Industry-specific marketing training: Highly relevant or too niche?

The Chartered Institute of Marketing has launched its first sector-specific marketing programme for the construction industry to address a growing need in that sector, but should other industries follow suit or could it lead to narrow thinking?

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There is currently much discussion around the value of marketing qualifications and whether formal training is required. In one of Marketing Week’s most read articles of 2016, columnist Mark Ritson sparked a lively debate following his assertion that marketing experts should have a formal qualification.

He said: “If [marketers] are being held up as experts in the discipline of marketing – not just digital communications, you will note – you would certainly expect them to have a qualification in the topic.”

However, many argued that on-the-job learning can be more valuable than a degree in marketing. Zoe Burns-Shore, head of brand and marketing at First Direct, said: “I see the value of some training in verticals to make a more rounded marketer, but not generic ‘marketing’ qualifications.”

Meanwhile, Peter Boucher, chief commercial officer at Addison Lee, claimed some formal qualifications are too “lightweight”, while university degree courses often lack the “scale and grit” needed to compete in the modern world.

Construction is one such sector where specific knowledge is needed alongside more general marketing skills. Despite being worth £103bn a year – 6% of the UK’s GDP, according to a House of Commons briefing paper in 2015 – and accounting for 10% of the working population, the industry struggles to find staff with the right skills, qualifications or experience. In fact, a fifth of all vacancies are persistently hard to fill because employers cannot find what they are looking for, according to the department for business innovation and skills.

“Certain sectors will be more relevant than others – it’s about understanding the sector, the dynamics and what training is already available.”

Christine Boswell-Munday, CIM

In order to solve this problem and offer marketers the best of both worlds, the Chartered Institute of Marketing and its Construction Industry Group (CIMCIG) have worked together to develop a sector-specific marketing programme, following calls from the industry.

Having a sector-specific qualification drills down even further by providing both a qualification in the discipline of marketing and knowledge of the nuances of the sector.

“Certain sectors will be more relevant than others – it’s about understanding the sector, the dynamics and what training is already available,” says Christine Boswell-Munday, who manages and develops the CIM sector interest groups and marketing communities.

Chris Ashworth, deputy chairman of CIMCIG, believes there’s a frustration from marketers in the construction industry that when someone is sent on a marketing course, it deals “with the basic stuff” and mostly business-to-consumer (B2C). He says: “If it’s B2B, it’s not terribly useful in some respect – it’s been an issue for a number of years.”

He states that there are two areas where a construction-specific qualification is required. First, for graduates who have the basic fundamentals of marketing but don’t understand construction, and second, for SMEs where the owner does the marketing.

Ashworth hopes running the qualification will “contribute to a better perception of the industry”. He says: “Most people’s exposure to construction is the white van man, while for people in schools it’s about working on a wet, windy building – we want to make people realise the industry has a lot more to give.”

The CIM is looking into other industries that could benefit from dedicated, sector-specific training. Boswell-Munday is “in conversation” to see where the CIM’s expertise could be useful in other sectors.

She says: “Based on the early indications [of the construction course] it looks very positive, but we have only just launched it. We are certainly interested in exploring how relevant our qualification is for other sectors.”

Despite the intention, Clare Kemsley, managing director at Hays Marketing, says the company has not “had such a demand from clients to have specific sector experience and therefore a qualification that recognises that”. But she adds that “clearly, there is a need for marketing executives to get a better understanding of the sector that they’re in and maybe a programme that supports that is a good focus”.

Sector-specific courses could suit younger marketers, according to research from the recruitment brand. It shows that a majority of marketers (83%) agree core skills are now more important than technical skills, offering an opportunity to candidates from a wide range of backgrounds. But 15% of respondents believe sector experience is lacking in junior marketers and 6% suggest that is the case for senior marketers.

Risk of narrow thinking

Marketers working across sectors worry this could narrow marketing knowledge and call out the need for a distinction between business-to-business (B2B) and B2C marketing – where courses often favour B2C teachings.

Jane Cave, managing director at the Institute for Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM), says: “Creating learning and training environments that are too industry-specific run the risk of [encouraging] narrow thinking, which is never a good way to educate and could impact on creative thinking in the long term.”

But Cave says there is “clearly a case for understanding the nuances and challenges that a specific sector has in order to effectively teach marketers on the techniques or tools that might – or might not – be available to them.”

She cites financial services and the pharmaceutical sector as an example, since both are “governed not just by marketing best practice and rules, as well as other bodies that set the rules about what they can say to customers and how they say it”.

Creating learning and training environments that are too industry-specific run the risk of [encouraging] narrow thinking.

Jane Cave, IDM

However, she adds: “Marketing innovation can be found anywhere, whether it’s looking outside your particular sector or taking inspiration from somewhere else altogether.”

Zoe Jones, marketing and insight director at Digital Cinema Media, echoes this sentiment. “[By] narrowing a little bit by sector, you narrow your options. One thing I found really valuable moving between sectors within media – magazines, outdoor and online – is that you bring a lot of ideas to the party,” she explains.

Jones also claims that B2B training “gets slightly neglected”. She says: “It’s a very subtle art, particularly in our industry we are marketing to marketers. You’re talking to people who are extremely well versed in marketing and media, so how you engage with them in a useful and engaging way is quite distinct from B2C disciplines.”

Laurie McAllister, senior marketing executive at Ocean Outdoor, has just passed the CIM diploma in professional marketing and says it is skewed to B2C training. She suggests the CIM could improve by looking at B2B versus B2C.

She says: “There’s a lot that focuses on the consumer and delivering a strategic marketing plan as if you were an FMCG brand talking to a consumer.”

McAllister calls for some of the focus to move “away from standard customer acquisition encouraging people to buy a bar of chocolate”. But adds that marketing at Ocean is “still marketing” even though it is in the outdoor sector and says “a lot of the CIM [training] is very strategic, so the strategic models and the ways you would put a plan together” has been useful.

Developing sector knowledge on-the-job

In the beauty sector there is “specialist knowledge and insight required” and L’Oréal supports its new recruits to ”upskill quickly but effectively in-category”.

Aside from on-the-job learning, we offer week-long ‘in-house’ workshops where participants will deep dive into each separate beauty category,” says Hugh Pile, CMO, Western Europe.

He adds: “For example, in hair colour, our teams will learn about the science of hair, the effects of the most modern technology, the marketing elements that work, and gain real experience with product in situ and in our salon.”

Chris Patton, head of marketing, UK & Ireland at Fujitsu, agrees with the on-the-job approach to sector knowledge. He says because markets are “changing at a rapid pace” marketers must “constantly stay up to date with the industries in which they work”.

He explains: “In my experience, the best, most proficient sector marketers are those who are well-grounded in effective marketing strategies and principles, who have thoroughly applied themselves to learning and researching about specific industries ‘on the job’.”

This means “building up a detailed understanding of the challenges, trends and outcomes of different markets and the ways they are changing, through their own marketing role”, he adds. “A sector qualification is not necessarily warranted unless it can rapidly accelerate this learning process.”


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