How to Successfully Launch a Marketing Academy

It is important to look at a Marketing Academy as an instrument to drive strategy and to achieve business objectives. This can engage and motivate people in the Marketing organization to do things differently while they become better marketers.

Improving marketing skills by introducing or reviving a Marketing Academy is often part of a chief marketing officer’s job description. However, a Marketing Academy can do much more than just building knowledge and skill. It can be a key driver for the success of a new CMO, by accelerating the implementation of new ways of working or an entirely new marketing philosophy.

Here is an outline of how this can be done:

1. Pick your theme.
Pick the one thing you want to stand for as a CMO and that you may want your name to be associated with, both inside and outside of your organization. What will you bring to the organization to improve the performance of the brands and the business? This can be a marketing philosophy, a capability, or a way of working. For Dana Anderson, the former CMO of Mondelez, it was “fearless marketing” to push marketers to be more courageous and creative. Your conviction might be a purpose-driven marketing approach, or you might want to change the way of working to a science-based approach inspired by Byron Sharp. Define your priority, make it your theme, and put it at the centers of your efforts and of your Marketing Academy.

2. Set up your organization.
The #1 thing that gets in the way of change is the organization itself. When the functions that directly influence the outcome of a marketing strategy have different reporting lines, different priorities, or a different understanding on how to deliver the strategy, the set-up will be bound to fail.

If the reporting lines of the Academy are different from the Marketing support functions such as Insight, Design, Media, etc., it may not be able to drive the strategy through the organization. In this case, the Marketing Academy falls back on generic training solutions that are interchangeable and may have little impact on the business.

If the functions are properly aligned, the Academy can be a great enabler in quickly bringing any strategy to life. It is important for a CMO to have this awareness, to set the organization up accordingly, and to call upon the function heads to leverage the Marketing Academy and to take ownership for the training content. Emphasize that the Academy is not just about knowledge but also about enabling marketers to deliver excellent work that drives the strategy.

3. Showcase the goal and give guidance on how to achieve it.

Showcase what good looks like. People have different levels of competence to grasp a theoretical concept. It is much more powerful visualizing what you expect than building the knowledge of the underlying theory. However, showing what good looks like is not enough, you must tell people how to get there by giving short and clear instructions. What is it that people need to do to bring “purpose-driven marketing” to life or to make “Byron Sharp’s Laws of Growth” a reality. Give just three steps rather than 12. Explain the “do’s” and the “don’ts,” as well as the “before” and “after.” I cannot emphasize enough how important it is to visualize goals and to give clear instructions on how to achieve them. Don’t overestimate people’s ability to transition examples and business cases from other industries to their own businesses. This is the trickiest part of the exercise. It is always easy to showcase but more difficult to do the transition work of describing how to make it happen in your own organization.

4. Describe the future “Marketer of the Year.” 

The common approach to set up a Marketing Academy or any other functional academy lies in writing down the framework that describes all competencies marketers may need, defining proficiency levels for different management levels, and conducting assessments to define personal development needs and capability gaps in the company.

This is a well-established method, though there is always a huge risk of getting lost in the process. The first thing I recommend is to ditch the assessment because it puts focus and energy on the status quo rather than the future. I also would advise to not aim for completeness when describing competencies and proficiency levels. Otherwise, you may end up creating a monster of a document that is a torture to read and that may be entirely impractical.

Rather, you should look at the competency framework as an opportunity to describe the “marketer of the future,” the person you believe will absolutely rock it. Use language that is inspiring and aspirational, and include character traits, as well as behaviors. Rewrite the boring template of a technical competency framework to be an exciting casting call for the lead role in the next blockbuster. Describe the person who will be on stage the following year to collect the award for the Marketer of the Year. This will help to create a document that inspires people to change while still being suitable to identify development gaps.

It is important to look at a Marketing Academy as an instrument to drive strategy and to achieve business objectives. This can engage and motivate people in the Marketing organization to do things differently while they become better marketers at the same time. When done with ambition and intention, a Marketing Academy can be instrumental in defining the success of an organization’s CMO, brands, and business.

Kerstin Strubel is the founder of Lupo Marketing Training Company. She is a marketing capability consultant to Coca-Cola, Beiersdorf, Capri-Sun, Nomad Foods, JDE, and Google. She draws on 15-plus years of experience in the consumer goods industry. Prior to setting up her own business, she was the Marketing Capability lead for Europe at Mondelez. Before that, she worked in Marketing in German and the UK for brands such as Toblerone, Starbucks retail, Jacobs, and Suchard. She is based in Zurich, Switzerland.

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