Is Certification Better than a Degree?

What is the best way to show that you have proven skills in the Digital Marketing industry?

How do you validate your depth, experience, and understanding of Digital Marketing?

Disclaimer: I teach certification courses and I contribute to certification competencies for the OMCP.

But what’s the value of a certification?

I teach over a hundred classes a year. I’ve seen the spectrum of seasoned marketers and those just embarking on their careers. The backgrounds are as diverse as any occupation could be. Marketing is such a broad subject, and it attracts people with a wide variety of skills and experiences. From journalism to rocket science. From design to copyrighting, programming to music. but with this wide variety of experiences and backgrounds, how can you validate what people really know?

This is why I value certification so much. It is a quantifiable measurement of a person’s understanding of defines, necessary, and critical skills in each discipline.

Show Notes:

OMCP Role Delineation Study

Digital Marketing Certifications:

OMCP An independent certification authority with standards set by research, studies, experts, hiring managers, and practitioners.

American Marketing Association (Digital Marketing Institute)

Digital Marketing Institute (my hesitation with this is that they are both the training and certification organization, there is no independent certification)

Google Digital Marketing Certification

LinkedIn Digital Marketing Certificate


How important is digital marketing certification?

I get a number of recent college and university graduates in my courses.  One thing that is common aming this group, is the phrase, “why didn’t they teach me that?”  Now these are university educated marketers – many with a digital marketing degree, but yet when learning from a practitioner, they get information, tools, and experiences that simply aren’t taught in universities! I’m amazed at the lack of modern education recent graduated receive in this amazing dynamic university

Which is why  in the next few moments – I’m going to tell you why certification is more important that  a degree.

Before I begin this episode, I do want to make an important distinction among certificates, industry certifications and platform certifications.

A certificate is what you receive when completing a course. Most times, it means that you watched videos and passed a test or a quiz. In getting the answers right, you are awarded a certificate.  This means that you met the requirements of the course – so many video hours and passing a test. You are then awarded a certificate of completion.

An industry certification means that there is a governing body that has determined specific requirements and competencies that need to be taught and the learner must demonstrate the knowledge gained through an exam or project that reflects understanding of the material.

Now, there are also platform certifications. Google has some, Facebook and others offer these as well.  I’ve never really been a fan of them unless you are specialized, but even then, the content is limited to that specific tool. Like I said, if this is all that you do, then it can be helpful. But sometimes the content is not at all helpful in a marketing sense, but more for technical or platform-related issues. These certifications tend to be focused on the usage aspects of that system, rather than business process or integrated marketing concepts. Great for specialists but limited in scope.

Noe – the big question:

Do I need certification? I get this question constantly – maybe because I teach number of certifications a and test prep courses.  I’m going to give you 5 reasons why certification is not only important, but critical in today’s’ and tomorrow’s digital marketing career fields. I’m also going to tell you which certifications are the best.

Reason #1. Ensure full skills coverage.

I’ve worked with many marketers who have specialized in one area or another. However, to advance in their career, or move into management, they need to be able to manage a full marketing team. In order to manage, they need to know how each discipline works together, the fundamental aspects of each discipline and the competencies needed by each team member.

Otherwise, you get the “Swiss cheese effect.”  That’s when a team has holes in the skills coverage. But when you don’t know where the holes are, they could stack up and expose a major deficiency in your marketing strategy. For both organizations and managers, knowing where your strengths are, where the training needs are, and how to hire to ensure full skills coverage is a must.

Reason #2 Skills in demand:

A recent LinkedIn study showed that digital marketing skills are among the highest in demand!

Specifically, digital marketing strategy, SEO, social media marketing, Paid search and paid social, website Analytics, and content marketing.

According to the research: “…search marketing is hot and SEO remains a core focus of marketing strategy, especially as voice search makes inroads into customer habits…

…paid search and search engine marketing are also on the list of top skills employers seek. Being skilled in digital strategy, link-building, and SEO can make you a coveted asset.”

Despite the recent cutbacks by the big tech companies, The digital marketing industry is estimated at $322.5 Billion (Billion with a B) and is projected to reach $640 billion in less than 5 years! That’s double the size of the current market!

So, how will you distinguish yourself and your knowledge in an increasingly growing and competitive industry?

Reason #3: Training and HR.

In any business, training and hiring are two important aspects of keeping a team up-to-date and ensuring best practices. Without an accepted standard of demonstrated knowledge, how do you hire?  Marketing has a unique make up in that people can come from multiple backgrounds and education and still be successful – PR, journalism, sales, creative, copy writing, programing, psychology, education, rocket science – I’ve met marketers with incredibly diverse backgrounds – so how do you know – what they know, and the depth of that knowledge?

You can look at the resume and see the experiences, but how can you quantify those experiences? Certification enabled an organization to quickly test and assess the level of competency in the necessary disciplines and prove the required skill level.

On a side note here, what about Agencies, freelancers, and other service providers: How do you choose who to work with?

I’m amazed at how many businesses tell me that they have to “train” their agency counterparts.  Meaning, that the agency has employees, but they have limited experience in primary digital marketing tasks and skills. While agencies can make great presentations and pitches – how many of their operations staff have certifications that show demonstrated competence in the industry? Add these questions about skills certification to your questions when screening or partnering with an agency that will manage your marketing tactics.

Reason #4. Industry accepted competencies.

Not all programs teach the same principles or the same objectives. At the university level, at the professional level, even at the training level, not all programs teach or emphasize the same information.  I’ve worked with LinkedIn Learning, Udemy, Udacity, Simpilearn, and many universities and institutions. Anyone can develop a course on many of these platforms, and teach what they think is important. However, does that course author have industry agreement on these objectives or skills? Unless there is a consensus of professionals, experts, companies and agencies, then what you learn is simply what the course author chooses to include.


Reason #5 … who certifies the instructor or the course? You’ll get a certificate of completion from any training course, but it simply means that you passed that course with that information. There is no higher certifying authority. So, what does the certificate prove?

A certification is most valuable when it is a 3rd party certification. This means that a higher authority has evaluated the content being taught according to an industry standard, best practices, or accepted competencies.  It means that the course developer built the training according to an accepted set of standards and expected learning outcomes. The content is not just their own opinion of what is important, but the opinion of a committee, professional board, or other body of professionals.

Reason #6 Follow the money. The OMCP, Online Marketing Certified Professional certification researched their membership and found that marketers with the OMCA certification were paid 16-25% more than their non-certified counterparts.  That certification proved to their employers that they had the knowledge, skills, and expertise for the job. It can advance you in consideration for a new job or for promotion in your new job.

LinkedIn published a recent study that showed that HR managers now consider certification more than university degrees for hiring marketing talent. In this industry, still only about 20 years old, the education system has not caught up to the market.

I regularly talk to universities that are trying to teach undergraduate programs, but aren’t willing to bring in practitioners, create programs, or even keep up to date. As a result, they are licensing digital marketing courses from the big providers in order to fill the gap. Post-graduate or adult education programs are getting the practitioners to some speak and train the professionals!

In this area, undergraduate programs are falling behind. Even the big education companies licensing their training content to the universities can’t keep their content updated! One company that uses my content hasn’t asked for an update in 5 years! And it is being sold to more universities every day!

Certification won’t wait for outdated content.

If you decide to go for a certification, ask a few questions:

Is this a course completion certificate, or a 3rd party certified course?

Who developed the certification? Were their experts, agencies, or brands involved?

When was the latest revision of the certification competencies?

What companies rely on this certification?

What are certified marketers able to do with the certification – how has it benefited them?