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Essential Digital Marketing Skills

Sep 14, 2022
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We hear and see these phrases frequently, but what exactly is digital marketing and what are digital marketing skills?

According to a 2022 Investopedia article by content strategist/editor Adam Barone, “The term ‘digital marketing’ refers to the use of digital channels to market products and services in order to reach consumers. This type of marketing involves the use of websites, mobile devices, social media, search engines, and other similar channels. Digital marketing became popular with the advent of the internet in the 1990s.”1

In “The Technology Fallacy: How People are the Real Key to Digital Transformation,” Medill Senior Lecturer Jonathan Copulsky and his co-authors reflected on the growth of digital technologies through the last decade, “The emergence of new classes of technologies, such as social media, mobile technologies, big data analytics, artificial intelligence, blockchain, additive manufacturing, autonomous vehicles, and augmented and virtual reality, change what is possible for business.”2

While digital marketing channels continue to evolve, companies typically use these eight avenues to strengthen their marketing efforts:

  • Website marketing
  • Pay-per-click (PPC) advertising
  • Content marketing (including blogs, ebooks, online courses, infographics, podcasts and webinars)
  • Email marketing
  • Social media marketing
  • Affiliate marketing
  • Video marketing
  • SMS (text) messaging

As for digital marketing skills, Barone goes on to say, “You need to be skillful in writing content along with communication skills to effectively tell your product's story to your consumer base. Data analytics skills are important for understanding how well your marketing campaigns are performing and where they can be improved. Finally, social media and other online skills are a must.”1

This post will explore a number of digital marketing skills that are in high demand in the current market, the importance of search engine optimization (SEO) in digital marketing, and paths to improving your digital marketing skills.

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Medill Senior Lecturer Jonathan Copulsky shares research-driven strategies for sustained success in leading digital teams amid accelerating business disruption.

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What digital marketing skills are in demand?

Marketers face a crucial challenge as we strive to expand and hone our skills. Writing for The Wall Street Journal, Jonathan Copulsky described it this way: “Marketing technology can present something of a paradox. As marketers, we want to make the customer experience more consistent, responsive, and personalized. At the same time, we want our marketing workflow and processes to become more efficient, automated, and scalable. These two goals, while not mutually exclusive, can be at odds: The technologies that drive greater efficiency for the marketer may sometimes diminish the experience for the customer.”3

Late in 2021, in answering the question, “[As] digital strategy, data and search are topping the digital trends for 2022, what are the most important skills you should focus on this year?” the Association for Data-driven Marketing and Advertising (ADMA) named these seven skills as critical for professionals who want to stay relevant in digital marketing: 4

Digital strategy
With changing consumer habits and an ever-growing option of messaging and channels, a digital strategy has become a critical part of the marketing mix—from understanding your audience and their journey through digital channels to leveraging insights and aligning your marketing activity with business goals.

In his foreward to “The New Advertising: Branding, Content, and Consumer Relationships in the Data-Drive Social Media Era,” the late Medill Professor Emeritus Don Schultz wrote, “Any marketing communication change must provide something more relevant, less expensive, and more accurate, an introduction of a new way to do something that improves the field. To succeed, the change must encourage users and believers to step back and say, ‘This is something useful, helpful, or somehow relevant to the way that things are being done now. I’m going to adopt it.’”5

Data and analytics
Understanding how to collect, use and manage data effectively [is] critical. You need to understand what data provides the most value to your brand and how to unleash its power and insights to meet your objectives and connect with your customers. According to Jonathan Copulsky, “The data challenge is one of the biggest challenges facing marketers from an operational perspective over the next 25 years.”6

Search marketing
Developing a solid understanding of search gives you insights into how consumers are searching for information about the products and services you offer. With the skills to develop and implement an effective search marketing strategy, you’ll attract more of the right traffic to your site and increase conversions.

Email marketing
With the right skills and technology in place, email can be a highly targeted and personalized communication tool. In 2020, over 80% of marketers reported an increase in email engagement. Learn how to develop a strategy, grow your lists and optimize email.

Marketing technology (MarTech)
MarTech helps you understand your customers and prospects, allows you to do more, faster, and to be more data-driven in your approach to marketing. You need to understand which solution offers the most value to your brand, how it works with existing systems and how to use it to get the best results.

Knowing how to test, measure and optimize your messages across your channels helps you understand your clients better, improves performance, helps get the most out of your marketing budget—and can increase profit.

Privacy and compliance
The COVID-19 pandemic has raised peoples’ awareness of privacy and personal data. Deloitte’s 2021 Digital Consumer Trends Report7 found that 73% of people who believe companies use their personal information are concerned about the way it’s used. As a digital marketer looking to protect your customers—and your brand’s reputation—you need to be on top of the latest privacy and compliance requirements.

Why is SEO important in digital marketing?

A vital skill at the heart of digital marketing is search engine optimization (SEO)—the process of maximizing the number of visitors to a particular website by ensuring that the site appears high on the list of results returned by search engine results pages (SERPs). Given that 75% of internet users don’t scroll past the first page of search results,8 high ranking on those pages is critical to your efforts’ success.

According to the Digital Marketing Institute (DMI), “SEO is crucial because it makes your website more visible,”—it makes it easier for prospects to find you when they search for something you have to offer—“and that means more traffic and more opportunities to convert prospects into customers.”9

With increased rankings and visibility comes improved traffic, which is one of the main goals of SEO. The DMI notes that the number-one spot on a Google search gets nearly 32% of clicks; moving up just one spot in search results can increase CTR by 30.8%.9

SEO also helps you establish Page Authority—that is, credibility as a source of high-quality, relevant, trustworthy, valuable information. Developed by the SEO and data management software company Moz, your Page Authority score uses a 100-point logarithmic scale to predict how well your page will rank on SERPs.

Paths to improving your digital marketing skills

When you set out to become fluent in a foreign language or proficient as a musician, study and practice are irreplaceable. It’s the same with digital marketing skills: The more you learn from experts and use the skills yourself, the stronger you’ll become.

The COVID-19 pandemic and the technological upheaval it has caused have made the acquisition of digital skills more important than ever before. According to Jonathan Copulsky and his co-authors, “If there ends up being a ‘silver lining’ to the acute COVID disruption, it is that in many companies, the pandemic is ushering in digital changes that are long overdue. We expect that the digital changes companies will be enacting in response to the pandemic will be the most significant since the Y2K crisis at the end of the last century, if not of all time … Companies and individuals that will emerge from this crisis stronger are seeking to develop the digital capabilities necessary to thrive.”10

Take these steps to improve your digital marketing skills:

Establish and develop your own online presence.
Build your brand with a website and a blog. Practice and refine your digital marketing skills on those sites.

Seek out and follow the models of successful digital marketers.
Not all marketers are equally skilled, so be discerning. Remember that you may be able to surpass their efforts. As you see what other marketers have put online, ask:

  • Do they implement PPC and/or SEO?
  • Where do they advertise? What kind of keywords do they target?
  • How often do they post content?
  • What kind of content do they post most often?
  • What are their main channels for bringing in leads?
  • Do their clients and customers have any common complaints?
  • Are there any unneeded gaps in their pipeline?
  • How is their customer service?
  • Is their brand lacking? In what way(s)?

Stay current with industry trends.
Trends change extremely quickly, so savvy marketers have to keep up. Know what practices are being promoted and discouraged on popular marketing blogs. Are the authors using the same practices they’re advocating? What are your competitors doing on their sites?

Learn from the best in the business.
There are certificate courses and bootcamps out there, of course. For deeply ingrained skills that will help you succeed throughout your career, however, you need the immersive experience of a graduate marketing program. The Integrated Marketing Communications Professional master’s program from the Medill School at Northwestern University—led by industry innovators and experts—delivers a robust digital marketing education designed for working professionals.

What do you learn in digital marketing courses?

In the Medill IMC Professional master’s program, you’ll gain in-depth digital marketing acumen in these courses, among others:

Introduction to MarTech introduces students to the opportunities and challenges of using the diverse technologies that are central to marketing today. Students will learn how to decide which technologies are right for addressing their marketing problems. Specific components of the course include the marketing technology landscape, the marketing technology stack, marketing technology competencies that matter, and the future of marketing technologies.

Digital Marketing Measurement delivers an applied understanding of digital analytics tools, methods and organizational approaches that will let students connect the dots between digital analytics and digital communications strategy, design and delivery. Students will have exposure to an array of the most current digital analytics tools, and will conduct exercises and engage in discussions that illustrate how data and analytics should ideally shape marketing planning, content strategy, digital design and marketing performance evaluation.

Digital Marketing, Media and Innovation covers ways in which marketing leaders face the daunting challenge of picking the best direction for their companies while dealing with constantly increasing data sources, evolving analytics tools, hyper-segmented consumer insights and channel explosion, all within ever shifting marketing conditions. It introduces students to the fundamental considerations for developing a digital marketing and media strategy and facilitating the continuous innovation of products and services, including the organizational, cultural and infrastructural considerations for marketing strategists working in today’s digital world.

Define your success with cutting-edge digital marketing skills.

Taught by world-class experts, Medill’s IMC Professional program is the foundation you need for the marketing leadership career you want. Hone your expertise in digital marketing and integrated marketing communications in a hybrid program that fits with your full-time commitments—in our immersive courses and online, from anywhere in the world,

Learn more about our curriculum and application process. Reach out to one of our Admissions Advisors today.

  1. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from investopedia.com/terms/d/digital-marketing.asp
  2. Gerald C. Kane, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, Garth R. Andrus, The Technology Fallacy: How People are the Real Key to Digital Transformation, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2019).
  3. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/chief-marketing-officer/articles/wsj-cmo-today-managing-the-martech-paradox.html
  4. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from adma.com.au/resources/top-7-digital-skills-for-marketers-in-2021
  5. Ruth E. Brown, Valerie K. Jones, and Ming Wang, Ed.,The New Advertising: Branding, Content, and Consumer Relationships in the Data-Drive Social Media Era, (Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger, 2016).
  6. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from martechvibe.com/interviews/look-at-any-kind-of-disruption-as-an-opportunity/
  7. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from deloitte.com/au/en/pages/technology-media-and-telecommunications/articles/digitalconsumertrends.html
  8. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from blog.hubspot.com/blog/tabid/6307/bid/14416/100-Awesome-Marketing-Stats-Charts-Graphs-Data.aspx
  9. Retrieved on August 26, 2022, from digitalmarketinginstitute.com/blog/what-is-seo-and-why-is-it-important
  10. Gerald C. Kane, Rich Nanda, Anh Nguyen Phillips, Jonathan R. Copulsky, The Transformation Myth: Leading Your Organization Through Uncertain Times, (Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press, 2021).