11 Essential Skills for a Digital Marketing Manager

With technology driving change in the marketing landscape at an ever-increasing pace, it’s easy to assume that the skill-set required by a digital marketing manager is completely different than it was ten years ago. Yet in practice these advances in technology have in fact drummed home the need for traditional marketing and leadership skills louder than ever before, writes Eoin Mulvihill MPRII.

While the knowledge arena that digital marketers find themselves inhabiting is vastly different than it was five years ago, getting things done remains a team effort and increasingly the role of the digital marketing manager is to not only to interpret, analyse and act on trends and business objectives, but also to translate these trends and persuade team members toward a united vision.

With that in mind, this post explores the eleven key ‘non-digital’ skills a digital marketer needs in order to succeed and truly make an impact in a digital world that is powered by people.

The ability to see and communicate a vision has long been recognised as a hallmark quality of a leading marketing manager. Avoiding the minefield of jargon, tailoring content to suit the audience knowledge levels and painting a clear picture are all necessary steps toward uniting people in a singular vision. The digital marketing manager will have to pull themselves away from the computer screen and spend time with every department to ensure they’re speaking the same language if they are serious about uniting team members with their vision for success. Ultimately it comes down to being clear about a vision and then relaying it in a way that captures people’s imagination, which often takes the format of storytelling.
My recommended read: Lead with a Story by Paul Smith

Most marketing requires a spend, and most people who hold the purse strings in a company need to be persuaded before a purchase can be made. Those who don’t control finances need to be persuaded that their actions will lead to a positive outcome. Statistics, analytics reports and case studies all help to encourage other members of the board to see the value in a digital venture – yet real persuasiveness is a skill that is honed over time. This is why people with a background in sales and an education in marketing often do well in marketing roles – they not only understand their field but they can persuade others also. What good is being the best SEO nut if you can’t persuade people to invest in your SEO strategy? Can you persuade your board to commit to a year of video content that won’t accumulate significant views until after the first nine months? How about persuading a staff member that they’ve got what it takes to contribute to the company blog? Relying on your digital knowledge alone will limit your impact immeasurably, so failure to persuade will often mean failure to succeed.
My recommended read: Influence by Robert B Cialidini

I recently attended a PR annual event and was surprised at how many of the speakers spoke about the importance of communications professionals being heard and recognised at board meetings. I hadn’t realised it was an issue, yet after contacting a few of my peers I did find that occasionally the communications or marketing professionals felt they had to drum that little bit louder to get their ideas heard. Ever since the discipline of business management was formed there were people in the board room who had to fight their corner. The ‘Personnel Manager’ or HR Manager were traditionally taken least seriously until attitude changed greatly toward staff management in the latter part of the century. Today, perhaps digital marketing managers are the ones who have to make that little bit more noise to be heard. One things for sure – if a digital marketing manager is not prepared to repeatedly make a strong case for what they believe in based on their knowledge then they’re going to find it very difficult to make an impact. Digital marketing managers need to be prepared to to shout for what you believe in – if their convictions are right then they’ll be thanked for it, and they’ll be providing the leadership that they are supposed to.
My recommended read: Successful Assertiveness in a Week by Dena Michelli

The digital era provides endless opportunities yet with that can come countless problems. Willingness and determination to solve problems are often characteristics of excellent coders, yet what happens when problems have got to do with suppliers, employees, stakeholders, management and customers? The ability to understand people and how their reactions to situations aren’t always as clearcut as html is what will differentiate a good digital leader from a poor one. I once worked with an excellent coder and when I put him in charge of a small team he treated every problem that would arise on the project in the exact same way as he would treat his code – chopping, changing, switching and rearranging tasks until he got a result that would work. Needless to say, the team ended up getting exhausted. They weren’t snippets of code – they were people, and it became clear after sometime that this particular coder had yet to develop the skills necessary to lead a team in a pressurised environment.
My recommended read: Team Building by Ace McCloud

Being a digital marketing manager is like being a top chef in a kitchen. You have an array of ingredients to choose from yet it is your ability to be adventurous and different that will get you noticed. Just like being a great chef has nothing to do with the size of your ingredient press, creativity has got nothing to do your depth of digital knowledge. You could have an encyclopaedic knowledge of all things digital but if you fail to use your imagination to get the mix right then that knowledge is about as useful as a glass hammer. Creativity is a process that you’ll either have learned by the time you’re ready to become a digital leader or not. Despite popular myths that some of us are born creative and others aren’t, creativity is a process that is available to us all. If you haven’t been naturally creative you can certainly follow the steps to rediscovering your imagination and applying it to the digital mix to get results. Of course, the real magic happens when you begin to apple creativity to all facets of your role as a digital marketing manager – for example providing creative solutions to getting team members involved in content creation or using social platforms to crowd-source ideas from customers.
My recommended read: Creativity on Demand by Michael J Gelb

I once helped a friend out while he was recruiting a digital manager for his pension firm. The interview was going great until half way through the candidate mentioned he had a sample of a campaign on his laptop. He turned his laptop toward me and to my horror I saw a desktop full of files, piles upon piles of files all stacked upon each other, with no apparent effort to categorise them. I noticed his technique for finding the said file was to type it into the search engine box. There and then some serious doubts crept into my mind about this person’s ability to manage projects and programmes. Despite the fact that he had presented very well, I was concerned he might fold under the pressure after a few months. Learning and practicing key, basic organisation skills is fundamental to successful marketing management as it is all about the flow of information. Few disciplines require so many files, contacts and pieces of information to be accessible at any given time. A good technique to test how organised you are right now is to open your mailbox. How many opened emails do you have in your inbox, uncategorised into folders right now? If it is more than ten then you might have to look at how you organise your communications as your habits could be seriously impeding your performance.
My recommended read: Self-Organization In 8 Weeks by Simon Wright

Digital is often hailed as a cost effective medium, but whether your budget is small or large having the wherewithal to stretch that marketing budget as far as you can is in everyone’s interest and represents best business practice. Can you get your suppliers down on price, negotiate win-win deals that increase your profit margin and deliver projects in line with your budget projections? If so, then by demonstrating you look after the small things you’ll be a lot more convincing when it comes to seeking budget approval on the larger things.
My recommended read: Getting More by Stuart Diamond

This goes hand in hand with point number one and is a hallmark of all great leaders. Instead of directing you toward a book, I’d recommend seeing if a Toastmastersclub is in an area local to you. It’s a great way of transforming from being an average speaker to feeling you can communicate with ease through regular speaking practice.

When deciding what message to communicate, it always helps to listen first. While there are countless tools available to help listen to conversations online, the art of listening in real life has never been so important. Your next potential campaign slogan that could help the company increase sales by 5% could be mentioned in conversation by a member of the operations team, but if you’re not truly listening to everyone in your organisation and customer base then you could be missing out on a significant pool of ideas. Listening not only allows you to get great ideas, it also inspires team members as they feel their ideas are truly being valued and integrated into the marketing mix.
My recommended read: Powerful Listening by Tim Hast

10) Analytical Thinking Skills
Digital marketing is heralded for its capacity to be measured. Before the advent of digital marketing there was a popular saying ’50% of the marketing worked and 50% didn’t – just don’t ask me to tell you which 50% worked’ (anon). Digital marketing differs from traditional marketing in that it provides measurable data. Yet with so many click-throughs, impressions, bounce rates and exit rates the ability to critically assess the behaviour and make sense from the data in the context of the overall campaign is what is required. An experienced digital marketing manager will raise questions and problems from the data they interpret. They will know which channels to use to gather and assess relevant information and know when to step back and interpret them effectively. They’ll think open-mindedly and consciously use alternative systems of thought to challenge their own assumptions before coming to conclusions about the meaning of the data. Once they come to conclusions, they’ll test them against previous campaigns to ensure they stand up as viable. Ultimately, they’ll employ their analytical thinking to determine the most accurate conclusions they can and use that information to steer campaigns correctly in the future.
My recommended read: Data Smart by John W Foreman


The role of the managers and leaders has always been to think strategically so that tactical operations are in line with business objectives. The digital marketing manager now not only has to deal with a rapidly changing technological environment but also with turbulent economic conditions and changing ways in which consumers behave both online and offline. Accurately using existing information to predict trends and implement that into a quarterly, one year, three year and five year plan requires sharp strategic awareness and a commitment to steering the organisation successfully towards long term objectives.
My recommended read: The Strategy by Max McKeown

Those are my eleven essential non-digital skills for the digital marketing manager. Do you agree or disagree? What would be your twelfth? I’d love to hear your ideas – tweet me at @eoinmulvihill