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14 Lessons Learned Over a Quarter Century of Marketing


I love what I do. Marketing is a fast-paced, complex, problem-solving business that involves science, art and, most of all, focus. Having been in this business now for over 24 years, I am often asked for advice from those just getting into the business as to things they should be doing to be successful. As 2017 came to a close, I decided to jot down a list of things that I think are really important to becoming and remaining an excellent marketer. These are the rules that I live by and that I try to reinforce with our team on a daily basis. Hopefully, there is something in here that will help you.

  1. The learning never stops. It’s not news to anyone that technology is having a dramatic impact on the way people make buying decisions and actually make purchases today. Additionally, technology by way of artificial intelligence is changing the way that we as marketers do our job.

    We can never be complacent, and we have to continually stay ahead of trends and understand what’s next. To that end, for us, the learning never stops. We have to be in learning mode all the time. If you are just getting into the agency business or have recently joined an in-house marketing team, one thing I can promise you is that your employer will never be able to train you on everything you need to know. You need to take that on yourself.

    My advice is to use your time wisely. If you have to commute to work, use that time to listen to podcasts on marketing. If you like to read, spend 30 minutes a day (use your lunch break) to catch up on some marketing blogs. I have listed below a few links that offer a great range of popular marketing-related blogs and podcasts. Pick a few you like, and start listening and reading. You will be surprised at how much you learn.

    1. http://www.rasmussen.edu/degrees/business/blog/marketing-blogs/
    2. https://www.inc.com/travis-wright/16-top-marketing-blogs-and-publications-you-need-to-be-following.html
    3. https://inbound.org/top/blogs
    4. https://www.inc.com/jeremy-goldman/9-podcasts-to-make-you-a-better-marketer-in-2017.html
    5. https://www.workzone.com/blog/top-marketing-podcasts/

  2. Marketing is about making money. It did not take me very long to understand that the marketing and advertising business is about financial results. CEOs, CMOs and CFOs are all under increasing pressure to deliver owners and shareholders improved financial results.

    With today’s modern tracking capabilities, the old adage that “I know that half of my marketing budget is wasted, I just don’t know which half,” is no longer true. For most of our clients, we can tell them exactly what their return on ad spend is for everything they do. To that end, today’s marketer must first and foremost be business-minded. And, when I say that, I mean every single person on the marketing team, including the creatives.

    In my opinion, you can’t be business-minded and not understand some basic things that drive a business. You should know how to read a P&L statement and a balance sheet. Really understanding what each line means and how it impacts the business is really important. From there, you should really understand your client’s business. Do you really understand the products, the sales channels, the recent trends, the consumer’s path to purchase, etc.? Here are a few articles and videos that might help you in these areas:

    https://www.sec.gov/reportspubs/investor-publications/investorpubsbegfinstmtguidehtm.html

    https://www.thebalance.com/guide-to-understanding-financial-statements-357512

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Jkse-Wafe9U

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r_t3zjRx4cU

  3. Big data is a big deal – and great analysis is a bigger deal. As I said before, our ability to track is unprecedented and our access to data is incredible. However, data alone is simply a collection of numbers. It is only through analyzing this data and turning it into insights that it becomes useful to companies.

    For marketing analytics to be useful, data must be tracked, watched and measured. It also should be compared and analyzed over the short- and long-term. The trick is to understand the difference between data collection and analysis. Analysis involves looking deeply at the data and pulling out trends, outliers, anomalies and insights that can be used to achieve better results.

    For some clients, it’s not looking for the “home run,” it’s about consistently moving the needle an inch at a time. For one of our clients who does over $60 million in online revenue each year, if we can improve the results by only 1%, that has a dramatic impact on the bottom line. So, learn how to analyze data yourself without relying on others to do it for you.

  4. Never stop testing. Technology is having a dramatic and profound impact on our lives and is now advancing faster than at any point in history. As a result, consumer behavior is changing at a dizzying pace. Consumers are now more loyal to their purchase channel (think Amazon) than they are to the brands they buy. People choose banks based on how good their online banking app is as opposed to the location of their branches. Therefore, we have to be in a constant testing mode to see where we can impact results. We have to test because we do not have data or past evidence to rely upon. We must test channels, creative, media, messaging, products, prices and promotions. It never stops. When asked how much, I always say that 10% of your marketing budget should be dedicated to testing. I can’t tell you how positively these tests impact results for our clients. So, never stop testing, and constantly look for a better way.
  5. Create content yourself. There are so many benefits to creating your own content. It starts with your social channels, but I think everyone should have their own blog or podcast. This is because you are the only one who can express your own voice. Most people blow me off when I encourage them to do this, but it really gives you experience speaking directly to and responding to an audience, helps you stay current with trends, and helps you articulate your thoughts and ideas. Who knows, it even might make you famous.
  6. Be willing to pay for information. If you are invested in becoming a great marketer, you have to be willing to invest in (pay for) information. Yes, there are tons of great free resources on the internet that you can leverage, like blogs and podcasts. However, if you want real “training,” you have to be willing to pay for it. Sites like Lynda.com (which we provide free to our team) have incredible training opportunities with a wide range of courses. Want to learn Photoshop or how to edit videos? This is a great resource. But, it’s not free. To become a better marketer, invest in yourself and be wiling to pay for great information.
  7. Know your customer, and know what your customer wants. However good your product or service is, the simple truth is that no one will buy it if they don’t want it or believe they don’t need it. As marketers, we can’t have enough knowledge of our customers and their wants and needs.

    For example, if you’re working for a consumer packaged goods company, do you have a deep understanding of who is buying the product? Do you know why they buy it? Do you know their age, household income, incidence of kids in the house, etc.? Does the product solve a particular problem the customer faces? Does your customer see needed improvements? All of these are questions that should be asked and answered on a consistent basis. Most importantly, look for what the customer “wants.” This will lead to insights that can help lead to solutions that will grow business. You can never know too much!

  8. Master the art of effective writing. I can’t begin to tell you how many people email me looking for a job or trying to sell me something by sending messages that are filled with bad grammar, loaded with misspelled words or are just hard to understand. I don’t know if it is because grammar is no longer taught in college or if people just don’t care anymore, but it creates a horrible first impression.

    To be a successful marketer, the very basis of being a good communicator is effectively using the written word. Make sure you know how to write effectively with good grammar, spelling and coherence. If you want some tips on how to be a better writer, check out these articles:

    http://www.grammarbook.com/grammar/effWrite.asp

    https://www.bdc.ca/en/articles-tools/entrepreneurial-skills/become-better-communicator/pages/10-tips-effective-business-writing.aspx

    https://hbr.org/2014/11/how-to-improve-your-business-writing

  9. Learn to work with anyone and everyone. This business is full of interesting characters. One thing that I learned a long time ago is that I had to learn to work with everyone, no matter how different his or her personality. Most of the time, I needed that person to accomplish something that I could not get done on my own.

    In a work environment like ours with 120+ people, you can’t expect not to run into personality clashes. I’m not talking about difficult people, but different people. You have to be open-minded to the differences in others. If you do this, you will be surprised at the things you learn and the friendships you make.

  10. Don’t play it safe. I once went to one of my competitors for some advice. He was uber-successful and had grown his agency into the largest in the state, ultimately selling it to one of the large holding companies. After talking for a bit, he said, “Scott, if there is one piece of advice I can give you, it is Be Bold.” He meant be bold in everything, not just the creative work. He was so right, and it was the very best advice I have ever received in this business. But, to be bold, you have to really believe in yourself, your team and your ability. While you can’t swing for the fence in every at-bat, you have to throw fear to the side and take some chances.
  11. Learn how to take a punch and be thick-skinned. When I first started working in advertising, I was extremely thin-skinned. If a client told me they didn’t like some creative I showed them or an idea I had, it really ate me up. I took it personally. It got worse when my supervisors gave me constructive criticism. I just had a really hard time with rejection and, rather than making me better, it shut me down for a period in my career.

    Over time, I learned that clients were not going to buy every idea I had, we weren’t going to win every pitch we made, and that I was far from a perfect manager. Once I realized that, stopped taking everything personally, and really tried to learn from my mistakes and from the input of others, my career really took off. Yours will too.

  12. Speak the language. This is true for any profession, but in marketing, there is often a language within each and every discipline. If you work in an integrated agency like ours, you need know what acronyms like KPI, ROAS, HTML, PPC, CPE, CPC, etc. mean. Here are some links to glossaries that might help you get a jump start:

    http://adreview.rutgers.edu/glossary.php

    http://www.aai.ie/resources/uploads/Glossary_of_Advertising_Terms.pdf[EL1]

  13. Be careful with shiny things. It is very easy to be seduced by new software, new platforms and cutting-edge technology. I live by the old adage that if it’s too good to be true, it probably is. Don’t fall in love with every cool thing you come into contact with. Approach everything as an opportunity, but be careful not to overcommit to something that’s not proven or that will not generate a positive return for your client. I have learned this one the hard way.
  14. Always give your VERY best. Finally, give yourself and your employer your very best. Many of you reading this have no idea what you are capable of if you really give your best … your very best. You have to be willing to work long hours, learn on your own, invest in yourself and never stop. If you do, there is no ceiling for you. If you want a little motivation, here is a video that I think best encapsulates this idea: