Marketing qualifications

What’s the real value of a marketing qualification?

According to Marketing Week’s 2019 Career and Salary Survey, more than half of marketers (53.8%) do not have any kind of marketing-related academic or professional qualification. Of those who do have a qualification, only 32% of those with a marketing degree found it very useful, and only 36% of those with a professional qualification, such as those from the Chartered Institute of Marketing, the Institute of Direct and Digital Marketing or another organisations. Considering the high investment of time and money these qualifications require, you would probably expect the number of people who found them very useful to be higher.

Marketing is generally portrayed as a professional career choice, on a par with accountancy or the law, but unlike these occupations, a formal qualification has never been a necessary part of building a marketing career. So what is the real value of a marketing qualification?

The negatives of marketing qualifications

Many people within the industry believe that marketing qualifications are now substitute for the experience that you could gain by working for the same amount of time. As Andrew Warner, Marketing VP at Monster, says, “A lot of marketing courses teach people textbook marketing theory, whereas I would rather have someone who has the natural aptitude.”

Employers generally value experience more

While some employers may ask for candidates with a marketing degree, it’s rare for this to be a deal breaker. Instead, experience is what really matters, whether that’s in a similar role, the same industry or simply in a job with transferrable skills.

While a marketing qualification may demonstrate technical competence, it tells an employer very little about how a candidate will behave and perform in their organisation.

“We recruit for the mindset and behaviour and that is really key because we want somebody to be in the business for a long time, somebody who can grow within the culture. The technical skills are much easier to train up and again marketing changes so fast. So an open mindset to learn and stay curious all the time is almost more important than the technical knowledge you can acquire.”

– Stephan Croix, chief sales and brand officer at Pizza Hut Europe

They can limit diversity

Diversity in the marketing industry is already an issue – the profession is primarily made up of employees from a white, middle-class background. Over 90% of marketers already have a degree of some kind. If we insist on all marketers have formal qualifications, that could place further barriers to those from other ethnic and economic settings entering the profession. In a creative department like marketing, having a diversity of backgrounds and experience is essential to creating environments that foster innovation and new ways of thinking.

Successful marketing teams also tend to be made up of a mixture of people with experience from lots of different fields, such as sales, academia, philosophy or IT. Cross-pollination of ideas from different disciplines is essential in marketing, particularly now the profession is radically changing due to advances in digital technologies. If all marketers had the same formal qualifications in marketing, it would encourage groupthink and hold back change.

“Give me someone with a degree in robotics, a masters in anthropology or a PhD in philosophy every time. That’s what gives marketers the edge and makes them stand out from the crowd. We have got the rest of our careers to fine-tune our craft, so I’m a big believer in getting out into the world and coming back to marketing with a fresh perspective.”

– Gemma Greaves, Global Managing Director at The Marketing Society

The content may not remain relevant

The pace of change in marketing is lightning-fast at the moment and some of the skills you need today may be completely redundant in five years’ time. Given that, can the providers of marketing qualifications really ensure that their content is constantly up to date? While it is true that the fundamentals of marketing have not changed – it is still about getting the right message to the right people at the right time – concentrating entirely on these basics may not give students the technical knowledge they need before entering the workplace. In many cases, there can be a huge gap between the theory and the reality.

“My view has changed over the past 10 years. We have entered the new era of digital transformation and you need a different skill set from what you can learn in a book.”

– Dawn Paine, chief marketing and strategy officer at Creative England

The positives of marketing qualifications

On the other side of the fence, many marketing professionals fear that the lack of formal training has given rise to “a creeping unprofessionalism” in the industry. Marketing Week columnist Mark Ritson is a well-known advocate of qualifications in marketing and he fears that too few experts have formal qualifications; “Before you explain how marketing is changing you should understand what it was before you started announcing the change. You need a qualification to be qualified.”

Qualifications ensure marketers know the fundamentals

Although marketing is in the midst of a digital transformation, the core principles of the discipline have not changed. Marketing has always been about creating value for consumers and fostering demand and loyalty for your product or service. Before any activity is undertaken, the fundamentals of market orientation, research and strategy much be accomplished.

While many marketers are looking for new ways of doing business and a chance to get the jump on their competition, disrupting the status quo means understanding what that is in the first place. Once marketers are comfortable with the fundamentals of their profession, they can apply new channels and technology far more effectively.

They can help fill knowledge gaps

If you are looking to transfer into marketing from another sector or your experience up to date has not covered a particular skill set in marketing, a qualification can help you to fill in the gaps. Many modern marketers concentrate heavily on the communications side of the discipline, which is the area most affected by digital change. However, as they move up the career ladder, they may find they need a better understanding of brand positioning and strategy. Or a marketer with extensive experience in more traditional marketing techniques may need to acquire skills in digital or mobile marketing in order to move roles. A specialist course focussing on the missing areas can help to fill these knowledge gaps.

Many marketers who gain their skills purely through work experience, particularly if they have only worked in large organisations, only come into contact with a relatively small part of the profession. In reality, marketing encompasses many different types of disciplines – from web management, social media and data analytics through to copywriting, PR and market research. Studying for a marketing qualification exposes you to many of these different skill sets, allowing you to try different areas before you choose a particular sector or specialism.

Qualifications can jump start your career

While a marketing qualification may not be strictly necessary to enter the sector, possessing one can give a new marketer extra credibility and confidence in their abilities. As they move up the ranks, it can also give them a better understanding of the broader effects of marketing on the business.

Of course, experience will always be favoured highly by employers, but if we demand every new employee has previous experience, where will they next generation of marketers come from? Holding a professional or academic qualification can help candidates avoid this chicken and egg situation and get their foot in the door.

Finally, having a qualification may allow you to command a higher salary. According to past research from the CIM, their chartered members earn around 10% more than non-qualified members over the course of their career. Obviously that’s no guarantee you’ll earn a higher salary, but a qualification does give you professional recognition and demonstrate your dedication towards your profession to potential employers.

Although marketers may continue to disagree on the value of formal training, there will always be roles that come under the umbrella of marketing where professional qualifications simply don’t exist or are hard to come by, such as copywriting, event management, SEO or social media. Qualifications can definitely be a good thing, but they should only ever be part of the selection process and employers should always consider candidates with equivalent experience and skills gained on the job.

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