5 things I wish I knew when I started my marketing career

Colleges turn out tons of business and marketing majors. Many campuses house marketing under Business Administration and some have specific marketing departments. Combining Business Insider’s most popular college major data for Business Management and Administration (#1), General Business (#2) and Marketing / Marketing Research (#4) totals 16% of all declared majors in the United States. Our college educations are slotting many of us into roles that fall under marketing.

But, most folks new to marketing have no clue what they’re getting into. I didn’t.

With that said, I’m sharing five of the things I wish that I knew way back then. It could have saved me some stress, heartache and helped to prevent me from looking as dumb as I did back then.

1. You will never be Don Draper.

Sorry. You’ll get plenty of free booze at events, but marketing is not advertising, pal. For some reason, much of marketing education blurs the lines between marketing and advertising. A very small percentage of new marketers will work at ad agencies. Most that do are not impacting any of the creative campaigns.

Managing creative delivery and execution is one of the most alluring aspects of marketing. It sucks us in. We see the great commercials. We notice stellar branding. We think we understand user experience because we use well designed gadgets. We know impactful copy when we see it because we scroll past memes on Facebook daily. We won’t be doing any of this for a very long time.

It would have been much more valuable for me to understand simple HTML, constructing an email campaign, learning how to manage ad spend or running an A/B test. You’ll spend more time filling out paperwork than you will wowing client execs with a new piece of creative in a boardroom over neatly poured Canadian Club.

2. You will get tired of events and travel.

You mean people will PAY me to fly, eat food and get free swag? I thought that. I was an idiot. Every marketer has probably studied event management or at least how to successfully execute an event from a marketing perspective. Many courses even have a trial by fire project where you structure events, fundraising or campaigns to give it a try.

Your flight will be delayed. You’ll be in a middle seat wedged between two people who are my size. You’ll have a hotel bed that feels worse than laying on the floor. You’ll get the hotel / airplane crud and fly back home hacking and wheezing. And your feet will hurt because you’re standing all day.

Events are a part of the industry and you’ll go to plenty, but it won’t be champagne dreams and caviar wishes. Learn better time management skills to squeeze in a workout. Expense a nice dinner. Connect with friends in the area. Sharpen your networking and public speaking skills. You’ll quickly become an event pro and recognize faces in every city. Make the most of your trips to avoid getting burnt out and never, ever, ever take a redeye. You’ll be miserable the day you get home and be worse off than if you stayed the night and flew back early.

3. You will always have questions without answers.

I’m a completionist. If I start something, my brain prefers to finish it… even if I start that something at 1am and it takes three hours. Leaving things in an unresolved state has always been a problem for me (yes, I’m a bit obsessive). In marketing, you will always have questions without answers. It requires a different mental framework to understand how to structure complex problems and data sets in a way to pull out and understand insights.

This isn’t easy. Remember the scientific method? Here’s a quick overview if you forgot.

  • Ask a Question
  • Do Background Research
  • Construct a Hypothesis
  • Test Your Hypothesis by Doing an Experiment
  • Analyze Your Data and Draw a Conclusion
  • Communicate Your Results

This is marketing. It is a blend of art and science, but you have to be disciplined enough to configure a problem in a way to start a test, understand the results and know where you go from there. Interestingly enough, you have to market your marketing. Learn how to pull out the useful takeaways and communicating that to others.

4. You should have paid more attention in Statistics class.

Go ahead and follow two folks: Tom Webster and Chuck Hemann. Both of those gentlemen are masterful with data, interpreting data and pulling out the insights. I’ve worked with lots of analytical folks in my career, but there aren’t many that can take things full circle. The most frequent gap is the very last step – turning all of the abstract data into the three most important things the C-suite needs to know.

Odds are, many marketers have had a meeting with some C-level folks that first highlighted this gap. It happened to me. You’re presenting a project or plan and start getting peppered with really good, very specific questions. Within a minute or two, you’ve reached a mental progression path where you get stuck. There isn’t full mastery of the data. The problem wasn’t structured properly. You presented lots of data, but missed the meaning.

Data driven, performance based marketing requires analytical knowledge. Spend some time sharpening this skill. I think that the rise of growth hackers is due to a skills gap in the marketing industry. The average marketer was incapable of testing, tweaking and mastering business metrics and it spawned a niche. The folks who could do this well became growth hackers. Half of the job descriptions you read mention growth hacking now. Buy a book about marketing analytics (Chuck’s would be a good starting place) and you could even go through Google’s free Analytics Academy training.

Also, be self-aware. If you’re not as strong with analytics as you want to be, start doing something about it and share that with your manager or in the interview process. There is no perfect marketer. We all have shortcomings. Know yours and work on them.

5. You should have tried Sales first.

Have you ever sold anything? If not, run and try it. Sell knives or lotion or used DVDs or vacuum cleaners or jewelry. Find an opportunity to go through the process of understanding the product you sell, pitching it, getting rejected 95% of the time and bouncing back.

If more marketers had tried selling, there wouldn’t be tension between Sales and Marketing. It is a tough job. Nobody likes rejection. Nobody likes to lose. That common ground from selling something minuscule and going through that yourself will help you understand and build rapport. You’ll know what it feels like..except for the fact that most of the Sales folks you work with are selling to pay for their houses and families. If you were missing a number and risked a mortgage payment if you didn’t hit it, what would you do? You’d put the heat on any person that could help make that a reality.

That’s the game. Sales and marketing go hand-in-hand and more than ever with the emergence of social selling. You want to know why you win. You want to know even more why you lose. You want to take that information and create better messaging, more effective collateral and new content that speaks to what is happening in sales meetings.

You can do this.

Marketers weren’t born. Practice will make you better. Find a solid mentor. Get out there and kick some ass. It can be an insanely rewarding job to see your work contribute to the bottom line or to launch a product that is a fit for the market.

I’m writing the next five things I wish I knew now, but let me know what I missed. If you’d like to read some of my previous ramblings, check them out at chris-moody.com.

This was originally posted on LinkedIn.

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