Or rather, “…so, what do marketers actually DO all day??”
This question more than any other became the inspiration for this blog. I say that because in my years of recruiting undergrads and MBAs looking to start a marketing career, I found the headlining question was the one most commonly asked and obviously mostly from career switchers. I have frequently been told that I am the only person to provide an insightful and relatable answer to this question.
I direct my answer primarily to those who have never worked in a marketing capacity but are seriously considering a career in this area. And, this is one post for which I will take a little time, so that I can answer it properly.
What’s out there is largely technical and academic, although this is where it starts.
I found many web sites that explain what marketing is. You’ve probably seen them. Go to wetfeet.com and you’ll get what feels like a sanitized perspective on the career, although what they say is largely true. Just doesn’t feel like the explanation is coming from someone on the inside, though, am I right? Comes off like a definition more than anything else.
The reason for this is that a marketing career is made up of activities that involve two key skill sets: ‘hard’ skills and ‘soft’ skills. Hard skills relate to technical aspects of the job that you often read about in books or learn in class. The soft skills – which are largely behavioral – are much more challenging to frame, so not many try to. I’ll share below how I have described the job – and what I do all day – in a way that should help you envision sitting in my chair. In a separate article, I’ll explore soft skills more, against the objective of helping you figure out if you are a fit for this type of career.
Wetfeet.com – like many sites – provides a decent explanation of the process of marketing and technical demands of the job (https://www.wetfeet.com/articles/career-overview-marketing). If I could draw a picture of what this process looked like, the oversimplified version would be Fig. 1:
- Marketplace analysis (known as your “Cs” in school: consumer, company, competition, category etc); this includes gathering learning through research, etc.
- Insight development: identifying key unmet needs that point to business opportunities (and hopefully quantifying them)
- Building strategies to address these needs
- Developing tactical plans (the 4 Ps of price, place, product, promotion) to deliver the intended results
- Positioning your brand (that 5th P that few talk about!), which means being clear on what you want consumers to think when your brand is mentioned. Ideally, you want the brand to be seen as meeting the intended need
- Observe, collect results and learn. Adjust tactics or strategies based on results and updated information
- Go back to the beginning
That’s it. That’s the game. What you’re trying to do is run this process for the sake of delivering on defined business objectives, which start as financial, but include the milestones and metrics you need to hit along the way. After all, that’s the whole point of being in business.
To get there, you will develop and deploy a host of skills including forecasting, research interpretation, ad and creative development, channel marketing, promotions development, new product development, pricing strategy and analysis, and the like.
This is where most explanations of marketing and marketing careers stop and thus leave a gap in our understanding. You have learned most of this stuff in school but somehow you don’t feel like you understand the career and what it feels like to be a marketer on a day-to-day basis.
Let’s move on and close the insight gap.
‘Disturbances’: they make or break you.
Now time for the curveball that we all know exists but no one seems to dedicate time to explain. As a marketer your goal is to play out this wonderful, clean, circular process as shown in Fig. 1. The problem is, most times you can’t!
At least in the way that you would like.
Your day-to-day job is either sometimes or regularly impacted (bombarded?) by what I would diplomatically call ‘disturbances’; factors that affect your ability to run the academic marketing process perfectly. These disturbances usually impact your three precious resources of time, people and money; sometimes they are little ‘fire drills’ while other times they are game changers. And truthfully, so much of your career success depends on how you manage through these interruptions while still importantly delivering business results. More often than not, you’re not let off the hook on your goals because (crap) happens. Your mastery at navigating the unplanned with your leadership and people skills will define you more than your pure marketing ability, because the ‘hard’ skill set is seen to be easier to teach and develop.
Here are some examples of disturbances (see Fig. 2, too!) and the resources they inhibit, as commonly experienced in a brand marketing environment:
- Your product comes under competitive attack, resulting in both strategic and tactical plan shift and often under duress (time)
- Spending budget is cut, while top line goals remain the same ($)
- Someone on your team quits or is reassigned; position goes unfilled for a period of time and the balance of the team has to assume the workload (people)
- A major retailer wants you to preview the 3 year product pipeline in a few weeks, but you are months away from receiving all the necessary research to create it (time)
- Management suddenly decides that your business must deliver incrementally before quarter close, resulting in change/acceleration of plans (time, people)
- You lead a cross-functional team, trying to execute a project on time and on scope but you run into challenges managing difficult teams or balancing competing objectives and priorities of all on the team (time, people)
- New advertising or a key marketing tactic under-delivers vs. expectation, necessitating a complete re-do (time, $, people)
You get the idea. And, trust me, I could go on. And on. This is essentially what you do all day – try your best to control, direct, influence the marketing process when in fact your business universe is trying to control you.
It’s the push-pull, proactive-reactive process that truly characterizes the job. What’s more, these types of environmental factors often cause stress and conflict in an organization as you try to muster and motivate the necessary resources to stay/get on course. And don’t forget: need to hit the number every financial cycle…without fail. The higher up you go, the more important this is.
Hopefully I’ve added a dimension to the discussion that helps you understand how you can expect to spend your day as a marketer. I’ll explain in more detail what types of soft skills are important to maneuver through this sometimes chaotic world, but for now you should take away that marketing is not for you if you if you prefer a highly-structured, predictable work day. If you do, these disturbances will be a negative influence on you, so plan to hate your job. The more successful people are energized by the daily challenge of staying ahead of all that’s going on, even when they can’t.
In some organizations, marketers are general managers.
One last point I’ll bring up and it’s the degree to which marketers perform functions unrelated to marketing. See, in mostly marketing-driven companies, P&L responsibility can cascade down to as low as the brand or product manager. In such a case, you are functioning not just as a marketer, but as a business owner. Expect to get pulled into any (I mean any) discussion or decision that can impact the brand financial results. Two examples from my past include explaining financial statements and performance to licensors (Finance dept. couldn’t do it satisfactorily) and weighing in on component purchase decisions and inventory levels in supply chain meetings. In my division at Warner Bros. the marketing department was actually renamed “The Business Unit” to reflect our mandate to be involved and weigh in on everything. My advice to you: don’t sleep through your Finance and Operations classes!
Now go back and read wetfeet.com (the site’s awesome, hate to pick on them) and see how my explanation compares to theirs…or anyone else’s. But, I will pick on the WHO DOES WELL section because for me that explanation contains good information but lacks a bit of wisdom (e.g. the extent to which soft skills play the defining role). They pointed out communication which is very true, but it’s much, much more.
That’s for another post.
I hope this entry will help you further understand how I’m approaching this blog. I want to get you the deeper perspective that will raise your understanding of this career. Read more on my approach in the About this blog section.