CIM vs. Google’s Squared Online: Head to head in marketing education

May 8, 2017

In the battle for online digital marketing training, the CIM faces stiff competition from Google’s Squared Online. So which qualification should you look for when recruiting? 

The need for marketing professionals to have digital training has never been greater. Increasingly, though, the question is: from where?

When it comes to online digital marketing courses, two options loom large.

In one corner, there’s the old hand – the more established Chartered Institute of Marketing.

In the other, the relative newcomer of Google’s Squared Online, produced in partnership with online learning specialists AVADO.

We put the two providers head to head to find out exactly what they offer and whether, when it comes to powering the digital marketing minds of the future, one has the edge over the other.

James Elias, CMO of AVADO: Squared Online is aimed at marketing managers, directors and executives seeking increased confidence and a more rounded understanding of digital. It’s also for graduates looking for a fast track into a competitive and evolving industry as well as those seeking to change career.

Gill Kelley, Director at the Chartered Institute of Marketing Academy: We have three main online digital marketing courses. Digital Essentials is aimed at people who are in marketing support roles or are looking to move into marketing. Digital Marketing is for junior marketers and senior people, particularly in SMEs, where marketing is only part of what they do. Finally, Digital Strategy is for marketing executives.

Skills taught
JE: Squared Online has a unique approach to learning. Students hone their digital knowledge through peer-to-peer learning, group work and real-life projects – interacting with other ‘Squares’ from around the globe.
GK: Digital Essentials teaches key concepts associated with digital marketing, the impact of the changing digital environment and digital communications tools. Digital Marketing takes a more in depth look, including integrating a digital marketing toolkit with more traditional marketing principles.

Digital Strategy looks at how organisations can implement a digital strategy and build these capabilities into their overall strategy.

JE: Students will graduate with a Certificate in Digital Marketing endorsed by the IAB and the IPA, and accredited by the CPD.
GK: Students work towards a Foundation Certificate in Marketing, a Certificate in Professional Marketing or a Diploma in Professional Marketing.

JE: A weekly one-hour class taught by subject matter experts from across the industry as well as pre- and post-class activities. There are no exams – instead students are continually assessed via project work, self-reflection and team feedback.

All resources are available online, making Squared Online flexible around your life. There are five modules – each one comprises a series of online learning activities and discussions for the student to complete.

GK: We have a network of globally recognised industry experts leading the three modules. They interact with students through virtual workshops – giving advice, email support and feedback on assignments and in talks. They also ensure that the work is not all academic theory.

Student support
JE: Squared Online has a friendly and knowledgeable support team, available for any questions and queries around the classes, projects, group work or anything more personal.

There’s also a strong alumni network so the learning doesn’t stop at graduation. There are various events, webinars and resources that are shared on a monthly basis as well as a LinkedIn group for grads to discuss ideas, post their work and keep in touch.

GK: We have learner support that gives advice to students on any technical problems and deals with administration queries. We also encourage networking at local networking evenings with professional speakers and discussion forums.

Course USP
JE: Collaboration is the foundation of Squared Online. This is what makes the programme different and creates powerful agents of change within the digital marketing industry. It is 60% digital marketing and 40% leadership-based.
GK: We talk about employers getting real payback. Our course helps students bring their expertise to life in their workplace. We encourage them to go back to their workplace, talk to a mentor there and try out our theories to see if they work.

Value for money
JE: Squared Online is taught over five months and costs £1,799 excluding VAT. Many marketing conferences are a similar price for two days. From Squared Online, companies have seen a reduction in attrition and an increase ROI on digital marketing spend. Graduates are 96% more confident discussing digital strategy, with two in three progressing their career through promotions after completion of Squared.
GK: We feel that if you ask the employers they will say they get the value back and more. Typical costs range from £795 for the Foundation Course Online to £1,845 for the Diploma course.

Carter Murray verdict
So which qualification should carry the most weight when you are evaluating a candidate for a marketing job vacancy?

Google’s name will be attractive to a host of students dazzled by the brand association and its laidback style (it calls for “contributors not lurkers”). Google is creating a strong team ethic with Squared Online and it stresses the importance of peer-to-peer learning and collaboration – a 5,000-strong alumni is eager to help their fellow students, or ‘Squares’.

It seems like a fun, young and exciting course.

The length of the course and price are not excessive – especially given the powerful stat that two out of three graduates gain promotions. They must be doing something right.

But how established is Google’s name in the marketing industry? Strip it away and you see that the course is delivered by an online training group.

The CIM doesn’t have a funky image. There is an impression that their online digital offering has been somewhat shoehorned into their Foundation, Certificate and Diploma courses – where they fight for breathing room against modules such as Integrated Communications and Marketing Principles.

All by design, says the CIM. Students want bite-sized courses on digital alongside other marketing skills that lead to overall Foundation and Diploma certification. This, plus the extra choice of digital courses suiting all levels, shapes more rounded marketing professionals.

The CIM courses offer peer-to-peer learning – although not quite on the level of Google ¬– plus the opportunity for real-world networking. It is a UK institution and this could be a strength or weakness, depending on your organisation and its marketing focus.

The CIM appears to have the ear of UK employers and more of a commitment to get students back to the workplace, engaging with bosses and really seeing if what they learned in the virtual classroom can work in practice.

In that sense, it seems a more rounded option than Squared Online – liable to produce the kind of work-ready candidates HR and talent acquisition leaders are seeking. It should also be noted, however, that marketing managers and execs are increasingly turning to Squared Online in order to lead and manage digital professionals – rather than to be more digitally operational themselves.

However, the CIM is an established organisation with the support of employers and an impressive track record. It has responded well to the emergence of digital and listened to students and employers when they said they wanted online, bite-sized digital courses.

Perhaps in a few more years Squared Online will develop a successful track record and flesh out its offering to include other aspects of marketing.

On these criteria, the CIM qualification arguably has the edge over Google’s programme. In reality, no two candidates for a marketing vacancy will have identical CVs apart from their qualifications.

A prospective hire with either qualification can be marked out as someone keen to learn who has either funded their own marketing education or made the most of training opportunities with previous employers.

And which course should you send your own staff on? The Carter Murray advice is to set individuals the challenge of researching both offerings and going with their recommendation. This will maximise their commitment to the course and therefore the benefit to your business.