You can’t look through your e-mails for 10 minutes and not see some article telling you that you need to be the best at data-driven marketing, strategy and cross-team management. We simultaneously need to be able to test, analyze and differentiate between a plethora of metrics and the most important key performance indicators, ultimately gaining the insights that will improve our business. Then, there are the ooey-gooey soft skills we need to have, such as communication, emotional intelligence, problem-solving, adaptability, people management and creativity.

We are fortunate to practice marketing at a time when technology is advancing our efforts, but we have to remember the power we hold to inspire customers. We need to foster meaningful relationships with them. Our ability to engage them will continue to have a huge impact, and you have to balance the human side of marketing with the data side that all the articles are telling you are a must. So now, you have even more skills you need to hone like omni-channel marketing, AI and machine learning, digital SEO, social, e-mail and mobile, and evolving media and programmatic buying.

What follows is some advice on how to handle skill training within your marketing department.

Training and development are vital

There is no denying that training and development are necessary. We all know that learning is essential, but expanding your knowledge base—as well as that of your employees—is also vital to the health of your organization. Although it’s one of those line items that we always put on our list of to-do’s, it never seems to make it to the top…. that list seems to grow like the weeds in my garden. However, there is hope; you can add learning to your list and get it done.

I know the valid reasons why training doesn’t always rise to the top of the list--it can be expensive, employees who are attending training are not working, and, worse, no one is asking for formalized training outside of that needed for new technology or programs we’ve already invested in.

I’m here to tell you the benefits will outweigh those roadblocks. Proper training can address the weaknesses in your department. Employees who take advantage of training opportunities are better prepared for the future of your organization; they are confident and competent, and that confidence can help them stay on top of industry changes that can help you maintain (or improve) your position in the market. Employees feel challenged and appreciated when training opportunities are afforded to them. Productivity and quality of work will improve and turnover reduced.

Create learning opportunities

With a world of information at their fingertips, there are many ways to learn. You can Google, “how do I” and get answers, but purposeful learning environments are designed to immerse you in topics and build your skills. As a lifelong learner, I have experienced a few of these environments.

  • Virtual classrooms: This technology allows participants to view presentations as well as communicate with fellow participants and the trainer or teacher. These classrooms allow participation from around the world. This style of learning can be extremely budget friendly as travel is limited to the nearest computer with an internet connection. Classes typically happen on a regular schedule much like in-person classes with lessons and homework due according to set deadlines.
  • Self-paced learning: This is typically pre-recorded to allow the participants to work sessions into their work and home schedules and is ideally suited for a lifelong learner. This type of training is very scalable providing you with the flexibility to train as many people as you want. Although there is a front-loaded investment in designing the training, you can continue gaining a return for that investment over time. This type of training is perfect for lessons or modules that will be used repeatedly; new employees can learn new skills and existing employees can polish those that may have dulled over time. Of course, the drawback is that you are dependent on the employee’s motivation to learn.
  • The masterclass: This form of training can be defined in numerous ways. Google lists a variety of definitions for the term, but the generally accepted explanation is that these types of classes are “one-off” and taught by an expert in the subject matter. Because the level of information is specific and well beyond the surface, it is best experienced by students with a genuine interest, ideally already understanding some basics before they begin. These classes are typically divided into easy-to-consume modules with associatedmaterials and (more than likely) assignments to help you develop your new skill set. These classes can be in-person or online and are designed for trainees to experience a feeling of one-to-one learning. I have been part of masterclasses that have also included video group discussions and resourcing.
  • Workshops: These are designed to be highly interactive. Typically focused on a single topic over a short period of time, hands-on work is a signature part of this type of training. Smaller groups allow trainers to deliver content through practical exercises and close interactions. Active participation allows for the exchange of ideas and best practices. Participants are often given assignments, materials or devices to implement learning. Knowledge and execution are equally emphasized. Our Casino Marketing Boot Camp was explicitly designed with this level of learning in mindand with the added elements of pre-work to assist attendees in hitting the ground running both at the event and once they returned to their properties.
  • Topic programmed conferences and seminars: Tradeshows like the annual Casino Marketing & Technology Conference can give you intensive exposure to a specific topic or field. Discussions and presentations are provided by multiple experts thereby giving you a breadth of information. It’s a great way to gain knowledge for those not interested in reading the latest business books. The discussion offers the opportunity for debate, encouragement and answers. Also, because these events typically combine learning with socializing, they are an excellent way to gain access to experts and network with other marketers.
  • Books and podcasts: Both traditional and electronic literature are some of the best ways to learn new things at a personal pace. Whether it’s marketing or a juicy installment of Serial, I love a good podcast. Truth be told, reading was never “my thing,” but I make reading fiction, non-fiction and business books part every day. With summer just around the corner, this is the perfect time to create a reading list for yourself. I guarantee you will reach Labor Day with a new (or improved) skill or two.

Additionally, many new business books are supplemented with additional free resources and tools to help you take concept into action. Check out our marketing book club to see some of the books on my shelf. The lessons in a business book are obvious, but did you realize that reading fiction can help you build empathy and enhance your ability to see other points of view. According to neuroscience, reading fiction can also improve your brain function, so that juicy novel has a double purpose!

The collective benefit to all of these types of learning is a renewed energy and motivation. Too often, the daily grind can overshadow the excitement we often had when we started our jobs. Pursuing opportunities to learn and engage with like-minded professionals can lead to increased job satisfaction and productivity.

Any of these options can be tailored to be delivered onsite or off. Some of the benefits of onsite learning include:

  • Save valuable time and money otherwise lost or used in travel;
  • Flexibility to make last minute changes to content and attendees; and
  • Opportunity to tailor the content to the specific market or attendee needs.

The benefits of offsite learning have made me a fan of these opportunities as well, and include:

  • Sitting in the same office day in, and day out can stifle your creativity if you don’t make a concerted effort to continually re-energize. Getting out of the routine can do that.
  • Offsite learning environments often force you to step out of your comfort zone;
  • The ability to focus on the learning without disruptions from a phone or computer;
  • There’s nothing quite like the energy when you’re in a room with like-minded people all learning new things;
  • Expanding your network with new contacts can provide you with the idea and sounding boards you never knew you needed; and
  • Sitting and learning in a different environment can challenge you.

Start learning something new. If you have a budget, find the most suitable option for your learning style and your schedule. Do your homework. It’s one thing to be bursting with enthusiasm when you ask your boss to invest in you and your chosen training, but you should also be prepared to answer a few questions to justify the specific program: 

  • How will this immediately impact your role or projects?
  • What are the long term benefits?
  • How will this be shared with co-workers?

If you find out if your department does not have a budget, check with human resources to see if there is a budget you can tap into. If a budget is not currently available, start planning your pitch for next year using the same research you would do if you had the budget.