Ah, the world of marketing is attractive. Marketing is a lucrative field with the potential for a lucrative career with exciting work. But, it’s hard to break in without experience. To help you get started, here’s a marketer’s guide to climbing the ladder when you lack experience. We discuss the journey from sorting mail to crafting killer campaigns and how to achieve this reality. Think of this as your unofficial manual for turning those boring days into stepping stones for a flourishing career in marketing.
A marketer’s guide to climbing the corporate ladder
I’ve taught marketing for the last 30 years. Over that time, marketing has morphed from something like the fictionalized version you found in Mad Men to a more disciplined functional area that requires specific skills and experience. No longer can you come up with an interesting slogan or jingle and expect to achieve a rich and lucrative career in advertising. Marketing is no longer focused on advertising and sales but on:
- Understanding consumers at a deeper level than a survey can provide.
- Marketers who are digitally savvy as managing social media and blogs now happen in real-time. Instead of planning a campaign that goes to copywriters, graphic designers, photographers, and videographers, marketers are expected to create the elements needed for these content-heavy activities
- Researchers who can track consumer trends from social media to identify unmet consumer needs and work with engineers to design products that satisfy these needs. Researchers must also parse comments to uncover consumer problems before they boil over to spell disaster for the firm.
- In the advertising world, data was squishy and no one expected a marketing executive to estimate demand, forecast sales, or prove the ROI of their plans with any accuracy. Today, marketers are nearly drowning in data so understanding how to use them to create insights and accurate predictions is a critical aspect of the marketing job.
- Digital advertising bears little resemblance to the traditional advertising that dominated in the past. Today’s marketing executives must focus on keyword planning, tracking results using events (in Google Analytics) and tagging on other digital platforms, designing landing pages, and building a conversion funnel that optimizes conversion. They must use remarketing and lead generation programs to nurture buyers toward making a purchase.
Therefore, today’s marketers need to understand core marketing concepts like segmentation and the consumer decision-making process, analytics such as Google Analytics, graphic design tools like Canva, and website development. This requires a skillset that doesn’t match the curriculum of the vast majority of schools teaching marketing, something I struggled unsuccessfully to change over my career. Even CMOs (chief marketing officers) face this skills gap because universities refuse to change their curriculum to meet the demands placed on today’s marketers (see graph below). But, that’s a topic for another time.
Of course, a series of training programs like General Assembly and online coursework, like that from Coursera attempt to fill the gap left by college programs that fail to prepare marketing students for the realities of today’s marketing discipline. Unfortunately, they fail to offer the rigor we see at the university level and understate the importance of core marketing concepts in successfully managing today’s marketing challenges.
Hence, folks looking to get into marketing find themselves in a catch-22 where the company wants to hire candidates with experience and you can’t get experience without getting a job in the field first. So, here’s a marketer’s guide to options leading to that coveted marketing position.
The unseen potential of the mail room
So, you’re in the mail room. It’s not glamorous dealing with postal totes, but hey, it’s a start. Or, maybe you start in the warehouse or as a receptionist. You might even start as an assistant to an executive. Remember, every successful marketer was once a beginner so get into a company where you can and learn everything you can while employed at the firm. Take classes, especially if your employer offers tuition benefits.
Your first step? Observe. The mail room or another department is the perfect vantage point to understand the company culture, cultivate relationships, find a mentor, and offer assistance whenever you have downtime. Notice the types of communications, the frequent names, and the departments that buzz the most. It’s a goldmine of information, and you’re in the front row.
I have a friend with a philosophy degree. That and a dollar gets you a cup of coffee (although not at Starbucks). She started working as a temp for a company. Because she was a hard worker and a quick learner, they hired her for the position she filled temporarily, which was a clerical position. Over the next several years, she made herself indispensable by filling in for tasks when others in her department were busy or out of the office. She’s now parlayed her position into an executive one with a nice six-figure salary, benefits, and bonuses.
Networking: not just a buzzword
Let’s talk about networking. No, not the awkward, cheese-and-wine kind (though that’s not off the table). Instead, use your unique position to form genuine connections. Remember Jenny from accounting who always smiles at you? Start there. In marketing, relationships are currency. Be friendly, be curious, and most importantly, be genuine. Before you know it, you’ll be the go-to person for office gossip and industry insights. Try to find a mentor to help you as you journey from your current position to your next position.
Learning on the job
Since you’re interested in marketing, this marketer’s guide is remiss if we don’t discuss on-the-job training. Some companies offer formalized training courses. Become familiar with those offered in your company. Even if these training programs seem unavailable, ask if you can join the program on your own time by making up for the hours during your off time, like vacations and evenings.
Plus, observe what’s going on in the marketing department. Have lunch with some of the staff. Join the company sports team where some of the marketing folks play. Seek out marketing staff around the breakroom. These are your chances to learn about marketing strategies hands-on. See an email campaign that piqued your interest? Take note. Dissect what worked and what didn’t. This is your classroom, and every piece of mail is a textbook.
Once you glean an understanding of what’s going on in marketing, read some publications or online content about your competition and even other leading companies in other industries. Soon, you’ll be able to offer some suggestions rather than just listening to the conversations coming from marketing staff.
Say yes to everything (within reason)
Volunteer for tasks, especially those related to marketing. Got a chance to help with a small event or a social media post? Grab it. In the evolving world of digital marketing, companies often ask their employees to help construct a brand story or work on a community effort that supports their social responsibility efforts. Offer to take part, create content, take pictures, or do anything else that brings you to the attention of the marketing managers. These tasks are your ticket to showcasing your skills beyond the mundane job you currently have.
Show enthusiasm but don’t overcommit and put your best foot forward. Don’t take on so much that you can’t give it your best efforts. And, remember, you still have your primary job to do so don’t shortchange those efforts.
The art of subtle self-promotion
It’s time to master the art of humble bragging. Completed a successful task? Let the right people know, subtly. Perhaps in a casual conversation or a well-timed email. The trick is to highlight your contributions without sounding like you’re running for office.
Continuous learning: your secret weapon
The marketing landscape changes faster than a chameleon on a disco floor. Stay updated. Read blogs, join webinars, and follow industry leaders on social media. Take classes like the one offered (for free) by Google Analytics to learn how to glean insights on the platform. Practice on your own. It’s hard to master digital marketing from your armchair. Start your own website on any topic that appeals to you. Set a goal for content creation on the website and on your preferred social media platforms. Build an email list and practice sending email campaigns. Monitor everything you do and work hard to get better at digital marketing. Knowledge is power, and in marketing, it’s your ticket to moving up the ladder.
You might even invite your colleagues from the company to read your content or follow you on social media. This is a great way to show them what you can do.
Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither is a marketing career. Be patient. It’s easy to get frustrated when you feel like you’re not moving fast enough. Remember, every big marketer started somewhere, and most times, it wasn’t at the top.
The big leap: from mail to marketing
Eventually, a position will open up. This is your moment. Prepare a killer resume, showcasing your learnings and contributions, no matter how small. Nail the interview by demonstrating your knowledge and passion for marketing. And just like that, you’re no longer the mail room newbie.
Starting in the mail room and working your way up in marketing is not just about ambition. It’s about curiosity, patience, and the willingness to learn. Every envelope sorted, every connection made, and every task volunteered for brings you one step closer to your marketing dream.
So, go ahead, and embrace the journey from postal totes to marketing quotes.
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