Companies are paring back their budgets on traditional advertising and allocating more marketing dollars to digital. In many organizations, digital marketing now accounts for the majority of their marketing spend.  Traditional ad campaigns are increasingly offering extended content on the web. Practically every print ad, catalog, and television commercial is driving customer engagement online. As a result, organizations are hungry for candidates who are well grounded in the fundamentals of digital marketing 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 now expected to have at least a basic understanding of online marketing. As of May 10th, Indeed.com had more than 40,000 job listings that contain some mention of digital marketing. My executive search practice in digital marketing and ecommerce has never been busier, and when we’re busy, that is a healthy sign indeed.

For those of you who are new to the field and just starting out on this great adventure, take it from someone who has been recruiting in this space, day-in and day-out, for more than a decade: There are ten things you need to get good at if you want to be the best, and I’m not talking about platforms or software.  You need to “think” like a digital marketer:

Shifting from finding customers to getting found

Highly effective digital marketers know that good content (such as white papers, email newsletters, videos, webinars, or a blog) engage website visitors and stimulates 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 on the phone. I saw an infographic once that mapped out all of the potential consumer touch points with a typical multichannel marketer:  Between all the different devices, channels and platforms that are out there, there are more than 100 different touchpoints!  The goal is to deliver a consistent, personalized on-brand experience from initial research to purchase to fulfillment to customer service, and even returns.  That’s why the best digital marketers 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 set you apart.

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, then 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 major role. One evening after dinner she went out to the garage where he was working and said to him, “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 the State of Digital Media Marketing Conference which I recently participated in 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 is 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 fairly quickly, if initial results indicate that doing so is necessary.

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 full of 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 traditional, seasoned watch-dog security experts like Fishburne. 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 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.  That is a hallmark trait of a highly effective digital marketer!

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.  You have plenty of opportunities to learn, and some employers will actually help pay for it.  Google the phrase “digital marketing schools” and hundreds of websites appear, with listings ranging from the biggest universities to the smallest online learning portals.

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 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. Another reason business knowledge is so important is that modern organizations are highly collaborative. Marketers work closely with people in other departments who know as much about digital marketing and ecommerce as they do Mesopotamian banking. The more you can understand what’s important to them, the better the relationships you’ll forge within the organization.

Jerry Bernhart, Principal of Bernhart Associates Executive Search, LLC, is one of the nation’s preeminent and veteran executive recruiters in ecommerce, digital and multichannel marketing, and CRM. With 80 published LinkedIn articles, Jerry is the “voice” of best practices in the recruitment and hiring of ecommerce and digital marketing professionals. Jerry is also the author of the critically acclaimed book, “Careers in Ecommerce and Digital Marketing,” on Amazon, and participates in many leading digital marketing and ecommerce conferences. Jerry has been recruiting and placing marketing professionals for more than 28 years. Check out Jerry’s other insights on the Thought Leadership section of the Bernhart Associates website.

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