New training programmes pack a punch

More employers are moving their marketing training programmes away from lengthy residential courses to online modules that can be accessed from the office.


Like marketing itself, training has been undergoing radical changes in recent years. Where marketing training courses might once have meant holing up at a residential retreat for a week or more, pressures on time and cost have led to a move away from prolonged face-to-face contact between teachers and learners.

Organisations have a greater need than ever to keep their employees up to date of developments in their industries and their job functions, but also want to spend less per head to achieve this.

As a result, many organisations have shifted the emphasis of their marketing training away from longer residential courses to shorter on-site courses, and to e-learning modules that are delivered online and accessible remotely from a user’s own workstation.

Helen Lewis, consumer insight and marketing strategy director at the Unilever Marketing Academy, says that a combination of factors have accelerated this trend. Budget is one of these, especially for a global company that has to ensure its training is delivered to consistent standards by approved training professionals to employees all around the world.

“We think our training is very good value, but [the cost] is often bumped up if you have to fly a couple of trainers somewhere,” she says.

The company has also moved away from extensive and “broad-based” courses, replacing these with shorter and more focused modules.

Allowing its marketers the flexibility to undergo training modules in a variety of different formats and at different times, Unilever shortens individual periods spent away from work while creating opportunities for theory learned in one session to be applied in another.

What we have got now is an approach where you put the learner at the centre of the process

David Thorp, The Chartered Institute of Marketing

“We have created a lot of blended learning, so for example our graduate recruitment training is now a mixture of virtual courses, group work on a website, then some face-to-face assignments and work back at the office – but a far shorter amount of time actually spent in residential or face-to-face training,” says Lewis.

Varying the methods of delivery and shortening individual modules also provides the opportunity to shape training programmes around the employees, their skills and their preferred approach to learning. David Thorp, head of research and professional development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), says such approaches also allow employees to fit training around their own schedules.

He explains/ “What we have got now is an approach called constructivism, where you put the learner at the centre of their own learning process. It gives you a lot more flexibility in how you design the learning process.”

Moving away from long residential courses to more flexible modules and formats also allows for the possibility of greater tailoring for companies’ overall requirements, as well as for individual employees. Danil Mikhailov, joint head of new media at English Heritage, gives the example of internet training that the charity’s employees received when it identified a need to understand visitors’ attitudes towards a newly redesigned site. “Having just relaunched the English Heritage website, we were keen to build our internal skills and capacity to conduct usability testing,” Mikhailov explains.

Interactive elements

English Heritage employees undertook a bespoke two-day course at its own offices, designed by training provider Webcredible. The course was delivered face-to-face, but with the inclusion of interactive elements, and was specifically structured to follow theoretical teaching with practical application to speed up the learning process. Mikhailov comments that the charity has “since run a successful programme of usability testing with our users, putting our new skills into practice”.

The English Heritage example is illustrative of wider technological trends in marketing training. The increasing importance of digital communications channels is presenting greater need for computer literacy and expertise in online media, according to Professor Nelson Phillips, head of the organisation and management group at Imperial College London, which has developed a new master’s course in strategic marketing, in part to address this transition.

“The traditional channels of advertising and communication are increasingly not relevant. It is very challenging for companies to realise that they are losing control of the new channels,” he says. Understanding how to influence, if not control, audiences through online and social media is central to the future of marketing training, he argues.

This paradigm shift is also influencing learning in terms of delivery, as well as in terms of content, providing additional ways of accessing course materials via the internet. Brewer Heineken, for example, has a strategy to increase the use of web-based technology in its training through 2011.

Marketing capability manager Michelle Keaney says: “New technologies have enabled us to offer competency profiles online for every role and to help our line managers coach and train within our 70-20-10 learning principle – 70% on the job learning, 20% coaching and feedback and 10%formal training.”

British American Tobacco (BAT), meanwhile, has moved its marketing training programme onto an online portal, where the modules have been designed with e-learning at the core (see Q&A, below). In addition, the software, built and managed by Infinity Learning, incorporates social media elements that allow trainees to give scores for the usefulness of the modules.

BAT global marketing development manager Svetlana Omeltchenko adds: “We have a built-in assessment mechanism to ask for their feedback. We have a five-star Amazon-style rating with the ability for employees to add user comments.”

Heineken: Will increase the use of web-based technology in its training next year
Heineken: Will increase the use of web-based technology in its training next year

Adding social media elements to the training programme makes employees interact with modules, says Robin Hoyle, head of learning at Infinity Learning. “We’ve built interaction into the programme so that we’re continually engaging people. Once we’ve sparked interest in the training then people can go off onto what I call a side road. The programme is built so that if you want to listen to a podcast or read a document relating to the training module then all of that is available on that training page.

“We’re hoping to replicate some of the experiences of internet surfing by creating a visually rich environment. Quite a lot of e-learning falls foul of presenting a one-way style of learning,” he argues.

The global nature of BAT’s business also means that this method of delivery is well suited to balancing the need for brand consistency around the world with sensitivity to laws and cultures in individual markets. “The challenge is how to combine the global with the local. This is a global concept training programme where you can then plug in programmes which show ’how it works in my market’,” adds Omeltchenko.

Other global brands take different approaches to training around the world. As Kimberly-Clark’s Troy Warfield tells Marketing Week (see Cover Story), the company runs a Global Marketing University to “create a common language and raise the collective skills” of marketers.

Heineken’s Keaney, meanwhile, says that “local market needs are always at the heart of our marketing execution because beer and cider are essentially very local categories,” but adds that “everybody is trained on the core elements of the global approach to ensure brand consistency at every touchpoint”. Unilever puts far greater emphasis on global consistency than on local specificity, according to Lewis.

Though these brands exhibit different approaches to training marketers for the modern industry, many of the issues they face are shared.

Brands have to keep up with rapidly developing skill requirements for communication channels that can reach to every area of the planet. But while the world is becoming flatter, markets and cultures remain as individual as ever. Marketing is changing as a discipline for brands across the globe and it is crucial, therefore, that marketing training evolves with it.



Helen Lewis,
Consumer insight and marketing strategy director,
Unilever Marketing Academy

We have been doing training for a long time at Unilever. We have got a lot of marketers – more than 4,000 across the world – and have always set great stock by training people and in the past they tended to be residential courses – face-to-face training, for example.

Very often when I was a trainee it would be a two-week course at a time. A few years ago it would be one week at a time. Last year, a lot of our courses became three-day sessions. We have really been on the cusp of change in the past year or so as we have realised that we have to get more people through more modules, and so we have created a lot of e-modules.

One thing I did last year was to change my concept development training, which used to be a couple of days, into a half-day course that was conducted online, so there was hardly any cost. It meant the take-up of that was much greater. It is always easier for people to find a half-day or a day for their team than it is to find two or three days.

Our graduate recruitment scheme has been using e-learning for a couple of years now. They are the digital generation. This year in the programme I look after, I have created eight new e-learning modules, so I have a broad range of self-help [material] that we now use as a mandatory pre-course requirement. We now feel that people can develop a basic awareness [of a topic] even before they walk into the room.

That allows us to focus more on applying the theories, and applying the tools and the thinking to their work. That has made a big difference.

What we try and do within an e-module is to make it interactive. For example, early on we had narrated e-modules. What we all experienced quite quickly [was that], because we can read faster than we can listen, we were all very agitated. They seemed to be quite slow. We have done away with voiceovers on the ones that I have produced, so that people can go at their own pace and we have a lot of interactivity.


british american tobacco

Svetlana Omeltchenko
Global marketing development manager

Marketing Week (MW): Why does BAT have such a large training programme?
Svetlana Omeltchenko (SO): We are in a controversial industry with strict internal marketing standards and external regulation, so we need to use a common set of marketing competencies, common vocabulary and common understanding around the world. Eventually we want to manage global talent. We want to make sure that when employees start moving internationally, for example, that they actually understand the global business.

MW: Can you give an example of what you might teach in a local market?
We have global portfolio brands and we have what we call global drive brands, which are big brands. In a particular market, like Latin America, they might not have all of the global drive brands in the market, but they might have some regional and local brands. You need to tell them why we have a local brand instead, and what the market positioning of that local brand is.

MW: What is the difference between your current training programme and its predecessor?

SO: The predecessor to this training programme was more face-to-face. We also had a separate programme for sales people and brand people, so we did not have an overarching set of training materials.

The three major changes we incorporated into this current training programme are the introduction of e-learning; core competencies, so regardless of what area you work in we expect everyone to have an understanding of other departments such as sales, for example; and more opportunities to add local content.

MW: What improvements have you seen since these change were implemented
Now we are providing more consistent information and understanding of the company. There is now a better understanding of global business. One of the things we want to overcome is that people only look within the context of their local market. It is key to understand what other people are doing outside of their marketing function.

MW: How does the training work?
SO: The idea is that people will go through the 35 modules as they progress through their careers. By the time you are a mid-management marketer and you want to move up then you should have completed all 35 modules. The line manager also has a coaching role in this training process.

MW: Can you explain more about the coaching role?
The role of the coach is threefold. One is to agree which modules are priorities. Second, when you get through the learning process and have questions then the first point of contact is your coach.

Once each module is completed the knowledge is applied in a particular situation, so if you are talking about writing an agency brief, the exercise might be to look at a current company agency brief and pick out which bits can be improved. Then you discuss how you apply this knowledge to this job.

Topline trends

  • Organisations have a greater need than ever to keep marketers up to date in their training, but are under greater cost pressures while their employees have less free time.
  • Training courses are becoming shorter, with five-day residential programmes being replaced by modules taken on-site or remotely.
  • The emphasis of teaching practices is changing, with trainees given more flexibility to direct their own learning. Interactivity and application of theory is also to the fore.
  • E-learning is becoming more prevalent as a delivery method, while online media channels are also gaining greater attention in course content.
  • Global brands can take divergent approaches to their training, some focusing on maintaining complete consistency around the world while others have a greater need to address local markets differently.

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