“Let’s talk about your career.” If you ever want to stop a marketer in his or her tracks, try this sentence. Of course, marketers aren’t exactly shy. When it comes to brand and campaign success, no article or blog post can be long enough. But when the talk turns to careers, most marketers keep a low profile. As a result, we don’t really talk much about careers in marketing. Perhaps we should.
It’s not all rosy. In a recent study more than 50% of all marketers said they weren’t happy with their career progress. It’s about time to talk careers.
Leading marketing isn’t the same as doing marketing. The empirical evidence is clear: the magic that makes it happen for your brand and your career isn’t the same. As we enter the New Year, take a step back and think about where you want your marketing career to go?
So, what matters for a rocking marketing career? To summarise the advice from all my articles so far, as well as the study Patrick Barwise and I undertook – the largest of its kind – here’s a list of the top five most important marketing career drivers.
1. Tackle big issues
You are more likely to get promoted if your work is seen as important. What do I mean by important work? First off, what you do must meet and exceed customer needs. But your work must equally matter to your company. Your CEO needs to know how your marketing contributes in a big way to the company’s objectives (typically revenue and profit).
For example, if you pump cash into a dying brand that the board has already written off, the work you do won’t be seen as important. But if you lower marketing costs through better efficiency during a firm’s cash crisis, your work will be seen as highly relevant.
Only when your work matters to both customers and the company are you on to a big issue. Balancing customer needs and company needs is a moving target. But no matter what: make sure the issues you tackle are big.
2. Walk the halls
As a marketer, you are in the business of change. You often want customers to change what they buy. You often want colleagues to change the way they serve customers. You can’t drive change through email.
Instead, you have to leave your office and meet with all the unique minds in your company. Discuss the need for changes face-to-face. Change leadership is a contact sport.
After you share your idea, shut up. Listen carefully to people’s concerns. Take notes.
But let’s keep in mind that many of your colleagues may not be keen to shift budgets, alter products, install new software, and so on. In fact, as you leave the room after proposing big changes, many of your colleagues may simply hope you’ll get sucked into a big black hole.
So after you share your idea, shut up. Listen carefully to people’s concerns. Take notes. Only when you’ve heard all concerns will you later be best equipped to propose a final decision.
But even after all this, the process is not over. Instead, go back and explain to people how you’ve taken their ideas on board – or perhaps why you couldn’t. Not everybody will agree with you. But by walking the halls, you’ll pave the way for change to happen more quickly and more smoothly.
3. Be seen
Surveys have shown most marketers don’t consider themselves role models. Many think they don’t fit the mainstream model. Why? Because the marketing role in many organisations still isn’t fully understood (meet with any marketer of a large bank and you’ll see what I mean).
But here’s the thing: career success as a marketer, to a large degree, depends on people understanding your impact. And creating understanding of that impact is your job. This is why doing great work under the radar may help the company but will do little to accelerate your career.
Instead, make yourself seen as a driver of the business. Get to the front line. Work with the sales team. Help win a contract. Serve customers yourself. Model the change you want to see.
4. Inspire people to follow you
Why is your marketing job tricky? Because everybody can say no. Your customers can say no. Your boss can say no. Your colleagues can say no. Marketers can’t tell people what to do. This is why inspiring other people is your biggest weapon.
Facts are powerful, but people are more likely to follow you when they can see fire in your eyes. So how do you inspire people? What’s the trick? It’s simple. You yourself need to be inspired first, and people will sense it.
The next question is: what inspires you? Is it your product, your customers, your team, your company’s purpose, or simply the joy of seeing your products on the shelf?
5. Aim high
For decades, leadership books have hammered home the idea that leaders need a vision. But recently, the vision concept has become a bit unfashionable. You increasingly hear people say in interviews things like “good stuff will happen” or “you can’t plan too much anyway.” This may be true. But the statistical evidence for careers in marketing is pretty clear: marketers with a strong vision have significantly more career success.
Why? We all know that marketing is a tough job. Customer needs change constantly, and technology changes even faster. The daily pressures can be relentless. In this business environment, marketers without a clear market and career vision can easily get lost.
In many ways, the marketing role is amazing. I don’t know of any other job with as much freedom to shape markets and make real history – if you really want to.
So, what’s your aim? How do you want to make life better for your customers? How do you want to change your market? What kind of marketing career do you want? You could leave it to chance, but it’s better to aim high.
What did you do to propel your marketing career? I’d love to hear your stories.
Thomas Barta is one of the world’s premier marketing leadership experts, a professional keynote speaker, and co-author of ‘The 12 Powers of a Marketing Leader’ with Patrick Barwise.