Marketers keep pace with digital developments

As the rate of change in digital marketing gets ever faster, more and more companies are using sophisticated elearning courses to keep their staff up to speed.

Digital training

As consumers become ever more digitally savvy and e-marketing techniques evolve at a rapid pace, companies are left with a pressing problem: how to help their own staff keep up with new skills, developments and practices.

Where a department ranges from recent graduates to more mature, experienced marketers, there can be a wide range of digital knowledge. Those who bypassed the early building blocks of digital work, possibly because at the time more junior staff took on the role, can find themselves trying to learn a new language without understanding its basic alphabet.

Getting everybody to the same basic level of knowledge is an essential element of training for digital marketing, says Matt Pritchard, European digital director at Kellogg. The cereal brand has worked with e-learning specialist Discover Digital to develop online training modules for its marketers. Subjects stretched from a basic introduction to the internet, through search, mobile and media marketing.

“People originally selected the modules they thought most applicable. But one of the things we found was that – for the 45 minutes the training sessions take – it is actually good value for everybody to go through every module,” says Pritchard. “What you find is that by getting everybody to the same level you spark interest with certain people on certain topics.

“A great example would be a couple of the marketers who were unconvinced of the power of search. Following the pay-per-click module they understood it and, off their own bat, went and did a bit of their own research, working with Carat, our media agency, to understand it more.”

The modular course can fit in easily with the schedule of individual employees and allows them to revisit parts of the course they find interesting or challenging. It is, insists Pritchard, very different from the tick box e-learning courses that many people are familiar with from compulsory sessions on employment law or company car policy.

Training providers claim that the service they offer is becoming more sophisticated, adapting quickly to developments in the market and identifying areas where staff are weak in knowledge

“This is really interactive,” he says. “It is highly engaging, it uses good graphics and images. It tells a story. It involves you all the way through. You have to answer certain questions before you can go on to the next bit, but it is done in a fun and engaging way.”

Kellogg tries to ensure that all staff benefit from some specialised face-to-face training in addition to the e-learning courses. But the company also considers a wide degree of basic understanding to be essential so the modules are continually updated and new ones added. Within the next two months two new modules – on Mobile Marketing and Social Media Marketing – will be launched.

Constant updates are vital. Internet training guides from just a decade ago – produced in print – can feel like museum exhibits compared to the routine online activity of today. And the pace of development and understanding does not appear to be slowing.

More than 160 Kellogg marketers from across Europe are undertaking the e-learning course this year and they range “from assistant brand managers all the way up to European vice president of marketing and innovation”, says Pritchard. This fits a trend identified by Discover Digital of brands acknowledging ‘digital silos’ of knowledge that are isolated from the rest of the business, and acting to spread understanding of digital more evenly while disbanding the silos.

The silos do need to go, agrees Sarah Evans head of mobile at O2 UK (see case study below). She says: “As we become a lot more multi channel, and we understand the power of having multiple marketing messages at the same time, that’s when those silos really need to be broken down. I think going on a course which helps you understand the big jigsaw puzzle that is marketing communications really helps.”

Training existing staff to add to their current working knowledge is the most efficient way to break down the silo walls, says Evans. The mobile network provider sends four or five members of its marketing team on four intensive week-long courses spread over eight months. Evans says: “The people you have recruited should more or less have the capacity to stretch their experience into digital. But also there is a dearth of pure digital talent out there when you are trying to recruit. We need to invest in people to get them up to speed in this market.”

Data from the Chartered Institute of Marketing backs up that assertion, and some large companies are understood to have sent all of their employees on basic digital marketing courses to demystify the terms used in head office.

Training providers claim that the service they offer is becoming more sophisticated, adapting quickly to developments in the market and identifying areas where staff are weak in knowledge. Search engine optimisation, social media and affiliate marketing have all been earmarked as areas where too many people can talk the talk but need considerable aid in walking. SoLoMo – social local mobile – is rapidly getting on to the agenda as well, and many staff are learning the technical aspects of how elements of the internet, particularly ad servers, actually work.

With the digital landscape already more varied and complicated than many predicted just a decade ago, it seems training solutions are destined to be equally diverse

The creative side of digital marketing can come into play in training too, confirms Jo Maude, senior business manager at D&AD. The educational charity runs courses for digital design, including bespoke courses that bring creative and marketing teams together so that they can learn to communicate and brief digital campaigns effectively.

Many courses focus on theoretical knowledge at the expense of practical application. Claire Baumforth, director of marketing at Hammicks Legal Information Services, is a fan of practitioner-led training and has been on a number of intensive courses at the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM) to maximise her learning potential.

Having taken such a course because she was new to marketing and wanted a practical course to learn some of the basics, Baumforth has now studied for three diplomas in direct marketing, direct and interactive marketing and more recently in digital marketing.

“Digital is really difficult to keep track of it. It is such a fast-paced environment,” says Baumforth. “And they are pretty tough courses. But the good thing is they take you out of your comfort zone and put you into an industry you are not familiar with. You have to learn how to apply the knowledge in the same way as you would in an exam situation.”

Baumforth has backed up her intensive courses by keeping to a programme of continual professional development that sees her commit to 35 hours of additional work every year. This includes using online training modules and attending IDM evening events, free to institute members, which are hosted by relevant companies. A recent event was held at Google’s new offices in central London. As with similar events, Baumforth says, it was an excellent way to stay in touch with a fast-moving sector and she is now considering a further course.

“I’m looking at social media, because it is moving so quickly. And again, it is about keeping up with the curve in terms of where it is going, how it integrates with the whole search piece, and to make sure you are maximising that business potential,” says Baumforth.

The appetite to learn more is a vote of confidence in training for digital media, though most companies put more recognised measures in place too, says Baumforth.

“There was a formal evaluation in place too at my last course,” she confirms. Measuring the effectiveness of training courses of any kind can be a challenge but brands agree it is important. Kellogg, for example, employs pre- and post-assessment of courses among its staff, seeing a 30 per cent improvement in scores after staff had taken the digital e-learning courses.

It is, however, difficult to find consistency between companies in how they measure the effectiveness and value they get from training. If the pace at which they take up digital training courses continues on its current upward trajectory, that inconsistency may have to change.

Case study: O2

O2 sends marketing team members on digital training
O2 sends marketing team members on digital training

Mobile network provider O2 sponsors four or five members of its marketing team, which is about 200 strong, through a significant qualification every year, says head of mobile channel Sarah Evans.

Individual staff members choose which qualification best suits their goals. So while one chose a Chartered Institute of Marketing Course, Evans picked the Diploma in Direct and Digital Marketing run by the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing (IDM). Training forms part of each employee’s personal development plan.

“It was an intensive course,” says Evans. Four week-long classroom sessions were spread over a period of around eight months, with considerable research and essay writing in between. For Evans, who had come into her marketing career via the technology side and a period at management consultancy group Accenture, the course offered a real chance to grasp marketing basics.

“It was really broad, so what it offered and the reason why I did it, was a complete end-to-end view of direct marketing, of which digital marketing was a very key part. We covered everything from standard offline advertising through to display advertising. There was a module on sales promotion, one on international, on B2B and on mobile,” says Evans.

“I wanted to make sure that what I thought was common sense around real marketing principles was actually the case and that I got the principles behind it all. I wanted to go back and make sure I understood it at that basic level.”

The IDM course appealed because it was practitioner-led and offered the chance of some hands-on experience. There is a concern in many companies that digital technology moves so quickly that courses find it difficult to keep up, Evans agrees.

“It does keep changing. But human behaviour, at a very deep level, doesn’t. Although you see people starting to do different things it’s mainly driven by similar intentions and emotions. It’s about layering on these new technologies and experiences to what you already know about human behaviour and what motivates people to do certain things,” she says.

Since completing the diploma Evans has worked with colleague Fiona Maktari head of the O2 Marketing Academy to develop an internal ‘Internet 101’ course for staff.

“It’s for people in the marketing team who just need to get their head into it a bit more,” says Evans.” It runs courses throughout the year for people in marketing and some of those are compulsory to make sure everybody has the same level of understanding.”

Evans has also briefed her own team on elements of the course. But she says: “Ultimately, the value to me has been the ability to think more broadly around challenges and ask much more pertinent questions than I was able to ask before.

“There was a whole module on customer relationship management and business intelligence, and that has better equipped me to work with that part of the marketing team. It gives you that wider awareness so you can put your challenges into a better context from a marketing angle.”

Facts and figures

Almost half of UK companies recognise a deficit of digital knowledge in their marketing departments, according to the Chartered Institute of Marketing’s Social Media Benchmark study. Just over a quarter of the companies that took part in the study consider themselves to be above average in that regard.

“The good news is that industry, and marketing in particular, recognises there is work to be done,” says CIM head of insight Thomas Brown.

Further encouragement for employees is the CIM’s finding that most companies plan to upskill their workforce to make up for the lack of digital expertise, rather than recruiting new staff to fill the gap. Nearly a third (32 per cent) of companies are already investing in training to meet this goal, with a further 22 per cent planning to follow suit this year. The CIM has also identified a trend for senior directors to attend digital marketing courses to get some hands-on experience of what it is all about.

The number of people participating in training courses for digital marketing has seen a steep climb. When Econsultancy first ran a comprehensive training schedule in digital marketing in 2006 it took 549 bookings. By last year that figure had grown to nearly 2,000.

Industry-wide figures for whether the training used is bespoke or follows a more off-the-peg approach are unavailable. But anecdotal evidence suggests that most companies will use a mix of the two as they seek to increase the digital understanding of all staff while investing in further training for more specialist employees. The most popular training courses offered by the CIM are all in the digital space.

With the digital landscape already more varied and complicated than many predicted just a decade ago, it seems training solutions are destined to be equally diverse. E-learning, group courses, bespoke content and one-to-one tuition are all set to play a part.

Top ten tips for getting the most from training for digital marketing

Peter Abraham, executive vice president of Marketing Week sister brand Econsultancy, says that thinking of training sessions as being a classroom environment can reduce their effectiveness because they should be more about collaboration than simply listening to a presentation. He presents ten tips to get the most from digital training:

  1. Outline the goals of any training requirement. In larger organisations this might be aligned with, or to enable, a marketing excellence programme
  2. Identify current levels of understanding of digital within the marketing team, and more importantly across the business, possibly by assessment or gap analysis
  3. Identify learning requirements
  4. Provide sufficient business insight for the session outlines to provide real business benefit
  5. Map the learning requirements for the different types or levels of people in the programme and design and deliver to those types
  6. Consider localisation, this is important when crossing cultural boundaries
  7. It is not always training that is required. Often workshops or mentoring can be more effective
  8. Have a system to measure the effectiveness of learning and training. Human resources usually needs to prove return on investment
  9. Learning should be on-going, so provide an environment that assists ‘self-learning’, a portal or learning management systems. And finally….
  10. Understand that effective ‘learning’ across the business provides real business benefit



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