Maria Andrews: Why marketing needs an evolving skills culture change

Maria Andrews, chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Charity & Social Marketing Sector Interest Group and trustee of Carers Worldwide charity addresses the fact that evolving marketing skills have stagnated and why that needs to change.

Most people, if stopped on the street, could make a reasonable attempt to define what the marketing profession does. But beyond a basic understanding of its purpose (it’s about selling stuff, right?) few understand the complexities of how marketing works. The digital revolution hasn’t helped. Our profession’s mysterious ways of working are now mostly of interest to an “internal audience” - as we marketeers like to say.

In our analogue past, it was simpler. For the not-for profit sector and charities, marketing spend was invested to raise awareness and funds using print adverts in newspapers and magazines, direct mail, adverts on TV, and face to face fundraising in our town centres.

Now, however, the marketeer has more tools and techniques at their disposal than ever. While this has represented an enormous opportunity for charities – it hasn’t come without its challenges. Marketeers operate in a landscape of constant change. Probably our biggest challenge is keeping up with social media platforms such as Twitter, Tik Tok, Facebook now Meta Technology.

Charities have more routes to market than ever, more ways to engage, persuade and more ways to convert supporters into regular donors. However, the online space is crowded. Getting the attention of people to recognise your vision and mission and converting them to supporters and donors requires skilled, digital savvy marketeers who are able to maximise an integrated and compelling online and offline marketing opportunity.

So how are marketeers responding to this fast-changing landscape? And how has Covid-19 impacted on their skills levels and their ability to deliver?

In 2018, the Chartered Institute of Marketing teamed up with training body Target Internet to begin a regular skills benchmarking exercise to provide an overview of skills performance across sectors. It’s the world’s largest and most thorough digital marketing skills benchmark. To date it has tested the skills of more than 7,200 professionals working in a broad range of sectors and roles.

The third edition of the latest report completed in January 2022 has just been published and makes for interesting reading for the diverse range of organisations operating including in the charity and non-profit sectors.

First, the bad news. Skills, especially in digital marketing, have mostly stagnated or declined in the last two years. This is true across the board, with only general marketing skills recording a marked improvement (up 7%).

In a marketing landscape where change is the only constant, this should act as a wakeup call. Skills stagnation or decline has also come at a time when the status and importance of marketing can make an impact on behavioural change and decision making has been evaluated. The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything - how we shopped, how we worked, how we engaged with each other – and even how we donated and how much we gave. The need for better digital marketing has increased and the charity sector is no exception in needing to invest in digital skills and evolve a culture of constant learning and developing.

However, CIM and Target Internet’s third edition of the digital skills benchmarking report found that upskilling in most areas of marketing, especially at more junior levels, hasn’t happened to the extent required. In almost all sectors and job levels, skills levels haven’t kept pace with change. The exception is external agencies which have generally performed better than in-house teams. [Maybe this is due to the investment and diversity of staff in their digital skills.] Most of these businesses have reported revenue increases over the last two years.

The charity sector saw skills decline in 12 of the marketing disciplines benchmarked in our report. Only general marketing saw a significant above industry increase of 12%. In some of the digital marketing areas which are proving most critical for charities including SEO, pay per click advertising, other online advertising, mobile marketing, content marketing and analytics and data, skills levels dropped from the last benchmarking report in 2020.

Our report also put each marketing professional who completed the benchmarking exercise into one of five quintiles based on their overall skills levels. Only 16% of the charity sector’s marketeers made it into the top two quintiles, making it one of the lowest performing sectors overall.

Even email marketing, traditionally an area of strength for charities, saw a skills decline - by 4% compared to an average increase across all sectors and industries of 1%.

So, what can we conclude from the results of this report? One conclusion is if charities are to fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by digital marketing, it that marketing and fundraising teams need to continually upskill and invest in developing their inhouse digital knowledge and skills. To succeed and achieve greater impact the not for profit sectors need to embed a culture of ongoing learning and investment in marketing and digital skills within their organisations.

Marketing professionals cannot sit on their current skillset and progress in a changing and evolving environment. Charities who accept this reality should invest fully in the training and development of their marketing and fundraising teams. Marketing technology, search engines and social media platforms will continue to innovate at pace. And leveraging digital and mobile channels will be crucial for charities who are looking not just to survive but to thrive.

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