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We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: digital marketing is a lucrative industry. Digital marketing jobs pay an average salary of $40,363 for junior positions (and $63,502 for mid-level roles), and that grew by 30 percent between 2011 and 2016. We can also tell you exactly what hard skills you’ll need to learn in order to work as a digital marketer (AND where to learn them—directly from our Skillcrush Digital Marketing Blueprint course).
But there’s more to digital marketing than a list of hard skills on a resume. There are also those soft skills, the ones that feel incidental at times, that ultimately set you apart. Which is why they’re essential when you’re seeking your first entry-level marketing job—they’re what separates you from a room full of candidates and ultimately what you’ll use to explain why you’re uniquely qualified for the role.
But since these are skills you may not discover you need until you’re already working in the field—that’s a catch-22, right? How can you know what to work on when you’ve never worked in marketing?
That’s why we decided to cheat a little by asking some seasoned digital marketers (eight of them, in fact) what they wish they’d known when they were just starting out. Here’s their take on skills and skill categories (i.e. above and beyond the hard basics) that all entry level marketers need to learn or cultivate.
Table of Contents
1. Digital Marketing Starts With Analysis, Testing, and Innovation
Julie Scotland, owner at Migration Marketing Consulting, says it’s common to think of marketing roles as people-focused and creative—which they are, but Scotland cautions that entry level marketers shouldn’t forget the importance of adding analysis to that mix. “If you’re not measuring your campaigns,” Scotland says, “you’re not assigning value to your hard work.”
Scotland says that she’s seen plenty of great marketing campaigns get either shot down or shut down because there was simply no way to gauge an impact (whether on the bottom line, customer satisfaction, or any other relevant marketing metric). Measuring your work ensures that your marketing efforts are given the runway to continue by clients, managers, and other stakeholders, while also highlighting your own individual value and impact to the team.
Morgan Ersery, Assistant Director of Marketing for Open Campus at the New School, adds that—hand-in-hand with analysis—a commitment to testing allows you to get experimental and innovative in your marketing strategies. Ersery says:
“I think so often we want to feel like we know everything and can walk into a campaign or event with confidence that this will work. We’ve done the research, so it should work, right? Right?? But not knowing can sometimes be the key to unlocking fascinating insights about your customer. Experiment! A/B test the heck out of something, optimize, and learn as you go.”
Learn the Skills
- Digital Marketing 101: How to Define KPIs (Key Performance Indicators)
- Optimizely: What is A/B Testing?
- Hubspot: How to do A/B Testing
2. Digital Marketing Requires Studying—A Lot
While hard skills play a key part in digital marketing, experienced marketers agree that you can magnify those skills by committing time and energy to professional curiosity and ongoing learning.
So what does that look like?
According to Ersery, effective digital marketing is fueled by a natural curiosity and wanting to solve puzzles.
“Digital marketers solve problems every day,” says Ersery. “What motivates your customers to care about your brand? Your product? Your content? If you don’t have that natural curiosity about your audience or customer, it’s going to make your job feel like a drag.”
The trick then as an entry level digital marketer is to either harness your natural curiosity (if it’s already brimming over) or to spark it (if it needs a little nudge) through a consistent regimen of professional research and learning. As marketing consultant and freelance writer Jacqueline DeMarco puts it:
“Digital marketers need to be able to hunker down for hours and do research on the latest trends and strategies. I speak to many people who want to work in marketing but are concerned because they don’t have a marketing degree. Well, I don’t either! But I’ve learned that—by taking online courses, consulting other marketers, and keeping abreast on the latest news—you can be just as up to speed (if not more so!) than someone with a marketing degree.”
Freelance digital marketer Hannah Rosen agrees about the importance of ongoing professional research. She says entry level digital marketers should assume what she calls a “posture of learning.” Rosen says:
“I think a posture of learning is essential to every digital marketer. The landscape is always evolving and changing with new tools, techniques, and trends, and the willingness to sift through and digest this information will give any digital marketer an edge. Whether it’s finding a new platform to make reporting easy or a scheduling tool that will save your company money, this openness to learning will set you up for success.”
And finally, Saskia Boogman, External Content Manager at Kampgrounds of America (KOA), says that it’s precisely the digital nature of digital marketing that makes this continual learning so critical for entry level marketers (and beyond).
Because the digital landscape changes constantly, Boogman says, traditional universities don’t always do a great job of teaching digital skills—which means whether or not you have a traditional college degree, persistent learning and openness to new ideas can make or break your success in the field. According to Boogman:
“I’ve found that the digital space tends to attract people who think they know it all. Trust me, you don’t. BUT, you can learn by watching, researching and doing. So be ready to do that in a way that appreciates those around you and above you.”
Learn the Skills
- Digital Marketing Dictionary: 31 Marketing Terms you NEED to Know
- Tech 101: Content Marketing vs. Content Strategy—What’s the Diff?
- 50+ Free Marketing Tools Every Digital Marketer Needs
3. Communicate, Communicate, Communicate—A Digital Marketing Mantra
When you’re in the weeds of learning hard digital marketing skills, it’s easy to get fixated on things like SEO, conversion rate optimization, and KPIs. And yes, those things are totally important—but it’s equally important to remember that marketing is all about communication.
Maryn Masumiya, Head of Partnerships at Skillcrush (yep, we have a whole team of digital marketers here!), says that—even if it sounds like a cliché—communication is at the top of her list when it comes to digital marketing skills.
Masumiya points to the fact that digital marketing involves communicating directly with customers through a variety of channels (email, social media, chat, etc.) while also working with brand partners on campaigns, and constantly updating your own team about the status and results of your marketing work. For Masumiya, it’s critical that entry level marketers take the time to dial in their personal communication skills as a way of juggling all these moving parts.
Kit Warchol, Head of Content Marketing at Skillcrush, adds that communication ends up being the foundation that guides your hard digital marketing skills.
“Things go wrong all the time in digital marketing,” Warchol says. “You see a mysterious dip in your search traffic or not as many people sign up for your giveaway as you promised a partner. Your job as a marketer (and communicator) is not to say “Hey, this bad thing happened,” but “Hey, this thing happened, and here’s what I’m going to do about it.”
Everything else, Warchol says—from tech skills, to paid ad strategies, to social media campaigns—is ultimately held together by what she calls “the gut stuff”—the ability to sense how and when to communicate your digital marketing story.
Learn the Skills
- How to Talk to Your Tech Team as a Digital Marketer
- How to Give Remote Presentations Without Feeling Super Awkward
4. Add Some Basic IT Skills to Your Digital Marketing Skill Set
While digital marketing jobs aren’t as blatantly technology-forward as roles like network administrators or system analysts, having some tech support skills in your hip pocket is a surefire way to pad an entry level marketing resume.
Oscar Mendoza, Digital Marketing Manager at vegan and vegetarian food company Follow Your Heart, says it’s shocking how often in his marketing career clients or managers have asked him to troubleshoot on unrelated technical issues.
According to Mendoza, having the basic IT skills to handle (or at least get the ball rolling on) tech support requests means that you’ll shine in your role.
This is particularly true at smaller startups where wearing multiple hats is the norm. If a hiring decision comes down to two similarly qualified candidates, the one who can reset a faulty server or repair corrupt files in between brainstorming SEO-friendly content strategies will have that slight (but critical) advantage.
The same can be said for having a good working knowledge of standard digital office tools, in particular spreadsheet software like Excel or Google Sheets. Rod Yabut, Interactive Marketing Manager at the University of Southern California, says that learning or brushing up on Excel as an entry-level marketer gives you an advantage over your peers. According to Yabut:
“As an entry-level marketer you’ll have an advantage your peers if you can manufacture some Excel magic for your supervisor. Plus, you’ll eventually be asked to measure ROI, rates, performance, etc. in everything you do in your line of work so you might as well get a head start in mastering it.”
Learn the Skills
- Free Excel classes from Udemy.com
- Free Google Sheets tutorials from Lynda.com
- 64 Resources for Learning to Code for Free
Meanwhile, now’s a great time to check out our roundup of 7 Tech Skills Every Digital Marketer Needs to Know, and take the first step toward leaning those skills by signing up for our Free 10-Day Coding Bootcamp.
5. Keep it Real—Empathetic Digital Marketing is Effective Digital Marketing
One of the biggest differences between traditional marketing and digital marketing is the immediacy and directness of the digital space. Consumers no longer get passively exposed to static advertisements. Instead, your audience actively interacts with your company, your brand, and YOU.
That means digital marketing is less about selling goods and services to customers and more about understanding your audience’s needs and problems (and then providing them with the right solutions). Because of this paradigm shift, marketers like Yabut and Masumiya say that empathy and emotional intelligence are now at the forefront of marketing skills.
In terms of empathy, Yabut says that digital marketers have to put themselves in their audience’s shoes at every step of a marketing program or campaign. He finds people with a natural ability to empathize and listen to others tend to make outstanding marketing professionals.
As for emotional intelligence, Masumiya describes it likes this:
“In the digital space, we all wake up to overflowing inboxes and endless posts and updates. If you’re able to cut through all of that noise to make a real connection with the person you’re trying to reach, to make them feel like you understand them and what they’re going through, the sky’s the limit for you as a digital marketer.”
Of course, there isn’t necessarily a way to “learn” empathy and emotional intelligence in the same way that you can learn how to do a site audit, but Warchol’s advice is to be yourself—which simply means being authentic.
Digital marketing, Warchol says, is inherently competitive. There’s always a temptation to break the next record, beat out your competitors, etc. But, says Warchol, when marketers start to sacrifice themselves by only fixating on the numbers, they risk losing sight of something essential. According to Warchol:
“Your customers are humans, not toys. Don’t manipulate, don’t ‘hack,’ don’t take shortcuts. I’m not some twisted optimist, here. Marketing does mean you’re using psychology and research to sway consumers, so it’s not so black and white. But I really do believe that the best brands (and marketers) are the ones that emphasize transparency and respect.”
One Last Thought
Ready to combine these real-life takes with the hard skills needed to work as a digital marketer? Then it’s time to sign up for our Skillcrush Digital Marketing Blueprint course—an online class designed to be completed in 3 months by spending only an hour a day on the materials. This course will walk you through everything it takes to start your own authentic career in digital marketing.
Scott Morris is Skillcrush's staff writer and content producer. Like all the members of Skillcrush's team, he works remotely (in his case from Napa, CA). He believes that content that's worth reading (and that your audience can find!) creates brands that people follow. He's experienced writing on topics including jobs and technology, digital marketing, career pivots, gender equity, parenting, and popular culture. Before starting his career as a writer and content marketer, he spent 10 years as a full-time parent to his daughters Veronica and Athena.