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Building Capability

How to Define, Build & Measure Marketing Capability in Your Organisation


Marketing is crucial in getting your brand out there. So, developing your marketing capabilities is just as important as developing your brand strategy. In this guide, we dive into how you can define and develop your marketing capabilities, from identifying and prioritising gaps to creating L&D activities to address your marketing pain points.

What is marketing capability?

Marketing capability is the mix of skills, behaviours, tools, processes and knowledge required of marketing professionals to deliver business strategy. Examples include capabilities like copywriting, market research, advertising, and digital marketing capabilities.

3 steps to define marketing capabilities

The main thing to remember here is to understand what your marketing functions are doing in order to start defining capabilities. There are three steps to marketing capability development in your organisation.

Step 1: Define the landscape

The first step to creating marketing capabilities is to define the need for them. There are three questions you can ask yourself to work this out.

  1. What is the greater mission, purpose, and values of your organisation?
  2. What role does the marketing department play in that mission?
  3. What value does your marketing function generate for the business, now and into the future?

Remember that marketing strategy must be aligned with business strategy for an organisation to succeed. And the easiest way to ensure you have the right talent and resources to deliver on that strategy is through developing essential capabilities. So, having a specific goal (in the form of desired organisational outcomes) allows for more efficient and effective marketing capability development.

Step 2: Define the purpose

The next step is all about the purpose for each individual marketing capability. This means looking deeper than specific marketing roles, and instead trying to understand where marketing capability fits into the context of your company mission.

Generally, there are five factors to consider when evaluating capability purpose.

  1. Company strategy: How well do your marketing capabilities feed into business outcomes?
  2. Market demand: What demand is there for the capability in the market?
  3. Company resources: Does the company have enough budget, people, or equipment to sustain the capability?
  4. Existing capabilities: Does your marketing capability complement or compete with the current capabilities?
  5. Risks: What are the potential risks that could arise (such as to finances or reputation) from building the capability?

Step 3: Define the outcome

When naming capabilities, they should refer to a desired outcome of your marketing function. So, for example:

The idea is that your employees should understand what the capability entails just by looking at the name. This means their names should be indicative of how they function, and worded according to your company’s specific brand and voice.

If you’re still drawing a blank on when you’re creating marketing capability, look no further. We’ve done the hard work of creating a directory of marketing capabilities for free, complete with definitions and competency levels. And, if you’re looking for capabilities adjacent to marketing, we have capability sets like sales and design capabilities for you to look at, too.

Strategies for building marketing capability

Now we come to actually building marketing capability. When building marketing capabilities, there are a few steps to follow:

  1. Engage leadership buy-in
  2. Building co-ownership between HR and sales
  3. Assess gaps in marketing capabilities
  4. Assess the maturity of marketing capabilities
  5. Build marketing capability with L&D
  6. Track and monitor progress.

Engaging leadership

Getting the buy-in of your business leaders is essential for capability development, because leaders are the ones who enable employee engagement in L&D. How do they do this? By outlining the clear learning outcomes and strategy for training participants. Without leadership buy-in, most programs for organisational transformation fail.

Before they can do that, you need to secure their buy-in first, though. This isn’t about telling them why marketing capabilities are important. Rather, it’s about pointing out how developing marketing capabilities will address their pain points and meet the KPIs they have for business performance.

In other words, it’s about understanding what leaders actually want. Do they want more effective digital marketing? Make a case for developing your marketing team in the latest digital marketing capabilities.

Your CEO and executives care about the big picture—that is, they care about the numbers that indicate business success. Given that marketing capability is essential for getting your brand and product out into the market in a way customers will see, you’ll need to

So, if you don’t go ahead with capability-building, you don’t build that brand reputation, or brand recognition, with customers. This means less sales, which leads to low revenue and profit. In other words, inaction on marketing capability-building leads to poor organisational performance.

Co-ownership between HR and marketing

Beyond the buy-in of leaders, you need to establish who is accountable for what when building marketing capabilities. This doesn’t just fall on your business unit leaders, or even just your HR leaders. You need to create co-ownership between HR and business units to ensure the success of your L&D efforts.

If siloed, HR’s main focus is on development through learning while business units care more about performance, creating a divide between business needs and how the needs are met. So, co-ownership between HR and business units, rather than letting one group take full responsibility, prevents:

  1. HR from creating development programs that aren’t relevant or aligned with specific departments’ needs.
  2. Business units from creating development programs that aren’t aligned with organisational strategy.

In other words, both your HR department and business units (in this case, your marketing functions) should work together and share accountability for L&D efforts to align both business and specific business-unit needs. HR can take care of alignment with business strategy, and marketing can handle relevance to department needs.

Understanding marketing capability gaps

Businesses inevitably face market changes, meaning the capabilities marketing teams currently possess likely won’t hold up as technology, industry standards and practices evolve. This creates gaps between the market knowledge, skills and behaviour you currently have, and the ones you’ll need (or will need to develop further) down the line.

An easy way to find capability gaps is with capability assessments. You may have heard about competency before, described by another name: Proficiency. Regardless of the term you use, it’s essentially a levelled scale to measure performance against. The levels could look like:

Your capability gaps exist in the space between current competence in a capability and the competency level you need or want to meet. As capabilities are developed, you should see competency move up from beginner to intermediate, or intermediate to advanced.  

In this case, we find it’s better to use multiple types of assessments at once to get a full picture of where  competency is at.

  1. Let employees self-evaluate competency with self-assessments.
  2. Have managers assess employee competency and compare results.
  3. Use one or both of the previous assessments alongside an assessment by subject matter experts when assessing for specialist capability sets.

Assessing marketing capability maturity

Then there’s capability maturity. Unlike capability gaps, which looks at capability within the marketing function, capability maturity has a more business-wide view. It gives you a clearer view of overall proficiency in the business, and highlights the areas that should be prioritised for development according to risk to the business.

Capability maturity is usually represented by a linear progression of five levels:

  1. Reactive, where capabilities are unpredictable and ad hoc.
  2. Managed, where capability performance is managed project to project.
  3. Defined, where capabilities are managed through organisation-wide guidelines.
  4. Qualitative, where capabilities are aligned with business processes and objectives.
  5. Optimised, where capability is optimised through continuous improvement.

Just like with capability assessments, you should see your capability maturity slide up the scale as your capability development progresses. You can use a maturity model or map to show where your capability maturity is sitting on the maturity curve.

Methods to build marketing capability

This is where you develop L&D activities to build marketing capabilities. So, what methods can you use to build marketing capabilities?

Tracking progress

Again, it’s a competitive market, which means you need to make sure your capability development is continuous and creates long-lasting change in employee behaviour over time. This is why you need to monitor progress. It’s not just about ensuring your competency or maturity has increased after participating in learning and development. It’s also about being proactive about your capability development—not only by getting ahead on training to maintain your competitive advantage, but also by ensuring that your training methods match your training needs.

Monitoring and tracking progress can be achieved with a few simple methods.

These methods of progress tracking need to be conducted consistently and regularly to keep up with business priorities.

Key takeaways

Considering that your marketing capabilities are what gives your business the competitive strategy to underpin company performance, there’s a lot of pressure to get them right. That said, it’s not difficult to develop them once you know what you’re working towards. Just remember to:

  1. Engage leadership buy-in
  2. Establish co-ownership between HR and business units
  3. Identify your marketing capability gaps
  4. Prioritise capabilities to develop based on business risk
  5. Create L&D activities that build long-lasting value
  6. Monitor progress for continuous improvement.

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