I’ve worked in marketing for the past seven years. It’s never a field that I chose for myself. When I picked my first internship back in college, I didn’t realize that my unpaid work experience would pigeonhole me more than my major ever could.
“You’re a millennial,” my first boss told me. “Surely, you understand social media channels like Twitter. Help us build our community.”
And overnight, with no experience, I became a marketer.
Years later, with a few tech startups under my belt, my marketing experience is still 95% self-taught. I’ve transitioned from event marketing to PR, content marketing to digital, and Facebook ads to email marketing. Rather than being given clear swimlanes, my managers have always encouraged me to keep moving into whatever area of marketing is needful.
Which means learning everything from scratch, over and over again.
Having worked with a few dozen marketers from all different backgrounds, I can say with confidence that most of my coworkers didn’t choose to be in marketing. Like me, it’s the field they got stuck in.
“Why didn’t I study computer engineering,” one of my former managers lamented, while quietly taking web development classes at General Assembly at night.
Most of the marketers I know have been smart enough to pivot their careers into something else — data analytics, account management, business development, or user support. The ones who stay in the industry are typically strategy folks with MBAs. They’re managers, not the people working on campaigns.
Before I got hired for my last role, I chatted with my new manager on the phone. “What will I be doing on the day-to-day?” I asked. “Running campaigns,” she told me. “What kind of campaigns? What’s the goal?” I questioned. She told me I would get a better sense by talking to my fellow individual contributors. A year later, she still didn’t understand what I did everyday. And she didn’t care, as long as I got results.
I have yet to meet a marketer who really loves what they’re doing. We’re shuffled around too frequently to different parts of the organization, asked to build new channels from scratch on a whim, then getting shuffled again when the budget runs out.
We compete with each other, leveraging office politics as a way to buy job security in an uncertain field.
Each year, a new type of marketing comes along. One year, it’s “growth hacking.” Then, product marketing soars. Now, account-based marketing is up and coming. Everything blends together, and it’s tough to find new opportunities. Past experience doesn’t translate well into new, invented roles.
Blending roles means that no one really has an opportunity to learn their core craft. I’ve needed to collaborate with designers, content teams, product folks, engineers, legal and compliance teams, product marketers, business managers, data analysts, sales teams, executives, and office managers all depending what part of the business I happen to be supporting on a given day. There aren’t clear and lasting synergies, which makes partnership difficult.
Marketing teams struggle to justify their purpose. Often, marketing is trying “scrappy, creative things” on a non-existent budget, while waiting for data, product, and engineering folk to prioritize the technology integrations that could demonstrate actual marketing results.
A marketer who learns their craft well typically outsources their work to external vendors and agencies, or they move up the career ladder to manage a team.
There are few trainings for marketers to learn how to stay relevant. The best industry advice comes from content bloggers, who make a living thinking about how to sell themselves and their own websites. Industry conferences like Litmus Live come together once a year, and email marketers congregate to learn from each other. Email marketing, like many types of marketing, isn’t even taught in university. It’s entirely a learn-as-you-go field.
Unsurprisingly, this makes the field of marketing super competitive, in an often unfriendly way. Every individual needs to prove their value, since the technology isn’t there to show what results they’ve achieved.
As marketers, we forget about the consumer. We forget that there’s a real human receiving our campaigns, and we prioritize short-term gains like revenue. We create clever, witty messages that have little impact. At least by creating, we can attempt to prove our worth.
We don’t use frameworks or make data-driven decisions, like other parts of the business.
Worst of all, we can’t keep up with the plethora of marketing technology solutions available for social media, CRMs, and SEO tracking. There are dozens of email service providers alone. Each job description for an email marketing role lists that the applicant should be proficient in a different software solution — ExactTarget, SendGrid, MailChimp, Responsys, or maybe some internal solution they’ve built. It’s impossible to keep up.
Marketing is a dying field. There’s too much complexity, and not enough collaboration. It’s lagging behind other fields in sophistication, continued learning opportunities, and having experts who are willing to pass down their knowledge.
I hope this changes. I firmly believe that marketing is necessary for growing a business. As experts, we need to come together and have real discussions about what’s broken and what needs to be fixed.