‘Curiosity is the easiest skill to lose’: Three marketing leaders on why investment in training matters

It’s hard to prove an ROI on training and development, but it’s crucial brands give space and support for their marketers to grow, say top marketers at Diageo, Channel 4 and Specsavers.

Marketers are used to proving return on investment. It’s integral to the modern marketer’s work.

Should marketers have to prove ROI on training though?

This is the battle for marketing leaders looking to boost their marketing teams’ skills and capability while, at the same time, convincing leadership to put the money forward for it.

Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4’s outgoing CMO, says he’s a “big believer in measuring”. Companies measure everything from profits and margins to how often people are swiping their badges to come into the office, he says, and so need a measure for learning and training too. He made the comments while taking part in Marketing Week’s sister brand Econsultancy’s inaugural Marketing Capability Leaders Forum earlier this month.

“If you don’t have a measure, how can you possibly expect the organisation you lead to think that you care about learning and development?” he asked.

A third of marketers not offered upskilling opportunitiesMeasuring learning, however, isn’t easy. In its simplest form, managers can ask if their employees have completed a course. However, development isn’t always so straightforward to quantify.

“I don’t tell people what to do,” said Al-Qassab, who instead gives his marketers a range of courses to choose from with the expectation “everyone does one a year”.

Measuring learning is fine, but ultimately it’s revenue business’s care about, he added. So where does training fit in to this? He suggests organisations run surveys to find out how employees think training is going to improve these areas.

If you’re not able to convince the company that having people who are more skilled is going to be good, then you should probably leave the company.

Zaid Al-Qassab, Channel 4

However, that still might not convince a brand to part with the training money.

But, as Al-Qassab puts it: “If you’re not able to convince the company that having people who are more skilled is going to be good, then you should probably leave the company.”

Julia Bramham, global marketing transformation director at Diageo, shares the sentiment that proving ROI on training is a difficult task.

“It’s all about delivery of sustainable value growth,” she said, “and it’s hard to prove that.”

Rather than measuring training at Diageo, building capability is about achieving “great work” and making growth driving decisions. “It’s very hard to prove with data, but I think it just makes sense,” she said, on developing marketers.

Specsavers on its plan to escape the marketing talent ‘squeeze’

Specsavers is an example of a brand putting development at the forefront of its strategy. Its leadership has worked hard to ensure a talent pipeline and professionalism within the marketing function in the last few years.

The business blocks out a couple of hours in its marketers’ diaries every Friday afternoon to signal to employees that they “should be spending time” building capability, said Abi Willstead, head of brand and marketing excellence.

Though she agreed with Al-Qassab and Bramham that providing a tangible ROI for training and skills development is difficult. At Specsavers, the business is trying to “unlock people’s curiosity and drive to learn”.

“We have given people permission on a weekly basis to broaden their knowledge or get curious about things that in the day to day, you’re not really given the headspace to do,” she adds.

Headspace is important, as is an interest in the work and desire to improve and learn.

On this, Bramham added: “The idea of curiosity is one of the most important skills for us as marketers, and I think it’s the easiest to lose, because when the rubber hits the road and you’re busy trying to close the month or quarter, [it stops].”

Over the coming weeks, Marketing Week will be publishing a series of exclusive news and features based on the findings of the 2024 Career & Salary Survey, including how marketers view their skills and whether upskilling is an option. Click here to view everything we’ve published so far.

Register for Econsultancy’s next Marketing Capability Leaders Forum on 16 May here