outcomes: Making the company money, saving the company money, or both. Often, annual employee bonuses are tied to the company’s financial performance. A digital marketer has the quantitative backup to link his or her efforts with the organization’s overall performance, and therefore to influence that bonus.

Highly Collaborative

What job description exists that does not include “must be collaborative”? Not many, for sure. But in digital marketing and ecommerce, it’s truly mission critical. The best digital marketing leaders work closely with people in other departments who know as much about digital marketing and ecommerce as they do about 13th century monarchs of Crimea. The more you can understand what’s important to them, the better the relationships you’ll forge within the organization. You could be a world authority in digital marketing and ecommerce but without good internal relationships, especially within organizations that are not online pure-plays, you will face stiff headwinds.

Recent graduates and others who are just getting into this field often ask me: What is your number one piece of advice?

Here it is:

“If you’re going to work at something all day, all week, all month, and all year, then you might as well get damned good at it.”    -Jerry Bernhart

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in direct-to-consumer, CRM, ecommerce and digital marketing recruitment, and is the “voice” of best practices in hiring one-to-one marketing professionals. Jerry is the author of the critically acclaimed, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” and has been recruiting and placing sales and marketing professions for more than 27 years. Check out Jerry’s other  insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC website.

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