New Research Highlights A Digital Literacy Gap–Here’s How To Bridge It
On April 10 and 11 Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg sat in the Congressional hot seat facing hours of questioning about his business model, Russian malefactors and violations of privacy. While much remains to be discussed, defined and declared one thing was ringingly clear: Congress has a lot to learn about the digital world.
Now, to be fair, there were notable exceptions, with some representatives posing sharp questions right on the money. But sadly, we also saw many elected officials display a woeful unfamiliarity with some of the most fundamental concepts underpinning the digital economy. Needless to say, it’s a little unsettling to think that regulation of the Internet sits in these groping hands.
But Congress isn’t the only place with a digital literacy gap. General Assembly, which focuses on training and education for the digital economy, recently published research that shows a widespread and consistent competency gap in the realm of digital, data and analytics. Given a near-universal mandate to engage in digital transformation, this skills shortage spells trouble for many organizations.
Peter Horst: What prompted you to look at the digital skills gap to begin with?
Kieran Luke: It started a few years ago when speaking with one of our clients, who said, “We know digital change is coming and we need to get ahead of it. How can we figure out where our people are in their skill set?” So we started with a variety of different assessments, refined them over time and arrived at a Digital Marketing Level 1 Assessment. We also put established companies and younger, digitally native companies through the assessment to compare the digital skills of people who do it every day versus more traditional brand and channel managers. Over time it grew to the point where we had 10,000 people having gone through it, from Fortune 500s to start-ups.
Luke: Exactly. We looked at this body of insights to see what we could learn about where people struggled most often. The first question was whether there was in fact a skills gap between native digital and traditional marketers. Not surprisingly, the answer was yes, a dramatic 73% gap. We saw two main drivers of this difference. The first challenge was math—simply calculating the numbers correctly. Traditional marketers had more trouble getting all the discrete steps in the marketing funnel, and got numerators and denominators wrong. They understood the broad brush but not the individual elements and dynamics of the funnel. The second broad challenge was technical literacy. Traditional marketers could relate to channels they’d used before, and they could handle the generic tasks like setting up a campaign. But they struggled with anything more technical: attribution models, programmatic advertising, technical terms for portions of an email. When it came to technical non-layman terms, people really struggled.
Horst: What other insights jumped out at a high level?
Luke: Another interesting finding was that we had people taking this assessment from a wide variety of functions beyond marketing. And it turns out high scorers can come from every discipline—sales, general management, public relations, etc. This tells you that these skills are learnable, and it lets you be more expansive in terms of how you source digital marketing roles. We also looked at cuts by seniority—and it turns out you can be senior or junior and still score well. These are new skills, so there isn’t any built-in advantage to being experienced. Now, the very senior people outscored everyone, but from director-level on down the skill levels were indistinguishable.
Horst: It’s interesting that the senior-most scored the best. You might be inclined to think they’re the dinosaurs who just don’t get it.
Luke: It is interesting—perhaps a reflection that the more senior, more successful people are more active in keeping up with developments in the industry, and perhaps a reflection of pure intellectual capacity that has helped them rise in the organization.
Horst: Based on what you saw in the analysis, what can organizations do to address the digital literacy gap?
Luke: The recommendations are really pretty straightforward and fall into four buckets:
Math. People struggle with the underlying math. So you need to work on data fluency any number of ways—workshops, mentoring, apprenticeships, extra exercises, etc. People need to get how the numbers fit together.
Silos. There are organizational silos that separate the data/martech teams from the marketing leaders that consume the data. You need to build stronger collaboration between the provider and the customer to reinforce the understanding of the issues and the available resources.
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