The state of marketing education
Modern marketing is a catch-all. He gets all kinds of new strategies and technology, but rarely does anything practical come out of it. Or at least that’s how Ann Handley, Chief Content Officer, and Val Witt, President of MarketingProfs, saw it when they kicked off the MarketingProfs B2B forum keynote.
According to them, all other departments in an organization have clearly defined roles – finance, sales, customer support, but not marketing. In fact, Handley went so far as to liken marketing to the junk drawer you have at home — it’s full of stuff, some important, some less so. The problem is that you never really know what you have inside.
Obviously, she didn’t mean that marketing was mostly junk, but she clearly explained what so many marketers know: there are many strategies and tactics in a marketer’s toolbox, and they keep coming. So much so that it’s hard to keep track of them all, impossible to use them all at once, and hard to know which ones to use and when.
And just when you think you’ve found the right mix, a shiny new thing appears, and you have to decide if, how and when to add it to the mix.
Marketing is also unpredictable, they said. Just as no two junk drawers are alike, no two marketing teams/strategies are alike. What works for one company may not work for another, or it works differently.
It’s “awesome and annoying,” they said, and it points to something critical – marketers need to be ready for anything.
But are they?
To be ready for anything, the marketer – and the marketing team at large – must always learn. In fact, they need to not only learn, but understand how new things fit into old ones and how to adapt without tearing their hair out (or finding a new job, which might actually be easier and less painful) .
MarketingProfs conducted a study on the state of marketing education; they wanted to know what it’s like to work in B2B marketing today. A few stats to note:
- Only 19% of respondents feel prepared for their future in marketing
- A third feels effective in his current role.
- But one in three marketers feel burnt out.
- Some 16% think it is very easy to solve problems in a team.
- But a quarter feel that not everyone on the team has a basic understanding of marketing.
The struggle to master marketing isn’t just about the individual buyer, but about how the team works as a whole and how they learn together.
The reality is that marketers are often left to decide what training to take and, in some cases, how to pay for it. In the MarketProfs study, 46% of individuals and 50% of teams took paid training in 2021. 20% of teams and 33% of employees took part in free training, and the rest received no training.
The two main reasons why organizations train their teams are to upgrade their skills and fill existing gaps. But when marketers were asked to choose the type of training they took, the majority said they would take training to solve immediate problems versus expanding their knowledge.
This choice to educate themselves on things they need to know now makes sense. With so many moving parts in any marketing strategy, who has time to think about something you’re not currently working on. It’s the “keep the lights on” mindset that marketers get caught up in. There is not enough time in the day to do everything.
Of course, that’s not the best approach, because what happens when something new comes along is marketers scramble to figure out what it’s all about and whether they should incorporate it. to their current strategy. Add another complication: what happens when they decide to introduce this new technology or technique and no one on the existing team knows about it? Are they putting extra pressure on team members who are already maxed out? Or will they have to bring someone new to the team and potentially frustrate team members who might have wanted to learn something new? Neither situation is optimal.
Every marketer needs the time to learn new things as they come up, and it should be part of their job description. These new things come from what the marketer is interested in and what the team wants to keep an eye on, and it ensures that the team stays on top of what’s going on.
How to help marketers master things
Witt and Handley gave advice to marketers to help them get ahead and “save marketing.”
First of all, it is important to link the training to the objectives of the company. Look for learning opportunities that can help contribute to these goals. It helps to have a budget for training (50% of non-managers and 17% of managers aren’t even sure there is a budget for marketing training). And it helps to have a process in place for deciding what training is needed.
In chat during the presentation, Erika Heald, Marketing Consultant, offered this suggestion:
I helped my team advocate for their learning opportunities by laying out a concrete career plan that showed what they were trying to accomplish and the variety of learning opportunities they were pursuing.
Witt and Handley also recommended creating learning goals as a team. For example, suppose there is concern that not all team members have a basic understanding of marketing. In this scenario, you can set up a series of workshops or “lunch-and-learns” where each team member can teach the others a particular tactic or technology. You can also do a training that shows how different technologies and programs fit together, giving everyone a better understanding of how all the pieces connect to build an overall marketing program.
You can also do team learning for new technologies and new strategies where everyone has the opportunity to learn together and talk about how this new approach could work for their business.
Handley insisted that everyone should “stay open and curious” because that’s key to staying relevant.
Another recommendation was to focus on execution rather than theory. If the training you receive is practical, you will understand how to make it work in your business. So while the theory is good, there must also be elements of how to put it into practice. Some suggestions included frameworks and checklists. To this you can add things like assignments that you can bring back to class to discuss, refine and then implement in your own business.
It’s also important to measure, adjust and repeat, Handley advised. Training is an ongoing quest, especially in marketing, where things are constantly changing. You should tie training to job performance, which only 39% of managers currently do. I would add not only carrying out current responsibilities, but also participating in bringing new ideas and concepts to the team.
The junk drawer is a very good metaphor for marketing today. But someone in the chat offered an alternative: Marketing is like a Swiss army knife. Marketing employs many different tactics and programs and just as much technology.
A marketing manager with a good understanding of all the possible alternatives can determine the best programs to implement at the right time – much like knowing which tool in a Swiss army knife to use to solve a particular problem.
This does not mean that a leader has to be an expert in everything. Instead, they should build a team where each marketer can dig deep and spend a good portion of their time improving in their assigned area, including understanding how other areas fit together.
In a Swiss army knife scenario, not all tools are used simultaneously, but it’s easy to see what you have, and it’s pretty clear what each is for.