‘This should act as a wakeup call’: Food and drink marketing skills stuck in analogue age, clams report

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT


Related tags Digital marketing

Marketing skills in food and drink have declined during the pandemic, says the Chartered Institute of Marketing Food, Drink and Agriculture Sector Interest Group.

The explosion in digital marketing in the last two decades means there are now more tools and techniques available to marketeers than ever. This represents an enormous opportunity, with more routes to market, more ways to engage and more ways to convert.

In ‘the ever-crowded online’ space, the good news is food and drink is a hugely popular topic, said Mark Dodds, Chair of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Food, Drink and Agriculture Sector Interest Group. “Marketeers start out with the advantage of having a receptive audience: who doesn’t like to eat and drink? Many of us actively seek out food and drink related content. And we are often quite open to it when it appears in our web searches or social media feeds.”

However, skills, especially in digital, have mostly stagnated or declined in the last two years, revealed Dodds, after the Chartered Institute of Marketing published its latest annual report carried out with Target Internet in 2018. It’s the world’s largest and most thorough digital marketing skills benchmark and will make for interesting reading for food and drink producers, suppliers, retailers and brands.

“This is true across the board and in the food and drink sector specifically. In a marketing landscape where change is the only constant, this should act as a wakeup call,”​ explained Dodds.

“If anything, the pandemic elevated the status of marketing. As everything changed - how we shopped, how we worked and how we engaged with each other – so the need for digital marketing only increased. The food and drink sector was no exception and many businesses and brands pivoted and prospered.”

But upskilling in most areas of marketing, especially at more junior levels, didn’t happen to the extent required, according to Dodds. While the report saw an uptick in skills levels in one area: general marketing, which was up by 7%, in almost all sectors and job levels the picture was the opposite. “Interestingly, our report found that skills levels at external agencies were generally higher than at in house teams, and most of these businesses reported revenue increases,”​ we were told.

In the food and drink sector, skills levels dropped by 6% in both analytics and data and content marketing, while social media fell by 8%. And that industry wide improvement in general marketing wasn’t replicated in food and drink - where skill levels actually plummeted by 19% between 2020 and 2021. Digital strategy, online advertising, ecommerce, email marketing and SEO skills remained largely flat. The sector recorded improvements in just two areas, pay per click and usability, of 9% and 6% respectively.

Clearly there is much room for improvement if food and drink producers and brands are to fully capitalise on the opportunities presented by digital marketing, claimed Dodds. “In fact, overall, our segmentation of marketing professionals put 50 per cent of those working in the sector in the very bottom of the report’s five quintiles.

“The need for the profession to continually upskill was apparent even before the pandemic. That need is now even more pressing, and I would argue the food and drink sector, like many others, needs to embed a new culture of ongoing learning within organisations when it comes to marketing.

"The truth is marketing professionals cannot sit on their current skillset and progress. Marketing technology, search engines and social media platforms will continue to innovate at pace. And consumer use of digital channels will only increase further."

In the analogue past, consumers knew what marketing was and even how it worked: it was the adverts we saw on TV and read in newspapers and magazines and perhaps some direct mail which came through the door. 

So more than ever, the food and drink sector needs marketeers with the right suite of skills to maximise those opportunities, said Dodds. 

"The future winners in the food and drink industry will be those who accept this reality and who invest fully in the training and development of their marketing teams. Public perceptions of marketing may not change very much, but that probably doesn’t matter. Perhaps, in the end, what we do in marketing really is less important than how we do it."

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