As marketing is increasingly dominated by digital delivery channels – and as the separation between marketing, product management, customer communication and content continues to blur – businesses are skill-challenged. Most initiatives now have a strong digital component. Yet top digital talent is truly difficult to find.
“Hire an expert” is the clarion call of some enterprises, which are typically dominated by boomer-generation managers who came into this world before television was invented. Try as they might, many of these leaders do not have the digital DNA to adapt quickly to developing technologies and digital opportunities. When Twitter broke onto the scene in 2007, there were no Twitter experts to hire! When Microsoft developed and launched the now-defunct Kin mobile phone, presumably they hired nothing but mobile experts. Yet they still failed to bring a successful product to market.
Hiring an expert is not a solution to the digital conundrum. Instead, organizations must focus on their process and the efficacy of their talent and their teams.
Digital is Difficult!
As if the pace of change in technology and resultant marketing channels is not enough of a challenge, the world of work is changing too. How, when and where work is done has changed dramatically in the last ten years. We have four generations working together who bring a vastly different and wide range of values and expectations. Millennials have grown up digital, with productivity tools, social and mobile communication a central part of their lives nearly from birth. Their expectations about work and the way they blend work, life, personal interests, and learning are unprecedented.
The brains of these so-called Digital Natives are well-adapted to these technological and social changes. But the organizational structures of the companies they work for are not so well adapted. Herein lies the challenge and the opportunity.
Being Digital: Critical Success Factors
Hard work, brains, maturity and luck still play major roles in the successful digital professional as they have through the ages. But, in my experience, there are certain key skills that top digital talent has, and these skills enable them to thrive and be successful almost regardless of the team they are playing on or the product they are supporting. Hire more of these talented dynamos, and you will magnify your success – overlook them because they lack “expertise” and you may doom yourself to a series of failures.
These skills include multidisciplinarianism, true collaboration skills, and the willingness to fail. Let’s focus on Multidisciplinarianism for the remainder of this article, and we’ll cover other key skills in future editions.
Dubbed the Digital M.D., this person has a variety of skills and interests. They have a well-balanced perspective on problems (and solutions). They are grounded in a strong customer-centric sensibility, and have strong enough people skills that they are able to articulate goals and ideas in a common sense, practical fashion. The Digital M.D. probably also has a variety of interesting outside interests, perhaps in the arts or volunteer groups, since they are constantly learning.
In fact, the single, strongest asset of the Digital M.D. is that they constantly seek to learn new things and are really, really, good at learning. Thus armed, they are prepared to meet the technological challenge of each changing day without stress, fear or trepidation. In fact, they look forward to change because it presents the opportunity to learn new things!
The Multidisciplinarian probably has been a designer at some point. They are visually oriented – they pay attention to the visual presentation of things and are familiar with the tools used in the design trade. But the Digital M.D. has also probably done some light programming or scripting and is familiar with development methodologies and tools. Many of them have lots of experience bringing new software products through development and to market, so they’ve been exposed to marketing principles, channels and tactics. Because of this, they’ve also learned the basics about SEO/SEM, especially as it informs site architecture and information design. If you are lucky, the Digital M.D. might also be a subject matter expert in one or more content areas or industry verticals, just for good measure.
Put this Designer-Developer (“Devigner”) on a team for one of your key initiatives, and you will likely find that they are able to help streamline the development process and avoid a lot of landmines. Without a Digital M.D, on the team, you may find the UX designer can’t communicate with the Developer, and neither of them can communicate effectively with the end-user customer to quickly identify the need and a successful solution.
In short, having a team of strong contributors in each discipline is still a fine way to go, but they will be even more effective if they have strong inter-disciplinary skills or, ideally, are led by a true Digital M.D.
Five years ago, what was then known as a “graphic designer” could succeed by building even one set of skills in one industry, for example doing newsletter design in the financial services industry. Today, even the term “graphic designer” connotes an unduly limited skill set, even without that singular industry focus. Today, even that newsletter designer (who is now doing electronic newsletters rather than print), must know a little bit about user experience principles, opt-in/opt-out methodologies and the federal spam laws, SEO/SEM and analytics, development challenges in getting newsletters to render properly in various email clients and browsers, mobile design for users viewing the newsletter on their mobile phone, the list goes on.
The designer having solely these newsletter skills would not qualify as a Digital M.D. They would qualify as a good digital designer in the newsletter space. The Digital M.D. would have these skills plus experience and skills to address all the other marketing channels of which the newsletter campaign is but one part.
Learning to Learn
This skill shift is about more than just “broadening your skills”. It’s about learning to learn. Technology changes constantly. That changes our jobs. The ability to learn, and to embrace the change that comes with learning, is core for the digital professional.
Millennials have this skill natively, so they have an inside track toward success. If they can combine this advantage with professional dedication and proficiency, they have the potential to become Multidisciplinarians. But the outcome is not a given.
In the marketing and design space, there has always been a role for “creativity”. Thinking outside of the box, coming up with the killer idea ... This need still exists and there is still a shortage of true creativity. But it’s not enough to have a killer idea. In digital, it’s about rapid, clever and successful execution. Money can’t buy success. People – the talent within the enterprise – bring about success.
In the Digital Renaissance, the Digital M.D. is king. They can go anywhere, add value and gain job security because of their wide-ranging skills.