By Ardath Albee published March 17, 2014

Why Marketers Need More Education to Push Content Publishing Forward

keyboard-training-developmentOne of the areas of content publishing that has become voluminous over the last few years is research studies. Whatever you want to know about what marketers are doing, you can find out. Not that research studies are always representative, but when hundreds, or even thousands, of marketers agree on a certain premise, it’s worth considering.

However, lately I’ve seen research studies that are concerning. When I look at the sentiments these studies reflect, and the questions they raise about our industry, I get a bit queasy thinking about whether our profession is as advanced as it should be. I get a sense of inertia — of doing the same things we’ve always done but expecting different results — that makes me wonder if we’re really making progress now that continuous change has become, well, a constant.

Here are a few examples:

The State of B2B Lead Generation 2013, a study conducted by Buyer Zone, asked marketers what they do once a lead is generated. Fifty percent answered that the next step would be to route the lead directly to sales.

What’s notable about this? Well, 21 percent of marketers in the Buyer Zone study said they think the “key game-changer for the future of lead generation” is increasing the quality of lead generation. But, when asked where they would route money if they had an unlimited budget, 31 percent of these marketers said buying more leads would be their most popular choice.

Mass Relevance and The CMO Club asked Fortune 500 CMOs about their priorities and challenges in 2014 in their At The Speed of Life study:

  • 95 percent said that content marketing is important to their business
  • 95 percent believe creating and finding new, timely, and engaging content is one of their biggest challenges in 2014

The fact that the importance of content marketing is realized at the top level, yet marketers are still struggling with creating and finding content shows that companies haven’t addressed the gap that exists between understanding content’s value proposition and knowing what’s needed to capitalize on it. By leaving it up to marketers to figure it out themselves, how much lost opportunity are companies leaving on the table?

In reviewing the first B2B Trends report conducted by MarketingProfs and Junta42 (now CMI) back in 2010, the challenges marketers face have remained eerily similar. That’s over five years! The top challenge in 2010 for 36 percent of marketers was producing engaging content, followed by producing enough content. In the 2014 report, producing engaging content is a challenge for 47 percent of marketers (preceded by lack of time and producing enough content).

Instead of getting better, it’s gotten worse. More marketers are experiencing the same pressing challenges they did in 2010, in addition to new ones. Why do we think this is a situation that will resolve itself? Our current approaches for becoming more confident and effective at content marketing are obviously not working well enough.

Last fall, Adobe released a report — Digital Distress: What Keeps Marketers Up at Night? — in which 1,000 U.S. marketers were asked about their biggest concerns with digital marketing. What the report found is that things are shifting even more quickly than we thought, and our ability to keep up is declining, rather than improving. Yet, even with mounting pressure for improved performance from marketing teams, dedicated training has not yet become a priority.

Some more of the findings from the Adobe report included:

  • 76 percent of marketers think marketing has changed more in the past two years than the past 50
  • Only 40 percent think their company’s marketing is effective
  • 68 percent feel more pressure to show ROI on marketing spend
  • Most marketers don’t have any formal training: 82 percent learn on the job

While there are many areas of shaky confidence in relation to digital marketing, the top two concerns for these marketers were their ability to reach customers and their ability to keep up. And the kicker? Only 9 percent of these marketers agreed with the statement, “I know our digital marketing is working.

There are also a number of studies being done on the changing nature of buyers (from both B2B and B2C perspectives). The problem I see here is that comparing marketer studies with buyer studies doesn’t show that marketers are listening to — or learning from — buyer feedback. This needs to change. Marketers will need to start directing their efforts toward improving capabilities and attaining the necessary core competencies that will enable their marketing programs to reach full potential.

It’s time to shine a light on learning

After evaluating all of the issues that marketers are facing — along with the increasing urgency of content as a top priority — the statistic that stood out the most for me is that 82 percent of marketers say they’re not receiving training. While I’m a huge proponent of learning on the job, I question whether or not that’s enough to prepare today’s marketers to conquer all the challenges they will encounter — now and in the future.

Let’s face it, there are a lot of new skills to be learned. From buyer personas to content marketing strategy to storytelling to social conversations to multi-channel integration and data analysis — to name just a few — what marketers need to know today is much different than what we needed to apply to be successful just a few years ago. When 760 out of 1,000 marketers can agree that marketing has changed more in the last two years than it did in the previous 50, it suggests that there’s been progress at such an accelerated pace that the need for industry training and ongoing professional development is likely outpacing the ability of an organization’s senior-level marketers to provide it for their team members. The need for rapid evolution is clear and pressing.

The State of Digital Marketing Talent study backs up this assumption, stating, “… the results of the study indicate that there is a substantial gap that exists between the need for strong digital marketing talent and the skills that individuals in the field currently bring to the table.”

The question every content marketer needs to answer is: “What am I going to do about it?

Pursue your vast potential

As far as I’m concerned, there’s never been a more important or exhilarating time to be a content marketer. We’ve got opportunities to influence our company’s business strategy, provide a flow of qualified buyers to our sales teams, and take our seats at the executive table because we’re able to quantify the contribution we make to company growth, innovation, and viability. But the marketers of tomorrow won’t be able to hold those seats if we, as an industry, can’t close the gap between the skills we have now and our future ability to produce the outcomes that employers value.

Fortunately, there are a lot of ways to get up to speed. From consultants and coaches to online training courses, conferences, and workshops, the opportunities for content marketing training are abundant. Many of these options can be achieved iteratively in small increments of time that are designed to help you learn what you need right now, and then add to your knowledge as you move forward.

Often, what I hear is that marketers already have a bigger slate of tasks than their day will allow them to manage. That’s an excuse. And, trust me, if a marketing program executed next week (instead of today) is better than it would have been originally, based on newly acquired skills, I’m not really sure what’s keeping marketers from upping their game. How much more evidence do we need before we’re motivated to take action?

Want to be better prepared to address tomorrow’s marketing challenges with the latest content marketing tools and techniques? Sign up for access to a free preview course in CMI’s new Online Training and Certification program. Get training from content experts like Ardath Albee, as well as marketers from Google, Mashable, SAP, and more.

Cover image via Bigstock 

Author: Ardath Albee

Ardath Albee is a B2B Marketing Strategist and CEO of her firm, Marketing Interactions, Inc. where she helps companies with complex sales use persona-driven digital strategies and content marketing to turn prospects into buyers and ensure that existing customers choose to stay. She’s the author of Digital Relevance: Developing Marketing Content and Strategies that Drive Results and eMarketing Strategies for the Complex Sale. She has been voted one of the 50 Most Influential People in Sales and Lead Management for the past four years and was selected a 2014 Woman to Watch in B2B Marketing by FierceCMO. Ardath is also an instructor for the Content Marketing Institute Online Training and Certification program. Follow her on Twitter @ardath421.

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  • Dianna Huff

    Ardath — Excellent summary of the state of content marketing. Training, IMHO, needs to start with the basics, such as, what is a lead. I posted about the B2B Buyer Zone Report too and was concerned that companies continue to call “inquiries” leads and then push those inquiries to sales.

    • Ardath Albee

      Hi Dianna,
      Thanks very much. And you’re right. The basics are by no means the SOP they should be. It shouldn’t surprise me when I see it, but it always does.

  • Clay Morgan

    Ardath, I spent many years as a newspaper publisher and what I noted the last few years was that no two years looked the same – in good ways and bad ways. Marketing is very much the same. Change is the name of the game and in a year or two, content marketing will look very differently than it does today.

    That’s why education, training and constant study are so very important.

    • Ardath Albee

      I’m seeing what you’re seeing 🙂 Thanks so much for sharing your perspective.

  • Joy Underhill

    Thank you, Ardath, for your insights. What I see are many people too busy – or too busy chasing that bright shiny object – to commit to consistent plans of action. The most productive and creative people I know take dedicated quiet time to reflect, think, and strategize – skills that seem sorely lacking in more fields than just marketing. It leads to knee-jerk reaction rather than calculated planning, measuring, and adjusting.

    • Ardath Albee

      Hi Joy,
      Thanks for your comment. I agree about the “too busy” mentality. It’s limiting. Dedicated quiet time is a luxury that needs to become a standard. Excellent point!

  • Anna

    content marketing while talking about content marketing. Inception!

  • Alicia Rades

    Wow. I don’t even know what to say. This article is great and the stats are shocking! Thanks so much for sharing these insights on the state of marketing. Out of curiosity, what would you consider “training?” Are you looking more at college degrees in marketing?

    • Ardath Albee

      Hi Alicia,
      Thanks for asking. I don’t think college is keeping pace. Some institutions are trying, but things are moving really fast. In a shameless self-promotion, I think the efforts from organizations like CMI to produce serious training courses designed by people who do this work every day can be really helpful. It’s the difference between academia and hands-on real world. Although academia also has a number of practitioners now teaching as adjunct professors so this gap continues to narrow.

      The real question is how fast can marketers get up to speed? Can you afford to take a semester to learn something new? Or do you need to make an impact on some part of your strategy or execution in two weeks? Online courses can get you there faster with concentrated focus on the components you need to address based on initiatives you need to bring to fruition for your company.

      Another alternative is a consultant or a coach that can provide 1:1 insights and guidance that can help you with a specific need. The options are many.

      I don’t think the degree is the key – although I’m a huge proponent for education. I think it’s about acquiring the knowledge and skill sets in the way that works best for you. It’s about the commitment and making it a priority to do so.

      I hope something I’ve said is helpful. And mine is only one opinion. 🙂

      • Alicia Rades

        That makes a lot of sense given that this is such a quick-changing market that it would be hard for academic institutions to keep up with.

        I’m curious how you would distinguish on-the-job training from many online training courses. Do most institutions just leave people to fend for themselves, or is there any training/coaching that you receive on the job?

        I can see where businesses might benefit from signing up their employees for online courses, but is that still considered “on-the-job training?”

        • Ardath Albee

          Considering that 82% of marketers report they receive no on-the-job training, I’d say they’re left to fend for themselves pretty much.

          If your organization provides the education to you – they pay for it and make it available, give you time during your workday to attend and learn – then that’s a more formalized training, but still on-the-job. It’s based on more than what you can figure out on your own, without help and become proficient faster – that’s the key point.

          • Alicia Rades

            Woops! I must have read the article wrong. I thought I read that most receive on-the-job training but no formal training. Thanks for clearing that up!

            I personally feel the need as a freelance blogger to receive training in marketing (whether that’s with a course like yours or at an academic institution), but I’m still working on my bachelor’s in communication. I’m thinking about what education path to take once I’m done in regards to marketing, and your answers make me think that maybe a market-focuses course isn’t any worse than a degree in marketing.

      • Dan Moyle

        Great points on your response to Alicia’s question, Ardath. I was wondering the same thing. I’ve told other marketers the same thing when they say “I need to go back to school and get a master’s degree” to improve their station in their marketing life.

        I see universities as long behind the times, since they so often rely on textbooks rather than real-life authors and others. But that’s just my perception based on anecdotes.

        I’d much rather focus on courses from CMI and others, or consulting from the Jay Baer’s and Marcus Sheridan’s of the world.

        Great insights, thanks for sharing!

        • Ardath Albee

          Thanks, Dan. Although I will say that some universities are stepping up by using books written by practitioners – mine included – in their courses, rather than relying on traditional textbooks that may not be updated for years. So progress is happening. But there’s also something to be said for learning and applying and that type of continuous skills development for building experience that elevates your career.

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    Regarding the lack of education for marketers, two words: Marshall McLuhan.

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