As the end of the school year wraps, I typically hear snippets of useful and inspirational advice from various commencement speeches. With a long career in marketing, I’m often asked by both marketing students and those already in the profession for advice on career advancement. Looking back, I’ve realized that my point of view is generally consistent, so I’d like to offer my mini-commencement speech for aspiring marketers.
Across my career, I’ve gleaned numerous insights from peers, colleagues and mentors about what it takes to be a great marketer. Here are the top three opportunities for career advancement:
Get clear on data and technology—it’s both the future and the present
Technology is now the backbone for modern marketing, and much of the world’s communications is digital. For marketers to visualize the possibilities, they need to understand the environment and how it operates. Take time to comprehend the digital technologies that now comprise the marketing bedrock to the point where engagement with a tech team is comfortable and familiar. Knowing how social affects search, which back-end systems need to plug into a useful mobile app and the right data model for customers is imperative if a marketer wants to grow both a brand and career.
Be the voice of the customer across the organization
The customer experience is more important than ever, and marketers have the opportunity to engage with consumers throughout the buying cycle—all the way down to the individual. Technology allows for discovering preferences and behaviors across mobile, web, email, commerce and even custom print. Use it to build knowledge of your customer. You can also go on sales calls and leverage events, client advisory boards and executive briefing centers to uncover their thoughts, motivations, pain-points, expectations and aspirations. By keeping a pulse on exactly what customers want and need, marketers can be the voice of the customer across the organization.
Think bigger and become fundamental to the business
Marketing has moved beyond confined activities and campaigns to holistic experiences, so great marketers need to understand the business. Think about a marketer for an automotive brand: buyers want to configure cars on the website, and that configuration should feed into the sales tools located at their local dealership. This level of personalization and connectivity goes far beyond things like brand ads and geographic demand activities. And it’s the marketer’s role to ensure that the end-to-end experiences happen. To design and affect the entire customer journey, marketers will need to understand the models, feature sets, dealership network, inventory and processes.
In addition, take your non-marketing colleagues out to lunch. Whether they are from sales, ops, engineering, production, IT, customer services or any other department—it pays to extend your thinking. Get to know your company’s financial picture by reading the annual report, gain access to your company’s CRM and track sales team reports. In a world where consumers demand seamless experiences and organizational silos are crashing down, marketers must internalize far more information about all aspects of the business than at any time in the past.
Finally, keep innovation as a central focus. While the role of the marketer has stretched beyond the traditional scope, innovation is still a core part of the job description, and innovative marketers have the opportunity to create disruptive models that can drive both career advancement and company growth. For marketers to take it to the next level, they need to be able to process vast amounts of data and convert insights into world-class experiences. Creativity and courage must be woven into the marketer’s DNA, and a point of view and originality will separate the rising stars from the masses.
I believe that marketing possesses more opportunity today than at any other time in the past. Take what you already know about marketing, but stretch hard to know the customer, understand the business and comprehend the technologies that have become the tools of the marketing trade.
Keep your focus on creating experiences that surprise and delight the customer, and face every day with a sense of adventurous creativity. And, most importantly, enjoy the ride.
Hey, the CMOs at both Taco Bell and Domino’s advanced to CEO positions, likely in part due to their innovative track records as CMOs. With some creativity and hard work, you never know where your career will take you.
Scott Anderson (@ScottsVoice) is CMO of Sitecore, an experience management software company that enables context marketing.