[Study] The State of Digital Knowledge and Skills In the Marketplace

Business.com / Managing / Last Modified: February 22, 2017

From the latest data from the Digital Skill and Knowledge Gap study, small businesses clearly lack solid digital marketing skills....

After spending the weekend scouring the latest data from our ongoing Digital Skill and Knowledge Gap study of over 1,200 hiring managers, and owners, I found some amazing insights. SMBs are wrestling with digital marketing to drive business return. Why? The lack of consistency, competency and structure. For very little money and some time, companies could see big rewards if they address the challenges below.

The findings fall into three big buckets and are supported by 10 great stats

  1. Lack of consistency in digital skills infrastructure.
  2. Priorities are scattered and there is no mapping back to action.
  3. Ownership problems, with one job function owning the skills and development areas inside the organization.

And one bonus finding...the fundamentals come first. Let me explain.

Standards and Consistency

Looking at the small business respondents, I found that only 19 percent felt that their marketing teams were strong across the major disciplines of digital marketing(Tweet This!).  Nineteen percent! That means that 81 percent of companies are missing out on great opportunities in driving sales in good email campaigns, digital advertising, SEO, and content marketing, let alone social media. It's a plain and simple fact that digital is the most cost-effective means for driving revenue, yet so many marketers just haven't gotten to a place of consistently good execution with the needed skills to do so.

Related:5 Steps to Building High-Quality Digital Talent

This stat made me dig deeper to ask how folks are at least trying to educate themselves and marketing staff. And now I know why they all are below average at digital...over 53 percent rely on webinars and events to get trained and educated in digital (Tweet This!). Don't get me wrong, events and webinars have their place for networking, vendor/tools knowledge, and occasional good nuggets of education, but for day-in, day-out best practices, this can't be sustained. This is costing companies their most valuable asset...time. Time not executing at the highest level, time learning on the job and making big mistakes we already know how to avoid, and time learning ad-hoc at these events that is simply wasted.

Yes, it's tempting for me to talk about my personal passion regarding sustainable education through eLearning and what we do at the Online Marketing Institute, but for now I will refrain.


In our talent gap study, we found that only 36 percent of small businesses had any formal plans to improve digital skills for the staff or onboarding new staff(Tweet This!).

Then I noted that only 15 percent felt that digital skills were a high priority for new hires. I scratched my head on this one and said, "Well, for marketing, what's more important? Uh, direct mail?"

Related:Finding the Perfect (Already Employed) Employee


The main issue causing priority and consistency issues boils down to ownership. With nearly 20 percent of respondents saying HR owns, 21 percent saying the marketing team lead owns, another 21 percent saying the digital lead owns, and 19 percent saying the direct manager owns, the ownership question clearly hasn't been answered. This sheds a glaring light on the fact that most companies haven't properly defined full ownership. In short, no one really owns education, or what some call learning and professional development. And for some of the very small companies, it's understandable. But once you get over 15 employees, there has to be consistent ownership. No ownership, no tracking. No tracking, no results. No excuses folks.

For the new hires, know this...81 percent of hiring managers said having "Ready to Execute" digital skills is important for getting hired (Tweet This!). So, don't miss out on being able to answer that question (and live up to it on day one). There is a huge opportunity for all here.

The final stat is my favorite, regarding the digital marketing disciplines that matter to the SMB:

  • Analytics. This is the number one most sought-after skill, with 81 percent of respondents saying analytics is "important to very important." Data geeks and measurement hawks rejoice!
  • Email. Coming in at number two with 76 percent, email is the most surprising to me. It's good to know we haven't lost sight of this critical fundamental practice. Tweet This!
  • Social and content marketing. Number three and four in close proximity are social media and content marketing at 75 and 73 percent, respectively. This makes sense as the two practices are innately intertwined, if not one.
  • Mobile and display. In the middle of the pack are display and mobile at 56 and 61 percent, respectively. This is a really interesting shift in the SMB with retargeting on Google and Facebook so easy and cost effective that display now outranks PPC and SEO, which are the two that originally rounded out the bottom of the list at 53 and 51 percent, respectively. A true sign of the times, where just a few short months ago SEO reigned supreme and now is but second to all.

Related:The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly: Who's On Your Team?

What I like most about the various digital practice findings is that there is a huge trend of getting back to the basics. There is a focus on the core fundamentals of measurement (analytics), communication (email marketing), and weaving in good writing skills (content marketing) to make sure everything is done, and done well. I think any small business owner or marketer can learn a bit from this trend and ask the team or themselves, how do we stack up here?

Finally, with all these challenges comes massive opportunity. Marketers who boldly address these challenges in digital and invest the time and very little money needed to be more consistent, competent, and properly structured will see big rewards in the way of market share gains and sales over the competition.

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