15 December 2020

What 3 key digital marketing hiring trends from 2020 tell us about 2021

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In a year of instability and surprise, there’s comfort in finding something reliable. For digital enthusiasts like us, that something is data: our own data, to be specific. We’re giving our 2020 numbers a good hard look to see what we can learn about this exceptional year, and what top Belgian companies need now and into the near future. We examine what trends stand out, the highs and lows of demand, and what it might mean for 2021.

“Innovation in digital continues to offer major advantages; we’ve seen this prove true with our most successful clients over the years and 2020 is no exception,” Ariad CEO Jeroen Van Ermen shares. “In fact, we’ve seen those embracing digital transformation emerge even further as leaders now, as they’re able to communicate and listen, anticipate customer needs, and quickly adapt and deliver. We have always sought to enable companies to create amazing customer experiences, which may be more important than ever, and we absolutely have a lot to learn from how leading companies have reacted to the challenges of this year. It’s a great time for experts to really excel in their careers as they grow and take on new missions where they can have real impact.”

To see what observing this year can teach us, we turn to our data. As the beginning of 2020 began with an enthusiasm that was blissfully ignorant of what was to come, we’ve focused only on activity from March 2020 through the end of the year. We compared the trends of this period to the same period over the past several years to if anything really stood out. Three key findings clearly emerged.

Digital marketing hiring trends from 2020

Key finding 1: Lower demand for generalist profiles

Each year different trends emerge as digital transformation advances and new technologies evolve. There is usually small demand from early adopters, and then a steady increase as the technologies are more commonly implemented. Throughout this, we can often observe a steady demand for generalist online marketers. These could be junior positions but are often senior or management level, requiring significant experience and a good amount of varied marketing knowledge.

Since March of 2020, we saw relatively less demand for generalist digital marketers. These positions reflect online marketing all-arounders, capable of handling a wide variety of digital areas, and having rich experience history. The roles could be senior or junior, but often represent managerial level, team leads or department coordinators. The dip in need for these digital marketing generalists could be for countless reasons: slower growth than normal in department size and budget, lower quit rates requiring fewer replacements, or even unrelated causes. This trend becomes more significant however when compared with the second observation: where that demand shifted.

Key finding 2: High demand for e-commerce, project managers and communication specialists

Demand for skilled digital talent didn’t disappear. As daily activities rapidly migrated online, the importance of digital communication, interaction, and transaction grew. Inside large and small companies, sales, product, and marketing departments also had to shift the way they worked, often reinventing products, inventing services, and swinging strong pivots--fast. With quickly changing customer needs, it’s no surprise that there were many digital marketing skills in high demand.

In fact, we saw an increase in demand for many specialist positions. These highly-skilled, specifically-experienced digital marketers were commonly needed to build solutions quickly. Which specialists were most in demand? In terms of an increase from past years, there was a rise in need for technical project managers. Other specialist categories that saw a significant increase in demand since March were online advertising experts and e-communication specialists. This seems logical given the urgency and complexity of new developments built in response to shifts in online consumer behaviour. And given that some sectors in Belgium have seen a 20% increase in online business, it probably comes at no surprise that e-commerce experts are also highly in request, including roles such as e-retail experts, e-merchandising specialists, and e-commerce managers.

(Are you a digital specialist looking for a new mission in 2021? Check out our current open roles or get in touch!)

Are there other opportunities emerging? Javier Cuadra, Head of recruitment, is keeping his eye on other specialty areas too. “It’s great to see these highly skilled experts get the chance to take on projects with huge impact for society, helping people adapt to the current circumstances and still get their important needs met. As we progress, I’m sure communication, advertising, and e-commerce specialists will remain in high demand, but I also anticipate a strong need for UXand UI specialists as we translate more activities into online formats, and create new digital experiences. Having these experiences be intuitive, easy, and fun is where the top brands really can earn loyalty.

“I also believe that data analytics experts will increase as brands can leverage all kinds of data to engage and build relationships, listen and respond quickly, drive efficiency, and just gain advantages all around. It will also be key in 2020 as businesses will need to really learn about the preparedness of the consumer to return to in-person experiences.”

"It’s great to see these highly skilled experts get the chance to take on projects with huge impact for society, helping people adapt to the current circumstances and still get their important needs met."

Javier Cuadra, Head of recruitment

Key finding 3: Hiring for a flexible future

Ah, the age-old question: is there more demand for freelancers, or is the trend swinging away? At least this has been the topic for the past 20 years or so, as the number of freelancers and independents in Belgium has steadily grown, with 2019 marking the highest number of freelancers yet. Specifically in the digital marketing field, many professionals prefer to work as freelancers, and the preference of companies to hire freelancers or permanent employees on their payroll varies per company, department, specialty, and by year. In the past seven years, we have observed general preference both ways, generally fluctuating between a standard high or low before trending in the opposite direction for a time.

2020 seems to be breaking standards in even more ways; since March the increase in open freelance positions took off. This could be a natural reaction to many digital marketing specialists choosing to work as freelancers. In fact, many argue that despite often working on more short term projects or part-time, working as a freelancer during an economic downturn can be ideal. This trend could also reflect a common sentiment to maintain flexibility in the workplace.

Should we expect the same in 2021?

It’s clear that no year will be like 2020, and we can make no assumptions of what could happen in a few months. As the world continues to shift more activity online, we can expect that a lot of the behaviours we’re currently observing will continue through the short term future and, at least in some way, into the long term future as well. This still-uncertain future leaves the door open for new technologies, customer needs, and employee demands as well. Given this feeling, it is likely that large organizations will seek flexible options and bet on digital transformation.

Van Ermen suspects that for the time being, what we’ve seen may continue. That said, the desire to build something new and advance is also growing. “As these trends are commonly fluctuating, it will be interesting to see how long these highs continue, and also what needs arise, as new technologies are developing quickly. We could easily assume that niche digital marketing specialists can be needed through next year, and freelance positions may remain popular as well. The response we’ve seen has been significant, and I would expect these trends to further accelerate in 2021. Companies have adapted to the new normal and are definitely looking forward, seeking flexible options that allow them to thrive and grow.”

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