Richard Robinson: Modern marketing requires relentless learning and development

Existing models of learning and development are outdated – the only way for marketers to expand their role is to always be learning.

learning and development trainingEver since 1996, when Morgan McCall, Michael Lombardo and Robert Eichinger asked 200 executives to self-survey how they thought they learned, the principle of 70:20:10 has become commonplace best practice, if not the perceived truth, for how people learn in the workplace.

If you’re unfamiliar with the model, it suggests that “development generally begins with a realisation of current or future need, and the motivation to do something about it”. And within this it offers a principle that to be successful and effective you should split your time into three distinct chunks; namely 70% on-the-job work experiences, 20% feedback, and 10% courses and reading.

The model is persuasive and feels right, and it is loved by many HR and learning and development professionals. It’s easy to communicate and indulges an optimistic view of what a balanced working week should look like. However, the reality is that it has quickly become an anachronism that has no place in modern marketing.

Why? Because the mathematical probability of any company allowing a marketer 26 days a year to attend courses or self-study, followed by a further 52 days to wallow in manager feedback, is – at best – extremely small.

So what does learning look like in marketing today, how do marketers learn, and (most importantly) what should marketers be learning about to give them the confidence and competence to stay one step ahead of the customer and competition? These were some of the fundamental questions that Econsultancy set out to answer in our annual deep dive into ‘How Marketers Learn’.

READ MORE: Download the ‘How Marketers Learn’ report here

First off, the headline statistics paint a picture where learning is no longer a priority or the norm in most companies: Almost 60% of marketers claim to spend just 2 days or less on any form of professional development per month, 56% say that their organisations have little in the way of a formal strategy towards learning, and just 14% claim their marketing training is led by someone in marketing.

Most revealing – but perhaps also unsurprising – are the 67% who claim to have an ad hoc approach to their professional development, which is striking when you consider that marketing, and everything a marketer now does or creates, is being disrupted on a near daily basis. Put another way, the very act of how marketers learn has now been disrupted. Marketers are doing it for themselves.

Building marketing’s influence

The questions for business leaders and individual marketers, therefore, are: how long do you choose to ignore this fact; and how long will it take for future-focused modern marketers to move en masse to the 27% of brands who have well-considered learning and development strategies for their marketers, endorsed at the highest level?

67% of marketers have an ad hoc approach to professional development, which is striking when marketing is being disrupted on a daily basis.

The distinction between these two groups is no different to the fast-evolving reality that astronaut Chris Hadfield noted in space exploration; namely that you must engage in the relentless pursuit of improvement and, in the process, live on the edge of your capabilities. For marketers this means embracing digital ubiquity, the strategic importance of customer experience, shortening business lifespans, and the need for personal and business agility as the norm. Otherwise you must accept that you will be left behind.

Marketers in Econsultancy’s study are open about the fact they crave the ability to make or influence strategic decisions, and that they want greater awareness and knowledge allowing marketing activities to be better integrated into their businesses. However, to enable this to happen, these marketers will need to step up and significantly expand the role of the modern marketing professional.

The key to unlocking this, as demonstrated in a separate Econsultancy survey of 14,000 marketers, is to make ownership of customer experience their number one priority moving forward; because as CX grows, and with it a desire to cultivate customers, so too does the role of the modern marketing professional.

How marketers will learn most is by futurising themselves. Stop thinking in terms of 70:20:10 and start leading the learning and development charge for your whole company, embracing a mantra to ‘always be learning’, versus only learning some of the time.

Download the ‘How Marketers Learn’ report here

Richard Robinson is managing partner of Econsultancy, a sister brand of Marketing Week.