Congratulations to the class of 2018!
So, you’re interested in a career in marketing or customer experience?
Great news – 69% of marketing leaders anticipate growing their teams this year (up from 44 percent from last year.) Take that, class of ’17!
Here are some tips I’ve picked up along my own career spanning startup tech marketing, entrepreneurship, and consulting.
1. Buckle up, and embrace change
Both marketing and customer experience are evolving at such a rapid pace, thanks to a confluence of massive changes in media and technology, that these roles exist in a constant state of change.
In that environment, nobody’s really sure what’s going on 100% of the time – even those who have been in the field for years. Consider your role a work in progress as companies continue to evolve and shift with the changing tides.
2. Hone – and trust – your instincts
At the core of any job in marketing and customer experience is an immense sense of empathy for the customer. It’s that inner compass that will guide you to make your best decisions in moments of uncertainty.
And there will be plenty of those moments.
Ronan Farrow (the journalist whose articles in The New Yorker helped to uncover the Weinstein scandal) recently gave a commencement address to Loyola Marymount University’s Class of 2018. In it, he discusses the sensation of what it’s like “trying to do work you believe in *before* the moment of impact.”
“…in the moment, you don’t know how important a story is going to be. In the moment, you don’t know if you’re fighting because you’re right, or if you’re fighting because your ego, and your desire to win, and your notion of yourself as the hero in your own story are clouding your judgment.
Right now, we are surrounded by a culture that tells us to take the easy way out. That tries to tip the scales in favor of getting paid rather than protesting. That tells us to kill the story instead of poking the bear…
… You will face a moment in your career where you have absolutely no idea what to do. Where it will be totally unclear to you what the right thing is for you, for your family, for your community.
And I hope that in that moment you’ll be generous with yourself, but trust that inner voice. Because more than ever we need people to be guided by their own senses of principle — and not the whims of a culture that prizes ambition, and sensationalism, and celebrity, and vulgarity, and doing whatever it takes to win.”
Hone your instincts by listening (see my next point) and learn to rely on them in moments that require your bravery and your fortitude. That may mean doing what’s right by the customer, even if it’s hard or unpopular.
When in doubt, ask: “What would the customer want?”
3. Listen more than you talk
I had a lot to say at 22. Today I have even more to say…
But I have learned that whatever my POV is, it becomes far better informed, received, and articulated after a hefty dose of listening, and learning.
In these early days of your career, watch.
See how things happen and the ways in which the dynamics of business play out in real time. It’s never the ideal that you may have been taught – humans are far too full of personality (and politics) to ever let business school theories play out in real life exactly as they’re written.
Listen to customers and colleagues alike, actively seeking to learn their emotion and motivations. Listen to what keeps them up at night, what their goals are at a very personal level, and how they articulate those in the context of larger business goals.
Speak up when you are ready to contribute – but quell that instinct to be the first to respond.
4. Show up every day
You know actions speak louder than words – but never more so than early in your career. Be there, show up, and be ready to help. Be on time. In fact, be early. Stay late. While cliche, this advice is timeless, and shared by every A-player I know.
Showing up means being fully present.
Showing up means being prepared to play the part. If there’s an opportunity to tag along to a sales meeting, networking event, industry conference, or other “extracurricular,” take it. Present yourself professionally (even in casual office environments) and be ready at a moment’s notice to jump on chances to accompany executives and mentors.
As my father always said to our softball team before a championship game: “Act like you’ve been here before.”
5. Be willing to mess up
Fail. Fail hard. Fail gracefully. Fail with purpose. Fail with bravery.
Fail because you tried something new – and it didn’t work.
Fail because you stepped out of your comfort zone, and made some missteps.
Fail because, despite your best effort to prepare and do things right, sometimes you simply can’t predict the future. (I know, shocking.)
Fail because it is truly the only way to learn — you not only understand how to fix the mistakes, you come to the critical realization that in business, failure is (most likely) not going to kill you.
And I hope that gives you immense confidence in your own resilience.
6. Sharpen both sides of your brain
Both marketing and CX are filled with processes that combine people and technology, so it’s important to be good at both. Sharpen your left-brain logic and tech acumen along with your right-brain creativity and empathy.
Understand what makes human beings tick, take action, and get addicted to great UX.
Seek to learn the layers of tech beneath a web, mobile, or software experience, and don’t be afraid to teach yourself … which leads me to point #7.
7. Teach yourself a little bit of everything
Learning never ends. It’s constant in this field. Teach yourself digital marketing basics – there’s a ton of free coursework online. Learn HTML, SEO, the basics of lead nurturing and marketing automation, landing page conversion best practices, some coding, basic design/Photoshop, copywriting. All of it can come into play in a variety of marketing roles.
The top requested skills within digital marketing this year are digital advertising, content creation & curation, and email marketing.
Unless your heart is set on becoming a specialist, think of yourself as a Jack or Jill of all trades, a generalist, because at this stage in your career there is so much opportunity available to you. I fully believe in trying on a bunch of hats to see which fits best.
My parents were believers in this theory, and made my sister and I try ballet (hated it), piano lessons (loved it), figure skating (we preferred ice hockey), and softball (still play today).
Learn enough to be dangerous in a number of areas and to fully open up the doors of opportunity.
Go for it.
A career in marketing and CX is a combination of art, heart, and science. The impact you can have on an organization is extremely meaningful — both for the growth you can drive, and the value you can bring to customers. These roles sit at the core of a business, between a company’s products and its audience. That’s a powerful, humbling, exciting place to be.
I wish you every bit of luck – and please, have fun. Marketing should never be taken too seriously.