Mobile Talent in High Demand: Impact & Analysis

According to a recent study by the Mobile Marketing Association, jobs in mobile advertising are rising by around 40 per cent year-on-year in the US, with around 1.4m expected to be employed in the sector in the US by the end of 2015. The same study claims that around 70 jobs are created for every million dollars of mobile advertising spend. So with eMarketer predicting that global mobile ad spend will hit $64bn this year, we could easily be looking at around 4.5m jobs across the entire industry globally.

That’s a lot of positions to fill for an industry that barely existed 10 years ago, and where new technologies are being introduced every day, bringing with them new skills necessary to make the most of their capabilities. In this kind of environment, hiring the right people and keeping them up-to-speed with the latest knowledge is a serious concern that all companies involved in mobile marketing should be addressing.

Mobile technology is developing at a phenomenal rate, as talented start-ups find ways to radically disrupt existing industries with smarter, more personalised solutions. Technologies such as beacons, augmented reality and mobile payments are transforming the way brands and consumers interact with each other in the physical world. Improved targeting capabilities mean we can identify users across devices, using demographic, behavioural and even biometric data, while programmatic buying accelerates transactions with the power of automation and real-time purchasing.

In such a time of constant change and innovation, it’s easy for firms to focus on staying up-to-date with the technology and forget that someone will always be needed to build the solutions, develop the algorithms and come up with creative ways to take advantage of the opportunities made available by the tech. Given the speed at which the market is evolving, the need for adaptable, knowledgeable, skilled employees has never been greater. But are they out there?

“The biggest challenge in our view is that none of this has been done before,” says Tom Pearman, sales director at Weve, the mobile marketing proposition created as a joint venture by O2, EE and Vodafone, and recently bought out by O2. “The smartphone is only seven years old, so you can’t get anyone that has developed a lot of these tools or products as they are often being built for the first time.

“For certain skills, the competition for talent is quite fierce, particularly in areas like data and agile technology programming and development. We require a huge range of skills at Weve, from programmers, data architects, data scientists, Java specialists, insight, research, account management and the marketing and sales team. The tech and data industries are exploding in London, so we have to compete for talent not only from the media industry, but from the start-up communities and traditional data companies.”

Skills to Pay the Bills

The cross-pollination between “traditional” marketing, technology companies and fields like statistical analysis and data insight began with the emergence of digital marketing, and has continued to accelerate with the dawn of mobile. It has proved to be the main driver behind the difficulties in staffing that companies now face. According to research from the Online Marketing Institute, only eight per cent of executives considered their team’s digital marketing skills to be strong across all areas, while 71 per cent acknowledged they were “strong in some digital areas, but mediocre or weak in others.”

Mobile marketing requires a diverse and ever-growing set of skills. Many firms rely on teams or individuals specialising in certain areas, or bring in third-party consultants, but this doesn’t solve every problem. Marketers with an overall command of the entire ecosystem are still needed, as are those who can join up thinking between the creative and data-driven sides of the industry.

“We’re looking for people that can genuinely think mobile-first and put mobile ideas at the heart of an integrated media strategy,” says James Chandler, global mobile director at Mindshare. “With mobile becoming so fragmented, it’s spawned pockets of highly-specialised people in areas from app tracking and creative ad build, to location specialists and payment experts.”

Weve’s Pearman agrees: “The mobile marketing space currently is a real melting pot of backgrounds, expertise and skills. At this stage of the industry’s maturity, it is important to bring a whole range of skills into it, so it is about looking at what skills and background people have, and how this might relate to mobile.”

Education, Education, Education

One thing that most people working in mobile and digital marketing will readily admit is that developments over the past decade or so means that the industry is increasingly focused on data and analytics. Firms have been forced to look to people with data science, mathematics and computing backgrounds to help grow this new kind of marketing.

As WPP CEO Martin Sorrell noted at last year’s ad:tech conference in London, advertising today is not just about the mad men (and women) but equally, about the maths men. Sorrell went on to point out that of WPP’s projected $19m revenues for 2014, media and data would account for $9bn (£5.6bn), with digital responsible for another $6bn, leaving just $4bn generated by the “classic” advertising business. “$15bn is in areas that Don Draper wouldn’t recognize,” Sorrell said.

With changing needs come new problems. Marketers need to have a fundamental understanding of an ever-wider range of ideas to be truly effective. But with change occurring at such a rapid rate, it’s hard for people to keep pace with every development without dedicating all their time to staying abreast of new technologies and skills.

“There is an increasing need of people to be much more data-literate, due to the accountability that digital and mobile media allows clients,” says Weve’s Pearman. “We are not yet in a place where people have started and finished their careers in mobile marketing, as the industry is still so new.”

If it’s too much to expect existing marketers to be fully versed in every aspect of digital and mobile technology, then how about the marketers of the future? Are marketing courses, at degree level and higher, doing enough to train graduates in digital skills and data science?

“We have seen over the last few years that digital elements of marketing courses have been increasing and improving, but there is still more scope for digital to be featured more heavily,” says Adam Manning, assistant PR manager for Argos at Home Retail Group. “Many courses tend to place a lot of focus on social, but with relatively little focus on other digital marketing skills.”

If traditional marketing qualifications aren’t filling the need for technology, analytics and similar skills, perhaps the solution is to look to graduates in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) subjects.

“Tech graduates move with the times, as the whole community does,” says Steve Parker, strategy partner at M&C Saatchi. “It’s the graduates in other positions who are poorly trained, seeing technology as a foreign language they can never speak, rather than another way of expressing common problems.”

However, these graduates are in short supply. A survey by the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) into education and skills found that 39 per cent of UK firms had difficulties in recruiting staff with STEM skills and knowledge in 2014, and over half were expecting problems in the next three years.

“Despite a wide range of good practice taking place, driven by businesses, universities and schools themselves, links between the three to support science are still too rare,” said the CBI in its study. “This is disappointing, as the feedback from these schemes is usually positive, and such links can present a solution to issues around staff confidence and professional development, as well as inspiring students. This kind of engagement should be encouraged and incentivised – and businesses and universities need to do more.”

The Mobile-First Generation

While formal training in the new frontier of marketing skills may be thin on the ground, the good news is that the current crop of marketers, entrepreneurs and innovators come from a generation of digital natives. Those born from 1990 onwards accept mobile as a central component of their lives and one of their primary channels to the wider world.

“The new wave of graduates coming into the industry today who have grown up with mobile will think fundamentally differently about mobile creativity,” says Mindshare’s Chandler. “For one thing, they absolutely won’t default to print, outdoor and TV as being the most creative means to tell a brand story, and will genuinely think mobile-first.”

“Many students who are successful in joining us demonstrate a personal interest in digital, such as building their own app, designing their own website or regularly blogging or vlogging on a favourite topic,” adds Home Retail Group’s Manning.

Consumers’ adoption of mobile has, in general, outpaced marketing’s ability to reach them, but as the new generation enters the workforce, already familiar with apps, over-the-top messaging and native marketing content, we’re likely to see an explosion in mobile marketing innovation.

“The great thing about up and coming talent in the industry is that we all use our phones all the time, so as a consumer we understand what a good and bad experience is like,” says Weve’s Pearman. “We are in an era when grads will be entering companies like ours knowing far more about mobile, data and social than the senior leaders in companies. The challenge is to harness and nurture that insight without feeling threatened or wanting to keep these future stars in junior positions.”

Of course it’s not just new graduates who have mobile at the centre of their lives. Every demographic of society is spending more and more time on mobile devices, and spending more and more of their money via apps, the mobile web and mobile payment systems. Marketers need to be able to reflect on the way they interact with mobile in their own lives and adjust their strategies to meet their own needs, and solve the problems they themselves are encountering on a day-to-day basis.

Focus on the Fundamentals

Perhaps the most important lesson for marketers to take on board is that many of the skills they’ve developed over the past 20 years adapting to digital are equally applicable to mobile. They just have to remain open-minded and creative about how they adapt their tactics to the mobile channel, and be prepared to spend time learning about the new avenues technology is opening up.

“We work in a niche market and so it can be difficult to recruit people with all the necessary skills in place,” says Gisela Roman, senior operations manager for Somo. “However, we recruit based on fundamental competencies such as marketing and business knowledge, and with our detailed induction scheme and hands-on training techniques, new hires can be developed relatively quickly.”

This approach seems to be mirrored across the industry – find people with the right approach to marketing in general, and then use on-the-job training to develop specific skills in mobile. It ensures that mobile knowledge is rooted in practical applications, rather than theoretical models or approaches too general to be of any use.

“We definitely like to work with people that understand where the industry is heading, have a good understanding of data and also some of the basic rules and principles of mobile,” says Weve’s Pearman. “From a sales and marketing point of view, a lot of this is just a different ends to achieving a goal – so long as the salesperson understands the benefit to a client, it’s not too different.”

Some experts are even more skeptical about the need to address mobile marketing as a specific skills gap, claiming that a focus on the overarching skills involved in marketing and advertising and a creative approach to the work is all that’s needed.

“If we adapted our training to the latest marketing fads we’d constantly be chasing our tail,” says M&C Saatchi’s Parker. “For developers, they focus on rigour, clarity and simplicity. This will remain the same no matter the pronunciations of marketing evangelists about spurious new campaigning methods.”

While most marketers are more willing to accept mobile as a fundamental part of the industry now, there’s some truth in this statement. The core goal of advertising after all, remains the same – getting the right message to the right person at the right time, and as complex as the technology becomes, every evolution of mobile makes this objective easier.

Maintaining a skilled workforce with up-to-date knowledge should be important to every company, but creativity, drive and dedication remain the most important qualities when it comes to recruitment. In fact, with technology opening up the marketing industry to people from a wider range of backgrounds and treating technical expertise as a complement to business skills, the opportunities to find fantastic marketers are arguably greater than ever before.

Companies just need to remember that investing in the future doesn’t just mean pumping money into technology – it also means embracing a new vision of what a marketer looks like, one that blends the traditional creative with the cutting-edge analytical.

This article is courtesy of Tim Maytom and the gang at Mobile Marketing Magazine.