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When I created my content calendar for 2020, I had digital skills you’ll need in 2020 scheduled for Q1, and then my (and your) whole world went topsy turvy. The one thing that came to the forefront, no matter your job or industry, is that digital skills are an ABSOLUTE must.

While the soft skills required for marketing—communication, curiosity, empathy, for example— have not changed, the hard skills for today’s more digital marketing are slightly different and seem to be constantly evolving.

Every time I join a conference call and hear or watch someone – sometimes it’s me – fumble around in their attempt to join in the conversation, I realize there is no time like now to share my thoughts on these must-have digital skills.

Before this shut down of everything considered non-essential, some marketers were still struggling to get a handle on the ever-changing marketing landscape, new technology, and new ways customers are getting information. I am fairly sure those marketers have been kicking themselves every day since we were all forced to shut down businesses and retreat to our dining room home offices.

These digital communications challenges are not specific to business size, years of tenure, or budget. It’s because we are so busy just getting the basics taken care of that we seldom find time for development.

After talking with a few marketers and seeing the changes we’re experiencing currently, the digital skills marketers will need to be successful (and position themselves for the future) has become evident.

The release of the Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic has become a Martech tradition. When Scott Brinker initially presented the graphic, it was a kaleidoscope of all of the marketing technology companies influencing marketing. The year was 2011, and the graphic consisted of over 100 logos – a veritable explosion of marketing software. I remember sitting in our conference room with our agency imploring others to jump on the digital bandwagon. Each year, Brinker updates (and better organizes) the graphic. A few years ago, the graphic was nicknamed the “Martech 5000.” It had grown to include about 5000 logos, and the creator liked the way it sounded. Today, the 2020 edition consists of a whopping 8000 logos! Even considering the disappearance of over 600 technologies from 2019 (due to consolidation or closure), this is a positive 13% growth. Decision-making can get mind-numbing.

“1 in 5 of the solutions on this year’s martech landscape weren’t there last year. That’s almost the equivalent of the entire 2015 marketing technology landscape.” — Scott Brinker

We considered adding the graphic here, but in truth, it’s so detailed that we can’t do it justice as a small image. You can download it here.

Martech changes from 2019.

How marketers handle the explosion of tools, the burst of consumer power, and their goals and budgets are at a critical point. There are some required vital digital marketing skills we cannot afford to shortcut.

Search Engine Optimization

If you create great content, but no one sees it, did you ever really create it? Search Engine Optimization (or SEO) has become integral to all areas of digital marketing. At a minimum, marketers must have a baseline understanding. While SEO (and SEM) were once only crucial to your website, SEO now informs your entire digital strategy on both a data and content level. However, SEO has become so complex that marketers can quickly lose confidence that they or their agencies are making the right decisions. Although you can leave the expert technical aspects to others, you must have a baseline understanding of best practices. Understanding some basics can give you the information you need to

  • develop your digital strategies,
  • recognize trends in traffic, and
  • increase your page and domain authority, and more.

Leaving such an essential element of your digital marketing up to others can leave you vulnerable to slick-talking charlatans. I tried to describe them a little kinder, but the truth is the truth. I have seen (and worked with) too many people become mesmerized because of a lack of understanding. They have spent a lot of money and received nothing in return.

Jill Manty of Manty Web (who handles our SEO) says the key to making the most of your digital dollars is by being a better digital consumer. Learning how your customers are searching for information and inspiration will be the key to staying on top of those search results.

A couple of years ago, Gartner predicted that 30% of searches would be voice-activated by 2020. Imagine the reality now. Google, eMarketer, and ComScore reported anywhere from 27-33% of voice search usage before we were locked down in our homes.

This shift will has profoundly changed search strategies and tactics. Marketers must have the skills to make these shifts today.

Social Media

Social media is no longer merely nice to have or an add-on to our advertising. The debates surrounding it were not quieted prior to this pandemic, it has been now. Yet some of us are still relegating social media to some of the most junior staff or adding it to a long list already on someone’s full desk. And those that have dedicated staff are often not providing the necessary tools or exposure to cutting edge listening and content creation. Worst of all, before this time, some were not thinking in terms of community management.

Today, our social media channels are our pipeline to our customers.

We all tend to think social media is easy marketing because we use it daily (if not hourly) in our personal lives, but there is more to social media than posting regularly. Social media marketers must understand paid and organic, hashtags, groups, and more to develop relationships and communities rather than adding followers and likes.

Social media platforms provide comprehensive tools to target audiences effectively, but without a firm understanding, you could be wasting dollars and resources. Skills such as targeting custom audiences in the same granular way we deliver direct mail offers, creative testing, and experimentation are a must.

Community Management

According to Hubspot, community management is the process of building a connection among a business’s employees, customers, and partners through a variety of interactions, both online and in person. This connection allows the audience to connect, share, and grow.

Community management will allow you to

  • Learn about your customers and their needs and expectations,
  • Provide support and build relationships,
  • Obtain feedback and ideas, and
  • Provide value beyond your service or product.

Community management on social and review sites requires listening and empathy. These skills can also assist you in understanding the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities in a competitive environment because you have access to a competitor’s focus group of reviewers.

Video

There is no denying that video has become a massive part of how we, as consumers, absorb useful (and useless) information. I seem to fall into a TikTok hole at least once a week. I can’t look away from creativity. Why do you think Instagram launched its IGTV platform or why LinkedIn has encouraged thought leaders to develop content in video form?

Thanks to a tip from Marcus Sheridan, we have begun creating videos for the website. In addition, we are taking Casino Marketing Boot Camp content and creating a library of videos casino marketers can access any time.

We are visual beings, and video can hold your customer’s attention much longer than the written word. According to the Digital Marketing Institute, “a well-optimized video can boost your chances of being in a top Google ranking position. Additionally, more than 80% of customers are more likely to purchase a product after seeing it in a video. Think about slot machines and how we experience them when we attend gatherings such as the G2E. Now imagine creating a video that can provide that kind of look into the newest slot machines to hit your floor. How much more traffic can you drive with that versus a postcard?

And when people can see faces, they start to develop trust with your brand.

Copywriting

The funny thing about copywriting is how many people think they can do it because they “write all the time.” As marketers, we wear may writing hats. Sometimes, it may be report writing – where accurate information delivered in an easily consumable way is essential to get our point across (and perhaps get approval for our next project).

Then, there are the presentations we make to stakeholders or new audiences – where finding the right handful of words to deliver a more significant concept is critical.

Copywriting, however, is writing that connects with the reader in a personal way. The reader can almost picture themselves in the photo your copy paints in their minds. The goal is to capture the attention and prompt some sort of action with a LIMITED number of words.

A quick look at the variety of digital channels that exist today – email, landing pages, social media posts – shows the need for excellent copy is significant. And because the user mindset differs from channel to channel, shifting gears and adapting to audience needs is mandatory.

Email Marketing

I once read an article that likened email marketing to a head of cabbage. The point of the article was to explain that while the concept of email seems simple, it is, in fact, made up of many layers. To become a great email marketer, you have to understand all of the layers. Email marketers must understand deliverability and getting your emails through a myriad of walls into the customer’s inbox. You must understand how to get your emails opened once they land there. Email marketers are regularly cleaning and segmenting their lists to increase the chance of deliverability.

Then you have to understand subscriber engagement and nurturing your list. Sprinkle in list building, social media integrations, CTAs, automation, and segmentation, and you have a sophisticated assortment of necessary skills.

Design Thinking

Design thinking refers to a way of approaching problems from a user perspective. The approach is meant to encourage a human-centered way of solving significant challenges, but I believe it is precisely the mindset we need in marketing.

As digital marketers, our job is to attract, engage, and convert customers through some sort of user interface – whether that be our websites, emails, or social media. Our digital look and feel can inspire or turn off – and quickly!

Even if it wasn’t clear to us, we’ve always needed to design with the customer in mind. How we inform guests and customers about promotions and offers in our ads, mail, and signage is critical. How we design our locations for ease of enjoyment is always top of mind (if you are smart), but today even accessibility in website design is becoming a legal requirement. Over 150 digital accessibility lawsuits were filed in the month of June 2018, targeting a wide array of businesses. More recently, nearly 600 website accessibility complaints were filed under the Americans with Disabilities Act against companies such as Activision Blizzard Inc., Dominos, and Ralph Lauren Corp. Taking a proverbial walk in the customer shoes needs to be an ongoing exercise, both offline and online.

As Always, Data and Analytics

Last (but never least), we come to data and analytics. Once a skill only needed by database marketers, it is now a requirement for all. Your website, your social media, emails, and even some traditional mediums are providing an overwhelming amount of data. Marketers can no longer rely on visits and likes for proof of performance. We need to understand how to analyze the data and connect it to the business goals by assessing the effectiveness of digital initiatives, evaluating tools, optimizing campaigns, and tracking reactions and conversions.

Paralleling the explosion in digital marketing tools noted in the Brinker Marketing Technology Landscape Supergraphic is an explosion in the amount of data being generated. The purpose of digital analytics is to show the performance of your digital activities. Digital analytics can compare channel performance, track customer journeys, and attribute events to revenue. A strong digital marketer will not get lost in data but rather understand which points are meaningful and actionable. They will know which efforts and data advance the business goals and which just waste energy. More importantly, they will understand how to take this often unstructured data and tell the story that your executive team will understand and appreciate.

We all have to be tech-savvy. Our marketing and our lives are technology-driven. For some of us, having a decent understanding of technology is second-nature. For some, it’s a muscle we have to stretch and condition.

The time to start stretching is now.

A version of this previously appeared in the December 2019 issue of Casino Journal.

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