About four years ago, I had a curious visit from a CEO of a large, well-known consumer goods company, an individual with many years of international experience. He wanted to meet the CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association (CMA) because he wanted to meet someone with the gall, the audacity, to step into a profession and declare the need for a designation that everyone working in the industry should aspire to. It was a good discussion.
Credentials convey excellence
Designations, credentials and certifications have been part of working life for centuries. Sometimes they evolved gradually, like in accounting in the 1800s and in other instances, such as the engineering profession, they developed quite swiftly. There are newer designations too, like the Registered Social Worker (RSW), which was formally established in 1999 to protect vulnerable children and families from unfit practitioners.
In all cases, the introduction of credentials increased professionalism – both in terms of higher quality skills and stronger outputs. It also led to a more rigorous understanding of, and adherence to, a set of standards and ethical practices. And, credentials demonstrated the profession’s commitment to those standards, and to lifelong education.
Marketing, almost by definition, defied the prototype for standardized credentials for many years. There was scant evidence around the world that marketers have aspired to become disciplined standard-bearers in pursuit of more acronyms to accompany their names. This mindset stemmed partly from the creative underpinning of marketing and its roots in unconventional thinking and swimming against the tide. Legendary marketing is generally born from thinking outside the box– after all, this is how you get, and keep, people’s attention. On the surface, standardized credentials seemed like the very box that marketers were hesitant to be trapped in.
However, the world evolved, and so did other professions. HR, finance, project management and others all developed designations and credentials, pulling up their professional socks. And marketing has evolved, too. While creative is still at its core, the discipline of marketing now requires a focused approach to strategy, data, research, analytics, technology and performance. Marketers need to be attuned to regulatory requirements in privacy and many other areas. There are ethical issues in the digital age that didn’t exist when marketing was born. For the modern marketer, standards, ethics, education and ongoing professional development matter.
In 2016, the CMA’s Board of Directors set out on its maiden voyage to bring a set of credentials into the discipline of marketing. The idea came about from a desire – and a need – to elevate the role, voice and influence of marketing, and to demonstrate its pivotal role as a catalyst for growth. The Board concluded that systemic change was needed, and that the credentials program should serve the needs of in-house marketers, agency personnel and service provider professionals alike.
And so, with initial funding from TD, CIBC, AirMiles, Environics Analytics, Delvinia and Cundari, the Chartered Marketer designation was born.
Coming full circle
Referring back to the CEO who visited me four years ago: While I am sure that I have at least a modicum of audacity, my confidence in the Chartered Marketer designation came from the recognition that the CMA was uniquely positioned to deliver on providing standards of excellence for the marketing profession in Canada. We represent all areas of marketing and we serve marketers at all levels, from students and agency interns to big-brand CMOs. We aren’t biased towards any sector or industry; our bias comes from our conviction that marketing transforms business.
Don’t get me wrong. I don’t believe that everyone involved in marketing needs to be certified, just like I don’t believe that everyone employed in a hospital needs a license to practice. But the leaders of today and tomorrow — and the individuals with the skills and the passion to take marketing to its next level of transformative greatness – should be pursuing this designation. Without question.
You might ask, why are standards particularly important today? There are several reasons. First, marketing has become extraordinarily complex and its lines have become ever blurrier. The art and science of marketing is evolving at lightning speed. The ecosystem required to do effective funnel-based marketing approaches includes sub-disciplines such as brand management, CX, insights, media, martech and product management. Within each of these, there are multiple roles within modern organizations, with marketers often taking on tasks that didn’t exist 10, five or even two years ago.
Another change that heightens the role of standards is marketing’s growing role in business success. With a shift in consumer preferences in behaviour leading to a decline in traditional sales tactics and vehicles, marketing has become the primary driver of a company’s growth. While this is true for short-term metrics, like lead generation and customer acquisition, it is even more so in areas with the most potential for long-term value, such as brand awareness, loyalty and customer lifetime value.
Marketing is becoming increasingly regulated, particularly around data use and privacy concerns. Marketing leaders are compelled to be proactive on issues related to consumer advocacy, transparency and ethics, and not able to simply fall back against whatever legislation is presented.
Now more than ever before, matrixed organizational structures require marketing to collaborate with other business disciplines. Alignment – and friction – between marketing and sales, particularly in the B2B space, is a common area of exploration, but there are other examples. For one, the very existence of a martech team is predicated on the need for a bridge between marketing objectives and technical solutions.
In essence, professional credentials based on standards of excellence and professional development allow for greater short- and long-term impacts on marketing and its role in business. Our role is evolving – and broadening – and we need to be able to meet the challenges and opportunities in front of us. Our voice and our influence are vital.
Five years after our designation journey began, we are now about to mint our first Chartered Marketers. The first cohort of learners have completed a two-year, five-semester program that mixes both soft and hard skills together in the pursuit of creating business-minded marketers. The learners are excited and relieved to be completing the rigorous program. Of course, their adventure never ends, since maintaining their credentials entails pursuing ongoing professional development, and continuing to develop skills that address and fuel the needs of business.
Our imminent CM graduates have told us that the program has helped them advance not only their marketing skills, but also the way they process and analyze information, which in turn has helped them develop a more well-rounded approach to business. They’ve enhanced their competencies in research, problem-solving, writing and budgeting. Perhaps most importantly, the CM designates have expressed a commitment to motivate their teams to reach greater heights, while demonstrating the leadership qualities the program has helped them develop.
Some of our instructors have noted that for employers, hiring someone with a Chartered Marketer designation means choosing a candidate that has demonstrated a commitment to the profession and a familiarity with a broader spectrum of responsibilities than they have likely not gained in their day-to-day work. In other words, the employer is acquiring a well-rounded professional with marketing and related competencies, the confidence and commitment to remain current through ongoing professional development, and a measure of knowledge in the realms of business strategy and leadership.
Views from marketing leaders and the C-Suite
As a career marketer and product developer, I know that you can’t have a successful product if you don’t have a willing marketplace. So, we conducted a survey of marketing leaders and the C-Suite to see whether a marketing designation is valued.
The results were compelling:
A strong majority (88%) of survey participants believe a professional designation has value, and more than half (51%) believe that value is increasing. Even more (92%) believe that applicants with a designation are more desirable than those without. And 90% agree that an applicant with a professional designation will have a wide breadth of skills and will contribute to overarching business strategy. Finally, 84% agree that an individual with a professional designation will comply with a code of ethics and standards.
The impact on the Canadian economy and society
The survey results show that employees and employers are seeing designations as a point of differentiation. The world is changing: Digital transformation is accelerating, privacy laws are being reformed for the first time in 20 years, and businesses are fuelling innovation like never before.
All of these factors suggest that in 20 years, we could have thousands of Chartered Marketers. There is no doubt that we will feel the positive impact of these professionals on business success, Canada’s economy and Canadian society. The elevation of marketing through our professional credentialing program will unleash the profession’s capacity to elevate strategic development, to transform operations, and most importantly, to drive revenue and growth.
John Wiltshire is President & CEO of the Canadian Marketing Association, www.thecma.ca.