Investing in marketing skills to stay competitive

Marketers have had to quick to learn the new techniques, adopt the new rules and embrace the new order, whilst also fighting for recognition of marketing’s strategic importance. So how much importance is placed on the development of marketing skills in order that organisations stay competitive? We put some questions to a panel of senior personnel whose job function specifically deals with the development of marketing capabilities at some top UK brands.

Our panellists:
Hannah Grant
, Head of marketing capability, Aviva.
Iestyn Hughes, Strategy design & capability development manager at a global organisation.
Steve Hutson, Founder of recruitment specialists, Superstars.
Michelle Keaney, Marketing capability, Heineken UK.
Jonathan Kersey, Senior development manager at a global organisation.
Peter Kirk, Head of sales & marketing, BBC TV Licensing.
Fiona Maktari, Head of O2 Marketing Academy, Telefonica.
Sanjay Nazerali, Director of marketing & audiences – BBC News, UK & International.
The Innovation and Transformation Team, Nokia.
Michelle Phillips, Senior HR business partner, Callcredit Marketing Solutions.
Lucy Tarrant, HR business partner for marketing & audiences, BBC.

idm logo

IDM: How important for you is the development of marketing capabilities today?

Iestyn Hughes (IH): Very important and increasingly so. Think about the global context: economic uncertainty; the pace of innovation in some sectors; less disposable income – combined with more consumer choice; the threat to established companies from startups, for whom technology can provide a lower cost market entry; new forms of disruptive social and technical innovation; the impact of new technological channels to market… There’s a constant challenge for marketers in how to work effectively within these constantly evolving phenomena.

Show me a skills shortage and I’ll show you plenty of recruiters with closed minds

Steve Hutson, founder of recruitment specialists, Superstars

Nokia: Capabilities development is part of Nokia’s DNA. The business recognises the critical importance to keep changing and evolving, so change management and change agents are crucial for the business to stay ahead. The Nokia Innovation and Transformation Group is a product of the acknowledgement of that need.

Lucy Tarrant (LT): Massively important. Like many organisations, we must do more with less – but we still need to keep, inspire and grow our marketing talent.

Jonathan Kersey (JK): Very. Post team training, marketing directors hadn’t been convinced that behaviours had changed radically enough, so we set up our own academy to develop the particular skills that our marketers require.

Steve Hutson (SH): Marketing capabilities development is crucial for businesses, large or small. More blue chip corporates are coming around to the idea that some level of digital marketing is needed, but the attitude and skills are not ingrained yet.

There’s a constant challenge for marketers in how to work effectively within these constantly evoloving phenomena

Iestyn Hughes, Strategy design & capability development manager at a global organisation

IDM: Is it on the company agenda – ie seen as strategically important?

Michelle Keaney (MK): Capabilities development is a key component of our strategy for growth. This commitment was recognised in the launch of the Heineken Global Commerce University in 2011 and in the creation of my role to support the UK.

Fiona Maktari (FM): As a marketing-led business the development of our marketers is a critical differentiator for us. The business believes that investing in our people is the right thing to do. It doesn’t just say the word, it does the deed too and has put the resources behind it to make that happen.

IH: My perception is that the marketing function is often under-utilised. I believe its future lies in increasing strategic value to organisations by broadening its remit and elevating its capabilities. An effective marketing function can foster organisational innovation and lead to a whole array of functionality through the downstream value chain.

LT: There’s always been a long-term commitment to training and development at the BBC. The BBC Academy is a long-standing initiative that has always focused on production skills, the BBC’s bread and butter if you like. Over the past six months, we’ve been developing “Inspiring Marketing and Audiences”, a competency framework specifically amongst marketers where we’ve identified 34 key competencies and mapped all our marketers on a scale. This then acts as a tool to help people develop their skills and gives them a development path to becoming great at what they do.

Investing in our people is the right thing to do

Fiona Maktari, Head of O2 Marketing Academy, Telefonica

SH: It’s still not being taken seriously enough by corporates, which is disappointing. We would all like to see more and better efforts in that direction, but it’s difficult as there are still a lot of mixed messages.

IDM: Where are the skills gaps in the marketing function, as you see it?

IH: This is highly dependent on context – on the marketing function’s scope of activities, for example, and also on the specific sector’s “clock speed” – the pace at which a sector moves (or needs to move) within its competitive environment. Too slow runs the risk of being uncompetitive; too rapid risks outpacing the demands of the market. In fast-paced sectors, the skills gaps seem to be in traditional marketing and product development skills. In others there is catch-up to be done in making sense of new channels and integrating them with traditional forms.

MK: Specifically, insight – what are the golden nuggets that can be discovered from the plethora of customer information that’s now available? But a constant challenge is the sheer pace of everything. The pace at which we get information from all our various channels, the pace of development of new techniques, the pace at which new pieces of legislation come along. Five to ten years ago you were a brand or trade marketer. Now, you have to be able to talk with confidence across all areas – and marketing is such a diverse function.

Peter Kirk (PK): The growth of online channels has meant there’s an enormous amount of customer behavioural data and potential insight. So making sure there are enough people with data and analytical skills who can understand and make insight from data is increasingly important.

Sanjay Nazerali (SN): Today there’s also a need to marry data analytics with product development and marketing, which means finding people who have end-to-end skills – from data analytics to product development to promoting that product.

Michelle Phillips (MP): It’s absolutely around social media. A lot of clients are scared of social media, so it’s about having people who not only understand the technology and what it can do, but who can also talk to clients (and their customers) in their own language, excite them with the ideas, then walk them through it without scaring them. But we still need people with a credible data background. It’s a blend. People who get data, but who totally get social media as well.

SH: What we really need is for marketing directors to be open to change. Show me a skills shortage and I’ll show you plenty of recruiters with closed minds. Marketing directors must be open to recruiting from different sectors. The wonderful thing about the digital world is that it’s been a great vehicle for change. In marketing, we’re in a place where we have to relearn in order to move the business forward. You have to think differently about your team and what you want to achieve.

There’s been a steady rise in perceptions of marketing capabilities

Hannah Granty, Head Marketing capability, Aviva

IDM: How do you make sure your organisation stays abreast of change and the latest marketing techniques?

MK: Heineken in the UK has a policy to “bring the outside in”, actively seeking specialised experts to share their experiences and successes. I spend time with external marketing capability communities and at external events. We also use the 70-20-10 learning philosophy to promote on the job learning. The important thing, though, is how you take these learnings back to the business and implement them in line with the overall business strategy.

FM: It’s critical we stay up to date because so much of our business revolves around the real-time world of social media. We’ve invested in helping our people understand the impact social media is having on our customers, as well as in how to brief agencies to get the right result. We have pockets of excellence within O2 and within the organisations we partner with. So we use them. We also hire in talent when we need to. The business is changing dramatically, so we actively look for people from other areas – finance or health, for example, rather than specifically with telecommunications experience.

Hannah Grant (HG): Aviva has a formalised approach to sharing best practice. There’s an annual marketing skills assessment and planning process, and we test and use new techniques, which we then share globally. We run sessions on insight, brand and commercial effectiveness, for example, to great effect. Since 2009 we have had nearly two thousand people go through one of our courses. Through an internal survey, we learned that 76% of participants felt that these approaches had significantly improved their practice and there’s been a steady rise in perceptions of marketing capabilities over the three year period.

Five to ten years ago you were a brand or trade marketer. Now, you have to be able to talk with confidence across all areas

Michelle Keaney, Marketing capability, Heineken UK

Nokia: We have a culture that’s very much “learning by doing”. It’s all about engagement. We embrace key events like Social Media Week and encourage all marketers to embrace social media and use everything at their disposal to stay abreast of new technologies and techniques.

MP: For us this is incredibly important. We have an internal initiative we call Lunchbytes, which is very well thought of across the organisation, where if someone with specific new skills has been brought in, they’ll share their knowledge with others. It’s very much a philosophy that we’re not just bringing people in for the benefit of our clients, but for the good of their colleagues too.

PK: In the BBC TV Licensing marketing team, job descriptions are written to ensure a commitment to continuing professional development – not just to gain a qualification, but to ensure that people are engaged with self-improvement and best practice. Client marketers can learn a lot from working with good agencies too. We work with Proximity and they help enormously when it comes to developing a client team’s skills – and vice versa.

LT: We’re looking closely at leveraging our business partnerships as Learning Solutions. They help us shape workshops and on the job, practical learning. We’re really trying to build a development culture and it helps those strategic relationships too.

JK: Marketing is such a moving target and moving at such a rate that what you’re qualified in at one minute, can be out of date the next. The challenge with development from within is that you can only upskill to the level of your most skilled person.

IDM: What is the effect of capabilities development on employee motivation and staff retention?

JK: The psychology for motivation is very different. Money isn’t a motivator, it’s a hygiene factor. Motivation is about being seen to be valued, successful and an expert. When people resign, they’re not usually leaving jobs, they’re leaving bosses.

SH: The best way to motivate and retain staff is to care, listen, be a part of the team, develop them, give them opportunities, and reward them. It’s not about money. Start with the simplest of things: say thank you when they’ve worked hard, and especially when they’ve worked late.

HG: The importance of marketing is recognised at a strategic level, and this in itself has a big impact on morale and engagement. There’s a large marketing capability programme in place to develop teams in line with the global strategy and a clear development path for marketers and it’s taken very seriously. It’s precisely targeted to their roles and not theoretical – so it’s very much appreciated.

Nokia: Being part of such fast-paced change and being encouraged to play an active part in it is very motivating
in itself. The organisation is putting investment where it is needed, focusing on exactly the right things that engage its employees as well as its customers.

MP: We’ve always been great believers in growing your own. Developing people on a career path within the organisation is incredibly important. Ultimately, it’s the right thing to do. Why on earth would you want your good people to go somewhere else?

We couldn’t agree more. If you are involved with the strategic development of marketing capabilities for your organisation and would like to find out about joining the IDM Marketing Capabilities Council, contact Ed Weatherall at