Success built on foundation of basic skills

At a time when marketers need to shape their brand’s offering, training providers are shifting their focus towards courses that teach basic skills, such as digital strategy, planning and finance.

In 1993, just as the last recession was ending, then Prime Minister John Major launched his “Back to Basics” campaign. Major was convinced that focusing on the core fundamentals of health, education and family values would pull the nation through. This policy ultimately failed because his MPs’ own morals sparked intense media interest. Think expenses.

Yet stripping things back to the bare bones can be a liberating and valuable experience. It is a theory being adopted by the training industry where the emphasis has now switched to ensuring that marketers understand the basics.

“There is a concentration on marketing strategy and good marketing planning, and the impact current internal and external factors are having on them,” says David Thorp, director of research and professional development at the Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM). “There is also more training in marketing metrics so people can demonstrate the impact their efforts are having on their organisations.”

One of the most popular CIM courses is called Foundations of Strategy Marketing. It is designed to increase awareness of how effective marketing can improve business performance. “This is a good course for any marketer looking to refresh themselves with the fundamentals,” says Thorp.

He says the recession has, however, also highlighted a lack in core skills, such as financial numeracy. As a result, the CIM is running more courses in market analysis so those taking part can act more effectively on the raft of statistics that their work is generating.

It has always been the case that training and qualifications differentiate individuals and businesses when times are hard and Hugh Burkitt, chief executive of The Marketing Society, believes the brands that invested in recruiting talented marketers during the good times will come out on top during the recession.

He cites Tesco as a prime example of how investment in the marketing department has a positive effect on the bottom line when the economy slumps. Burkitt adds that marketers need training that will help them keep up to speed with trends in their particular sector and changes in consumer behaviour.

“Marketers need to become the customer champions within their organisations,” he says. “They must be the ones driving business growth through innovation.”

In response, the society has endorsed international training specialist Brand Learning’s training academy, which comprises six modules each based on a different core marketing skill. These are: insight, strategic brand development, innovation, marketing planning, activity generation and campaign development.

The courses are run in-house for clients that include Unilever, Shell, Diageo, Astra Zeneca and Philips. Brand Learning co-founder Mhairi McEwan says there was a gap for ready-to-go programmes that were accessible for clients who want something quickly or cannot afford tailored courses. “We are taking best practice marketing training that we do around the world and distilling it into a series of modules. There is a need for courses that help people with the real marketing building blocks,” she says.

McEwan believes that in a recession everyone must be a brand manager and understand the role of marketing within their organisation’s wider business strategy. “Marketers need the skills to shape what a business should be offering its customers,” she says.

Like the CIM, Brand Learning has also noticed a change in the kind of courses employers and individual marketers want. In the past year the number of conferences, workshops and coaching sessions it has run on marketing strategy and planning has more than doubled.

In a similar fashion, the marketing and finance functions have long bemoaned the fact that neither side really understands the other. In response the CIM, the Direct Marketing Association (DMA) and the Chartered Institute of Management Accountants have joined forces to produce a report called Return On Ideas: Better Results From Finance and Marketing Working Together. It was compiled by Dr Robert Shaw, honorary professor of marketing metrics at Cass Business School, and aims to explain the effect marketing has on the bottom line.

Robert Keitch, the DMA’s chief of membership and brand, says the original brief was to find a more sophisticated way to talk about creativity so that the rest of the board could understand it. “Marketers are rarely financially literate and accountants have a poor understanding of the value of creativity. Both sides want a smarter use of marketing budgets, especially now.”

“Marketers need to become the customer champions within their organisations. They must be the ones driving business growth through innovation”

Hugh Burkitt, The Marketing Society

The three organisations will run a series of training workshops from September that will be aimed at brand and agency marketers as well as accountants. The workshops will outline the importance of having a well-balanced marketing team, ensuring marketing starts the business planning cycle and realising that good ideas can come from anywhere, including finance departments. “The workshops will be very practical, this is not just another course in finance for non-financial managers,” says Keitch.

Marketers may feel their knowledge is particularly weak in digital media. In response, digital consultancy Tradewind London is visiting brand owners and offering training in digital strategy, including how to make the best use of user-generated content on blogs and social networking sites.

“Digital offers the biggest return on investment at the moment so brands need to understand the options and which ones are right for them,” says Tradewind founder Sam Brownfield. “If your job title is digital marketing manager it can be difficult to admit that you are not completely up to speed with everything, such as how social networking and search engines work. With so many new platforms and technologies emerging it can be hard to keep up.”

Mark Begley, head of digital at recruitment company Major Players, says his clients want people with strong core marketing skills and a good knowledge of new technology. He urges marketers to concentrate their digital training efforts on search engine optimisation, viral marketing and international website creation.

The Market Research Society has amended its course programme to give it a digital edge. “There is more training on research techniques and plugging gaps in digital research knowledge, but more half-day rather than full-day courses,” says deputy director general Debrah Harding. “Things are holding up because organisations realise research is a vital part of their survival.”

A downturn always brings new people into the industry. The London School of Marketing is attracting people made redundant in other professions. “This is because marketing is applicable to every industry,” says sales and marketing manager Sean Palmer.

Marketers working for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) also require training in a recession to improve their organisation’s bottom line and to emphasise the importance of their role. Training company The Marketers’ Forum is working with the Kingston Chamber of Commerce in London and the Government’s Train to Gain initiative to help SMEs.

Managing director Quentin Crowe says many smaller companies need help to understand the nuts and bolts of marketing and how to devise a marketing plan. “We were asked to work with a provincial accountancy firm who thought marketing was only about corporate identity and they wanted our thoughts on their logo,” he says.

“When we asked them about the numbers which underpin their marketing, such as number of businesses in their target market or how they differentiate themselves from their competitors they did not have a clue.”

In a time when businesses are “resetting” their way of thinking, it seems going back to basics is benefiting everyone.


Clare Jeromson,
marketing manager, RBS Group

As marketing manager of the RBS and Natwest brands, Clare Jeromson has responsibility for the literature distributed throughout the joint branch network.

Jeromson has worked at RBS for six-and-a-half years and has been in the marketing industry since 1997. She has a BA CIM postgraduate diploma in marketing and recently attended one of the Brand Learning Academy courses on strategy and planning.

“I wanted to do something with a more practical edge,” she says. “As I manage a team of seven I wanted a better understanding of what the bank is trying to achieve and its business objectives and how they fit with the marketing plan.”

She believes that people who have worked in marketing for a long time can feel they are too busy to undergo this kind of training. “The Academy course covered insight, brand development and innovation to help you think differently to meet objectives.”

The course lasted three days and was held away from the RBS office. “It was important we looked at marketing in other industries and not just in financial services where views can be quite narrow.”

Among the ideas to come out of the training is how RBS’s brands could make more use of their branch windows. “We are marketing in a retail environment and we have shop fronts that we could be using more effectively,” says Jeromson. “For example, we could convey important messages through better dressing of the windows.”

Given the troubles the RBS Group is facing in the economic downturn, investment in training is seen as an essential component, as the group attempts to turn around the 70% state-owned bank.