CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 49: Beat the learning burden

CIM Marketing Podcast - Episode 49: Beat the learning burden

How to learn smarter and shorter

This podcast will:

  • Examine why marketers can be overwhelmed by learning
  • Show how learning can be integrated into your daily life
  • Demonstrate how learning can be made interesting and easy
Podcast transcript

Ally Cook  00:00

The contents and views expressed by individuals in the CIM Marketing Podcast are not necessarily those of the companies for which they work. This series is currently being recorded via web conferencing. We apologise for any issues with the audio.

Ben Walker  00:14

Hello, everybody and welcome to the first CIM podcast episode of 2022. There is a hard frost outside and also inside my office, I'm sitting here in the deep midwinter in my coat. So cold is it outside, but hopefully a bright future for marketers this year and a better year than we've had in the last few years. We are joined, I'm very happy to say by Molly MacArthur, who is Digital Marketing Manager at CIM itself, and a welcome return to the once known Ally Lee Boone, who has gone away, got married and returned as Ally Cook in her new role as content manager also at CIM. So Miss MacArthur and Mrs. Cook. Welcome back to the CIM show. How are you today?

Ally Cook  01:10

Great, wonderful. Thanks, Ben, what an introduction. Wow.

Ben Walker  01:15

Congratulations, congrats. It's great to have you back on the show. And, you know, the first thing I want to talk about is that we come back into January and first on our mind normally is work. You know, we've had a couple of weeks off most of us, and the future and our selves and our careers. And we also know that January is the most popular month for moving jobs and retraining and all that sort of stuff. But I sometimes worry about marketers because I feel that perhaps we are constantly telling them to get back into the classroom, they've always got to be learning, they can never rest on their laurels. And they have always got to be working harder and harder and harder to keep ahead of the game. It does sometimes Ally feel a little bit much that we're asking them to do too much work all of the time. Is that fair, am I being fair with that?

Ally Cook  02:05

I think you absolutely are. And I think it's a very real challenge that most marketers today are facing. And to your point it is really compounded by being in a new year. Feel we need to set new goals, we need to have a new focus. But actually it can feel very overwhelming. Particularly if you look at some of the headlines around the skills gaps that are emerging. Particularly as we discussed in the last episode of the CIM Marketing Podcast, the digital skills Benchmark Report revealing massive discrepancies in the level of upskilling happening in marketing at the moment. But it can be a real challenge to integrate it into a very busy career. So I think it is something that we really need to focus on this year and making sure that we balance learning with making sure that we can really focus on our day to day roles as well.

Ben Walker  02:48

I mean, should we say that marketers are avid learners, I work for a book publisher whose name shall remain nameless. But at one of our best performing segments is marketing, you know that marketers clearly have an interest in, keeping themselves ahead of the game and learning and making sure that they understand new tools and techniques and new platforms and so on and so forth. But, Molly, why is it so much different in this respect? Do you think to other jobs, what why is there this sort of pressure and need to learn and stay ahead of the game?

Molly MacArthur  03:19

I think because it's so fast paced, Instagram are releasing new updates every single day that changed what marketers need to do. The data and privacy laws seems like they're changing every five minutes and keeping up with that as struggle. And also the pace of change in technology. The things that are available now that weren't a few years ago is brilliant. So we need to keep up with those technologies. And make sure we're appearing in the places that we need to things like, I know that when I first got into marketing, we would never have advertised on a podcast, it just wasn't really a big thing. But now we need to make sure we're sort of in those spaces. We need the skills to make sure we can advertise in these spaces. So yeah, I think it's just only going to get harder as things go on. I think it's just sort of a snowball effect with technology and how things change. So it's a struggle. There's a lot to keep up with.

Ben Walker  04:08

It's a struggle, we've got to keep up, it's probably going to get harder. But Ally Cook, you use this phrase overwhelm, overwhelming. How do we then as marketers, given what Molly's just said, we do need to keep ahead, prevent ourselves from being overwhelmed by the sort of fireball in front of us of excessive learning.

Ally Cook  04:29

So I think it really comes down to focus. And I think that those as we discussed, there's so many headlines and stats out there about the skills gaps within marketing. It's about not always taking those at face value and digging a little bit deeper into how they impact you in your role. I think there's a tendency in marketing to feel that you have to be this all rounder you have to know everything and

understand each individual part of how the whole marketing landscape works. Whilst that's helpful and knowing a little bit about everything in, within the marketing space is always going to be beneficial. There's so many different ways to do that, that don't always involve going back to the classroom. And there's so much to be learned from the peers around us, there's so many more resources now than ever before, I think the really important thing is focusing on what's most relevant to you at this stage of the career that you're in. But also thinking about some ways to learn that maybe wouldn't have considered before that aren't going to feel overwhelming, or that you've got to start from the beginning, actually, learning can look like whatever you want it to look like. And whilst you know, we are CIM, we wouldn't discourage someone from taking off a qualification or going on a training course, there's so many more options. Now to Molly's point, with the advancements in technology, so many ways to learn. So it's really about thinking about what works best for you.

Ben Walker  05:45

How could in your experience, the marketer that are doing that sort of identify the sweet spot of learning, you know, that we're gonna get me the biggest gain. But I'm gonna say for the least amount of energy, but the most efficient way of learning for themselves.

Ally Cook  06:00

I think it's a process of self discovery. And I think that something that I've certainly tried to do, not just facilitated by the New Year, but certainly this has been a catalyst for it, is to think about myself in the same way that I would look at a project, you wouldn't go into a really important project without goals and aims and understanding the actions that you need to take to get there. And so I think rather than looking at the whole picture all the time, and trying to tackle the whole the, whole marketing landscape, it's about looking at what is going to be most effective for you to get where you need to go. Ultimately, if you're wanting to specialise within marketing, it might not be the most relevant for you to go and learn about an area of marketing that isn't going to aid you in your career. to my point earlier, I won't want to discourage anyone from doing a light touch on certain different areas to give you that, you know, well rounded skill set.

Molly MacArthur  06:52

And he has a really interesting point, and it's something that I've read is that you should, to some extent, sometimes focus on your strengths as opposed to your weaknesses, because you can waste a lot of time going around in circles, trying to improve your weaknesses, where you're never really gonna get to an expert in those areas. But focusing on your strengths can be a really good way of like making leaps and bounds in your professional development.

Ben Walker  07:16

Do you think then, that marketers worry too much about their weaknesses, Molly and don't focus enough on those strengths?

Molly MacArthur  07:23

I think potentially they do. And actually, a book comes to mind that we're talking about while we're talking about this, and called The Whole Marketer. And it has loads of different activities in it that you can go through and sort of tick which skills you have and which you don't. And I was going through it thinking, I don't have that skill, but I don't know if it's relevant to me. But that's that's not the point. The point is that I'm discovering as a whole of marketing, what am I missing? And then you later on to sort of realise, okay, is that relevant? Do I need that skill, when you're in that phase, where you don't know what you don't know, you don't know what you need to learn. I think that's the most perfect book that you can go read and complete activities, and it'll really show you show you what you should focus on.

And another one as well, focusing that sort of talks about focusing on your strengths, as opposed to your weaknesses is Squiggly Careers, which is another book focused on a lot of like, activities, and really pulling on your values as a person and why you should go with your career based on that. So sort of identifying your values and strengths and where you should focus your effort, I think those two books are really quite key.

Ben Walker  08:28

Ally, do you think that most marketers have done that sort of self audit that self discovery that you and Molly have been talking about.

Ally Cook  08:35

I think it's coming out more and more to Molly's point, there's a lot more resources now available to give marketers the ability to do that the whole marketer has one great example the digital skills benchmark that I've previously mentioned, as well, you can go through and complete that, at the target internet website, find out exactly what your skill set is and where you need to improve. But actually, I was quite concerned to read in CIM's recent Impact Marketing Report that only 31% of marketers feel very well equipped to perform in their roles.

And that would suggest that there is a level of self discovery going on. But actually what we're learning from that is not particularly positive. And actually in that report, a further 40% of marketers told us that they worry they lack the skills to fulfil their roles. And so I think if we're talking about focusing on weaknesses, that clearly is happening. And it is really concerning to me that that is something that marketers, you know, feeling that they're lacking in skills, when actually, I would guarantee that if they did go through that period of self discovery, they've probably got skills that other people are very much looking for and could benefit from. And that's where things like peer to peer learning, networking, building relationships with others can be really important to help you identify exactly where you are in terms of your own skills,

Ben Walker  09:43

They're burning of too much energy worrying and not enough on actually improving where they already have a competitive advantage, Molly MacArthur?

Molly MacArthur  09:51

Yeah, I completely agree. I think that's definitely the case. And in marketing, we often talk about this T shaped marketer, which I think is quite a good thing to sort of come back to you sort of have basic understanding of all the different elements marketing, but you then focus on one key thing like this is what I'm going to really be an expert in. And this is what I want to be known for. And I think that's a particularly good way to approach it. You don't need to be an expert in everything. It's like my role is very digital focused. But I wouldn't be an expert copywriter like Ally. So I think we can sort of work together with members of your team to make sure you've got the whole skill set. But you don't need everything yourself.

Ben Walker  10:26

It's interesting, isn't it worry that worries worries rarely good for us. We do it is a human trait. And we can get into a little bit of a vicious circle with worry, I find and a lot of the problem comes from overwork. If we're overworked, we worried more. And the more we worry, the more overwhelmed we become. And we get into this, as I say this, this this sort of circle of doom where one thing leads inevitably to another, there does seem to be a feeling in the sector that marketers are overworked, which might be a trigger for it. I don't know if that's true. But there's certainly anecdotally seems to be a feeling in the sector, Ally Cook that there is a sort of the Labour burden on marketers is rather too high. And this may be triggering some of those other negative outcomes.

Ally Cook  11:12

Yeah, I completely agree with you there. In a recent article, actually, for the CIM Content hub, we discovered that 94% of marketers work late and that is more than any other job function.

Ben Walker  11:23

Wow. 94%, more than nine and 10 working late and that's what that's greater than any other job function in British industry.

Ally Cook  11:31

Yes, that's right. Yeah. So obviously, there's a massive kind of power struggle here between the very demanding roles that marketers are completing on a day to day basis, and then this constant need to upskill and to be looking ahead, and kind of, you know, putting your head above the parapet and seeing what might be coming up. And that is a real challenge to get the balance between those two things. And I think the most successful professionals, certainly that we see with marketing are those that are able to get that balance right, and not spend too much time, you know, to our to our earlier points, worrying about what they don't have and focusing on what's really going to be most relevant in terms of driving their career forward.

Ben Walker  12:08

What are the techniques then Molly, how do you embed these sort of good learning behaviours, good work behaviours, which allows you to find that efficiency, those sweet spots in your in your timetable?

Molly MacArthur  12:18

I think for finding ways to learn effectively, I think it's doing stuff that's fun. As someone that didn't particularly enjoy school. It's really exciting and important to me that I find fun ways to do things. It's like, on my morning run this morning, I was listening to a really short audio, but by Harvard business review on how to give effective feedback. And so I'm sort of tying into other things that I'm doing. If I'm folding the washing, I have something on in the background, if it's like a YouTube video, a TED talk or a podcast. And so I try not to make it something that I don't force myself to sit there reading really long textbooks about marketing. It's like, what am I enjoying? What are aspects of marketing that I really genuinely want to know more about? Next, I think if it's something you're not genuinely passionate about this topic that you don't, you're not really enjoying it, it's going to be really hard to force yourself or particularly in your own time to upskill. So yeah, I think just finding things and, and methods that feel right for you. So not, not everybody learns well, by reading a book, I know that I find if I'm reading a long professional development book, sometimes I won't quite resonate with what's being said, Until I experienced that it could be years later years down the line, I experience it, and then I'm like, this clicks, but I understand that now, or I'll read something that I have already experienced. And then it sort of that solidifies what the learning was from that experience.

And if you're not the sort of person that can sit there for hours on end reading books, I wouldn't force yourself to do that I'd find something else. I've listened to TED talks, or I recently got a coach. And that's been so valuable. For me, I think having someone that I'm a little bit accountable for things and making sure that I'm improving and sort of acting on what I said that I would is super valuable for me and see the reloads different ways. And like Ali said peer to peer coaching. Mentoring actually is something that I'm super keen to look into not to plug a CIM, but we do offer a mentoring, free mentoring scheme through our membership programme. So yeah, it's definitely something I'm gonna be looking into. But I'd say yeah, just making sure that it's something you're interested in. So it's not feeling like you're working extra. It's like a fun hobby. That you're sort of adding on.

Ben Walker  14:33

The advantages of this sort of layered learning this sort of learning when you're not learning is that your is a good use of time as you say folding laundry going out for your morning run is probably an advantage today of distracting you from the Arctic temperatures as well which quite a pleasant way of winning, but certainly trying to find ways of getting it in to as much as you can via osmosis Ally trying to do things that sort of naturally enable you to learn Rather than thinking that I've got to sit down for a block for an hour, and read a dense textbook or what have you.

Ally Cook  15:06

Yeah, I completely agree with you. And I think that the proliferation of learning is a little bit of a double edged sword in that it can be quite hard to recognise when you are learning in the sense that it's become quite insidious. You know, there's so many different ways to learn. Now, you go on social media. And if you're following the right accounts, you're learning as you're scrolling, you know, you're getting tips and tricks and videos to give you ideas for your social content, or for other areas of marketing. And that's great. And I think that's a really, really valuable way to learn.

But it means that we sometimes don't recognise that we are consciously or unconsciously, maybe learning at any given point. So we don't really give ourselves enough credit for what we are actually doing. But to Molly's point about, you know, finding the learning that works for you. In the depths of 2020, I actually wrote a content series for the CIM Content hub on finding learning in unexpected places. And one of the people that I spoke to was the global marketing development and strategy director for Microsoft, Scott Allen.

And he gave this fascinating insight as part of the interview that I did with him about finding learning that gives you energy, it shouldn't sap energy from you really to identify ways that keep you motivated and keep you going through to Molly's point, you know, you don't want to be doing something that doesn't suit you, because ultimately, you won't be motivated to continue. So not only kind of understanding your skill set is a really important part of self discovery and why you need to upskill yourself, but actually identifying in what ways are you most likely to take in information and playing to those strengths that you have as well?


Ben Walker  16:40

Do you think people generally recognise that in themselves Molly, that they, they're able to work out? What are the best ways of taking information, I often listen to tapes of interviews, of interviews, I've got to write up for magazines, in my journalistic capacity, while boxing in my makeshift gym, which is in this very cold office. And I actually find that's quite a good way of of subsuming that information. Whereas if I were to sit at my computer watching, you know, a 60 minute zoom reel, I might not take it in and end up being distracted by something else. Do you think that people are a good enough at identifying the ways and getting that learning into their head without making it feel like sort of GCSE revision? That is sort of something that you'd have to do that sort of quite hard and, and dull?


Molly MacArthur  17:28

Yeah, I think I think some people are better than others at it. But it just sort of takes time figuring out what's right for you. If I think some people were probably put off, if you try and read long marketing book, they might not ever attempt to do any professional development again. But it's sort of that persistence and keep trying different things and just find out what works for you. And I think, once you have found something that clicks, it just clicks, I'm sure people will be able to find it quite quickly. And I think it's about getting in that flow. Like we were just talking about how marketers are the most overworked of all, all jobs. So I think like getting in the flow of doing something, it's quite important as well. It's like, if you're sort of in the routine of every morning while you're making a cup of tea or making your breakfast, you've got something on then these things are sort of like naturally flow like it just embedding it into your day.

I was reading a book at the end of last year, it's if you're feeling overwhelmed by professional development, this is the book that you need to listen to or not on audiobook or just reading it is called The Compound Effect. So it talks about making small changes every single day, that add up to this massive impact.

So if you it's as if you gave the example of if you read 15 minutes of professional development book every single morning, in a year's time, you're potentially going to get a pay rise or promotion based off the things that you've learned in those 15 minutes each day, versus someone that kind of attempts every now and then they'll do an hour here and there but be really put off by that this big task setting a reading this potentially not particularly interesting topic, and it just talks about how far ahead you can get by embedding these things in your day to day. And so I thought it was really interesting. It's definitely worth checking out one as well.

Molly MacArthur  18:27

The compound effect. Little, interesting and often Ally pays dividends. 

Ally Cook  19:16

It's as I actually also while I listened to the book rather than read it over the Christmas break at Molly's recommendation, and I equally found it very, very helpful because I think like all habits your temptation is to start big and to invest you know, for example, you want to get in shape you buy a peloton, you you know sign up for an expensive gym membership.

You go all in because you think that investment will then you know motivate you to do it. But actually just making very small changes. Whether that is reading 50 minutes a development book, whether it's just picking up a podcast or you know, subscribing to a new YouTube channel that gives you tips and tricks, you know, find ways to work it into your lifestyle because if you're expecting a big change in yourself to facilitate this new habit, that's really hard to achieve, actually, and it doesn't have to be, as all in as some other habits, you know, make it work for you, and your working style. And I think you've got a much better chance of success

Ben Walker  20:11

It kind of like great advice. And I hope people take that away that you know, if you can get this, the little nodules of learning these slivers of time, you're going to learn quite quickly and more easily than if you feel it's something you've got to sit down and do at a specific point in the day for a long, for a long period. But it's 2022 is a new year, we have to cover this Come on, we every lifestyle magazine, in the news agent will be using words to the effect of New Year new you. So I've got to ask you to 2022 what you're going to be focusing on what are your learning priorities this year? You know how to learn? You've, you've explained that to me? What are you going to learning about learning about, Molly MacArthur? 

Molly MacArthur  20:56

For me, I'm focusing on a new area of interest. I think over the last few months that I've been particularly interested in technology and the development of that. So I've signed up to- Harvard Business School do free online courses. So I've signed up to CS 50, computer science, computer programming, which fits quite nicely with my digital marketing job role. But just a bit more technical details,

I'm just focusing on sort of free courses that can develop my skills, but potentially sort of moving in a different area, open my eyes to the technology behind the ads that I'm running, and how these platform new platforms being built and things like that. So that's a fun area of interest for me. And also as just as a new manager, sort of upskilling on leading teams and things like that. So sort of one technical goal. And then one more sort of soft skills to focus on for me.

Ben Walker  21:49

Soft Skills, make the mix of soft skills and technical, both highly important and importantly, to what we were talking about earlier, highly relevant to your role. You're not trying to sort of go broad and shallow, you're trying to you're trying to focus in on what's really, when am I going to add value? What's going to add value to my role? What's going to make my job better and easier and more effective? Ally? How about you? What are your priorities. 

Ally Cook  22:14

Mine are quite simple, really. And it's just to read more. And it sounds very, very simple at a surface level, but actually, probably like quite a lot of marketers. Particularly when I first came into marketing, I was reading everything, and particularly as a content copywriter. You know, that's my speciality within marketing. And so I was I was trying to take in all this information absorb all this content at one time. And so I think what happens when you get to that point is the feeling of overwhelm that we talked about. And you can kind of reach a level where you can't take in any more information. So taking the time to really understand your cadence, I think is very important. But for me, I've set myself the goal of reading one personal development and one fiction book per month. Because I think having that mix is really important. Whilst a fiction book might not on a surface level look as though it's relevant to my role, actually just engaging with language, looking at things outside of my job, but also giving myself that kind of creative free thinking time to stimulate new ideas and new ways of working, I think is really important, too.

And to Molly's point leadership. And particularly, we're entering another year of a bit of an unknown in terms of what's going to happen with virtual working, I don't want to say it, you know, hybrid working, who knows. And I think as leaders, we're going to be tested more than ever, to keep the momentum going with the good habits that we've been trying to implement. And so I think that that's going to be a real area of focus for me too.

Ben Walker  23:38

For audience members that didn't get in at the start, both Molly and Ally are from CIM itself. So their employer is CIM, if they're on the CIM podcast, and meta because they are employed by CIM. So your employer will be very happy to hear from you to that you're both clearly prioritising your learning, you understand how you learn best, and you understand where you can add value rather than going off at tangents and learning about things that perhaps are less useful to you. How do other organisations work out how to get people who understand learning like you? How did they manage to ensure that the focus on learning is maintained and is efficient and workable in the ways that you have described?

Ally Cook  24:22

I think it's about broadening their horizons. As we've discussed, learning can look like so many different things, there's so many ways to do it. But for a lot of organisations, it still looks like sending someone on a training course, or getting them to sign up for a qualification, which is a fantastic thing to do. But recognising other habits that people might have picked up, particularly during lockdown, I think that has been quite a positive thing in helping people to look at new ways of learning where they might not be able to go and attend a face to face training course, you know, encouraging them to engage with different methods. So I would say look to what your staff are already doing and what they've picked up, learn from them as much as they can hope to learn from you and look at embeddings and practices that maybe they have already picked up.

And I would also say reward learning, you know, take the time to acknowledge what someone is doing. And if they, Molly's earlier point about, you know, signing up for something that may be something outside of her job role, it's still relevant, you're still going to be bringing those skills in. And even the fact that you're proactively showing that you're engaging with learning is a really valuable asset, not just for that individual, but for that kind of positive learning environment that that creates for others. So recognise it, you know, get them to share takeaways from things that they've learned that might look like it's immediately kind of outside of their remit, and give them a platform to share their experiences and encourage others to do the same. I think employees are going to be the biggest advocates for creating that really positive space where learning can flourish?

Ben Walker  25:47

Is it a bit one dimensional? Still, do you think for too, too many organisations, Molly, they sort of send 50 people to Birmingham for three days. And that's the end of it. But their sort of their training and learning programme for their organisation?

Molly MacArthur  26:01

I think, potentially is yeah, we often poll our social media followers to find out when was the last time they attended, attended a training course. And often large portions of them, it's been years as employees have done any sort of training, but I think it's part of a few podcasts back that someone was speaking about the growth mindset. And I think that's really important. If you as an organisation, really sort of live and breathe that growth mindset, your employees will as well, and they'll go away, and they'll find their own stuff. They'll keep it fresh and exciting. Like Ally was talking about us, I think it's creating that culture of learning. I think it can be difficult, but it's really important. I think, if you're someone that is leading an organisation, or maybe maybe you're not, maybe you're just within an organisation, I think sharing and talking about the things that you're doing will encourage other people to do it as well.

Ben Walker  26:50

So Ally, I think it's clear, isn't it that we've learned to say, don't be scared of the learning challenge, there are ways to do it, that will work for you. But you've got to go on that journey of self discovery to work out. What works for you to make it easy for yourself and fun and interesting for yourself is important. That is interesting. If you do that first, then learning becomes a natural part of your life and becomes an enjoyable part of your life. As far as organisations are concerned, they need to recognise that not everyone learns in the same way.

There are different ways to doing and it's not learning and training shouldn't be siloed. It should be something that we do naturally as part of our part of our job. You referenced earlier, the digital skills benchmark, which which we spoke to Dan Rouse about in the last podcast before the Christmas break. And it was a it was a pretty, it was a pretty depressing picture. Let's be honest, there's the skills had fallen, there was lots of work to do in the sector on bringing those skills back up to scratch. Are you optimistic that actually this year, we're going to get to grips with learning a little bit better, understand it better and understand how people learn so we can actually get our skills back to where they need to be.

Ally Cook  28:07

I am optimistic. I think that this is a really exciting opportunity to orient ourselves set personal and professional goals that work for us and make sure that we've really clearly mapped out what will go into achieving those, I think the challenge that we've spoken about previously of the overwhelm and that overwork in the mix with that is very real and something that we need to contend with. And that also that organisations need to take seriously through the methods that we talked about really empowering, learning and making it a priority. But I do think overall that marketers do have an opportunity to put their own learning their own learning habits, their own learning rhythms and resources at the absolute forefront. And I think if we're potentially going to see the great resignation of 2021 continuing into 2022, it's going to be more important than ever. So I think the opportunity is absolutely there to be seized.

Ben Walker  28:56

That sounds like an optimistic start the new year. Ally Cook, Molly MacArthur, thank you very much. We'll see you again on CIM podcast very soon.

Ally Cook  29:05

If you've enjoyed this episode, be sure to subscribe to the CIM Marketing Podcast on your platform of choice. If you're listening on Apple podcasts, please leave us a rating and review. We'd love to hear your feedback. CIM Marketing Podcast


Ben Walker Host CIM Marketing Podcast
Ally Cook Content and engagement manager Formerly CIM
Molly MacArthur Digital marketing manager Formerly CIM
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