As someone who worked in marketing from 1990-2020 – exactly 30 years – I shall challenge my own literary skills and attempt to answer this.
No prizes for guessing that the pandemic has had something to do with my ‘early retirement’. But it was time for me to have a break, and I am delighted to be involved with Books2All instead. In fact, I have a part to play in our wonderful charity because I have marketing experience.
Several of our team members are also involved in marketing activities, including strategic planning, social media management and graphic design. And that’s because marketing is the key driver for influencing how well your business or organisation is known and, therefore, how successful it is.
What is marketing?
Some of you reading this might already know that marketing is a broad church, requiring several skills for various job roles. Others might know nothing more than that marketing has something to do with selling stuff, and that lack of understanding can be forgiven, seeing that it is not the easiest career to label and pin down.
The Chartered Institute of Marketing, of which I was a Member for many years, defines marketing as: “ … the management process responsible for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably.” While accurate, this description probably isn’t going to pique the interest of the average 16-year-old. Yet, marketing attracts a healthy crop of new entrants into our field each year. My guess is that it offers a rewarding career for those who are practical yet creatively minded and is perceived as a line of work at the forefront of new technologies.
Marketing offers such a choice because it encompasses the popular careers of advertising, branding, public relations (PR), product management, buying, social media, digital marketing, web design, and more. Really, marketing is more of an umbrella term covering many business functions than a job itself.
Job variety depends on organisation size
Whether they work for a large company or a small business will determine how many marketing-related activities for which a person is responsible. Using my career as an example: I first worked for a well-known high street retailer, where my job was writing instructions for shop managers on how to display the goods in-store. I was part of a small team within a larger department that also developed the point of sale materials and the new concepts for shop layouts. There were entirely separate departments for PR, advertising and product marketing.
Later in my career, I worked in smaller organisations, where I was solely responsible for all marketing activities. You can feel under pressure in a standalone role, but the upside is that you get to have a go at everything! On a given day, you can be organising a corporate event requiring skills similar to a wedding planner, interviewing a colleague for their article in the company newsletter as though you were a journalist and agreeing on the design of the annual report with the finance director. Once you have worked in such a varied job, you understand why the corporate world adopts terms like ‘fire fighting’ and ‘spinning plates’.
From working as a sole marketer, I moved into what we call in the profession, ‘agency side’, which meant that instead of being an ‘in-house’ marketer, employed to look after the needs of my employer, I was looking after clients who paid the agency to use my skills. Here again, you have to be a chameleon ready to change tack on a minute’s notice. Not only do you need to get a handle on each client’s business, industry and competitors as though they were your own, you must also get accustomed to being regarded as an expert or a consultant.
Communication skills underpin marketing
Largely then, marketing is a career built on good communication skills. It entirely suits those able to get their point across in writing as well as orally. Truthfully, those of us who have been around marketing for a while often evaluate the expertise of other marketers by their aptitude for finding out information about a product or service (marketing research) and writing about it (copywriting) for the required medium (press release, newspaper advertisement, web page etc.).
Certainly, there are areas of marketing that attract those who prefer numbers and data (I suggest researching ‘martech’ to learn more), such as developing the customer relationship marketing (CRM) systems used by retailers. Even here, though, part of the skill is communicating with the end-user to find out what they want and presenting them with images and words to help them navigate the application.
The source of good communication skills takes us right back to the classroom. Remember all those times at school the teacher asked you to pretend to be someone else? In the early years, this could be choosing outfits from the dressing up box. For key stage two, we might practice writing a formal letter to a fictitious person. By the time we are studying for our GCSEs, we have to write convincing essays that get inside the minds of characters as different as Jane Eyre and Macbeth or the historical figures Florence Nightingale and Joseph Stalin.
When you look at it like this, it isn’t too much of a leap to see that being ‘good’ at marketing hones these skills that we were learning at school. Now though, you are attempting to understand customers’ motivations to persuade them to take some type of buying decision. As we have written about before, we develop empathy when, as children, we read about the feelings and behaviours of characters in our storybooks. As adults working in marketing roles, there is an onus to work ethically, using the tools at our disposal to meet customers’ needs empathetically rather than manipulating them into choosing what suits us.
Looking back, I can see that I thrived in this ever-changing and personally demanding career because I had highly developed literacy skills thanks to my education. I could never have foreseen what those countless hours in my university library were giving me. Hurriedly finding quotes by literary critics to back up arguments in a ceaseless stream of essays wasn’t all that different from Googling links to credible sources to validate the latest blog post. Who knew?
Below are two easy to start with books for anyone interested in becoming a marketer:
Create the Perfect Brand by Julia and Paul Hitchens
We all have brands that we like or dislike and, whether we admit it or not, we have been influenced by branding since we were children. As adults, any wariness of big brand names might be due to our knowledge that powerful corporate entities are behind the gloss. Yet, the simple fact is that brands spring from the very human need to belong.
The authors of Create the Perfect Brand get straight to the fundamental and quite beautiful truth: “a brand must come from the heart, be honest and true”. Marketers understand better than most that a brand lies at the heart of a business. Regardless of how influential, universal – even corrupt – a brand might become, it grew out of the commitment and hard work of someone who was passionate about an idea.
This simple yet insightful statement sets the tone for the rest of the book, which is a succinct and honest guide for anyone interested in brand marketing as a career. It whips through the various aspects of brand management, demystifying terms like ‘brand value’, ‘brand design’ and ‘brand ambassador’ to expose the nuanced and usually sincere motivations behind these job roles.
Start With Why by Simon Sinek
Deservedly regarded as a classic of business literature, Start With Why packs a punch with a point so simple it’s hard to believe it needed making. Why does anyone do anything? In the fraught business world, it is easy to get caught up with what we are doing rather than remembering why we are doing it – and, perhaps even more importantly – should we be doing it at all?
While marketers too are susceptible to falling into the trap of undertaking tasks without question, especially when junior, they are still in a position to get close to the rationale behind a business endeavour. You can’t persuade a customer that your new product or service meets their requirements or that a journalist should publish your press release about that new offering unless you know why they should!
Sinek provides an engaging look at what it takes to be a successful leader – and he cites some famous examples, showing how they triumphed by keeping ‘why’ as a mantra for themselves and those they lead.
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