How to Distinguish Between ‘Average’ and ‘Good’ Digital Talent

I always hear from my industry friends that it is so hard to hire good digital people. Why it is so hard? It is because ‘digital’ is an interdisciplinary field that touches upon many very different areas – creative, marketing, media, communication, technology, analytics, and many more. I don’t think there is a proper definition for the ‘digital’ person. If you ask various hiring managers how they define the digital employee, you will hear many different answers. I believe some hiring managers may not even be able to define the digital employee clearly. In many cases, they may end up hiring the wrong person to do the wrong things.

Regardless, I believe that hiring the right digital person is less about the skill sets and more about curiosity and continuous learning. Unlike law or accounting, where there are always standard reference books to follow, digital is an emerging field – one that is always changing with overwhelming information. It is so easy to get lost or go in the wrong direction at some point. Therefore, I feel it is important to understand the core principles that will lead the way to find out what they should know.

There are three core principles I have always emphasized in my class – attribution model, personalisation, and testing and optimisation. I know it is not possible to cover everything in one semester. However, I want my students to at least understand these principles so they will find out what they need to learn and how to learn by themselves later.

I also find these principles are useful to distinguish people who are ‘doing a job’ from those who are ‘doing a good job’ in digital.

Attribution Model

The first principle is the attribution model. There have been many discussions about the attribution model. The key point I want to highlight is this: the attribution model is an important concept that everyone in digital marketing should know.

One of the biggest myths that I have heard is search advertising, email, or what-so-ever channel is the most effective marketing channel. If you are looking into the customer journey, there are many customer touch points, including both offline and online communications. Search is normally the last mile used to drive the customer to take the desired end action, such as to register for the special deal or purchase the product. Without understanding that there are other activities and customer touch points that would ‘attribute’ to the final outcome, wrong decisions are often made. I have seen brands that have stopped all other advertising and allocate their entire budget to search. Unfortunately, they didn’t get the desired results. Why?

Those who understand the attribution model would not make such a decision because they always think through and focus on the customer journey in a more holistic way and they use technology to help them when it is necessary. It is this ‘integrated’ strategy that takes the customers through the journey to the end goal.


There are many things we can learn from the offline world, personalization for example. If you go shopping for clothes and enter a store that you have never visited before, a good sales person will immediately look at you, observe what you are browsing, and recommend something for you. Today, after decades in which the underlying technology has significantly improved the digital user experience, I am surprised to see there are so many nineties static website – showing the same content to all visitors when they could be personalising the visitor’s experience based on the visitor’s history or other preferences. I believe most people who are leading these static website projects are the people who are just doing a job, just like a quiet sales person sitting in the store. Personalisation has already become a standard feature of CMS, but only the good and proactive sales person is willing to take a step further and implement with the strategy to drive more sales.

Testing and Optimisation

The last principle is testing and optimization. In the past, we used to blame the lack of data for the lack of testing and optimisation. With advances in technology, it is a lot easier and more cost-effective than ever to track and collect data. However, I am still seeing many companies are operating in very traditional ways like print advertising. For example, the design and layout of a campaign site may have been reviewed many times to get senior management approval, but after the campaign is launched, no one reviews the data and identifies ways to improve site performance.

Analytics is not as much about the technology or putting tag and tracking codes on the online advertising banner; it is about the mindset of the people who are making intelligent decisions. Good performance is always driven from the people who have the analytical mindset.

Yes, it is still not easy to hire digital people, especially the good ones.

There are still a lot of untapped and missed opportunities out there. I believe the good ones understand the above principles and always go the extra mile to optimise opportunities in the digital space.

So, when you or your industry friends are looking for ‘good’ digital people next time, perhaps you can structure some case study interview questions using these principles to distinguish between people who are ‘doing a job’ and those who are ‘doing a good job.’

On the other hand, if you are looking for a job in digital, while you need to keep your core skills as current as possible, you should also do more research and understand how to apply all of these principles in business cases. In the end, businesses need people who are able to unleash the power of digital to drive business performance; it is all about the execution.

Hope this helps, and good luck!

Related reading

A photograph of a hand holding up a smartphone in the foreground, livestreaming their surroundings at an event of some kind.