CIM President Jenny Ashmore Targets Building Marketers’ Skills For Future

The Internet has created a proliferation of roles for marketers. The Chartered Institute Of Marketing is responding by making sure individuals and firms have the skills to cope.

CIM President Jenny Ashmore Targets Building Marketers’ Skills For Future

Jenny Ashmore is president of CIM (The Chartered Institute of Marketing), which is the leading international professional marketing body with more than 35,000 members and students across 43 countries. Its mission is to develop both the marketing and sales professions, maintain professional standards and improve the skills of marketing and sales practitioners.

Ashmore took over as president of CIM in 2014. She’s a career marketer with a CV that includes P&G, Mars, Yell and SSE. She spoke recently to, and the first thing we discussed was the role of CIM.

Ashmore: Our Royal Charter sets out three things. Firstly, we look after the needs of our members in terms of moving forward knowledge about marketing. Secondly, we look after the needs of the industry together with bodies like the Advertising Standards Authority within the marketing ecosystem. Finally, we have a role informing society in general about what marketing is all about.

All that comes to life through three major parts. One is our examinations, which involve syllabus setting; working with academics to make sure the right content is going into people’s academic training. And there’s a regulated exam board which also comes under the auspices of CIM.

There’s a second stream, which is our branches around the UK and in the other 42 markets, where people come together and share knowledge. We also have special interest groups; people coming together from the travel industry or financial services and so on.

Then the third bit is our centre at Moor Hall, just west of London. We often have groups of marketers coming in for awaydays. There’s also a group of experts who help with training programs for big companies. They work from the individual support level for marketers right through to the organisation level. How do you see the changing role of the marketer?

Ashmore: Compared to when I started out as an assistant brand manager at Procter & Gamble 20-odd years ago, marketing has definitely got wider, and it’s also got deeper. That’s something that makes this a brilliant time to be in marketing. It was always seen as a bit of a paint-by-numbers piece. What’s been added by the quality of data and the quality of analytics and so on is that there’s really a science behind it.

It’s a great time to be a marketer because you can plot all sorts of career courses. When I started, there were only one or two courses open to you. Now the options are so wide that you have to map out what interests you, what you love, where you think you can make a difference. It’s an exciting and potentially confusing time for people in that sense. How is that changing CIM?

Ashmore: We’re looking to support individuals through mapping out their careers. Our Catalyst magazine and Exchange website recently focussed on how rapidly evolving digital business models are changing marketing and we published “Lessons from Leaders”; featuring senior marketers sharing career tips with our members. Likewise, we’re working with organisations to map career paths for people so that they have enough talent in the right areas to be able to cope with the challenges that lie ahead. As you say, until recently marketing wasn’t taken terribly seriously at board level. Is that starting to change as companies put the customer at the centre of the organisation?

Ashmore: It was always true that the people who graduated to the most senior roles were the ones who deeply understood that, at the end of the day, the customer pays you what they think is a fair price for the service that you provide. Therefore you’ve got to design what you offer to match that. Then, when it changes, you’ve got to force the internal change to match the external change.

But we went through a time as a function when we got a bit lost in the latest shiny things. Fundamentals can seem a bit dull, but the people who can graduate to senior roles are the ones who haven’t got mired in all the technical details, and are still able to step back and go, “What are the key drivers for this business and how do we innovate against them?”

What bothers me is that there’s still a lot of people talking about the technicalities of the latest shiny thing, who haven’t appreciated that actually it’s about getting back to fundamentals; spotting what P&G would call those moments of truth, and what the differentiators are that make you better than your competition in the eyes of your customer.

Because of the specificity of how businesses can interact with customers, and the fact that the world is always-on, and that customer expectations are raised in every area, you’ve got many more different business models. Before there were maybe fewer and you could get away with pigeonholing things. You can’t be that sloppy any more. We’ve got to be very disciplined and data-based to understand what drives the business. It’s not “What do people want?” It’s “What do my customers specifically want?”

Ashmore: And that has massive implications for our educational pieces, for instance. In the past, people would learn “There’s this model and that model,” and they would apply that model to whichever business they went into. Now it’s about making sure that we’ve given them the tools to go and understand things for themselves, which puts a lot of demands on the individual and the quality of the teachers. How do you address that personalisation at scale?

Ashmore: We’re very lucky in that we bring together both academics and practitioners. We have a group whose sole responsibility is to work on the right educational product and the right examinations for the future. It’s about driving that understanding of the key questions to ask and the things you can analyse. That’s why we talk about being a catalyst. It’s not necessarily about having all the answers; it’s about creating the environment where people can ask questions of their peer group in an educational environment to work out what’s right for them and drive that forward. What do you think about emerging job titles such as chief customer officer or chief digital officer?

Ashmore: There’s a sense that there hasn’t been enough of the customer at the table in board room conversations. Anything that makes sure that those conversations are equally about financial performance and what the customer really wants is brilliant. But if job titles are just about window dressing and what’s on people’s business cards, I’d be very sceptical about them.

What’s really interesting about the marketer’s role in the general management team is they’re one of the few people who really obsess about increasing revenue rather than driving down cost. You need to be a low-cost operator, but when you look at maybe eight people on the management team and ask who is focused on growing the top line, as against cutting costs to grow the bottom line, that’s primarily the chief marketing officer and the CEO. That’s why anything that captures that sense of, “We’ve got to be growing or at least have a path to growth over time. Otherwise, we’re probably shrinking” is really important. It’s about carving out that role and if changing the name helps, then that’s a good thing. The other idea that comes up a lot is about the CMO being the trusted educator for the board. How can marketers prepare themselves for that role?

Ashmore: I’m always struck by those CMOs who can articulate what the customer is about without necessarily falling back on hugely complex segmentation models that most people around the board table can’t understand. That ability to crystallise insight down into something that’s very manageable for people from all different backgrounds makes good CMOs really stand out in that educator role. It’s a real leadership challenge.

People who do leadership things in their leisure time, and are used to unifying people behind ideas, can often articulate that kind of simple message for boards to rally around. One of the things marketers could do more in their lives is find environments where technical depth and detail aren’t required; where it’s about rallying people behind unifying ideas that are driven by knowing what makes the difference. What do you see as the other big challenges for marketers?

Ashmore: The quicker people get into the mindset of marketing in a digital world rather than digital marketing the better. It still worries me how many people talk about digital marketing. It’s a phrase that we’ve got to move beyond, because digital touches every aspect of how you communicate, what it is that you’re selling, who you compete with, how you sell. It’s everything. Finally, what’s next for CIM?

Ashmore: There’s lots of exciting stuff going on. There’s been a complete rework of all the qualifications to make sure they’re fit for purpose in today’s world; in content and flexible learning style. Those are rolling out and being taught right now.

Then I’m always very thoughtful about how people take the academic piece they’ve been doing with us and apply it to the everyday world. What are the practical tips to make sure you find the right insight in big data? Or how, as maybe the one person in your team who’s been lucky enough to go on a course, do you bring that into your work environment and do things differently? Helping people socialise those ideas and actually make a change is one of the most important pieces. That’s where we’ve been looking to support our members, and it’s something I talk about at our graduation ceremonies. What does that support involve?

Ashmore: That’s where the branch network can really help. Other people have gone through exactly that journey: “I did a qualification and I went back into the office and we weren’t doing a lot of things I thought we should. This is how I persuaded my colleagues.” That’s where that leadership skillset comes in, boiling something down to the really important bits and creating followers around why it’s a good idea.

Also, frankly, you need a level of resilience. If the first answer’s no, you’ve got to hang in there and ask yourself whether you got to the right person with the right message at the right time. It’s internal marketing, and that can often be even harder than external marketing. But the good news is you’re set up to understand exactly those things. Who is my audience? What is my message? When is the right time to get that out there and what are the right channels? That’s what I chat with the guys about at graduation.

See what the Twitterverse is saying about CMO Interviews: