22 years ago I trudged my way through an electrical engineering degree.
I learned to navigate differential equations, design electrical circuits and do the math that underpins analog and digital communication systems. I graduated in four and half years – but did this qualify me to be an engineer ?
Definitely not. Yet almost all engineers, scientists, surgeons and accountants have related degrees and qualifications. These degrees are an essential foundation on which professionals add graduate qualifications, years of hard work, self-learning, passion and natural ability.
So why then do so few marketing professionals have marketing qualifications? What gives us a free pass through the tunnel of formal education? What could qualifications offer us in marketing?
With these questions to answer, I moderated Business Marketing Club‘s recent roundtable on “what have marketing qualifications ever done for us?.”
Who is the perfectly-proportioned Vitruvian Marketer?
A week before the event, I went for a Thai lunch with my friend Simon Jones. Despite struggling to make a decision between Pad Thai and The Crying Tiger, Simon had a perfectly clear view that “we need to give sufficient thought to the skills and traits that marketing people need, never mind what qualifications that might verify that the person had those skills.”
Simon painted his perfectly-proportioned ‘Vitruvian Marketer.’
Marketing is a varied and strategic domain
The 18 ale- and hors d’oeuvre-fuelled marketers reasoned that B2B marketing is a varied domain with a hand in strategy, business outcomes, sales, communications and finance.
Their Vitruvian Marketers were CEO’s, journalists, diplomats, psychologists, entrepreneurs and analysts. My favourite response was that marketers need to be prophets. How true!
None of the responses described marketing primarily as the promotional mechanism it is often assumed to be.
This must mean we need more qualifications not less
In rides Mark Ritson to stoke the central debate: What have qualifications ever done for us?
Mark has ranted effectively that “you need a qualification to be qualified” in marketing.
Most of the B2B marketing folk that I know like Mark Ritson. He’s has great perspective, no shortage of personality and is considered by many to be a high priest in our holy church.
So, it was a surprise to hear the group, including those with many qualifications, struggle to accept Mark’s recommendation.
What are the marketing fundamentals, again?
The BMC Marketing roundtable couldn’t reconcile their beliefs that they are central to business strategy with the view that qualifications aren’t helping. I believe that this is because marketing people don’t have the foundational resources they need.
The new breed of experts are big on tactics but light on market orientation, research, segmentation, positioning, brand equity, strategy and all the other rich substantive matter that makes up the remaining 90% of marketing once you take the promotional P out. – Mark Ritson, Marketing Week
There is ample commentary and enthusiasm for tools and tactics, but a dearth of resources to teach us ‘the substantive matter’ of marketing.
Many marketing people have known unknowns. What is market orientation and how can we help our businesses achieve it? Is positioning something you do, and if so, how? Why is segmentation essential and how do I go about it? What choices do I have when it comes to targeting? Are you telling me that there are different approaches I can take to develop brand equity? What is strategy, anyway, and why should I care?
What qualifications should we expect marketing to have?
It is clear from the BMC discussion that smart marketers lack confidence in available ‘professional marketing’ qualifications, struggle to justify expensive MBAs and aren’t aware of other good options. One CMO expressed the worry that marketing qualifications can be constraining. “Would you trust a politician with a political degree?”
I would never suggest that marketing segmentation, positioning, or business strategy can’t be learned on the job. I have had the benefit of taking courses under Mark Ritson and Duncan Simester, a leading marketing academic out of MIT, and yet the best lessons I’ve ever had on business strategy came from a short discussion with a consultant working for our business.
Likewise, despite studying for the dreaded Chartered Financial Analyst exam (part 1), my favourite perspectives on accounting are picked from a one-day course taken on the job. And in the last year, a coach and mentor have taught me more about delegation and management than I can remember learning in any MBA organisational behaviour courses. Experience matters, a lot.
However, just as we would hope an anaesthesiologist on an important medical operation has a sound knowledge of medical science, I would expect a CMO with responsibility for driving the company’s growth to have solid grasp on marketing foundations.
Ironically, marketing has a branding problem.
Marketing is a varied domain that suffers because few people understand exactly what it is. Lack of understanding triggers stereotypes to kick in, and many people fall back on the assumption that marketing is promotion.
In a tactics-and-tools-heavy world, marketing people don’t give sufficient thought to core marketing principles and how to apply them. But no CEO worth his salt values singular promotional motions or a programmatic, automated ad campaign (or a glossy brochure) more than a deep understanding of their markets’ needs; a well positioned proposition; and a market-oriented, strategically aligned organization.
If we want marketing to be taken seriously, to have its ‘seat at the big table’, marketing needs to make sure we clearly explain and practice the “rich substantive matter that makes up marketing once you take up the Promotional P out,” as Mark argues.
We need to ensure that strategic, ‘Big M’ Marketing foundations underpin head-turning ‘small m’ marketing campaigns.
Marketing has a unique position, ensuring our companies make sales targets and satisfy target markets profitably. Certainly, this job demands qualifications.
What can we do to get qualified?
We can conclude that marketing people, perhaps more than any other function, need to work harder to be qualified. Below are seven things I think will help.
- Choose a definition of marketing that works for you. I subscribe to Kotler’s view that marketing is ‘how you create value to satisfy the needs of a target market at a profit.’ Dave Kellogg’s view is easier to say in public: ‘Sales can’t do it alone and marketing exists to make sales easier.’
- Make sure you can explain how your marketing department contributes to company goals and strategies. Be able to describe your marketing strategy and other, alternative marketing strategies.
- Read some of the classics. Marketing Management by Kotler & Keller and Positioning by Ries & Trout.
- Scour MBA marketing syllabuses and explore unfamiliar subjects both within and outside of the marketing domain: marketing research, brand management, statistics, business strategy, financial analysis, etc.
- Read some more. Dave Kellogg, CEO at Host Analytics recommends a great list of Modern B2B Marketing Classics. The Challenger Sale and Lean Start-up are two of my favourites.
- Pursue MBAs or online courses. If you don’t want to stop work for two years, Mark Ritson’s mini-MBA in Marketing looks like a good option.
- Join groups like the Business Marketing Club.