Advice To A Marketing n00b

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It must be that time of year, but there seems to be a more solid flow of personal requests for career advice when it comes to Marketing.

Instead of limiting the communication of these questions and answers to email (which don’t allow the tribal knowledge of content to be shared), and in the interest of having smart people like you (yes, you, the person reading this) add additional perspective and insights, let’s look at some of the most common questions from individuals looking to start a career in Marketing…

Would you advise someone to study Marketing or just do it?

I dropped out of University after a semester (I was majoring in Philosophy… don’t ask). The reason I dropped out was because I was always highly entrepreneurial. While getting into university, I had already begun publishing magazines. The workload of publishing got to the point where I had to make a choice. I chose the business with the full knowledge that if it didn’t pan out, I would go back and get some sort of degree. I would highly recommend studying Marketing at university. Having a degree still matters, and it still adds layers of credibility to a company that is looking for an entry-level candidate. If you’re not going to get that Marketing degree, make sure your time is spent proving that you understand and can execute marketing initiatives flawlessly. You have to over-deliver on the work side to compensate for the lack of a degree, which is still seen by many as an important first step.

Where should I begin if I wanted to get a proper foundation and build a professional portfolio? 

A hybrid of a good university (that has great professors and courses in Marketing), real-life work experience (yes, volunteering or doing a stage) and an unquenchable thirst for knowledge and understanding will create the proper foundation. If this is what you really want to do, take the time to figure out the best courses to take, the places where you can demonstrate some great work and immerse yourself in Blogs, magazines, articles and more about the industry.

Should I do a full degree or just get certifications?

That all depends on what you would, ultimately, like your discipline within Marketing to be. There are many different corridors and professions within the industry. If you’re looking to one day hold a Chief Marketing Officer (CMO) position, I would strongly advise getting a full-on degree (maybe even consider a MBA or a law degree) and as much certification (dependant on your areas of interest) that you can handle. What am I really trying to say? You can never learn enough and you should never stop learning.

What professional organizations should I look to be involved with?

Most professional organizations would love to have active and younger members. The big ones are both the Canadian Marketing Association and the American Marketing Association. I’m a huge fan of the IAB (Interactive Advertising Bureau) and I have a soft spot for the National Advertising Benevolent Society. You can also drill down into the niches and check out organizations like the Web Analytics Association, and more.

What experience should I try to get to build a strong portfolio?

Figure out the balance between strategy and creative. Define the type of final brand, products and services that you would like to market and be open to the fact that you can learn as much about marketing pet insurance as you can when you’re marketing an iPhone. Brilliant creative and building a strong portfolio (in your early days) will be about exposing yourself to as many different products and services as possible and using as many different media as possible to get that message across. Be open to experiment, push new ideas and think creatively about everything. One of the more powerful ways to build your experience is also to Blog. Sharing your thoughts will not only help you better crystallize your thinking, it will also help you build an audience. Having a Blog is also a great way to show industry professionals how you think, who you are and how your thinking has evolved. A Blog is the ultimate living portfolio.

Do you have any good sources of information for someone starting out in Marketing?

If you’re simply looking for the basics, the Dummies Guide book series always offers up the perfect 101 and basic info you’ll need to understand the channel and the terminology. Beyond that, you have to put yourself in the game by religiously following all of the trade publications (Advertising Age, AdWeek, Marketing Magazine, Strategy Magazine, etc…), reading the top Blogs (the Ad Age Power 150 is a good place to start) and don’t forget about following some of the key marketing people on platforms like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn. Each city also usually holds different types of Marketing events. Beyond just participating and become a known "face" in the crowd, why not call up the organizers and offer up your time as a volunteer. You may just meet some key industry players while becoming known as a leader in your city.

Now, it’s your turn. What advice would you offer up to a Marketing n00b?


  1. No one care about your marketing. They care about solving their own problems. Successful marketing doesn’t “market” … it offers solutions to the market’s problems.

  2. First and foremost, learn how to avoid the dreaded “time suck” inherent in marketing. Our almost infoholic approach to a continous stream of content often results in wandering off course. Although all who wander are not lost, many are well off course.

  3. As a marketing n00b working at an agency and not even out of school yet, I wish my professors had told me right on day one that not a single thing in my textbooks will work exactly as it should.
    Solutions will be as varied as the client and the product. Do not tie down your thinking or your approch for a problem to any one solution. Be aware. Be flexible.

  4. 1. Focus on what’s real. Don’t think of marketing as a way to cover up defects, but as a way to uncover truth.
    2. Help your clients learn that today, market information is no longer a fountain that we dramatically show to customers. Customers seek and will find the information; your job is to gather it in a convenient place, and find authentic third-party signposts to help them be led to your client’s deep, cool well. Don’t cheapen that reservoir by robbing customers of the thrill of discovery, and don’t filter it by only including what makes your client look the best. Customers want mineral water, not distilled.

  5. 1. Learn beyond your own role.invest in understanding what your peers do and how you can use them as a resource.
    2. Accept that you will make mistakes and embrace the learning.
    3. Choose any mentors wisely as that person’s legacy may become your handicap.
    4. See beyond the details. Understand the big-picture and how your company or client fits in that space.
    5. Have fun! Marketing is about exploration and being open minded.

  6. Don’t follow the trends, make them. When you see everyone else making their resume this way, every other marketing company market that way and companies succeding when they do business in a specific way, do something entirely different and new.
    If a new project has no risk whatsoever, it will not pay enough to be worth your time. If a new project has two or more risk factors, it is probably too risky for your own good.

  7. Education is important – many people like that paper, and it is continuous, especially with the online wave – I too like CMA and IABC, plus some key Meetup Groups that have popped up locally.
    A spin on things, how to be a great Marketer: spend some serious time in sales, it gives a Marketer the street cred they need.
    A Marketer that spends time in the sales department can call out a sales team when they are not cooperating or putting up excuses. It will give one the clarity of what efforts actually drive sales – it has helped me immensely – I am a more effective and straight forward Marketer because of it.

  8. My advice would be to act as a sponge and remain intellectually curious. Culture (pop, consumer, corporate, niche, etc.) drives business more than anything, and it represents the state of the world. Cultural literacy is the real education – from there, technology, media and creative thinking follow suit. Also, don’t think so much in terms of what sells, but what sustains – think about how people can use products and services to actually live a better quality of life, and to help others in the process. Just as commerce has become a social practice, marketing is a virtue of understanding people, not so much the channels they use or the messages we throw at them. In other words, people sell products and services to other people, so it’s our job to know those dynamics as well, if not better, than they do, and to facilitate them.

  9. Following instincts is as key as research, analysis, and experienced based solutions. Good marketers are born with an innate sense of how to solve problems. Experienced marketers might “know more” but new marketers can add equal value in problem solving. Have broad shoulders and contribute ideas without fear.
    Throwing money at a problem is rarely the best way to solve it.

  10. 1. Believe in yourself. To be successful you have to be confident enough to make others believe you have the solutions. Marketing is part science and part art. If you learn the science you can make a living. If you add creativity and innovation, your potential is exponentially greater.
    2. Understand that it is about the target audience, not about you.
    3. Love what you’re doing. It shows in your work.
    4. Be on time. You don’t have to be brilliant, but if you’re dependable you can be a great asset on anyone’s team.

  11. Good advice. I’m just getting started with marketing (got a degree in politics and religion) and I’m basically just throwing myself full force trying to get experience and learn as I go. Thanks for posting this.
    Darren L Carter

  12. Be a genuine anthropologist. You’ll need to truly love understanding why consumers think what they think and behave how they do, in a nonjudgemental but appreciative manner.
    Be curious and authentic in that pursuit. And always be the champion of the consumer’s voice. It’ll keep you honest.

  13. Think like your customer. Provide solutions to their problems. Not your own. Don’t stop asking questions; remember that when you believe in your own b.s. you act at your own peril; Above all have fun and help others.

  14. I enjoyed reading your information and I now have some really good tips I can use. Keep up the good work!
    Oh, and just in case you were wondering, this is not an automated system, I am a real person with a real business, who always looks to others for advice, as well as offering his own. Thanks. Chris

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