Mark Ritson: Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t an ‘expert’ in marketing be trained in marketing?

Before anyone is declared an expert/ninja/guru/visionary in marketing they need to learn the discipline. You need a qualification to be qualified.

Ritson head scratch small

Sitting on a train on Friday grading exam papers I got a tweet from marketing consultant Glen Gilmore. The tweet was a little grid of 24 headshots and the message, “24 Marketers you Should Follow on Twitter”.

Intrigued, I clicked the link and discovered it was actually an article by Nicholas Scalice for in which he presented a list of his “24 top-notch marketers”. I scrolled through the list. Some of the faces were familiar to me and I smiled when Gilmore himself appeared. I was about to head back to my exams when I had a fantastically cynical thought. “I wonder,” I said out loud to the immediate concern of the woman sitting opposite me, “how many of them have actually studied marketing?”

See the tweet here

It’s a reasonable question is it not? If they 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. If someone sent me a list of the 24 leading experts in brain surgery or physiotherapy or 17th-century romantic fiction I would expect most, probably all, of the names on the list to have a formal education in the subject matter in question. Why not marketing?

Before I knew what I was doing I had Excel open on my laptop and LinkedIn windows were popping up all over the place. I went through the list of 24 experts and finally sat back with my research compete. Do you know how many have a formal training in marketing of any kind, according to their LinkedIn profiles?

Four of them.

In that whole list of 24 world-leading experts in marketing only four have a formal education in the subject. There was one MBA, two undergraduate degrees and a community college certificate.

Now that’s not to say those other 20 thought leaders aren’t intelligent people. They have degrees in all kinds of subject areas – electrical engineering, English literature, political science. It’s just that they don’t have any training in the thing they are meant to be telling you about. The author of the article, himself an expert in “inbound marketing tools” (bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, master’s in public administration), had managed to pick a list of people that are less well trained in marketing than the average local PR agency.

Now I know how this reads. Middle-aged marketing professor with a BSc and a PhD in marketing is pissed off because he did not make a list of global experts. Or worse, out-of-touch marketing academic wishes people would still listen to business school professors because he is one, and they don’t.

But look beyond that and I think there are two serious concerns. First, despite their billing as leading experts in marketing it’s clear from even a cursory examination of the list that these people are actually experts in just one area of marketing – communications. They sell it using a variety of different, new conceptual names like “traffic”, “content”, “lead conversion” and “digital marketing” but this is what ancient professors used to call the promotional part of the marketing mix. Nothing wrong with that but this is a very small part of marketing discipline – about 10% by my estimation.

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. Our new generation of experts are actually confined to a very small tactical box, despite their billing as general marketing thought leaders and that makes for an overt tactical focus in those who follow them.

Second, the experts aren’t just out there teaching marketing to the masses, they are openly and explicitly altering it. It’s become the norm to suggest that “traditional” approaches don’t work and the new approach to content/purpose/inbound/digital/storytelling has disrupted everything. But I’m uncomfortable with people who don’t have a formal knowledge of the marketing discipline suggesting what needs to change before they actually understand in totality what it originally was.

I think before you become an expert/ninja/guru/visionary in marketing you should learn the discipline. I think before you start creating new rules and insights you should know what the existing ones are. I think before you explain how marketing is changing you should understand what it was before you started announcing the change. I think you need a qualification to be qualified. Surely you must agree?

Or shall I go get my coat and try my hand at becoming a world expert in origami, tree surgery or some other alien pursuit I haven’t got the faintest fucking clue about, and leave marketing to the ninjas?

Mark Ritson Mini MBA promo

We’ve teamed up with award-winning columnist and Professor Mark Ritson to bring you a new online learning experience. The MW Mini MBA in Marketing is a CPD accredited, MBA standard course. Cover the same core modules as leading MBA programmes, in just 12 lessons, it will give you the tools you need to do your job better. For more information click here.



There are 87 comments at the moment, we would love to hear your opinion too.

  1. David Zerny 12 Jul 2016

    How well do Marketers who are CIM-qualified feel that their qualifications are recognised by employers?

  2. Matthew Wood 12 Jul 2016

    Some of the best, most creative Marketers have not studied an MBA in the subject. Are they not outdated before you’ve finished them nowadays anyway?

    • Jack Briggs 15 Jul 2016

      Absolutely, the most creative and level-headed marketer I’ve ever worked with has a degree in Geology. Much of marketing is science (hence agreeing with Nicholas S advise on the training programs) however the crux of it is creative and comparing a medical qualification to a marketing one is ridiculous.

      Mark, enjoy reading your articles but this one is a bit of a stinker.

    • Hannah 30 Nov 2016

      Does a basketball player need credentials in order to join a team? No, he simply gets good at playing basketball and joins one. How ridiculous to compare marketing to brain surgery and expect modern marketers to join academic programs that don’t even teach them the in-demand skills such as SEO. Modern digital marketing is about testing, evaluating results, improving, and re-testing against a specific goal. Whether we use the same words doesn’t matter. While I agree it helps to know more about traditional marketing, there is nothing illegitimate about just f-ing doing it (and kicking butt.) Is marketing itself really more than simply putting a product in front of its market? Are we really going to fail if we don’t use fancy words?

  3. Jason Channell 12 Jul 2016

    My psychology background benefits me a ton as a marketer. We studied fun things like research methods and statistics.

    • Totally agree with you Jason. Same for me and my “non-marketing” degrees. Public Administration has come in handy for a ton of my non-profit client work for instance. It’s not the degree, it’s how you use what you’ve learned.

  4. rjonesx 12 Jul 2016

    Can you name me 1 program at an accredited university that successfully trains a person to be an SEO? Or to do social media? or Paid Search?

    The problem isn’t the marketers, it is the failure of academia to provide even a remotely decent education in these areas.

    • I agree. My girlfriend’s sister is in her teens and now at that age where school are talking about career options. Outside of coding she had no idea digital existed. Here’s a growing industry that has bucked the recession, yet the educational system sees no value in steering kids towards it.

    • “Social media” is not something you “do.” Social media is a set of communications channels over which marketing activities are performed.

      One reason I agree with Mark is that very few marketers today know the difference between marketing strategies, marketing collateral, and marketing channels. That’s why you get people creating nonsense terms such as “social media marketing.”

      If I create a funny video and then broadcast it over Facebook, then the strategy is advertising (one part of the Promotion Mix), the collateral is the video itself, and the channel is social media.

      • Sean Sweet 17 Aug 2016

        This is absolutely true. Even the CIM qualifications are woefully out of date when it comes to current marketing techniques.

    • Hi Russ – I teach a program at an accredited university about digital marketing – was the first of its kind in Minnesota and students love it (just to clarify, it’s not Undergrad or graduate program. It’s adult education). James Loomstein does one in Texas as well. What I can say from my experience is that it’s not just academia who is at fault here – it’s practitioners not wanting to devote time to teach in a formal setting or not knowing where to start. It takes both parts to make a program work.

      The University I work with hired me with no MBA, teaching qualifications or the distinction of ever having taken a single marketing class – and it has worked out well for all of us. But in most cases it’s a chicken before the egg situation. Many people don’t even think they can teach, and many Universities are hoping someone will come along with the formal training (which doesn’t really exist).

      I guess I am saying that your comments are accurate until the point you say it’s not the fault of academics. It’s the fault of marketers as well.

    • anthonyrusli 18 Jul 2016

      I don’t think anyone would need a specific course to be adept at SEO, social media, and paid search. Those are simply tools that marketers use. The fundamentals are the important stuff that needs to be learned. I agree with Mark completely that there seems to be a misdirected focus that’s happening in the marketing discipline nowadays, which is the “tactic over strategy” way of thinking.

      If one is taught sufficiently on Marketing Communications and the concept of developing IMC strategy, which I think most accredited Uni’s would teach in their marketing courses, it’s already more than sufficient. Furthermore, most core marketing textbooks are already updated with case studies and real-life examples from the Internet age as well, which obviously helps.

  5. Hi Mark, what a surprise to see so much buzz about my simple little blog post. You bring up several points worth pondering, although let’s not take it out of context. If you read my article, I’m not declaring everyone on the list to be an “expert.” In fact, “expert” is only mentioned twice in the article, for specific people (Mari Smith and Perry Marshall). And personally, I don’t refer to myself as an “expert” or “guru” in anything.

    The Twitter list was intended to help anyone who is interested in marketing (who also still uses Twitter) to fill their feed with insightful marketing-related content. I follow the folks on my list, and get a tremendous amount of value from their tweets. So the context is that this is about Twitter content, not “who’s the best expert in the world based on the degrees they have.”

    And as for the educational requirements for becoming a great marketer, I will have to disagree with that. Thank for pointing out my educational background. I am proud of my non-marketing undergrad and graduate degrees. I do not believe marketing is something that can be learned in school. Real world experience and certification programs can take you further in this fast-paced industry than textbooks and class lectures on “the 4 P’s.”

    But marketing certifications are another story. That’s why I’m continually working on new certifications that in my opinion, have a much higher practical value.

    I recommend that all marketers invest in training programs and certifications such as the AMA Professional Certified Marketer (PCM) Program, the Google AdWords Certification, the HubSpot Inbound Certification, the Hootsuite Certified Professional Program, the HubSpot Certification, and the Google Analytics Individual Qualification (all of which I have obtained by the way).

    Anyway, I respect and appreciate your thoughts on my article and hope that this friendly debate will continue to inspire others to achieve more in the exciting field of marketing and to keep learning.

  6. First, if you’re the marketer you think you are, you wouldn’t waste time worrying about a random list of marketers on a site most people haven’t heard of. You’d recognize there’s a gazillion of these lists and not give it a second thought.

    Second, if you have to have a qualification to be capable of providing expert advice in something, please update your LinkedIn resume to show your journalism background. This is an article; where is your expert qualification to write it?

    Third, personally, my main area of expertise is in search marketing. I didn’t get a qualification in that because when I started doing it 1995, there was no such thing. One of the reasons I’m often recognized as an expert is because I’m one of the pioneers of the field who helped others learn and come into it.

    That leads to my last point. I think a real digital marketing expert would get this: that in the fast evolving space, many pioneers don’t have formal qualification because there are none to earn.

    I get the core of your concern. Anyone can call themselves an expert. Any site can also make a list of supposed experts. Neither actually makes someone an expert. But neither does a qualification, either. Someone can study marketing for years, for example, but still be a terrible expert if they lack any real world experience.

    I’d say expertise is shown by an overall body of work and/or peer recognition.

    • Well said, Danny. This is exactly why I added you to my list. When I think of SEO, you’re the guy who first comes to mind. I’ve learned so much from you, your books, your tweets, and none of it had anything to do with your formal education. Rock on dude.

    • Jonny B Deviant 13 Jul 2016

      Perfectly put. Loved the journalism jab, haha.

    • Charlogig 13 Jul 2016

      That would make you a Search Engine Marketing Expert, not a Marketing Expert. Search Engine is part of Promotion, I still believe Mark’s argument is very valid.

      • Rollaroli 13 Jul 2016

        Marketing is a hundred different things, including advertising, direct mail, promotions, CRM, events, merchandising, etc. Thus, Danny is indeed a marketing expert whose niche is Search. Just like Mark’s marketing expertise is SALES Promotion, since that’s what he is doing selling himself and his unneeded marketing training. If that is what anyone needs try Edx and take a few marketing courses for free online. At the agencies where I worked, we never hired a marketing or advertising major. They all think the same and regurgitate the same textbook templates. We found that the sociology, anthropology, psychology, history and English majors had more to offer and any marketing expertise that they needed we helped them develop by working with clients and being mentored by executives.

    • Wance Marcus Tacconelli 18 Jul 2016

      You missed Mark’s point. He certainly did not mean that having a formal marketing qualification makes you, automatically, a marketing expert.
      The gist of his argument is broader. He is advocating for a professionalization of the marketing discipline in order to improve the perception that people have towards it.
      Most CFOs of large companies have finance qualifications such as a Master of Business Administration, Master of Science, or come from an accounting background such as a Certified Public Accountant. Why can’t we do the same in marketing?
      Oh yes…because marketing is a ‘creative’ discipline that relies more on ‘intuition’ than rationality and it’s changing at such ‘fast pace’ that cannot be studied in a formal school setting (in fact there are plenty of options available, on campus, online, etc.).
      For how long should we still hear this mantra and allow other disciplines to ridicule us?

  7. FredB 13 Jul 2016

    Maybe it’s just me, but shouldn’t Ritson be more explicit that he’s now offering a mini MBA – advertised in the post no less – when criticising the marketing world for a lack of formal qualifications? Careful Mark, we read you in part because we like and trust you.

    • Geoff Mann 13 Jul 2016

      I don’t think you can be more transparent than advertising it in the same post

    • Nick Turner 7 Dec 2016

      Good point – there really isn’t any such thing as a “mini” MBA – it either is or it isn’t!

  8. Chris Robinson 13 Jul 2016

    The biggest problem with market research out here in Asia is no one actually could begin to tell me the basics of Marketing since no one studied it in their MBA’s. The “4P’s? What are they?” Those who cannot see the link between a marketing education and good marketing consultancy obviously do fall into the communications bias category. How many have a clue about distribution, logistics, pricing strategy, sale management, merchandising, point of sale, retailing relationships, shelf presence, packaging design, etc, etc? Marketing is a holistic business requiring knowledge across these areas or that information is less than a 3-legged stool. Its typically one-legged – biased and dangerous..

  9. Pohnjin 13 Jul 2016

    This provoked some comments hasn’t it? I feel that CIM-qualifications weren’t much use when I fisrt started to do one. I felt they were a few years behind what was actually happening in marketing at the time. They do seem to have improved considerably since then though. What the CIM Diploma did for me was twofold. First, it gave me a decent theoretical grounding in what I was actually doing during the course of my role. Secondly it’s given me better employment prospects, as CIM qualifications are commonly asked for by employers in the UK for marketing roles. I don’t feel that the CIM qualifications are necessarily recognised by employers per se, rather it’s something they have been told to consider when hiring, much like ACCA for accounts roles and so on, and so forth. There’s a bit of a clickbait feel to this article. Slow news day?

  10. Geoff Mann 13 Jul 2016

    I think the point is being missed by some in that there may be no qualifications in SEO or content marketing, but indeed why would there be given the proportion of marketing that they make up I.e. You are not a marketing expert but if you want to be, you can be an SEO expert.

  11. It’s common sense wot does marketing best; common sense.

    • JV_at_lAttitude_in_Cairns 14 Jul 2016

      Sorry Pat, you are perpetuating a myth that convinces so many business proprietors believe – that they know all they need to know about marketing – and that’s why they waste so many resources pursuing customers without knowing enough about them.
      Applying the fundamental tools of segmentation, targeting and positioning and constructing an offering by applying the 4 (or 5,6 or 7) tools to develop an effective marketing strategy will go a long way to solving Wannamaker’s dilemma.

      • Nah, still common sense. Advanced common sense in some cases, but still common sense. The principles always remain the same, regardless of all the bullshit in the middle.

  12. closertobrands 13 Jul 2016

    Once again, Mark Ritson throws a box of firecrackers into the bonfire of marketers’ insecurities and stands bak to admire his work. Very good insight into how to sell a Mini MBA course, I’d say. Plus a really high level of expertise in content marketing.

    My own take would be that you never stop learning in marketing. I’m sure it is helpful to start off your career with a marketing qualification or to pick one up along the way. But that is not the only way to learn about the subject.

    Personally, I started off as a graduate trainee at an advertising agency after doing an Engineering degree! I think I got a pretty good training in communications for the time and learnt a lot about marketing too. But I’ve learnt a hell of a lot more since then.

    I do agree, though, that you have to know what the ‘rules’ are before you try to break them. You hear this point being made by all sorts of people across the arts and it’s true.

  13. Mark Ritson 13 Jul 2016

    While I am more than happy to be referred to as a “clown”, “idiot” and “teacher” here and in social media I do find the suggestion that I wrote this week’s column to promote the Mini MBA very offensive.

    Can I point out that the ad for the mini MBA has been at the bottom of my column for about 2 months now. More importantly, if you actually read the column this week you can cleary see – starting with the title – that I am NOT COMMENTING ON WHETHER REGULAR MARKETERS SHOULD OR SHOULD NOT HAVE FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS. I have a view on that topic but it is not the subject of this week’s column.

    The column is about the 24 experts in marketing and the fact that all but 4 of them do not have a formal qualification in marketing. Clearly I do not expect any of these 24 people to sign up for the mini MBA.

    But I can re-iterate that this is not “click bait” either. I REALLY DO THINK THAT ANYONE STANDING ON A STAGE, BEING BILLED AS A MARKETING EXPERT, RECONFIGURING THE DISCIPLINE OF MARKETING, TELLING OTHERS HOW TO DO MARKETING, SHOULD HAVE SOME FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS IN THE SUBJECT. I apologies if this view offends you but I really think that for experts in marketing it should be a given.

    Anyway carry on with the clown comments, they keep me happy. But please take me at my word that this column is about 24 experts who, I think, should have marketing training as part of their qualification to be an expert. Disagree with that as vociferously as you like.

  14. Jonathan Staines 13 Jul 2016

    What a coincidence that you’ve published this just as you launch your mini-MBA.

    It’s also worth noting that there are thousands of brilliant and successful marketers who have no formal training or qualifications. I can name names if you like but Richard Branson is the first that springs to mind. Jay-Z and Dr Dre are a couple of others and then there are all my respected and highly successful CMO friends who have no certificate to prove their marketing abilities.


    This is a dreadful list of marketers. If you are interested in marketing, you should not follow those 24 people on Twitter. It’s too narrow and too shallow. You won’t learn.

    Now imagine a GOOD list of 24 marketers you should follow on Twitter. This list would cover much more of the marketing mix. It would include people with broad marketing expertise, as well as domain experts and a few provocateurs.

    These experts would share genuine knowledge and insight not just 17 Things Jerry Seinfeld Can Teach Content Managers (number 4: be funny; number 7: leverage people’s everyday observations) clickbait.

    Far more than 4 of these people would have a formal marketing qualification.

    But all 24? I doubt it.

  16. Maybe I’ve been baited here into commenting and that’s the sole purpose of this article (All publicity and all that…), but I’ll add my two cents.

    I have a degree in Video Production, however I didn’t pursue a career in it. I still freelance bits and do little bits to an okay level IMO, but I would never regard myself as an expert or leading in the field. I graduated in 2008; we were still using mini DV tapes and HD video was not affordable to most. Fast forward just two years later and everyone is using DSLRs and filming HD video onto micro SD cards. I virtually had to retrain in photography and DSLRs to ensure I could still use a camera just to keep up-to-date. Had I not I’d have had a nice degree, but it wouldn’t be practical in any form.

    On the flip side, I have no marketing qualification, but I have been working in SEO for nearly 5 years. I do it five days a week at least. I’ve worked on almost every SEO issue and type of site imaginable. I’ve seen first hand the impact good SEO can have and the impact bad SEO can have. I digest information that changes on a daily basis that can change within weeks. I sometimes have to pick through conflicting information and even incorrect advice from other professionals to know what solution is best for my clients based on my own experience and logic.

    There is no exact science to SEO. It does not work in the same frame work as maths where 2+2 will always =4. Because of this, it can’t simply be taught within a framework. Education can help you learn of course, but until you’ve done it you can never 100% vouch on what’s best to follow.

    Long story short; knowledge is only as how up to date and practised it is. If you think an education is all you need to get by or make claims in life then you’ll soon be redundant.

    Would you be happy if your doctor was still prescribing you treatments from 70 years ago because he graduated med-school in 1960 and hadn’t bothered to keep up with regulations or developments since? Personally, I wouldn’t.

    • Would you be happy if your doctor prescribed the same (recently developed and oh so cutting edge — but “no exact science” drug) for every ailment?

      Or would you want them to be trained in the pros and cons of all established treatments for all potential conditions?

      • What a ridiculous comparison. Last time I checked, poor marketing hasn’t actually had a health warning attached to it! Would you refuse to buy a painting that you loved because the artist hadn’t got some kind of art qualification? Having a marketing qualification doesn’t make you a good marketer; actual marketing experience, creativity and passion for what you do does.

  17. Jonny B Deviant 13 Jul 2016

    A clickbait article about clickbaiters – and it worked. I don’t agree with the sentiment of this article but I guess that’s the point. I hope this was deliberately clever.

  18. Samuel Joy 13 Jul 2016

    From Mark Ritson:

    While I am more than happy to be referred to as a “clown”, “idiot” and “teacher” here and in social media I do find the suggestion that I wrote this week’s column to promote the Mini MBA very offensive.

    Can I point out that the ad for the mini MBA has been at the bottom of my column for about 2 months now. More importantly, if you actually read the column this week you can cleary see – starting with the title – that I am NOT COMMENTING ON WHETHER REGULAR MARKETERS SHOULD OR SHOULD From Mark Ritson:

    NOT HAVE FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS. I have a view on that topic but it is not the subject of this week’s column.

    The column is about the 24 experts in marketing and the fact that all but 4 of them do not have a formal qualification in marketing. Clearly I do not expect any of these 24 people to sign up for the mini MBA.

    But I can re-iterate that this is not “click bait” either. I REALLY DO THINK THAT ANYONE STANDING ON A STAGE, BEING BILLED AS A MARKETING EXPERT, RECONFIGURING THE DISCIPLINE OF MARKETING, TELLING OTHERS HOW TO DO MARKETING, SHOULD HAVE SOME FORMAL QUALIFICATIONS IN THE SUBJECT. I apologies if this view offends you but I really think that for experts in marketing it should be a given.

    Anyway carry on with the clown comments, they keep me happy. But please take me at my word that this column is about 24 experts who, I think, should have marketing training as part of their qualification to be an expert. Disagree with that as vociferously as you like.

    • If the suggestion of promotion is particularly offensive, why not have the promotion removed from this particular article to avoid any such implication?

      That way we could debate the topic without any such confusion?

    • Where are they all being billed as “experts” in the original article? The list is merely a collection of marketers who share valuable marketing-related content on Twitter, and are therefore good folks to follow.

    • Peter Flynn 13 Jul 2016

      I would say I have lots of Marketing knowledge but the only experience I’ve had was working for a DM partnership the summer before I went to Brighton Business School in 1998; I was 25. After the first year I sold a Time-Share and broke down…

  19. Toby Chiz 13 Jul 2016

    I went straight into a digital marketing agency after attending University with no marketing or advertising qualifications and did work experience that then turned into a full-time role for the rest of the year. That same year my friend did a post graduate marketing degree for a year (which cost about 10K). After a year he had the qualification but no experience and I had the experience but no qualifications – I walked into my next job with my year of experience working on multiple brands and working on various different projects. My friend struggled to find work as he had no experience and after a while ended up working in PR…

    I since went on to become a successful digital marketer, learning my trade on the job. It’s not brain surgery! No-one will die if you mess up an ad campaign (really some people take advertising so seriously! like comparing it to surgery!) and as other commentors have pointed out, it’s a constantly changing medium so having any formal qualifications really doesn’t count for much in my opinion. I now have 8 years of experience and have worked at some of the biggest agencies in the world I met very few people with formal advertising qualifications and to be honest if you can do your job well who cares.

  20. There seems to be some confusion between the people on the list (who generally don’t self-label as experts/declare their area of specialisation), and the fact they’ve been labelled as ‘marketing experts’ by the author.

    I’d also point out there’s a difference between professions which require formal qualifications for entry (e.g. brain surgery/physiotherapy etc), and something like literature. Many of those qualifications arose from a desire to keep the number of competitive rivals out of each industry as much as a drive for competence or safety.

  21. Curvingthunder 13 Jul 2016

    Fascinating how defensive ninjas are about one gentleman’s opinion that’s well thought out and positioned. In the word of Bob Hoffman “It’s not a court case, it’s an effing blog.”

  22. GeoffG2 13 Jul 2016


    But only from the point of view of ‘youth’ marketing. I’m not talking about kids, but marketing related to brands that chase the golden chalice of ‘cool’.

    It’s not Millennials: and I agree that any mention of them is also bollocks; because within any demographic there will always be opinion-formers, early adopters, credible mass market and then the mainstream sheep.

    Lifestyle/Youth brand credibility is something that can never be authentically taught in any educational scenario, but something that a marketer has to be, or been a part of, to truly capture the essence and language of ‘sub cultures’; whether that is Music, Club Culture, Hip Hop Culture, Fashion, Art or Board Sports.

    I’ve always found it easier to teach an individual, who has been a part of ‘youth culture’, marketing, than it is to teach an educated or corporate marketer the subtle detail and ‘voice’ that is required to build true credibility and authenticity.

    To truly build a culturally credible brand you need to understand the culture you are trying to align with. In most cases I’d say ‘hijack’ because that is what most brands do when it comes to ‘youth’ marketing, because the majority of brands employ marketers with too much emphasis on qualifications and not enough on who they are and what their history is I.E. do they really truly understand ‘culture’?

    With so much emphasis on brand authenticity recently I’d suggest companies would be better off looking to hire savvy individuals who understand the cultures the brands want to ‘invade’ rather than clueless corporate ‘Borgs’ with a marketing qualification.

    • Pippa Musgrave 20 Jul 2016

      Millenials are not a segment. In the UK that classification is about 25% of the population. 25% of the population is not a valid segment

  23. Peter Flynn 13 Jul 2016

    How much does the Mini MBA cost? I live in Lancaster by the way and enjoy the comments.

  24. This is a fascinating topic. The arguments here make me smile especially because I think both Mark and his detractors are making some very good points. I’m not interested in picking a side here but I do think my own experience is relevant.

    I graduated from the University of Washington with a B.A. in Business Administration, emphasis in marketing. Directly after graduating, I was hired into a digital marketing role. I mostly worked on SEO. For the longest time I thought that my education, while somewhat helpful, had done nothing to prepare me for the day-to-day tasks of my marketing job. The things I was being asked to do and the tools that were at my disposal didn’t seem to require the knowledge I’d gained in marketing.

    After a few years, I had been promoted a couple times and was now leading a marketing team comprised of junior digital marketers. I ran out of ideas. I knew how to run a fantastic SEO program but since we’d already done the hard work for the last few years, there was no longer any low-hanging fruit and growth was slow. Maybe I wasn’t as good of an SEO as I thought I was but I think there is a different explanation.

    I had grown myopic. I thought that SEO, PPC, social media, and display ads were the only valuable ways to grow a company. I thought maybe there was something I was missing about TV, Print, Radio, or PR but all of the blogs and websites I was reading kept preaching about the power of inbound digital marketing and the necessity of accurate attribution.

    I eventually became frustrated and left my position for an ecommerce company. The change of scenery was good because it began to remove my tunnel vision.

    I saw people from different disciplines solving growth problems in different ways. I began to see how distribution strategy (place), product strategy (product), and pricing strategy (price) all needed to work together with a traffic acquisition strategy (promotion). I began to see how much research and planning it takes to come up with a coherent plan around all 4 Ps.

    The previous paragraph just lists a bunch of remedial marketing topics so it doesn’t reveal much about marketing; It does reveal a lot about me. When I was in a promotions-only marketing role, I was not getting real-world experience and interaction with the entire discipline of marketing – just a fraction of it. So I forgot it. I didn’t see how it applied and I got stuck.

    Did I create a lot of value with the promotional tools at my disposal? Yes – and many smart, dedicated digital marketing professionals have done much more and continue to deliver results year after year.

    But I happen to believe that marketing is about more than promotion. Like any other discipline, you can learn those things with or without a college degree. The time spent in focused-study at a university is very valuable. Time spent working at a job is an absolute requirement.

    I’m lucky enough to have had both and I won’t speak ill of either one.

  25. JV_at_lAttitude_in_Cairns 14 Jul 2016

    Well said Mark
    Like you and some of your respondents, I am appalled at the number of snake-oil merchants – self-designated “marketing gurus” who continue to slide up the ladder of marketing briefs, moving from disaster to disaster but not staying long enough to suffer the consequences.
    IMHO, marketing quals alone will not solve marketing challenges, but will at least set the foundations for business success.
    No-one can call themselves an accountant or an engineer without the appropriate quals and accreditation, so perhaps more could be done to have such requirements for anyone wanting to call themselves a Marketer.
    In this regard the CIM, the AMA and the AMI could do more.
    Anyway that’s one man’s opinion.
    Unlike professions such as accounting and engineering

  26. Al King 14 Jul 2016

    Bang on mate. Far too much of this out there. How many times have we seen a cute PA or young geezer moved into marketing because they think it looks cool? Do your time and know your onions.

  27. Great article – I have never been prouder of my HND in Advertising Design & Business Studies from what was Newcastle Poly – in 1977, the only accredited course in the UK with the word “Advertising” in the title.

  28. Andi Munich 14 Jul 2016

    Good article and excellent point!

  29. Darcey Wilde 14 Jul 2016

    Are you focusing on the method or the results? I wouldn’t hire the most educated expert if the results don’t follow. Just because someone has a “formal” education does not make them an expert.
    I had surgery last month and I honestly could not tell you where my surgeon went to school, what his grades were, I based my choice on the results he gets from his surgical practices.
    I believe you are getting caught up in the method to an education. There could be a hundred ways to become an “expert marketer” and 99 of them don’t include a degree from a University.
    Who cares about how the expert got to be an expert if the results are there, I want them on my team.

  30. What percentage of successful entrepreneurs have business degrees? What percentage of top salespeople went to college to learn how to sell?

    I think those are better analogies to marketing than the brain surgeon or physiotherapist.

    Or take your own example of origami – do professional origami artists go to school to study origami, or do they fold a lot of paper, seek out mentors, read and observe other artists, and experiment to find out what works while building up their skills? Art school might be a part of their training, but not going to art school does not mean that they are untrained or unqualified. The proof is in the doing.

    On the other hand, someone trying to teach themselves brain surgery through trial and error on the neighbor’s kids would soon wind up in jail. There are definitely some areas where formal training is a necessity rather than a nice advantage! I just don’t see that marketing is one of them.

  31. Tanja Korobka 14 Jul 2016

    We have all been brainwashed by educational system, that wants us to be good at following instructions and fit in. The system sets us up for capitalism, where our labor is exploited.

    But we live in the world of self actualisation and with enough curiosity, experimentation and failure, we all can become experts at whatever tickles our fancy.

    You can’t train a genius, become art comes from within (by art I mean positive change, not a painting).

    I disagree with Mark about the promotion being only 10% of the whole marketing mix. In performance marketing (any marketing that needs to generate measurable results = majority of digital marketing), promotion is 50% if not even more. Everyone can create nice campaigns, but not everyone can get people to see and love them, especially in the age where we are bombarded with 5000 marketing messages a day.

    Some further read and encouragement for people with other degrees than “marketing” …

    Here’s why I think liberal arts degree graduates (Philosophy, English, Fine Art History etc) beat dry and boring Business (or even Marketing) graduates any time:

    – Ability to challenge a point of view and rationalize strategic thought (Philosophy)

    – Students who read fiction novels on a regular basis gain enhanced cognitive connectivity in the brain and improved brain function over students who don’t, particularly in language articulation (English)

    – Research suggests “those who read fiction frequently have higher levels of cognitive empathy,” which “improves interpersonal understanding and enhances relationships with customers and business associates.” (English)

    – Fine art students have the ability to visually conceptualize ideas and articulate bringing visual concepts to life. (Fine arts)

  32. Peter 15 Jul 2016

    If you come at this with Mark’s aggression from the other angle, Marketing at a high level, is not remotely seen as an academic subject. It’s not given any prestige at the world’s greatest universities in comparison to other subjects (medicine, engineering, maths etc).

    This answers Mark’s point and therefore why some of the most intelligent people don’t study marketing and instead study something more prestigious and get into marketing later – it’s particularly seen as a bit of a joke degree at foundation level with highest dropout rates and poorest post-graduation salary.

    The reason for this is up for debate but, in my opinion, it is because it’s a practical subject – as others here have pointed out it’s not well suited to theoretical study because the theory becomes pretty quickly out-of-date. The highly competitive nature of marketing means that received wisdom is pretty quickly destroyed by intention by competitors, or kept as a trade secret, therefore there’s very little you could learn from a ‘professor’ such as Mark that you couldn’t learn faster and more profoundly through experimentation in-market. Oppose this to more collaborative fields such as Mathematics or Science where theory is built upon and shared.

    Plus, the value of marketing individuals to companies means that most of those with real ingenuity are employed by companies where they can make more money than a university could ever pay them. So the quality of marketing education is therefore sub-par.

    So, in all, marketing education is somewhat of a waste of time as an academic subject, which is why bottom-league universities are stuffed with huge moneyspinning marketing departments where students pay for very little in return.

    • Peter 15 Jul 2016

      By the way, I studied politics, which IMHO is the most useful degree for working in any marketing team 😉

    • Andy Hooper 15 Jul 2016

      Possibly the most depressing post I’ve read on this subject. It’s a very sad state of affairs. One which anyone in the field of marketing whether a touted/self-proclaimed guru/ninja/expert or uber-qualified professor should be angry at and fighting to fix. If we ourselves in marketing don’t value the subject how do we expect others to take us seriously?

      Do we really want to be seen as the suck-it-and-see department, constantly blindly experimenting until we find something that works?

      Or should we be striving to be known as a profession where we use theory in conjunction with knowledge of the environment in which our organisation operates and market research/analysis to apply tactics which get results with minimal wastage because they are targeted using the right channels for the relevant segment?

      I know which I’d prefer.

      Don’t get me wrong in some respects I agree it’s difficult for marketing education to keep pace and stay relevant. I for one chose to do most of my learning on the job rather than certified studies because of the lack of practical relevance of the courses early in my career.

      But should we be vilifying a marketing professor for standing up for the profession/subject? I don’t think so.

      I work in the legal industry where education and qualifications are held in high regard, and although my lack of degree and only a first-level CIM cert to my name haven’t held me back completely they probably have a little. Something I plan to address.

      I genuinely love marketing because there’s room for the analytically minded methodical planner type to sit alongside the creatives and sales orientated. Let’s not fight among ourselves, remember the common enemy… the CFOs 😉

  33. JonnySatts 18 Jul 2016

    Great article, Mark. And as one of your former MBA students, couldn’t agree more.

    Only one thing troubles me, though. Right under this article is an ad for your “MW Mini MBA in Marketing”. Call me cynical, but after 3 years hard slog doing my MBA, plus 25 years or so figuring out how to sell music and movies, I had to wonder…a “mini MBA” in “just 12 lessons”???? Sounds a bit mickey mouse, especially coming off the back of your insightful comments that (essentially) marketing is a serious discipline that requires extended study to master.

  34. A bit late to join the conversation but fascinating discussion re the various posts. I reckon probably the most you have had since I started reading your stuff so congrats on sparking an important debate.

    In this instance I completely disagree with what you say and it is time the whole education system learnt the same message.

    While being taught stuff via textbook and theory can sometimes be helpful it is actually practical knowledge and experience via what I call the “University of Life” that actually matters.

    I don’t have any form of marketing qualification because quite simply while initially believing I should have one, it soon became apparent that it teaches people to paint by numbers. That is not real life, real life is based on deep rooted personal insights not supposed process.

    The simple fact that so much marketing is crap and the function has such a poor image with the c-suite is exactly the opposite of your point. Too much learning and not enough thinking. As always more than happy to challenge you to a live debate on this, but perhaps you need to study a textbook or case study first?

  35. I understand your point. That said, have come across numerous people qualified in various fields with no idea what they are doing. I think you’re an expert once of your client/company sees tremendous direct value from your service/practice.

  36. Mark Beasley 19 Jul 2016

    I have to agree with Mark. How can you work in marketing with no training? The poor quality of many of the comments only supports the point. Having said that, I have to question the ability of many marketing academics to relate to the real business world. Mark is an exception…

    • Steve Jex 25 Jul 2016

      No one is saying they should not have training, just questioning whether spending 30k plus on a degree that will be several years out of date at the time of tuition is the best option.

      • Mark Beasley 25 Jul 2016

        Yes it is the best option, since you’re asking me! I’m glad that my lawyer went to law school. And that my doctor went to medical school. My accountant has qualifications, too – starting with a degree in finance. Marketing is a business strategy and to operate at a senior level, it helps to have some solid training – much of which will be relevant even if it is a few years old. And after a degree, there is the concept of ‘CPD’ i.e. continuing professional development, which all professions require, including the Chartered Institute of Marketing.

    • Steve Jex 25 Jul 2016

      “The 2016 Mature Marketing Summit” – “A full day of expert speakers”
      So you agree with Mark, you just don’t put it into practice. Not one of the “Expert” speakers at the above mentioned “marketing summit” has a degree in marketing ? Can they therefore, by Mark’s reasoning with which you say you agree, be regarded as experts?

  37. Ashley Khan 19 Jul 2016

    Interesting – to be honest you can say the same about all professions. Nowadays there seems to be a qualification/degree for everything.

    I think the main point is that a marketer needs to fine balance their ‘qualifications’ with a mixture of sound marketing knowledge and actual results.

    There’s no point hiring a marketer that focuses on popular marketing theory/processes when it’s not suitable for the business. The same goes for a marketer that has ‘learnt on the job’ as effectively they are limited in their knowledge.

    Also, who says it has to be one or the other? Marketers (as far as I’ve seen) are constantly evolving their tactics, knowledge and scope as it’s an industry that’s extremely dynamic!

  38. Justin Lines 19 Jul 2016

    Mark Ritson… MW’s in-house troll

    Interesting debate.

    Many experts of many industries/professions, football for example, have no official qualifications

    Whilst the marketing world needs academic experts to dissect and discover, we should never shout down the grassroots experts, who crafted their own methods through pure trial & error.

  39. Pippa Musgrave 20 Jul 2016

    I attend my local small business networking group weekly. I have a business degree and three post-graduate diplomas. I am a CIM member and hold the Professional Diploma in Marketing.
    Week after week, new ‘marketing’ businesses appear. Most are people with only a basic understanding of marketing. Many are untrained individuals promising to optimise your position on a search engine. Others offer to manage your social media. Very few are aware of the strategic nature of marketing and believe it is only about graphic design or creating a website.
    I agree fully, people offering marketing expertise, should hold marketing qualifications.

  40. Julian Rapkins 21 Jul 2016

    Plenty of CFO’s who aren’t “qualified” accountants – who would I be more worried about..?

    • m ritson 9 Aug 2016

      That’s because CFO’s dont need a qualification in accounting. They need a qualification in corporate finance and according to the CFA “more than 90%” of CFOs have a formal training in corporate finance.

  41. Steve Jex 21 Jul 2016

    In all the years I’ve been in Marketing I can’t ever remember a client who asked, let alone cared, whether I had studied Marketing or anything else, (Photography, as it happens, just in case you’re wondering).
    That’s because they are only interested in one thing – results. Which I provide to them by the boat load. With your average marketing graduate they’ll get pretty charts and reams of reports but will they actually make sales as a result?
    A word to the wise – no one ever reads those reports, they might pretend to but they really don’t. On the other hand, if you stick 500 extra sales enquiries into the funnel just watch them take notice then.
    Qualifications are fine but experience is better. Before you spend 30K+ on a degree consider the alternative of actually working in an agency and learning how to do the job – some of them are open-minded enough to take you on without a piece of per saying that you officially know how many Ps make 4.

    • m ritson 9 Aug 2016

      sales orientation. get a marketing qualification and you’ll be able to work out the difference. have a great day.

      • Steve Jex 9 Aug 2016

        This doesn’t make sense Mark – has your reply been posted properly?

        • m ritson 10 Aug 2016

          Sorry Steve. Did not mean to be cryptic.

          I’m sure your excellent at inbound sales generation but that’s sales not marketing. When people and companies mix up sales with marketing we call it “sales orientation”. If marketing was he same as sales generation we would have just called it sales.

  42. Antonio M Camera 11 Aug 2016

    I agree with the gist of this and generally believe in being qualified and qualifications, however, I disagree with the premise of Mark’s argument:’you need a qualification to be qualified’. One can be qualified in other ways than uniquely a qualification.

  43. Antonio M Camera 11 Aug 2016

    I agree that: digital is only a fraction of marketing; that today’s purely digital marketers could do with a bit of classic market orientation skills and hence less tactical focus; as well as that classic marketers need to update their skills with exciting and powerful digital techniques. It is the combination of classic marketing skills and digital techniques that would qualify today’s marketer.

  44. Sventana 16 Aug 2016

    normally , i love Mark’s stuff, but he lost me when he tried to compare marketers to brain surgeons,

  45. Expert at Leaving Comments 30 Nov 2016

    I loved this article. It’s discouraging how many bullshitters end up in marketing and call themselves experts. Isn’t it about failing fast and learning from our experiences? We become so much better at our jobs when we admit that we don’t know everything (I admit that I’m befuddled 90% of the time).

  46. Ted Ives 6 Dec 2016

    I’m reminded of an interview with the fellow that created Mathematica, Stephen Wolfram. He had applied to Caltech’s Ph.D program after only a few years in college at Oxford, without graduating – and gotten in. The interviwer said “I thought you had to have a piece of paper to get in there”. Wolfram responded (I’m paraphrasing) “They considered all the papers I had written and published in academic journals to be sufficient”. Credentials are overblown IMO

  47. Craig Cherlet 8 Dec 2016

    It sounds kind of old school and a little pompous to think that you need to study marketing at a univercity of college to be an professional marketer today. Formal education is overpriced and doesn’t carry the same value it once did.

    There is more than enough resources and access to other marketers and entrepreneurs that one doesn’t need a piece of paper to prove they can be a marketer. In todays digital world where you can monitor and measure your marketing much easier that 10 years ago, results are easy to see. Companies would rather have results than a piece of paper from a facny school.

    If a person were to spend the same amount of time reading, studying, networking, engaing in marketing comunities, trying to sell things and failing at marketing than they do in a formal school they would be further ahead and have more money in their pocket.

    The money people spend on school would be better spent trying and even failing to start a buisines. Their experience would be much more valueble than a diploma or degree IMO.

  48. Vinay Iyer 3 Jan 2017

    A formal training may help an entry-level person coming into the field. Marketing is becoming more about analysis, strategy, creativity, and content. A wide variety of educational backgrounds will give you these skills. Learning tactics of any particular marketing channel is relatively easy to do and doesn’t require any formal training.

    While I enjoyed reading the post, the sales pitch at the end was in poor taste. Makes me feel the entire discussion was to promote the course! Duh!

  49. Terry 13 Jan 2017

    Nice article. Summed up, the 24 lack credibility. Just because someonevery else thinks they are top notch marketing people doesn’t mean they are, and without recogniseable qualifications they lack credibility.

  50. Steven Tripp 30 Jan 2017

    Great points, but not all learning is formal. Some of the best learning is self-initiated. President Abraham Lincoln was a self-trained lawyer and seem to turn that into a pretty good career. What certificate does Richard Branson have to run an airline? His grades were horrible. Anyone read Moneyball? The so-called experts were no so expert, were they?

    If an accomplished brain surgeon had no medical degree, I’d bet she accomplished in by bucking the trends, ignoring conventional wisdom and igniting a revolution in brain surgery that could only come from somebody unburdened by indoctrination in best practices. That said, I’m not sure I’d be her first patient.

  51. Ellie Stamouli 5 Dec 2018

    I know this is an old article, but I completely agree. Having a business undergrad degree and a master’s in Marketing, I really notice the difference when working with colleagues and managers who have never studied marketing. I hear what others are saying, there are tactics you can learn by yourself, and of course, useful knowledge from unrelated degrees that broadens your perspective.
    But those who have learnt the fundamentals of Marketing during a long-term course, have strong marketing foundations and a holistic perspective that allows them to take better decisions. I can always spot someone who has studied Marketing vs. someone who has become a ‘guru’ overnight – if you watch closely you can spot them too.

Leave a comment