Many people think of advertising when we talk about marketing.  While that is part of the role, marketing covers so much more than that.  It’s also very true that digital and social media channels have seen a revolution in the tools available.  Here’s my summary of what marketers do and the skills you might need if you’re thinking about entering the profession.

“Marketing is the management process for identifying, anticipating and satisfying customer requirements profitably” or that’s how the Chartered Institute of Marketing (the CIM) define it.  The CIM is the largest association of marketing professionals in the world so they should probably know.  But, while this is useful as a quick soundbite, it doesn’t really begin to describe what marketing people actually do every day. 

Marketing as a business discipline really only began to find its feet in the 1950s when consumer spending power became worth competing for.  (If you’ve seen any of the TV series “Mad Men” you’ll be familiar with idea!).  Marketers realised that it wasn’t enough to say that “our ice cream tastes the best”, you also had to get the price right, and where you sold it right, and get the packaging right, and that you advertised it in the right places.  Understanding what your customers needed and then convincing them you have the solution seemed to be the answer.  It’s probably fair to say that most marketers have an interest in human psychology or – at least – what makes their customers tick.  And as consumers have become more sophisticated, so marketers have had to up their game to keep up.

Perhaps the first task that marketers need to be doing in order to sell their product or service is market research: Is there anyone who will buy what we can sell? If not, what can we sell that people want to buy?  Market research methods can vary from things like taste tests and focus groups to mystery shoppers and online surveys.  Conducting research in an organised way is one skill, interpreting the results is another.  This can often be where a love of detail and spreadsheets comes into its own; most marketers love to ‘crunch some numbers’ to see what trends or patterns they can find in their data.  Those patterns then inform decisions going forward, from what colour should it be to how much should we charge.  With the arrival of digital platforms, every post becomes a mini piece of live market research, that we can record and analyse for results.

Having identified that you have something that will sell, marketers then need to go about promoting it. As well as all the traditional methods (billboards, magazine adverts, direct mail, sponsoring a sports team, celebrity endorsement and so on), the digital explosion of the 21st century has probably quadrupled the methods we have access to. Perhaps the biggest challenge for every marketer is to balance out which of them are going to be most effective to reach their potential customers, how quickly they will work and fitting that all within the budget you’ve got.  Even something like (free) posts on social media take time to produce, so need to be allocated a cost.

Once we have our marketing campaign roughed out, we then need to populate it with images, videos and text appropriate to our messages and the marketing channels we have chosen. This is perhaps where the traditional creative or artistic types are in their element; drafting different colour schemes for brand images, setting up photo-shoots or writing blogs and articles about their product.  We need to make sure that any content we produce is appealing to our target audience so we may go back to our market research skills at this stage to test out different options.

Marketers then need the organisational skills to make sure their marketing campaign happens, on time and on budget, monitoring activities as they happen to perhaps make ‘live’ tweaks as they go.  And then there will be the need to reflect on how it all went and what could be even better next time.  (Time for a dashboard or spreadsheet again!)

Increasingly, marketers are seen as the experts in communication so marketing teams in some organisations may also have a role to play in internal communications (keeping colleagues informed), events, including charity activities, and recruitment. It is true to say that marketing continues to evolve, meaning the diversity of roles available within marketing has expanded, often to become more technical and specialist than they used to be.  Marketing is an exciting and constantly developing profession which can offer huge variety and frequent learning opportunities.

Skills today’s marketers need (or need to learn)

Creativity – not necessarily ‘arty’ but certainly to have an eye for style and what looks good.

Literacy – even a tweet needs to be written by someone so good grammar, spelling and vocabulary will be a big plus.

Number skills – you don’t need A Level Further Maths to be a good marketer but you will (regularly) need to balance budgets or analyse Google Analytics stats, so being comfortable with numbers is essential.

IT Skills – using digital and social platforms has meant that marketers need some understanding of how these platforms operate: you don’t need to go ‘full geek’ (although there are roles in marketing where that’s essential), marketers need an idea of how today’s rapidly changing technology works.

Teamwork and communication – Marketers do not operate in isolation; they will work with teams of people, from production colleagues to agency staff. And it’s not just about telling them clearly what you want, you need to listen to information or potential problems that are flagged to you.

Organisation – marketers often need to juggle their day-to-day work with events or campaigns on top of that, so being methodical and a good multi-tasker helps.

Agency vs. In-house?

Marketing specialists tend to work either in a company, promoting their services, or work for an agency, who are hired by other companies.  Very broadly, the difference is:

If you like to get under the skin of a business, working in-house for a company will probably suit you better.  You may get involved in all types of marketing activity (from events to website design) for that organisation.

If you’d like to specialise in a particular area, for example paid social media, you might find an agency allows you to do that.  You will just focus on this particular aspect of marketing but for lots of different businesses.

Both agency and in-house roles can offer variety and learning opportunities, but perhaps in slightly different ways.

Read this article and more interesting careers-related pieces in ‘Make The Future Yours’ magazine – Issue 6 due early 2023.