by Craig Hanna

One question that we often get asked is ‘how can we develop world class digital capability?’ It often comes after companies have tried traditional methods that, when done in isolation, are doomed to failure. 

A common tactic tried by many is to hire ‘digital gurus’ to come and magically fix their problems. They are then frequently isolated and over stretched so they often move on after six months due to frustration and a lack of understanding of their role.

Or, in today’s job market where digital skills are at a premium, they simply get a better package elsewhere.

On the flip side, some companies invest in training for their ‘traditional marketers’ without considering that there are organizational elements of the business that need to change as well.

Add to this a market that constantly evolves and the resistance to change most people have and you have a heady concoction of failure.

We have spent the last five years working with clients and developing tools that allow us to measure maturity and competency across the digital landscape. This has given us some unique insight into what does work. Here are my top eight.

1. Understand where you are now

Many companies come to us wanting help to train their teams to be more effective digital marketers. Very few have any real knowledge of what digital marketing skills they currently have.

We all logically know it’s hard to plot a course if you don’t know where your journey starts. Making sure you have some form of understanding of people’s current skills is an essential first step. 
Start with some form of assessment although be careful to manage the process and not start an exam and failure culture.

2. Define excellence for YOUR business

Digital excellence can be very different for different types of companies, operating in different markets. For example a large global B2B business with a few hundred global customers doesn’t need to understand advanced email segmentation strategies that would be essential for a retailer.

Knowing where your journey ends can then help define the program you need. We do this using a set of maturity frameworks we have developed but you can start with a simple audit of key marketing outcomes/techniques.

3. Map against competency frameworks

It’s not enough just to have a list of skills that are needed. They need context and relative weight. Many of our clients are using frameworks that map skills in context – job roles, desired behaviors etc. Others have developed their own. Either way it’s an essential stage in achieving digital excellence.

4. Understand that skills alone don’t achieve digital excellence

We call it the four pillars – skills, process, tools and culture.

  • Skills: While skills are clearly important, they are not the only piece of the puzzle. Look deeper and we find that there are a range of reasons why adoption has failed.
  • Process: Its fine training people how to develop advanced SEO strategies based on content marketing in social media but if it takes three months to get a simple change process for the website through IT then all we get is FAIL.
  • Tools: If you want a valid working Social Strategy people need to be able to access the right tools and networks and yet many companies block usage and access. You wouldn’t stop people having access to Office so why block access to the tools of the trade for digital marketers? Other tools such as CMS, email, analytics etc are either not fit for purpose or have been installed poorly.
  • Culture: Digital marketing relies on agility, testing, the ability to fail (in a managed way). Senior management need to have REAL understanding of how digital works and pave the way for a change. Digital Excellence is rarely achieved without a properly managed process of change and sponsorship at a very senior level.

 5. Ensure support staff have the skills to recruit and manage (HR, senior managers)

HR are a pivotal part of the people process (or should be) but often lack understanding of what skills are really required for digital roles. This leads to poor job descriptions, poor recruitment, poor assessment, poor reward mechanisms.

Likewise senior managers who are responsible for digital need to have a clear understanding of how to manage digital teams. They might not need detailed delivery skills but they do need to understand how digital functions, how its measured, the value of proper KPIs etc.

Cartoon via

6. Ensure senior execs understand the business environment needed

I mentioned this under culture above but I think it bares reiteration. Without senior buy in to the digital process and without an understanding of the strategic benefits of digital now and over the coming years, programs simply fail to get proper business wide engagement.

Digital doesn’t work in a bubble so don’t act as if it can. 

People often miss this group out of skills development programs and we often find they need it most.

7. Digital marketing is digital business

Increasingly you can’t separate marketing from the business functions that accompany it. Increasingly the very proposition of the business is based around a digital product set. Stop thinking in a silo and think about doing digital business instead.

This means your program needs to extend to a wider audience in the business rather than simply hoping marketing can manage alone.

8. Change isn’t easy

Busy people programed by years of repeated behaviors find it difficult to change on their own. You need to help them. Econsultancy and our partners have developed a tested methodology for managing this process. We call it ‘do something different.’ It works because its easy and reaches way beyond just digital, developing your people so they can work in a more agile way regardless of the roles they move to.

Our process, as you might expect, is always evolving. Each new client brings renewed challenges and new learning for us but by adopting these core principles we know that we can make a real difference to our clients digital capabilities.


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