Portage County Farmers Market

Want a marketing job? Don’t get a marketing degree.

Companies today, both large and small, are expanding their marketing teams. You would think graduates with a marketing degree would be beating back the job offers, right? NOPE. Last year over 25,000 students graduated with a marketing degree.   Currently only about 10% are in a marketing role.

Marketing is a great career field. I commonly refer to my current role as my “second” career, because marketing is dramatically different than the previous decade I spent in sales leadership.

Marketers today must grow very different skill sets than they did ten years ago. Analytics, inbound content, digital media, social media, and customer experiences are just a few of the areas that have either sprung up or become more prevalent in that time frame. We’ve come a long way from Price, Product, Place, and Promotion. Unfortunately, most marketing programs still focus on these old four P’s, neglecting the modern elements that drive marketing in today’s world.

I don’t say this to disparage our higher education institutions. Many are working diligently to expand their course offerings to engage these new concepts. The required knowledge base is foreign to longtime faculty and the restructuring of course offerings takes years to complete. By the time our education community catches up, the marketing world will evolve again. Can you say “wearable technologies,” “internet of things,” and “artificial intelligence”?

Enticement and challenge

Marketing is a very public facing role with mass appeal. Although it may appear to be a catch-all, opportunity-rich career path, the barriers to entry have become more prevalent in recent years. You can’t just come in off the street and “do marketing,” as many seem to believe.

Even those candidates who have pursued a marketing education are entering the workforce only to find that the skill sets companies are looking for were given only cursory attention in their college coursework.  When marketing leaders hire, we’re no longer looking for people with a broad, general understanding of “marketing.” We’re looking for specialists who have honed one or two very specific skills. That level of specialization is often better served through other degrees.

What to do

The strategic importance and engagement with customers, prospects, and internal leadership creates an exciting work day that is never dull and provides amazing self-actualization. As they say, “do something you love and it will never feel like work.”

Understanding the new dynamics of marketing and identifying a niche that is more intriguing will give you a major step up in building a marketing career. Finding that niche is just the beginning, though. If you want to excel over the long-term you will need to continuously cross-train and master new skills as marketing evolves.

Digital Media

As the fastest growing segment of marketing, digital media represents the most effective and popular channel for engagement in the Internet age.

Digital media encompasses a company’s overall web presence, featuring a heavy dose of visual and auditory engagement according to need and purpose. To enter this realm, consider a focus on these skills:

  • Web Design/Development represents the heart of digital engagement. The best web designers can identify persona profiles, translate user interactions, and deliver personalized content based on those two variables. Additionally, the cross-over to email and online engagement is essential as you work to maintain consistent branding. Check out computer science degrees such as Web and Digital Development; you’ll typically get to choose between a technical focus or a design focus, both of which are in high demand.
  • Videography focuses on the use of video to engage the audience with effective visual messages. These can vary from typical interview formats, graphically enhanced media, or a mixture of anything in between. Videographers used to come from TV production backgrounds, but now anyone with a smart phone and a passion for editing can develop the necessary skills. The diversity of possibilities in this area carries over into multiple options in higher-ed, but Graphic Design, Communications, and various Professional Studies programs offer a good starting point.

Content Writing

Although content marketing has been around for ages, it has moved to the forefront of most marketing plans. Consumers, especially in Business-to-Business markets, now conduct upwards of 60% of research on a new product/service before ever contacting a company representative. This extensive amount of buyer-led research requires companies to produce and distribute content that engages people without suffocating them. It’s about providing value without the hard sell, a challenging endeavor that requires a deep understanding of both the industry and the audience.   Many companies have adopted a publisher approach that is almost indistinguishable from traditional media outlets. Look for degrees in Journalism, English, or anything with a creative writing focus.

Social Media

There is no bigger buzzword than Social Media, but the complexity presented by this channel is daunting. Social media interactions are much more than just pushing out content links and headlines hoping for others to distribute to their followers; it’s about knowing how to engage with your audience on a personal level in the most public mass-media forum available. The power and reach of paid social media advertising is second to none, so the same skills that once made for successful campaign managers are equally relevant here, with a digital twist. To be successful in this area, consider a Communications degree and any coursework with an analytics focus.

Public Relations

This area has changed dramatically in the past five years, as we’ve seen a transition in priorities from press engagements and media outlet distribution networks to a much more direct-to-consumer focus. Today’s Public Relations professional is someone that can compile an engaging story and then tailor that story to multiple channels. This requires a heavy emphasis on editing, multi-tasking, and creativity. Some traditional Public Relations degrees will provide a solid enough foundation but I would encourage you to add in or evaluate other Communication or Design degrees, supplemented by beginning technology courses so you can learn basic HTML and CSS. PR pros can’t afford to be as specialized as some of the other fields discussed here – to do the job well requires a little bit of everything.

Traditional Marketing

Though the traditional marketer has been overshadowed in recent years by the aforementioned “new marketing” roles, it’s worth mentioning that the whole thing falls apart without people who can excel at the foundational tasks we typically associate with the department.  Event coordination, graphic design, and print / direct mail advertising are still very much a part of the mix. Do you need a Marketing degree to be good at this? Not necessarily. Organization, charisma, and command of the English language are the hallmarks of excellence in these roles. Supplementary coursework in public speaking, design, and analytics (again) is encouraged.

Marketing experience a catalyst for future roles

The marketing department is more visible and more indespensible than it has ever been, a fact that positions a successful marketer for greater leadership roles in the future. Today’s marketing requires a broader knowledge set, an intense focus on analytics and cost measurement, and responsibilities that expand well beyond traditional expectations.

As noted in the Gartner blog post by Kirsten Newbold-Knipp “Why Today’s Great CMOs will be the CEOs of 2020,” the leadership qualities and business acumen required of today’s marketing professionals have prepared them well to handle the responsibilities of business leaders of the future.

If you are still considering a marketing career after this article, congratulations!  It is a great career that never stops offering challenging opportunities and professional growth.  I hope you will remember that you don’t necessarily have to follow a traditional path to excel in this field. Pick the one thing you’re most passionate about, do it with excellence, and you’ll be just fine.

Nothing sums it up better than a line from one of my favorite songs “Jungle” by X Ambassadors featuring Jamie N Commons – “Won’t you… follow me… into the jungle.”