New research shows growing support for marketing designation

A little less than a year from now, Courtney Sims will become one of Canada’s first graduates from the Chartered Marketer program and be awarded the CM professional designation.

A marketing manager with Broadview Homes and Sterling Homes in Winnipeg, Sims graduated with a business degree focused on marketing in 2012. She signed up for the CM program because she wanted to keep her skills sharp. “Everything keeps changing so rapidly in marketing—in the digital area especially—I wanted to stay as educated as I can in my field to do my job to the best of my abilities,” she said. “I just wanted to keep learning and expanding.”

While the desire for improved professional performance is obviously a motivation in its own right, a new survey 250 Canadian business leaders by Key Media and the CMA reveals just how valuable professional designations like CM have become.

Hiring managers today are increasingly concerned with finding talent that can drive their business, said Key Media’s global head of research and insights, Raj Kuchibhatla. The survey showed that professional designations are considered an important indicator that someone is highly qualified and dedicated to ongoing development—they are the people that drive business. For example:

  • 95% of respondents view applicants with a designation as more desirable than those without;
  • 90% said the value of a designation is either remaining constant (44%) or increasing (46%);
  • 80% said an applicant with a professional designation will command a higher salary.

Asked specifically about a professional designation in marketing—which was only introduced in Canada a little more than two years ago—66% of respondents said it was something the industry needed.

Employers value professional designations, and high-performing employees are more likely to be interested in getting one, said Kuchibhatla.

“Top talent—the people that you’re looking for—are the ones that are the most proactive about this type of stuff,” said Kuchibhatla. “And if you’re in the marketing field, you should be looking at getting [a professional designation] because it’s going to make you a more valuable asset within an organization or attractive to a potentially new organization.”

The study was commissioned by the CMA to better understand how its Chartered Marketer designation is regarded by the business community in the context of larger professional development issues.

The research looked at the importance of professional development in general terms, and contained a specific focus on the value of professional designations like the CM. The survey results reveal that finding, developing and holding onto top talent is a priority for contemporary business leaders.

Asked about biggest challenges, the top answer was attraction and retention of staff (cited by 71% of respondents), followed by skills and professional development (40%). Technology disruption was mentioned by just 12%.

These issues are highly relevant to any industry that relies on human capital as its primary creator of value. And despite its fixation on ad tech, marketing remains an industry where human capital is all important.

The research shows that “robust” professional development translates to improved worker engagement, stronger workplace culture, reduced turnover, and improved productivity.

And if professional development is self-evidently good, a professional designation is a simple, clear declaration of dedication to rigorous professional development—a commitment to established standards of ethics, knowledge, experience and currency.

It’s worth noting, however, that a professional designation does not mean automatic progress for a recipient, with 85% of respondents citing job performance as the most important factor when considering someone for promotion. A recently earned designation was mentioned by only 12% of respondents.

However, employers clearly believe a professional designation means more qualified, capable staff who have a material impact on performance.

For example:

  • 87% of respondents viewed individuals with a designation as having skills that will contribute to business strategy;
  • 86% said a designation has “great value”;
  • 85% say someone with a designation can be expected to adhere to ethical and code of conduct standards; and
  • 84% said they reduce risks to the organization.

The so-called war-for-talent is not new, but the dynamics shift with the economy’s ebbs and flows and larger changes by sector and industry.

The CMA believes the CM designation became necessary in part because of the transformational forces in marketing in recent years.

The roots of CM reach back more than a decade, when the CMA was offering a variety of marketing certificate courses. The CMA held its first discussions about a senior level professional designation, but decided not to proceed because it was felt the industry wasn’t ready, said vice-president of learning, Gabriele Janes.

“We knew that there was still a big question mark as to whether individuals really thought the industry needed a designation,” she said. “And that really changed 10 years later.”

The rate of change across the industry, the pace with which new technology is introduced, the growing importance of data, and the importance of new regulations like CASL here and Europe’s GDPR (widely regarded as a standard that other markets will move toward) had an effect on how marketers viewed the need for a designation, she said.

A 2016 survey of marketing professionals included a question about whether the industry would benefit from professional designation. “And overwhelmingly it came back that the industry did feel it would benefit from a designation.”

The Chartered Marketer designation was created in 2017. About 250 experienced marketers were grandfathered in, but the first cohort of students—including Courtney Sims—began their course work late in 2018 with completion and graduation coming later this year.

Fundamentally, the CM designation is about changing perceptions of the profession and how it can contribute to business results, said CMA president and CEO John Wiltshire. It’s a set of credentials designed to move marketing from being perceived as a creative profession, to one that that rests upon a rigorous set of standards, he said.

That’s an important requirement for the profession to gain the same kind of influence as other business functions. “Can you imagine the accounting profession without standards?” he said.

“Those standards ensure that marketers are staying clean from a regulatory or legislative perspective, but they’ll also help marketers have a more pronounced effect on the bottom line of companies, either through revenue or the ability to develop a brand over time.”

The Chartered Marketer designation may be new, but based on his research, Kuchibhatla predicts its popularity and adoption will continue to increase.

Setting standards and expectations creates a virtuous circle of sorts, he said. As more CM professionals graduate and raise the performance of marketing departments, the designation becomes more attractive, thereby increasing the number of marketing professionals interested in getting their CM.

“Professional designations aren’t going away,” he said. “They’re only going to continue growing.”




David Brown