A formula for building marketing capability

A formula for building marketing capability

Major initiatives to build or improve marketing capability have enjoyed increased popularity over recent years.

The corporate university reimagined, Marketing Academies and Marketing Excellence programmes are no longer the preserve of FMCG powerhouses; organisations across a wide range of sectors are making significant investments to embed ‘our way of marketing’ across often diverse and dispersed teams, seeking to institutionalise what works well and build a sense of community amongst marketers.

From pharma to tech and telco, professional services to banking and insurance, we’ve seen or been a part of some impressive efforts to align marketing capability with business strategy, and to ensure that good practice is shared throughout a marketing community at the same pace as bad news travels through/to the media.

One of the things that the most successful of these initiatives have in common, however, starts with how an organisation defines ‘capability’ – this starting point materially impacts the effectiveness of the investment that follows.

Capability skills

The term ‘capability’ is heard widely across organisations, but its use is often loose, its meaning nebulous and its comprehension inconsistent.

We’ve all heard it – a mandate from the top of the marketing tree, a rallying call to build capability in X or improve capability in Y. The reaction? We look, quite rightly, at our people – have they got the right skills to do X better or Y faster?

For too many organisations, the problem is that’s where the reaction remains – with the term ‘capability’ used interchangeably with (or in place of) ‘skills’, and this narrow definition often results in the scope of what’s needed being misunderstood. In reality, capability and marketing effectiveness are not always skills issues.

This isn’t to say that training and skills development isn’t important – far from it; exploring ways to find and foster talent that can deliver on the aspiration for marketing to make a bigger contribution to organisational success is critical.

But marketing capability will not be transformed by tackling the skills agenda alone. A sustained improvement in marketing also relies on having the right processes, culture and organisational structure. Identifying this early on can save considerable time and money on potentially fruitless training interventions.

A simple formula

In an attempt to remove some of the complexity which accompanies marketing caability initiatives, we recommend using this simple ‘building marketing capability’ formula to help organise your thinking:

Key questions to help use this formula to develop a blueprint for a capability programme:


  • Are we clear on the skills, competencies and behaviours needed to deliver on our strategic priorities?
  • Do we have the right talent programmes to help us find, attract, develop and retain the best (and the right) people?
  • Do our people have access to learning and development programmes, content and resources aligned to the priorities we’re setting them?
  • Are we creating the right culture within our marketing organisation to reflect the behavioural aspects of the capability we’re trying to build?


  • Have we clearly articulated how we want to operate or what we want the change to be?
  • Have we codified the best way/our way of doing things?
  • Do our core marketing and budgeting processes support our capability priorities?
  • Do we have the right rhythm between different marketing teams to enable things to happen in the desired way?
  • Does our decision-making, sign-off and other governance processes support the way we’re charging our people with working?
  • Are we measuring our people on the right things? Do they reflect our capability and learning priorities?


  • Do our systems and marketing technologies support the capability we’re trying to build?
  • Are our systems sufficiently integrated to give people access to the data, information and insight they need?
  • Are we giving our people the right tools to enable them to operate in the way we need?
  • Are we effectively capturing and sharing knowledge, good practice and learnings within our marketing community?


  • Do we have the right balance of headcount (internal and partners/agencies) aligned to the right places?
  • Are we prioritising activity and investment to reflect our capability focus?
  • Are we creating the agility for our people to respond to change?

Start small

The problem with any transformation initiative is that it can quickly seem overwhelming, but as the old adage goes, ‘A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.’

Take a current burning platform/key area of focus and convene a few sensible people centred around the above formula and questions. Highlight the missed steps and overlooked issues, then start to plot the gap between what you’re doing now and what needs to change. This can start to give you a sense of the scale of the challenge ahead, which leads to prioritisation and action.

Getting the big picture of what impacts the effectiveness of your function is all-important when diagnosing capability issues and planning a response. The challenge is to act on the answers you get, even when they may not be as you expected. But the difference with this more holistic approach is that you’re setting the team up for greater chances of success by considering all of the factors which create – or inhibit – capability.

Interested in talking more about the above? In the last three years alone, our In-Company Training team have helped more than 300 organisations, training more than 8,500 marketers on five continents and across more than 40 sectors. Find out more about what we can do for your marketing capability.

Thomas Brown Former Director, Strategy and Marketing CIM
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