Career Toolbox: Marketing

marketing steps

Marketing, by definition, is the practice of gathering a stronger customer following for your company's product or service. As such, it can be a dynamic, creative and competitive field to work in. This step-by-step action plan is designed to help you build a toolbox of skills, knowledge and concrete experience that can be useful when you're competing for the marketing job you desire.

Step 1: Know what you're looking for

Identify several areas within marketing that particularly interest you, and find job titles associated with these areas. Marketing jobs are diverse, and the more you learn about the various facets of the field you want to enter, the better.

Examples and descriptions of specific marketing roles are listed below:

  • Marketing associates (sometimes called media associates) work with more senior members of a team to develop marketing plans, write marketing content for websites or other promotional outlets, and/or gather data on the effectiveness of certain marketing initiatives. Their work usually focuses on a small section of a team's overall marketing plan.
  • Marketing writers write the essential content (such as articles, press releases, booklet and brochure content, etc.) for marketing plans and projects. They might also plan and write the content for a business's website or promotional packages. Online marketing writers may need to understand or use search engine optimization best practices to ensure that the content they write is found by search engines — and thus Web audiences.
  • Marketing analysts typically study and report on the demand for a given product or service and how well consumers respond to a company's marketing initiatives. In the online marketing space, these analysts might be called search engine strategists. They often set up and manage Web analytics tools to monitor and evaluate the traffic to companies' sites, and build content and site structure initiatives that optimize site traffic and revenue.
  • Marketing managers typically lead the strategy of their team's marketing initiatives. They coordinate market research and analysis, oversee marketing content development, and monitor budget vs. product revenue. Marketing managers need a broad understanding of the different facets of marketing and how they come together to create a sound promotional plan. For example, in online marketing, managers need to understand how a website's content and structure contribute to traffic and revenue. In product marketing, managers need to understand how research on consumer demand is relevant to the messages and content of marketing campaigns.

The list above is by no means comprehensive, and remember that roles are sometimes titled differently from company to company. But understanding different jobs in the field can help you identify what might be a good fit down the road.

Step 2: Research relevant skills

Start by looking up at least 10 to 15 job postings directly related to your marketing role of interest. Try synonyms of the role, too. For instance, if you're looking into marketing analyst roles, you might check out market research analyst and marketing strategist roles as well.

Look closely at the qualifications these jobs list as being necessary for an ideal candidate. Make a list of the recurring skills, experience and knowledge that employers want, and make it your resolution for the next few months to learn as much as you can about what is on your list.

Common knowledge and skills that can be important for marketing include:

  • Search engine optimization — Learning how to gain readership and consumers in the online space is one of the most important skills you can have as a marketer today. Search engine optimization is essentially the process and practices that help draw Web traffic to a particular site, and include using tools like Google Analytics and Bing Webmaster Tools (more on those below).
  • Social media — Social media is becoming increasingly important for businesses of all sizes to promote their products and services. Companies that have an active social media account and promote their content on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook are likely to access far more potential consumers than businesses that don't explore this avenue.
  • Project management experience — Especially at the marketing management level, experience conceiving and coordinating projects, particularly those oriented around promoting or marketing a particular product, service or mission, can be immensely valuable when applying for jobs in marketing.
  • PR experience — Public relations, which is defined as the management of an organization's outward-facing communications with the public, is an important aspect of marketing. Any experience writing press releases, responding to media inquiries or evaluating marketing initiatives to ensure that they abide by a company's public relations goals can be valuable to a potential employer.
  • Excel — A lot of marketing involves tracking, organizing and analyzing data on consumer engagement with marketing campaigns and balancing budget with revenue from marketing spend.
  • Web development and design — As mentioned previously, online marketing is central to all businesses' success, and with that comes the requirement of a streamlined, easily navigable, and easily discovered website that provides useful content and encourages potential consumers to explore and purchase goods or services.
  • Industry knowledge — Knowing a good amount about the type of product your potential employer wishes to market can make all the difference. For example, if you are applying for a marketing role at a clothing company, you should definitely know your way around fashion and be able to convey your enthusiasm for fashion. Similarly, tech companies and startups seek to hire people for their marketing department who are passionate about their particular field within technology.

Step 3: Find the resources to learn what you need

Now here's the fun part — building the skills and experience you need to succeed. Below are some resources that can help you get started:

  • Search engine optimization — SEO, and online marketing in general, is among the newer additions to marketing strategy in recent years, and thus it can baffle marketing veterans and newbies alike. Luckily, a wealth of resources is available online to help you learn more about increasing traffic to and user engagement on your website. Some of these resources include MOZ (a resource that boasts a beginner's guide to SEO, a list of the 100 best free SEO tools available online and weekly blog posts and articles on SEO best practices), Google's SEO Starter Guide and Bing's Webmaster Tools video tutorials.
  • Social media marketing — Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter all have guides that help businesses and their employees to optimally use social media to promote their products and services. A simple Web search for "Facebook for businesses" or "Twitter for businesses" should direct you to these companies' online guides.
  • Project management and marketing strategy experience — One of the best places to get project management experience is (surprise!) to engage with projects, whether at your work or through contract or volunteer experience. If you are working a full-time job, ask your supervisor if you can assist with some of the key marketing initiatives moving forward. If you are a contractor, seek out marketing projects such as writing marketing copy or helping with marketing research for a given company. Volunteer work can also be immensely valuable for building certain skills that you can promote on your resume. For example, if you volunteer for a nonprofit that needs to promote its upcoming event, assist them in their social media, keyword research (a part of SEO strategy), and other types of promotional efforts (such as brochures and giveaways), and keep track of all the projects that you work on so you can effectively describe them on your resume and potentially during an interview.
  • PR experience — The workplace is also a great place to gain public relations experience and skills. Offer to write press releases and other public announcements (such as newsletters, email blasts, etc.) for your team. Furthermore, seek out contractor opportunities that enable you to write similar pieces for companies.
  • Excel — Tutorials on Excel abound on the Internet, so you might also choose a highly rated series of tutorials and just dive in. Additionally, massive open online courses (MOOCs) exist that can walk you through the basics of Excel and other professional computer applications.
  • Web design — Building an entire website from scratch can be fairly involved. Luckily, as with SEO, there are plenty of online resources that can help you build the basic framework for a website, so that you can focus on site structure, design, and content, rather than coding. Wordpress, Wix.com and Webs.com are just a few of the options at your disposal for relatively pain-free website creation.
  • Web development — Actually coding a website is pretty complicated and challenging, especially for people who are new to code. Coding is one of those things that requires immense discipline if you are learning it on your own. Some people even take classes or enroll in coding bootcamps to get a more solid understanding of the fundamentals. Resources to explore include Codecademy, Code.org, Microsoft coding tutorials and MOOCs from such providers as Coursera, edX and Udacity.
  • Industry knowledge — This one depends, of course, on the particular companies you want to apply for. For example, if you are applying to the marketing department of a food magazine or company, a passion for food would be a definite plus. If you're applying for jobs at companies whose product or service you aren't particularly passionate about, make it a nightly habit to browse blogs and news articles about these companies and the products they work on.

One more thing: All of the above skills and experience are generally things that require quite a lot of time, discipline and initiative. Coding bootcamps aside, marketing skills and knowledge such as SEO, Web design and PR expertise require months, if not a year or two, to get solidly under your belt. Be patient with yourself, and establish a schedule so that you stay organized and on track. And remember this quote from the ancient Roman statesman and philosopher Seneca the Younger: "Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity."