James Ellis: Marketing teams must build skills for the future
James Ellis, chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Interest Group, discusses the state of marketing skills within the construction industry.
It’s difficult to think of an industry which is more understood, yet at the same time misunderstood, than marketing. Most people, if stopped on the street, could make a reasonable attempt to define what the profession does. But beyond a basic understanding of its purpose (it’s about selling stuff, right?) few people understand the complexities of how marketing works.
In our analogue past, marketing was the adverts we saw on TV and read in newspapers and magazines. It was the billboards we saw in the out of home (OOH) space and perhaps some direct mail which came through our letterboxes.
In the last two decades, however, we have seen an explosion of digital marketing, creating more tools and techniques at the marketeer’s disposal than ever. While this has represented an enormous opportunity for the profession – it hasn’t come without its challenges.
For the construction and property sectors, tapping into both consumer and B2B markets has never been more complex. There are more routes to market than ever, more ways to engage and more ways to convert. However, marketeers face an ever more crowded online space. Getting the attention of buyers and converting them requires skilled marketeers who are able to maximise online and offline opportunities to raise brand awareness and win new business. Gaining competitive advantage requires creative and digital savvy marketeers to help construction and property businesses get the edge on their competitors.
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 Target Internet to begin a regular skills benchmarking exercise to provide an overview of the sector’s skills performance. It’s the world’s largest and most thorough digital marketing skills benchmark – and has to date tested the skills of more than 7,200 professionals working in a broad range of sectors and roles, including construction and property.
The latest report has just been published and makes for interesting reading for the diverse range of businesses operating in the sector.
First, the bad news. Skills, especially in digital, 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 has been elevated. The Covid-19 pandemic changed everything - how we shopped, how we worked and how we engaged with each other. The need for digital marketing only increased and the construction and property sectors were no exception.
But our 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. Most of these businesses have reported revenue increases over the last two years.
In the construction and property sectors the picture is mixed, however in all marketing disciplines it is performing below average.
Skills levels either fell or stagnated in seven of the 12 disciplines benchmarked in our report including analytics and data (-4%), digital strategy (-5%), online advertising (-6%), pay per click (-3%), SEO (-7%) and social media (-2%). In general marketing, skills levels essentially stood still with a 1% increase. Notable improvements were in content marketing (+5%), Ecommerce (+8%) and email marketing (+5%).
If construction and property businesses are to fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by digital marketing, its marketing teams need to continually upskill. Our benchmarking report placed professionals into one of five quintiles based on their performance. In construction and property, only 17 of the marketing workforce were in the top two quintiles, making it one of the lowest performing industries overall.
To improve, the sector needs to embed a new culture of ongoing learning within organisations when it comes to marketing. Marketing professionals cannot sit on their current skillset and progress. Marketing technology, search engines and social media platforms will continue to innovate at pace. And consumer and business customers’ use of digital channels will only increase further.
The future winners in the construction and property industry will be those who accept this reality and who invest fully in the training and development of their marketing teams. Public perceptions of marketing may not change very much, but that probably doesn’t matter. Perhaps, in the end, what we do in marketing really is less important than how we do it.
- James Ellis is chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Construction Interest Group and also works at Certsure, which offers certification services, building regulations schemes, products and support to the construction industry and beyond