Econsultancy has just published a new report titled How Marketers Learn. The research sought to identify how marketers are approaching their professional development and whether they are getting the necessary support from their employers.

The ability for marketers to learn and stay on top of industry changes isn’t a trivial matter. If I can quote Arie de Geus, business theorist and former Head of Shell Oil’s Strategic Planning Group: “The ability to learn faster than your competitors may be the only sustainable competitive advantage.”

At Econsultancy we spend a lot of time identifying, analysing and evaluating digital trends. Some of these trends turn into fads and pass unnoticed. But some have the potential to change not only the role of the modern marketer, but also the structure of entire industries. Regardless of how trends materialise, marketers must learn to adapt to the ever-evolving ecosystem in which we operate. To adapt to any new reality requires learning.

Always be learning

If we could boil down the key message from the How Marketers Learn report into three words, they would be ‘always be learning’. The message is as applicable to individuals as it is organisations. Individual learning is, after all, at the heart of organisational learning.

The report points out that if an organisation wants to adapt, grow and stay connected to customers, it will need to embed a culture of learning, that is, a dynamic culture that thrives on change. This will be essential for modern marketers in order to be able to interpret and navigate new trends and tactics.

Characteristics of the modern marketer

Modern marketing is an eclectic discipline. Much of what is required of the modern marketer revolves around a thorough understanding of marketing theory, technical marketing capabilities and an equal measure of strategic thinking and creative thinking capability.

In fact, in 2013, Econsultancy published a call to arms of sorts for marketers. The Modern Marketing Manifesto lays out the critical capabilities and characteristics of modern marketers to succeed. Take a look at it and ask yourself how aligned your own capabilities are. If you’re not in alignment, you might need to think about how to get up to speed. Training and education will play a big part in that.

As I worked on this report, I couldn’t help but reflect on the value of training and other forms of education.

Thinking about the difference between training and education

Education is about theory. It is longitudinal. Education is about learning to think critically and in the abstract. Anyone who has studied marketing at university will remember that they learned about theories and frameworks but may not have had the opportunity to apply that knowledge with real clients.

A degree in marketing will equip any marketer with the theoretical knowledge and strategic awareness to commence a career in marketing.

Training

Training on the other hand is about learning skills and tactics. It is specific. Good training provides the capability to do something rather than simply know something.

In my opinion, training can empower marketers to think tactically and apply those new tactics in specific contexts. Marketers with knowledge of classic marketing theory and relevant training can excel by being able to think both tactically and strategically.

Marketing qualifications and the need for training

As important as marketing training is, without wider marketing education it may be insufficient to address the requirements of today’s marketers. Modern marketers need to be thoroughly schooled in marketing theory in order to equip them with foundational knowledge and strategic awareness that they can continue to apply as new digital tactics continue to emerge.

There are a lot of people that are great digital marketing technicians. Some people might even consider them to be thoughtleaders in marketing. In practice though, some of those people might lack a wider appreciation of the discipline of marketing. Professor Mark Ritson wrote about this in his Marketing Week column last year: “Before anyone is declared an expert/ninja/guru/visionary in marketing they need to learn the discipline. You need a qualification to be qualified.”

Ritson got a bit of stick about that article. You might argue that his view focused too narrowly on academic qualifications and doesn’t take into account the fact that individuals can learn the principles of marketing and accompanying skills through a mix of career learning (assuming that they are working at a company with a good academy or marketing programme) and independent learning (reading, conference attendance etc.).

Might I politely suggest that instead of targeting Mark Ritson for calling out marketers with no qualifications, perhaps we should think about the value that a qualification brings to the profession in terms of credibility and trust, particularly at senior levels where other executive colleagues will likely have their own qualifications (accountancy, finance, law etc.). Rightly or wrongly, those people may regard their marketing colleagues more highly if they can see that those marketers acquired their skills and knowledge via a robust and challenging qualification process, in the same way that they have.

While disciplined people that take pride in their work can most certainly learn what they need to know to succeed, there is still a value in holding a recognised qualification. Let’s be honest, no matter what the profession is, the more qualified you are, the more opportunities there will be for career advancement, bonuses and pay increases!

As somebody with somewhat of an academic background, I would suggest that while knowledge and approaches may move on, there is something about an academic programme that forces students to learn to think critically and strategically. This ability never goes out of date.

While marketing theory may not change quickly, the professional discipline of marketing is always changing. The emergence of new technologies which can change consumer behaviour and vice versa mean that marketers are expected to not only practice increasingly sophisticated digital marketing tactics but also be able to coordinate with fellow marketers to plug these tactics into the overall marketing strategy.

For this reason, marketers require regular training to improve skills and ensure that they can remain current and effective in their roles. Training at regular intervals throughout one’s career is important. This is equally true for junior marketers as it is for experienced professionals wishing to keep abreast of trends and tactics.

Also, while marketers don’t officially require a further period of practical training after completion of academic studies the way other professions do (accountancy, law and medicine for example), in practice, most marketing professionals will start their career in junior positions where they will need to focus on a core set of channels or tactics to develop their technical and tactical expertise. They will develop these skills via on-the-job learning and focused training courses. It is for this reason, many companies well known for the quality of their marketing will run their own marketing academies in order to equip their staff with the skills that don’t neatly fall within the scope of a marketing degree.

Balancing education and training

There’s a lot written about how quickly things are changing but let’s be clear about one thing – the pace of change today is as slow as it will ever be. While the fundamentals of marketing may not change quickly, there is an ever increasing range of digital armoury available to marketers.

In order to keep your head above water and not fall victim to the whims of the latest hysteria around which digital marketing channel is the hottest, marketers need a solid marketing foundation. This is acquired through education.

However, as long as technology continues to reshape consumer behaviour and vice versa, there will be a requirement for training to help marketers and companies navigate those changes.

And so education and training go very much hand in hand. Education provides the foundation upon which to layer training. Skills-based training on its own will only result in short term thinking and an inability to understand the limitations of that training.

Our thoughts on balancing theory and training at Econsultancy

While technology and consumer behaviour may change, the fundamentals of marketing don’t, at least not very quickly. This is why I think the Econsultancy’s sister-brand Marketing Week’s Mini MBA in Marketing has been so well received. It provides a nice foundation upon which participants can layer on digital and channel specific skills.

The Mini MBA in Marketing was designed to mirror the core marketing course offered in MBA programmes at top business schools. That means equipping learners with the knowledge and frameworks they need to become more effective marketers.

It’s a nice supplement to what we do at Econsultancy. Please excuse the shameless plug but our clients turn to us to get a balanced view on the latest trends, tools and tactics in digital marketing. We can do this because we publish content that bridges the divide between education and training. While the Mini MBA in Marketing can provide the foundations, Econsultancy is able to support marketers to layer up their skills via capability management, training, conferences and e-learning.

Econsultancy career resources

Mini MBA in Marketing

If you are interested in classic marketing education, I would encourage you to check out the Marketing Week online MiniMBA in Marketing. Participation will equip learners with awareness of key marketing skills such as market orientation, research, segmentation, positioning, brand equity and strategy. This knowledge will empower learners to move beyond tactical thinking to being strategically aware.

Digital Skills Index

If you are already schooled in classic marketing, but feel that you are lacking in digital skills and don’t know where to start, may I suggest that you start with our Digital Skills Index. The Digital Skills Index is an online assessment that measures the skills and knowledge necessary to succeed in digital marketing and provides a detailed appraisal of your current digital marketing knowledge as well as a set of recommendations on how to advance and sharpen your skills.

Relevant reports and blog posts

If you’re already a supporter of professional development and lifelong learning but are wondering what to focus on next, my colleague Ben Davis wrote a really great piece last year called ‘Forget learning to code; what should marketers really know‘. It’s a very well written and pertinent article for any marketer wondering what skills they need to learn next.

You might also be interested in our Skills of the Modern Marketer report. The report defines the soft skills needed to be successful in an organisation and the deep vertical knowledge areas that marketers see growing in importance in the coming years.

As an analyst whose job it is to be able to identify and translate the importance of digital trends, I am very much in a state of always learning. This has enabled me to subscribe to the philosophy of pursuing a “living degree”, that is, taking an always-on approach to learning that adapts to changing environments.

The How Marketers Learn report will benefit leaders and managers in organisations of any size or sector by providing insights into the importance of having a learning and development strategy. It provides an overview of how marketers are currently managing their learning requirements.

The research in this report will also help marketing leaders by highlighting the value of L&D in marketing and demonstrating its business case. If you’re a marketing practitioner, regardless of where you are in your career, this report will help you reframe how you and your organisation approach professional development.

Econsultancy training

Econsultancy training courses are developed by digital marketing experts and are based on the most up to date insight available. By attending an Econsultancy training course, you’ll benefit from:

  • Best practice advice that draws on the expertise of researchers, analysts and practitioners
  • The opportunity to continue your learning and grow your digital capabilities through our raft of resources, including a free report of your choice on completion of your course from our award-winning research library.
  • A friendly training team that will advise you on the course or programme that’s right for you.
  • Small, collaborative classes (no more than 15 people).

Festival of Marketing

The lineup at this year’s Festival of Marketing is packed with great speakers and brands. Business icon Jo Malone joins Stephen Fry atop the bill, while marketing heavyweights Mark Ritson and Byron Sharp will go head-to-head in the other headline slot.

Away from the headliners we have speakers from the world’s biggest brands, including Virgin, Unilever, Bentley and JustEat. After you’ve browsed the full agenda, make sure to buy your ticket.

……………Always be learning!