CIM: Financial services is lagging in digital marketing skills

Jacob Howard

Jacob Howard, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Financial Services Group

It’s difficult to think of an industry which is more understood, yet at the same time misunderstood, than marketing. Most people have a basic understanding of marketing’s purpose (it’s about selling stuff, right?). But how many understand the complexities of how marketing works?

Marketing can roughly be divided into an analogue past, and a digital present and future. Whereas, marketing was once confined to adverts on TV, in newspapers and magazines and in the Out of Home (OOH) space – we now face limitless opportunities to engage and convert digitally-connected consumers.

This explosion of digital marketing in the last two decades, means there are now more tools and techniques available to marketers than ever. For the profession, it’s been an enormous opportunity – but it hasn’t come without its challenges.

For businesses in the financial sector, the appetite for financial content is high. The good news is consumers, at least, are receptive. Content about money matters, especially household finances, remains popular, and a rise in financial concerns during the pandemic coupled with rising savings rates, has boosted interest in how to manage our finances. The ongoing cost of living crisis means this interest is not about to wane anytime soon. This gives financial marketeers the advantage of having a receptive audience (let’s admit it, we’re all interested in content about how to make the best use of our cash.)

Businesses in the financial sector therefore need marketeers with the right suite of skills to maximise these opportunities. The financial sector is a fiercely competitive marketplace, and firms increasingly rely on creative and digital savvy marketers to help them gain competitive advantage.

So how are marketeers performing? Are skills levels keeping pace, and do our teams have the ability to deliver?

In 2018, the Chartered Institute of Marketing teamed up with Target Internet to begin a regular skills benchmarking exercise which would give specific industries an overview of their marketing teams’ 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.

The latest benchmarking report was carried out last year, and for businesses in the financial sector its results are illuminating.

Between 2020-21, digital marketing skills have mostly stagnated or declined – across the board and in the financial sector specifically. In a marketing landscape where change is the only constant, this should act as a wakeup call.

This is against the backdrop of a global pandemic which, if anything, has elevated the status of marketing. Everything changed because of Covid-19: how we shopped, how we worked and how we engaged with each other. And the need for digital marketing only increased, with the financial sector no exception.

However, our report has shown that upskilling in most areas of marketing, especially at more junior levels, hasn’t happened to the extent required. Only one area (general marketing) saw an increase in skills levels (by 7%). Meanwhile, in almost all sectors, job levels and marketing disciplines the picture was the opposite. Only external agencies seem to have kept pace, with skills levels remaining higher than in-house teams, and revenues increasing.

The financial sector has fared worse than most. It continues to lag behind many other industries when it comes to digital marketing skills. It has also seen the most comprehensive drop in skills since we last benchmarked. That increase in general marketing skills across all sectors of 7% was only 3% in finance. In the 11 other marketing disciplines measured by our benchmarking report, marketing skills levels declined.

Our report also segmented marketing professionals into quintiles. Only 17% of marketing professionals working in finance are in the report’s top two quintiles, with more than 50 per cent of those working in the sector in the very bottom quintile.

Clearly there is much room for improvement if the financial sector is to fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by digital marketing. The need for the profession to continually upskill was apparent even before the pandemic. That need is now even more pressing, and I would argue the financial sector, like many others, needs to embed a new culture of ongoing learning within organisations when it comes to marketing.

The truth is marketing professionals cannot sit on their current skill set 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 finance industry will be those who accept this reality and who invest in fully training and developing 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.

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