How improving your paid advertising skills will cope with economic downturns

30 second summary:

  • Marketing budgets are often the first to be reduced during a recession – improving the skills of the existing team with digital marketing techniques can provide huge efficiencies and minimize the impact of cuts
  • Creating a skills improvement program does not have to be expensive or time-consuming if a well thought-out strategy is adopted and results are constantly measured
  • Cultivating your own internal talent pool also increases business resilience, improves marketing innovation and creativity, and reduces reliance on third-party operators
  • Choosing the right skills to acquire for your team depends on both your immediate goals and long-term business strategy: if you do well you can win over your competitors
  • Sarah Gilchriest, global COO of Via del Circodiscusses the key skills brands need to cultivate to stay competitive during an economic downturn

We are entering what could be a rather severe global recession. As consumer sentiment worsens, brands will increasingly look for ways they can cut costs to protect their profits. Unfortunately, we all know that marketing is usually one of the first budgets to be cut.

Apparently it’s much easier to stop a campaign or give an agency a notice than it is to fire a developer or cut infrastructure costs. However, more often than not, cutting marketing is a false economy that worsens the impact of a recession by slowing a company’s growth. So, is there a way for brands to maximize their digital marketing output by freezing or reducing costs instead?

The answer can be found in improving skills.

Training while reducing costs?

Now, your first reaction may be that training programs are expensive luxuries that don’t make much sense if your goal is to cut costs. There are some things to unpack here –

  1. Size and scope of training. You can make an outsized impact by training one or two people who then share their knowledge with their larger team. The right strategy (which I’ll talk about later) can lead to a highly focused program that provides the most critical skills to those who will be best placed to use them immediately.
  2. Next, there are many support resources available for free that can significantly reduce costs and help incorporate learning.
  3. Finally, let’s put the costs into perspective. The ROI on a well-executed training program pays for itself and the initial outlay pales in comparison to most other business functions. Put simply, you get a lot of money for your money.

Why Paid Advertising Skills?

Paid advertising makes a lot of sense to focus on for a variety of reasons. In general, compared to other marketing fields, paid advertising is characterized by the sheer diversity of skills and techniques required to fully execute a campaign. It’s blazing fast and often requires you to leverage a number of different technology platforms. As a result, many brands outsource this functionality to a network of agencies and freelancers. Those who don’t usually rely on one or two single “power users” or worse, skills are randomly distributed across a number of departments leading to bottlenecks and single points of failure.

As such, digital advertising is usually the primary area where efficiencies, greater innovation and marketing effectiveness can occur through skills enhancement. This is where your business can do so much more with less.

Identify the right skills

Getting the right mix of skills is where the rubber meets the road. A mix of creativity, data analytics, platform knowledge, development techniques and marketing experience are required. To get started, the best approach is to fully understand your team’s internal capabilities. The crucial element is to remember that many skills may be hidden because they are not used on a daily basis. You’d be surprised how quickly a company “forgets” the previous experiences of team members after they’re hired.

The capabilities of the auditing team should expand beyond the marketing department

You don’t know what gems are hiding in other areas of your business until you start looking. This is also the perfect opportunity to identify both your employees’ potential to acquire new skills and their individual aspirations. It is much easier to empower someone who has a professional and personal investment in learning that particular skill. The audit itself does not have to be complex: a simple matrix will suffice that allows people to classify their skills and outline the areas in which they would like to develop.

When you know what you need to work with, it will become a lot easier to define the best way to move forward. Deciding on the best mix of skills comes down to figuring out how to meet your immediate needs first. For example, taking an expensive service internally, tapping a sweet spot, where the departure of a team member would severely hamper your ability to function or obvious skill gaps that prevent you from engaging in certain digital advertising activities.

Build on compatibility between your employees’ aspirations and your business goals

This is then overlaid by areas where your marketing output can obviously be improved and your future aspirations in line with your business goals. For example, if in the future you want to target users more on particular social media platforms or “exotic” platforms such as IoT devices and digital cards. Perhaps you can see the financial benefits of adopting headless CMS technology and would like to put in place the skills needed to make that transition after the recession. Maybe you want your team to have the information to tell you if the Metaverse has potential for your business.

It may sound complex, but once you start the skill hierarchy you need most of the time it becomes very obvious. Remember, one of the great strengths of upskilling is its flexibility: if your needs change or if you feel you have chosen the wrong skills, it’s very easy to change tracks.

Get started in a convenient way

How you train your team depends a lot on individual preferences – everyone learns in different ways. Talking to your employees and specialists will allow you to build a tailor-made educational structure. It can be a combination of internal learning, online tutorials, accredited programs, or book learning. You don’t have to go all in on a full schedule right away. Piloting can remove many of the risks. Start small – a team or a handful of people from across your company – and continually evaluate impact.

A mistake to avoid

A common mistake companies make is that they wait too long for their team to use their new knowledge. This can hinder the process and damage the ROI. The best way to incorporate new skills is to apply them. Make sure your team has the opportunity to apply their new experience on real initiatives. So keep an eye on business metrics, including team and customer feedback, to determine impact. Unlike many other departments, digital marketing can have very clear results. This will let you know pretty quickly if it works. From there, you can decide how to implement your training program.

Marketing doesn’t end with marketers

As I mentioned, diversifying your team’s skills creates resilience and drives more innovation. The reason is simple, if you only have marketing skills in your marketing department, you are naturally limiting the number of people who can provide useful insights that fuel innovation. Reduce the supervision and feedback loops and your marketing production will suffer from a lack of outside perspectives.

By making your teams multidisciplinary and cross-functional you can spread useful skills throughout your business. Customer service teams can learn the fundamentals of digital marketing, marketers know how to perform basic development and data work to enable their day-to-day work, and data teams can think like marketers if needed.

Preparing for the worst doesn’t mean losing skills

If the worst happens and you have to cut back on your team, having key competencies shared within your company means that the damage to core functions will be limited.

Finally, I should point out that much of what I have discussed applies equally to entrepreneurs as to individual freelancers. A downturn can be a daunting prospect if you are an individual trader. Improving skills can be one of the best ways to increase your customer value now and future-proof your business.

If you’ve seen business decrease, the time you now have may be better spent on more training. It may seem obvious, but a mistake many people make in their careers is failing to adapt to the way the demand for skills can change rapidly or technology that makes them obsolete can arrive. Adding more skills to you and your business arc is never a bad thing.

Sarah Gilchriest is Global COO of Via del Circo.

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