What is the value of professional marketing certifications?

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How valuable are professional marketing certifications? I don’t mean full academic credentials like an MBA; I refer to certifications like Hubspot’s Inbound Marketing Certification or Google’s Analytics Qualified Individual certification.

To some people, these certifications are stamps of approval, validation by a third party of our knowledge and skills. To other people, these certifications are crutches, ways to mask a lack of experience or results.

What is the true value of these certifications? They have two important roles. First, they are signifiers of a minimum level of knowledge. To pass these examinations requires a base of knowledge that, even if you have no professional experience, still requires study and rigor to pass. Ask anyone who passed the AdWords Qualified Individual exams if they thought they were easy – they’re most definitely not easy.

Second, certifications act as heuristics, ways for us to make snap judgements about a person. Heuristics are important, partly because we tend to make judgements very quickly, but also because our implicit or explicit biases can obscure our understanding of a person’s abilities. Certifications act as counters to those biases.

For example, take a moment to mentally think about what Ph.D. in astrophysics might be like as a person. Take a moment to also mentally think about what a Ph.D. in Human Resources and Education might be like as a person.

Do you have those two people in mind, a mental image of each?

Did you think of Brian May, the lead guitarist from Queen, who has a Ph.D. in astrophysics?

Queen 2005 1010016.JPG
By Thomas Steffan by using Olympus Camedia C700 – Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0

Did you think of Shaquille O’Neal, the NBA champion basketball player, who has a Ph.D. in Human Resources and Education?


We have biases and judgements about these two people as musicians and athletes that their academic credentials, their certifications, help change how we understand them. We might even have internal, subconscious biases about gender, sexual orientation, or racial identity that interfere with our ability to make objective judgements; credentials help to override these subtle but very real biases.

For anyone who doesn’t fit the standard mold of what a marketer “looks like”, certifications are an invaluable way to overcome implicit biases, especially in the age of social media sites like LinkedIn which display our photos.

I strongly recommend that marketers seeking to further their careers and open doors seek out certifications. Start with Google’s courses and certifications; other than investing your time, they’re free of financial cost and the gold standard for marketers looking to prove their worth in a crowded marketplace.

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6 responses to “What is the value of professional marketing certifications?”

  1. Hi Chris,
    I’m on the advisory board for a couple of new industry certifications. They are undergoing ANSI accreditation and I’m sold that they are well put together and good for the industry. I’d love your take: http://www.eccouncil.org/i-business/certified-digital-marketer.html http://www.eccouncil.org/i-business/certified-internet-marketing-practitioner.html

    1. Hi Steve – the short answer is that I can’t tell. There’s an economic barrier to entry, to be sure, but that just tells you that a certificate owner can afford to maintain it. I don’t know any of the other advisory board folks, so I can’t comment as to how rigorous the program is or isn’t. So, in fairness, the only comment I can make is, I can’t tell!

      1. Thank you for looking at it and for the quick response. I’d love a follow-up with your thoughts on how you would go about vetting a certification or training program – as a hiring manager or as a participant. You’re right, there is an awful lot of snake oil out there, and I’m sure I’m not alone in wondering what’s worthwhile outside of first-party tool/software certifications.

  2. Going to the source is the key here, or at least to a source that people know as being reputable. Unfortunately earning a “Chris Penn’s Almost Timely Marketing Cerification” won’t hold much weight with the mainstream (though I mean that in the most endearing way possible!), even if it sounds good. I’m working right now to get my MBA online, but following up on some industry-specific certifications is probably next on my list after that. If anything, I think it’s a great way to show people exactly what you said, Chris – you’re willing to invest in yourself and keep your credentials up to speed with the market.

  3. Jennifer Porter Avatar
    Jennifer Porter

    Your blog is always valuable Chris. Thank you for sharing your knowledge bed.

  4. Dajana Vujaklija Avatar
    Dajana Vujaklija

    I think this is the right way to approach to this subject: asking yourself what is the true value of certifications. When you apply to the job, your potential employer is looking for the value you could bring to his business. He doesn’t know anything about you, so showing him/her your certifications is a good way to make the difference. I love your explanation, it is concise and the examples are in the place. And I didn’t know this fact about Shaq. So cool!

    Thank you for sharing this!

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