Availability of Marketing Analytic Skills Specifically and Analytics Skills in General

In the 2018 CMO report, only 1.9% of surveyed marketing leaders indicated that they had adequate marketing analytic skills. The situation seemingly has remained the same since 2013 when the question on whether companies had the right marketing analysts was first asked. In a marketing analytics readiness study targeting SME in the UK’s East Midlands region, out of the 30 SMEs who responded to the survey, only 4 (about 13%) indicated that they believed they had sufficient skills to employ use of marketing analytics. When questioned on which tools they used, all 4 out of 30 indicated that they mostly used free online marketing analytics tools and felt that employing more popular approaches such as Google Analytics was slightly beyond their scope and capacity at the time.

The numbers of marketing analytics-ready organisations is very low considering how big data is driving business transformation in today’s digital age. Without competent and suitably-qualified analysts, marketing analytics will likely remain tokenistic or non-existent.

The above issue perhaps has its roots in business academic institutions churning out graduates whose areas of study do not embrace concepts such as marketing analytics (Wilson, McCabe and Smith, 2018). The section below explores the role of institutions of higher learning in designing and offering curricula that match the needs of the increasingly digitally-driven market.

Prevalence of Marketing Analytics Curricula in Business and Management Education

With fast-paced technological changes especially in the use of online marketing tools, it would appear academic institutions are on the backfoot in their attempts to design up-to-date curricula that address the needs of the dynamic marketing profession that now has to contend with big data and the advent of online marketing. According to Lasonde (2016), 71% of marketers have failed to find appropriately skilled marketers when recruiting. Added to that, a further 30% of marketing recruiters highlighted that finding and securing skilled marketing professionals was a big problem. Results drawn from the study referred to herein also revealed a very similar trend where 70% of the surveyed SMEs confirmed that they employed graduates with further and/or higher education qualifications with some marketing background. However, when questioned further about specific marketing analytics qualifications or skills, the study found that none of the graduates held such qualifications.

The above underscores the magnitude of the skills gap in the marketing field in general and specifically when one narrows this to online marketing and use of marketing analytics. Skilled professionals capable of mastering marketing analytics and its links to the emerging and evolving areas of artificial intelligence, cloud-based computing are increasingly in short supply (Ebert and Duarte, 2018; Hoberg et ah, 2017; Kolding et al., 2018; Richardson and Bissell, 2019). The skills gap further deepens as one moves towards more niche and specialist areas of the digital marketing world as these are still relatively new and continuously evolving areas. There is therefore a direct correlation between courses taught at university and availability of skilled marketers. Lasonde (2016, p. 52) underscores this point ‘The precipitous widespread interest in integrating data-driven marketing initiatives has outpaced talent creation, producing a marketing-skills gap’. The identified lag between curriculum development and responsiveness towards evolving digital market needs requires marketers to forge closer collaborations with institutions of higher learning so that such curricula can be developed and continuously updated to reflect the changing nature of business needs. Now more than ever, businesses need to take an active role in driving business education agenda. Such a partnership between business and education institutions ensures a tailored fit of educational courses and a steady flow of potential recruits who may also benefit from possible internships with businesses.

Higher education institutions (HEIs) such as the Higher Colleges ofTechnology (HCT) in the UAE are already engaging businesses to participate in the Industry Advisory Committees (IACs) where specific input is solicited from industry practitioners to directly influence the review and design of business courses. A similar approach is adopted by Nottingham Business School in the UK where Course Enhancement Boards comprise academics, business professionals, students, alumni and other stakeholders to review and enhance courses in line with latest stakeholder expectations and industry demands. Such approaches need to be embedded in the design of business curricula; otherwise, the skills gaps will continue to widen while HEIs continue to churn out graduates whose profiles may not match market needs (see, for example, Mintu-Wimsatt and Lozada, 2018). Another explanation of the low take-up of business analytics could be traced back to the historical use of analytics and metrics in marketing. This is discussed below.

Data Privacy vs. Analytics

The increased collection of consumer data has fuelled calls for more regulation on how such data is generated, stored and used (see, for example, Goddard, 2017; Mundie, 2014). There have been heightened concerns over consumer safety especially with the advent of online trawlers who can potentially phish on consumer data and prey on vulnerable, unsuspecting consumers. The GDPR (General Data Protection Regulations) have tightened requirements around how organisations process and store consumer data, especially ensuring that they get consent from such data subjects regarding how such data will be used (Goddard, 2017). This tightening of legislation throws spanners in the works of such data-reliant organisations as Facebook, Amazon, Google, eBay, among others, and requires them to have very strict procedures on ensuring the safety of consumer data. From an analytics perspective, availability of massive clouds of data makes analytics very easy and the more the data, the higher the accuracy of trends drawn from such data. If there are restrictions on the collection, use and storage of such data, this may slightly hamper marketing analytics, especially for smaller organisations. Undoubtedly, big organisations have the financial and legal muscles to navigate through the webs of legal statutes but smaller companies may find it difficult to weave their way around the increased legal obstacles (Houser and Voss, 2018).

Ninety percent of the surveyed SMEs from the UK’s East Midlands region cited increased expenditure in responding to tightening legislative requirements as an additional business cost that they had to contend with. Given limited budgetary constraints for most SMEs, they may well opt not to venture into data-intensive pursuits in fear of possible cost escalations, and this may have negative effects on their marketing analytic activities (Zervakos, 2016).

Data Availability vs. Data Quality

While the issue of the availability of skills has been highlighted earlier as a big contributor to the low uptake of marketing analytics, availability of data is also a major concern for decision-making, especially in small and medium-sized organisations (Puklavec, Oliveira and Popovic, 2018; Singh and Radhakrishnan, 2019). The surveyed SMEs overwhelmingly identified data concerns as ranking among the top ten business challenges facing SMEs in the UK. This challenge may not be unique to UK SMEs as their characteristics are largely similar although the legislative requirements around data may be different across different countries. Accessing high-quality data cost-effectively is a challenge for a small business that may not have finely tuned strategies of how to go about this. For most small businesses, especially family-run and operated businesses that utilise whatever resources they can get from family members, there may be no or at best a weak strategy seeking to utilise data and inform marketing decision-making. Sixty percent of the surveyed UK SMEs pointed out that they were largely reliant on skills from family members but that there were graduates contributing more up-to-date trends and informing decision-making. For organisations that may not have access to such new and upcoming skillsets and unable to access paid services, they may struggle to access quality affordable data to make informed marketing decisions. Where the data is available, there is still need for expertise to mine through the data and determine what data are useful and what are not. Added to this burden, the tightening regulatory requirements around privacy may scare small businesses. Notwithstanding the above challenges, SMEs do not have a choice but to face these challenges head- on if they are to survive in this increasingly data-driven business world. The sooner they conduct honest and critical self-appraisals, the better they are able to start building the skills they require so as to better meet the ever-changing needs of this digital market.

Critical questions to be addressed centre around the following: What is the concerned company’s data strategy and what data are needed for marketing decision-making? How can such data be obtained (inhouse vs. outsourcing — cost benefit analysis)? What data is already available and what are the different sources? What is the cost of such data and how does this compare with the perceived benefits of the data? Once data are accessed, what should be done with the data and how, to what effect? What tools are needed to manipulate the data to generate meaningful insights? Are the tools in question available and how much will it cost to access them?

Accessibility of Paid Professional Analytics

Despite the seemingly limited availability of competent marketing analysts, there are various professional organisations offering marketing analytics consultancy services. These are, however, few and far between and in most cases, their services are perceived to be beyond the reach of many small- and medium-sized organisations that desperately need this service. Further, marketing analytics consultancy services could be promoted more widely so that smaller organisations get to know about them and their services. From the surveyed SMEs in the UK’s East Midlands region, only 40% of them indicated that they were aware of consultancy organisations offering specialised services in the areas of marketing analytics. Of those who responded, 68% indicated that often consultancy services were out of reach for them, and hence they opted to do basic data crunching in-house even though they acknowledged that they lacked intricate knowledge of marketing analytics. Given the above backdrop, there are questions to be asked about the future of marketing analytics considering the lacklustre operationalisation yet backdropped by increasing funding of the area. The section below explores the future of marketing analytics.

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