A Guide to the 10 Next Hot Jobs in Digital Marketing, and for Several Years to Come

Time to polish that résumé, marketers. The business is shifting amid rapid change, and jobs that were considered experimental a few years ago are now indispensable. Career paths are being disrupted midstream, and both brands and ad agencies are recalibrating talent for the next generation of marketing. The combined forces of globalization and the commoditization of technology are exacerbating the pace at which new, promising tools are becoming available to brands, per Aaron Harvey, co-founder and ecd at Ready Set Rocket, who says that every job title the digital marketing agency hires for today did not exist when it launched eight years ago. “It’s going to be incumbent on [marketers] to look for passion projects and experiment on passion projects,” he explains. 

Or, put another way, what is it about futuristic tech and data that gets you jazzed? Marketers of all stripes need to figure out the answer to that question to stay current. And with more gigs in mar tech and ad tech, you’d better start learning the ABCs of DMPs, IVRs and PMPs.

“[Marketers] need to create experiences that people want to consume,” notes Adam Kleinberg, CEO of Traction. And that’s going to take the right kind of know-how.

After querying a bevy of experts, we identified 10 jobs that will be the most important and in-demand roles in digital marketing for the next several years—or at least until the next wave of innovation comes crashing down.

Chief experience officer
Category: Executive management
Fast fact: By 2020, 40 percent of chief digital officers will report to CXOs, according to IDC.
Skills needed: Mastery of design thinking and a solid foundation in computer science, creative and executive management

Developing broad skills at the intersection of marketing and technology is paramount to understanding the evolution of customer experiences in the connected age, says Donald Chesnut, global chief experience officer at SapientRazorfish. Managing the full experience that consumers have with brands also requires a relentless focus on individuals and the ability to identify how a brand can enrich or add meaningful value, he says.

“I do think diversity of experience is important, but most critical is a deep empathy and focus on design thinking, which puts the target person at the center of business decisions,” he says. “The constant evolution of digital—which puts the power in consumers’ hands and helps to galvanize experience-oriented thinking—provides another factor in making sure tomorrow’s challenges will be very different from today’s.”

Alex Vera, creative director at experiential marketing firm IDL Worldwide, advises those interested in a career as a CXO to develop a deep understanding of content creation across all media. “I would recommend that students get a good dose of design thinking in their education if experience creation is a passion of theirs,” Vera says. “I see a future of generalists in experience design rather than a field of specialists.”

VR editor
Category: Content production
Fast fact: 1,400 jobs listed on LinkedIn
Skills needed: Expertise in object-oriented programming, project management and video arts; ability in software products like Adobe Creative Cloud and Unity3D

Virtual reality (VR), or 360-degree video, is a mostly uncharted medium that doesn’t benefit from the well-established workflows of traditional video, says Matt Posey, editor at PS260. VR has been trying to break into the mainstream for decades, but technology is now powerful enough that consumers can have a truly immersive experience with just a smartphone and Google Cardboard.

“Because this format is so new, the field is open to experiment and presenting provocative ideas without being beholden to the traditional, more impersonal ways of offering information,” Posey explains. “The best people for the job are ones who want to try something new and crazy.”

Directors, creatives, editors and visual effects artists all have a strong opportunity to contribute to the development of VR and 360-degree video, Posey says.

Andrew Miller, program director at recruiting firm Aquent, advises a “shoot first and ask questions later” approach. “Renting or buying a 360-degree camera or rig is not expensive,” he says.

Video marketing professionals also need to express a strong belief in the medium’s unique ability to inform, persuade, promote, move and inspire, says Jason Hsiao, chief video officer at Animoto. “Anyone who expects to lead their organization to become video-first must truly love video and have a vision for the opportunity it’s able to unlock.”

Bot developer
Category: Cross-enterprise technology
Fast fact: Bots or virtual assistants will command 20 percent of user interactions with smartphones by 2019, according to Gartner.
Skills needed: Undergraduate degree in computer science; knowledge of linguistics, interactive language arts, programming, design, engineering, natural language processing and ethics.

Global spending on cognitive artificial intelligence is growing at a compound annual growth rate of 54 percent and will reach $46 billion in 2020, according to a recent IDC study. So if you’re looking for a new line of work, conversational bots are a niche that’s rich with opportunity if not nascent in execution.

“Big companies are rushing to stake out some ground in this whole algorithm-enabled world,” notes Susan Etlinger, analyst at Altimeter Group. “There’s going to be a lot of bloodshed before we get to ambient intelligence.”

Bots with a deep domain expertise are in short supply and high demand, Etlinger says, so she encourages developers to laser-focus in on a particular area, like financial services or health insurance. Bot developers will pull from three well-developed fields, including writing, interface design and game design, says Oren Jacob, CEO of PullString. “While not many people have backgrounds in all three of these areas, professionals from any of these fields will have a decent shot,” he explains.

“For absolute beginners, take on any project that lets you learn to use [APIs],” adds Aquent’s Miller.

IoT marketing strategist
Category: Mar tech
Fast fact: More than 8,000 openings listed on job sites
Skills needed: Engineering background and a foundation in telecommunications

The Internet of Things, or IoT, is a fast-growing and seemingly all-encompassing field. At least 8.4 billion connected devices will be in use worldwide by the end of this year—and that number is expected to reach 20.4 billion by 2020, according to Gartner, which predicts total spending on IoT endpoints and services to reach $2 trillion this year.

IoT is an umbrella term for various unrelated devices such as wearables and connected appliances. IoT marketing strategists can help their organizations cut through the noise with specialized skills in retail sensors, radio frequency technology, digital signage, smartphones, wearables, automobiles and virtually anything that transmits data.

Those who want to enter the field ought to have a predilection for embracing a world where humans and machines seamlessly interact. For instance, says IBM vp of marketing analytics Ari Sheinkin, TVs and couch potatoes will soon be regularly chatting it up. “We really want to make the insights ubiquitous,” he adds, “so it’s not contained in a laptop or database.”

Mixed-reality designer
Category: Content production
Fast fact: Estimated $3 billion market by 2024, per Grand View Research
Skills needed: Post-graduate degree in graphic design or computer animation; familiarity with Unity3D, cognitive and social psychology, user experience design and storytelling

The emerging world of mixed reality (MR) is best served by individuals who are passionate about emerging technologies and curious about mediums beyond virtual or augmented reality, says Di Dang, senior UX designer of mixed reality at digital agency POP.

“This is the ‘Wild, Wild West,’ and we need as many different points of view and backgrounds as possible,” Dang remarks. “Silos are breaking down, so don’t pigeonhole yourself or think that you need certain prerequisites or specializations before you can do anything.” She broke into mixed-reality design with a strong foundation in digital product design and user experience and research.

Johannes Saam, senior creative developer at creative studio Framestore, believes a post-graduate degree in graphic design or computer graphics is an equally viable starting point for a career in mixed-reality design.

“A passion to tell stories and generate images with computers is what got me in,” recalls Saam. Mixed reality is also the perfect blending of art and science, which makes it a field that requires a strong background and passion for both design and technology. “As long as you are excitable and love understanding the roots of [mixed reality] while spending time to keep up with the new technology, you’re in a good place,” Saam asserts.

Data scientist
Category: Cross-enterprise technology
Fast fact: $203 billion industry by 2020, per IDC
Skills needed: Undergraduate or post-graduate degree in computer science; strong grasp of machine learning, artificial intelligence and data optimization

There is a dramatic shortage of talent in data science: By next year, U.S. businesses will require at least 181,000 people with deep analytical skills and nearly 1 million additional professionals to manage and interpret the deluge of data, according to IDC. Deep analytics require the use of sophisticated data processing techniques and usually involves complex queries on unstructured data sets to yield insights in near real time.

“A data scientist requires some formal math education and usually a combination of statistics, linear algebra, and calculus,” explains Scotty Pate, data scientist at Goodway Group. “The most pertinent qualification for this work is curiosity. The answers are usually buried in a mountain of noisy data and are difficult to discover.”

Machine-learning engineer
Category: Cross-enterprise technology
Fast fact: 13,500 jobs listed online
Skills needed: Expertise in programming, machine-learning algorithms and statistics

We live in an increasingly algorithmic world. Because of that, machine learning (ML) is going to be of vital importance to marketing to deliver relevant content, argues David Evans, chief technology officer of Uncorked Studios. “These technologies go beyond those applications and can be adapted to all parts of the content or business pipeline,” he explains.

Prasad Chalasani, chief scientist at MediaMath, suggests that post-graduate studies in math, statistics and physics are the best path to a career in machine learning. “Establish a solid quantitative foundation in the areas of probability and statistics, gain hands-on experience in applying ML techniques, and become competent in coding, especially in Python or Scala” Chalasani says.

Omnichannel retail strategist
Category: Retail
Fast fact: Ecommerce sales will surpass $500 billion by 2020, according to Forrester Research
Skills needed: Post-graduate study in psychology, neuroscience and critical thinking; familiarity with data analytics, marketing strategy, project management, user experience design and rapid prototyping

With around 400 open jobs on LinkedIn featuring “omnichannel marketing” in the title, the role of omnichannel retail strategist is a relatively nascent one for now, but will be in high demand in the years to come, according to Graham Mudd, product marketing director at Facebook. “The challenge will be finding people with expertise in both ecommerce and physical retail,” he predicts.

Omnichannel strategists are imperative to understanding how new technology solutions can be used most effectively with the greatest impact, says Sophie Slowe, vp, strategy at Kitewheel. “New platforms enable more consistent, personalized and real-time experiences to be delivered to individual consumers across the ecosystem. But without the strategy to power them, these tools are futile,” she explains.

A career in omnichannel marketing also requires a deep appreciation for all elements of the business, and many organizations are bringing consultants and strategists together to collaborate on holistic solutions for next-generation retail. Adds Slowe, “Data analytics is a key way to understand current consumer behaviors, and the first step towards figuring out how to adjust and refine them in the desired direction.”

Voice skills developer
Category: Communications planning
Fast fact: There are 15,000 Amazon Alexa skills
Skills needed: Undergraduate degree in computer science or linguistics; experience with JavaScript, Python and deploying projects for Alexa, Google Assistant or Microsoft Cortana

Get ready, folks: Voice AI is about to explode. As the interface becomes faster, more connected and allows for greater detail and personalization, voice AI “is becoming rapidly important to search marketing,” says Michael Dobbs, vp of SEO at 360i. “Deciphering user intent will become increasingly complex as consumer communication shifts from typing to natural language. This complexity will increasingly impact how brands build trust with consumers and communicate their relevance back to audiences.”

In an era of algorithms, Dobbs adds, “marketers and agencies will need to fight fire with fire, creating their own artificial intelligence, using deep learning, natural-language processing and algorithms that tap into big data.”

Already equipped with a broad set of capabilities, voice-enabled assistants are now deepening their strengths in key areas of interest, says Altimeter Group’s Etlinger. As a result, she explains, voice skills developers need to create something that has utility with clear objectives and answers to various commands. “Use language that’s appropriate for the interaction” and develop variances in tone to highlight your brand’s personality, she says.

Dobbs concurs: “A conversation with the brand’s agent offers a lot of risk and reward.”

Hologram retail display designer
Category: Retail
Fast fact: Augmented reality will be a $100 billion industry by 2020, per ABI Research.
Skills needed: Undergraduate or post-graduate degree in computer science or 3-D design

Fans of The Matrix may soon be able to experience a real-life version of the movie’s simulated reality in their local shopping center. Industry experts say that holograms, which consist of 3-D virtual renderings of real-world objects, could prove useful in retail settings because they allow stores to showcase products without carrying the actual inventory.

These types of futuristic systems can break through the clutter and immerse the consumer in a shopping experience tailored to their interests and needs, predicts Curt Thornton, CEO of Provision Interactive Technologies. “Holographic technology brings augmented reality into the physical world and adds another layer of information, interactivity and engagement with the consumer,” he explains.

Professionals in the emerging field of holographic retail design will have the opportunity to redefine the art of storytelling and focus on more immersive ways to represent a product or service. Computer science and design skills are necessary, but creativity is of utmost importance, Thornton says. “Designers will need to bring a new level of imagination to design holographs. They will need to think outside the box … and, most importantly, they should not be afraid to push boundaries,” he says.

Making Waves With Immersive Technologies