Marketing School of Hard Knocks

Looking for a career in marketing?

With all the diplomas, degrees, courses and certificates out there, which one should you choose? What will it take, and how does one stand out from the crowd?

I get it. Just the thought of starting a new career can leave you feeling stressed and frustrated. What doesn’t help are the gobs of so-called experts, ever ready to answer questions that nobody was asking.

Breaking into marketing is not for the faint-hearted. The good news: there’s no trickery to it either.

Having worked in the industry for over a decade now, I wanted to take a moment to pass on some of my greatest learnings and insights thus far.

To be clear, I’m no guru or wizard, just a student of the path. But what’s true for me, I hope, is true for you, too.

The thing about education…


Learning is one of life’s greatest gifts. That said, worrying about which degree or diploma you should get won’t get you far in your marketing career. It’s more important to collect the skills you need for the specific marketing gig that tickles your fancy. Digital marketing, for example, thrives on knowledge of the latest trends, tools, and techniques. College moves slower than the real world, meaning by the time you graduate, you’ll be one step behind.

A degree may get you a job, but it won’t tell you how to do that job. Think of it like a toolbox. You want your toolbox to contain everything you need to complete the task in front of you. Marketing is no different.

In this fast-changing world, your performance depends on your ability to adapt and absorb information. Oh, and re-learning and unlearning things from the past. There are very few valid excuses for ignorance in the age  of plenty. The internet has no shortage of blogs, online courses, and tutorials on virtually anything out there. Most of the time it’s free, too.

Formal education still has its merits – picture it as a headstart on a lifelong journey of learning. Critical thinking, a healthy fear of missing deadlines, and the realisation that I’m nowhere as smart as my mum lead me to believe, are some of the things I owe to my university days. 

Get specific with your interests


Marketing reaches every business venture out there. As an area of expertise, it incorporates many disciplines, skills, and job descriptions. Think of it as a matchmaking service between products and their potential buyers. Like other marketers, I craft positive and meaningful stories about brands; shape the thoughts and sentiments towards certain products and services. But the ways and means of doing that are endless.

Narrowing your interests down not only helps keep you sane, but you’ll have a much easier time creating a personal development plan for your marketing career. I recommend becoming competent in one area first, instead of trying to boil the ocean. Jacks-of- all-trades don’t feature in job descriptions.

Anything is possible with the right strategy. Knowing someone who navigates the treacheries of life – particularly if they work in your area of interest – will push your abilities to the next level. Ask them what they do on the daily. Figure out what makes them good at what they do; how they ended up at this point; and what they dislike about their current career. Then chew over everything you’ve absorbed.

When you specify, you’ll learn what you need to add to your toolbox.


Become an exceptional communicator


Successful marketers think boldly and creatively – there should never be a shortage of ideas to tap into. However, marketing is a business function and doesn’t exist in a vacuum. Every plan needs the buy-in and support of other functions within the business.

If you can’t communicate these ideas to a bunch of bald-headed accountants in chinos, your project might never see the light of day. A good elevator pitch can get you farther than a half-baked business plan. Rephrasing your ideas to fit the needs of whoever you may be talking to is so important in order to remain relevant. Read more on this here.

Additionally, you’re going to be working with creative types – designers, copy-writers, photographers, and the like. Just because they are a critical path in any marketing strategy, doesn’t mean they understand business jargon. You need to be able to communicate the needs of your campaign to them clearly and concisely so they know exactly what you’re looking for in an execution.

Above all, have a genuine love of people. The importance of this can’t be stressed enough. As a marketer, you are matching a product to its perfect buyer; if you can’t determine the potential problems people experience in their day-to-day, chances are your message will fall flat. Businesses don’t have ready-made answers for what people want, and why they buy what they buy. You have to figure that out on your own. Being a good listener – with an appreciation for the variety of the human experience – will make that way easier.

The “art and science” conundrum


Blending creativity with logic brings a holistic edge to your marketing. People are unique and life is in constant flux, so adaptability is of the utmost importance. Try new strategies and think outside the box while maintaining logic and preciseness in your initiative. Figure out why something worked and why something else didn’t.

Knowing how a business creates value, or how the puzzle pieces of a business fit together, will get you farther in your career than just expressing an interest in the creative aspects of marketing – if that’s the case, a corporate career is not for you.

Understanding the difference between an objective, a strategy, and a tactic will train your mind to think like a businessperson. The objective is the what, the strategy is the how, and the tactics are the process. Don’t weigh yourself down with the tactics – even though it’s appealing to the creative mind to do so.

The bigger picture


Overall, your professional future depends on your willingness to learn. Being completely honest with yourself and open to new ways of looking at the world, are some of the greatest gifts you can give to yourself. You have what it takes.


Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top