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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started In Marketing

September 02, 2009 | | Comments 56

Marketing newbieRecently I was asked to speak to a college marketing club that was touring the Skyline Exhibits International Design Center about what it’s like to work in marketing.   So I shared with them these 10 things I wish I had known over 20 years ago before I began my marketing career:

1.  Know your customers better than anyone else. Marketing starts with solving the customer’s needs.  So figure out what your customers’ needs are and which needs are the most important.  Find out how they look for products, what language they use to describe your products, who they trust for ideas, and what they can’t get today that they wish they could.  Get a mental picture of who they are as people, and if it’s a B2B customer, what is their job title, and the size and industry of their company.  In learning how they think, you will also be learning what they value most about your product or service.

2.  Market segmentation is essential. Good marketing depends on knowing how to segment your markets.  Figure out how your market can be divided into groups of similar customers with the groups being distinctly different from each other.  Then target the most attractive segments big enough to be worthwhile (segments with growth opportunities, or that match to your core competencies, or have the greatest profit potential).  Use segmentation that makes it easy to identify prospects.  If you can, segment your market according to which key benefits they seek.  Once you’ve picked your segments, invest your time in them and ignore the rest.

3.  “Push” marketing is broken, because the customer is in control. Thanks to the Internet and Google, with just a few clicks, the customer can find hundreds of choices.  And with social media sites to engage them, consumers have broken away from the old media that once held them captive.  Anything you do to get their attention must add value in terms of what matters to them.  Which usually means their jobs or personal needs, and not directly your products.  Prospects will consider you less intrusive when you show them how to solve their problems.  Even before the Internet, push marketing was dying, but Internet search engines have shoved it into the grave.

4.  Don’t just measure ROI, keep improving it. Marketing is going the way of the statisticians, and also to those who can create marketing that is worth measuring in the first place.  Marketing budgets continue to shift to methods that can be measured for results.  Almost anything can be measured for its marketing impact, from the color of a direct mail envelope, the change in brand awareness from trade show displays, to the size of a button on a landing page.  Aim for marketing that is highly profitable, repeatable, reaches a big chunk of your target audience, and builds your brand.

5. Marketing goes beyond the Marketing Department. To create a legion of brand ambassadors within a company requires more than the marketing department, it can only happen with support from the top and buy-in throughout management.  The best companies instill a clear understanding of their brand promise into each employee.  With that clarity, employees make better decisions because they know how each decision will support or harm their brand.

6.  Do you have a marketing career path? It’s been said that life is what happens while you’re making other plans.  Similarly, your career path can be accidental, or you could purposely strive in a direction you intend.  Consider which of these different choices you have before you.  There’s no wrong choice, just perhaps a better choice for you:

  • Corporate marketing vs. ad agency
  • B2B vs. B2C
  • Product marketing vs. marketing communications
  • Employee vs. business owner
  • Doer vs. manager
  • Large vs. small company

7.  Know — and live – the difference between Environmental Sustainability and Greenwashing. This long-lasting recession has put value in front of environmental sustainability.  But as commodity prices rebound with the world economy’s returns to health, consumers will likely soon return to Green thinking.  Consumers will also continue to become better informed about what is truly a sustainable product.  They will see through Greenwashing and keep ratcheting up their environmental sustainability expectations for their purchases.  You will need to invest in learning the science of sustainability yourself because these better informed consumers will turn on you if you fake it.

8.  Bridge the Sales & Marketing divide When you get into marketing, you discover that many, if not most marketing jobs are at B2B companies, where your new best friend could be the sales force.  Unfortunately there is sometimes a divide between Sales and Marketing and that’s truly a lost opportunity.  Top B2B sales people know so much that can help you be a better marketer.  They know which questions to ask prospects first, which is a great clue to creating good market segmentation.  They’ve got a gut understanding of your clients’ demographics, language, key desired benefits, and budget ranges. They know who your top competitive threats are, and why they are growing.  Sales is your natural ally, not your enemy.

9.  Keep your marketing education going after graduation. Some things in marketing are eternal, but many things change as the economy, technology, demographics, and media evolve.  There’s many ways to keep up on the next marketing trends.  Get a subscription to marketing, advertising, or communications magazines.  Regularly visit top industry websites and blogs.  Join one or more associations, and go to your industry’s trade shows as well as to events centered around marketing that are specific to your area of expertise.

10.  Market Your Marketing It has never been harder to be a marketer.  The consumer is in control, you are competing against smarter competitors who are constantly improving their marketing through testing and measurement, and customer expectations for value are higher than ever.  So when you succeed against those high odds be sure that you scrupulously document and share your success with your management, using metrics that matter to them.  Be sure to also help them understand the new marketing landscape you and your company are competing on.

If ignorance is bliss, then when I started in marketing over 20 years ago I must have been a very happy camper.  Now I have a few less hairs on my head and a few more pounds on my belly.  I look forward to further insights to be learned in my next 20 years, but hope that for the most part these 10 things will continue to serve me, and today’s new marketers, well.

What do you think?  What core insights gleaned from your marketing career would you add as #11 on the list, to share with today’s budding marketers?

uncertain-times-white-paperTo keep learning how to improve your trade show marketing, click here to get your free copy of the Successful Exhibiting Strategies In Uncertain Times White Paper, which features 16 ways to improve your results.

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About the Author: Mike Thimmesch is Skyline Exhibits' Director of Customer Engagement, with over 25 years of Marketing and Trade Show Display Marketing experience.

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  1. Susan Cassano says:

    #11. Have thick skin and don’t take it personally. You need to be able to accept rejection with grace, and not take it as a personal attack on you. Marketing can be most rewarding, but it can also be hard on the ego. So, be personable, but don’t take it personally.

    Excellent and to the point – you hit them on the head, Mike! Thanks for the refresher!!!

  2. Andrea Strauss says:

    Great Article, Great Advice! Thank you.

  3. Fantastic list Mike!

    One more suggestion: If at all possible, find your market before you find your product. (All to often we start with a product and have to find customers who don’t really want it and then cram it into them!)

    • Sheldon,

      That’s what our product marketing group is aiming for now: Understand the market’s unmet needs first, and then design a product to meet those unmet needs. We invented a new category of displays with that approach, and it won a best new product award at our industry show this year, validating your idea.

  4. Newman Mallon says:

    Marketing is the first expense to go during a recession. Be prepared to be laid off several times during your career. That’s just reality.

    • Lupe Prada says:

      That’s just bad upper management!

    • Newman,

      It’s an unfortunate reality. Studies show that the companies that invest during a downturn outsell their competitors, during the downturn and especially after the ensuing recovery. But for some reason it’s hard for management to trust that marketing is really an investment.

  5. Pat Smithson says:

    Your piece drives home the message, know your own desires in terms of where you fit best, use your talents, keep them current and most importantly know your customers desires even more so. And never get rusty in your knowledge.

  6. James Kempland says:

    Mike,

    Thank you for once again proving an axiom of mine, simple, direct and clear communication is more likely to produce results. Volumes of complex books are written on marketing, I’ll print and carry this with me to every meeting!

    • James,

      Thank you. That’s about the finest compliment I’ve ever received about an article. When you doodle on my picture, just know I’ve grown a goatee so you can update the image accurately.

  7. Mike,
    Good job. Thank you for sharing your insights.

  8. Debra Crawford says:

    Excellent examples. I had to take a step back as well and really give some thought to your later two points. Thank you!

  9. Neale Gallagher says:

    Well done!

    The most important, number 1, “Know your customers better than anyone else” is overlooked and too many assumptions are often made by marketers. Talking to the sales people is always a good starting point (number 8).

    Thank you.

    • Thanks, Neale. You and Tracey (comment above) are on the same wavelength.

    • Neale,

      You are absolutely right that sales people have many answers when it comes to the customer’s needs, attitudes, etc. However, the best place to go for these answers is the customer him/herself.

      I make my living having specific conversations with my client’s customers to uncover critical, unfiltered information I can feed to marketing and sales teams to make them more effective. Your customers will share things with me that they simply won’t tell you – and those things are the details that will make or break a marketing effort.

  10. Sanjay Sharma says:

    Good article. To the point and quick to read/understand.

  11. simone says:

    Brilliant article!
    @ newman mallon
    Reducing marketing investments means reducing the contact with the clients, and – when the recession ends – the company has to spend a lot to re-create it.

  12. As a recent graduate, I wish your list was somewhere in our textbooks. It’s great advice and in only 2 years, I have already encountered all 10 items. However, to have them laid out in front of you as a list just puts everything into perspective and creates a useful guide.

    Thanks Mike!

  13. Mark says:

    Great list. Thanks.

  14. Great list and all very true. Thanks.

  15. Bryan Karp says:

    Mike -

    Great post and right on topic today with the webinars and other discussions I’ve had. Your first point is right on and perfect for being #1…if you don’t know your customer then who are you marketing to in the first place! I would also add that if you are going to market you need to market in such a way that you are building a BLUE ocean not a RED ocean (see blue ocean strategy). Your 3rd, 4th and 8th point are especially critical today given the change in marketplace from Sales enablement to customer enablement. I would suggest the readers here also take a look at what Brian Carroll has to say regarding measuring your lead-gen efforts and working to align the sales and marketing teams.

    Again great post…keep them coming.

    Bryan

    • Thanks, Bryan. I’ll do my best to keep the great posts coming so you’ll keep coming back!

      I agree that Blue Oceans is a great book, right up there with Good to Great as my favorite business books.

  16. andrew weir says:

    Great post.

    I would add the importance of delivering a WOW brand experience.

    This goes beyond engageing consumers (point 3) and is enabled by working closely with customer service and sales (points 5 and 8).

    WOW them and they will tell others.

    • Thanks, Andrew. That WOW experience is what good businesses strive for in the regular business day, but even more so as exhibitors, trying to garner the much-coveted “buzz” on the show floor.

      I read your blog and wondered if you’d read much of Jim Pine and Jim Gilmore, especially their ideas on The Experience Economy or Authenticity. Seems they’d be a good match for your passion. Regards, Mike

  17. Gwen Hill says:

    Excellent article Mike! Thanks for sharing, Gwen

  18. Joy Svoboda says:

    Dear Mike -

    All of these are excellent points. I am one whose marketing and business development career happened accidently over 15 years ago. I am passionate about this professional and am a firm believer in the power of client intelligence. Never assume you know everything needed to land an account – there are always unknowns and needs are constantly changing.

    Great message to those considering marketing as a career and good reminders for those of us who are in it for the long haul!

  19. monica levy says:

    #11. Consider a career in landscape architecture while there’s still time.

    (kidding. this IS a great list. if i did add a #11, it would probably be something like, “make sure you understand what marketing really is — the process of identifying, attracting, engaging, and retaining customers, and turning them into advocates.” it’s not just the fun/fluffy stuff.)

  20. Bridging the gap between Marketing, Sales and Strategy will win you a seat in the boardroom. But once inside, you can be a huge contributor to the decision-making process.

  21. If you know the customer better than anyone, your voice will always have value.

  22. Charles King says:

    Very informative article for one who has worked with marketers for over 30 years. I help companies draw a crowd in their booth. My business is better than ever. All I do is trade shows. I wish I had a nickle for every marketing exec who told me, ” We don’t need an attraction in our booth. Our products sell themselves. ” Now, I don’t get cut off as often, when I call prospects. People are much more willing to listen to what I have to offer. My business is up dramatically. Charles King Dallas cartoonist

  23. Brian Marsh says:

    Thanks for the article – that was a great reminder of Marketing 101 and I will re-engage with my staff on this invaluable topic.

  24. Fred Mason says:

    In all my years of marketing I find it amazing that many marketers view their customers as companies and not as people like themselves. If you think about marketing messages that resonate with you there’s a good chance that kind of messaging could work in your marketing.

    Companies don’t buy your products. People do. Market to those people who have to tell their management that buying your product is a good move. Minimize their risk in buying from you, not matter what you’re marketing. Be sure to answer: What’s in it for me?

  25. Alison Anderson says:

    Thanks – great article. Marketing is an ever-evolving art.

  26. Lori says:

    Great reminders, Mike. I find it interesting that after 20 years, you are able to pinpoint the ten things that hit the nail on the head. I walk the line between sales and marketing on our team and find it a challenge to keep the “powers that be” reminded that we are dealing with people, and that we need to know these people, their wants and their needs. The comment about speaking their language was very poignant and I will be reviewing these 10 points to our team at our next meeting. Thanks again!
    Lori

    • Thank you, Lori. I’m lucky to have learned something along the way, and not forgotten what it’s like to see things from our client’s perspective. That’s one of the great things about staffing a trade show booth, is that as a marketer, you get so much face to face time with dozens if not hundreds of customers. If you’re the least bit empathetic you will come away from a show with a better understanding of what really matters to your clients. Some of my biggest “Aha!” moments came staffing our booth.

  27. Mary Grant Boucher says:

    Great Article! One thing I learned the hard way is to visit the trade shows you are targeting BEFORE investing in time and money on the booth space. Some of the most entrepreneurial people I met came to me at trade shows and “picked my brain” about the show I was attending as well as what other shows I could recommend for their product lines.
    Mary Grant Boucher President LAUNCH, INC.

  28. Cheryl says:

    Great information for people like me who are thinking about Marketing as a career in the future.

  29. The best of marketing strategies and tactics are those based on results gained by actively selling products or services. Sales should be the creator of marketing support programs after products are offered to prospects and customers and feedback gained from either a sale of failed sale.
    Marketing’s goal should be to facilitate the successful sale of product and working closely with the sales team to reach that objective.
    It takes a strong management team to successfully integrate the diverse personalities of the sales and marketing functions because they are different. Marketing people tend to be strategic and planners, sales people tend to be tactical with a high level of urgency.
    While marketing functions are often judged on long time basis for their programs to roll out, sales people are judged on their sales results daily which adds to the tension between them.
    Sales should drive the business because sales is the one point at which customers and prospects communicate honestly with a company after they are asked to write a check to buy something which separates marketing strategies from the realities of getting a sale.

  30. [...] 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started In Marketing I was asked to speak to a college marketing club about marketing careers. So I shared these 10 things I wish I had known over 20 years ago before I began my marketing career.  Useful insights for trade show marketers and more.  Click here to read article > > [...]

  31. John Stifter says:

    #11

    Embrace technology to bridge the gap between Marketing and Sales. New tools exist to help qualify leads easily via the internet. Quality leads can be provided to the sales force in real time and the sales force can respond to the lead now when the need exists.

    The traditional model allows for leaking of the sales funnel. Marketing gets frustrated that they provide all these leads that are not converted to sales. Sales people are frustrated that they don’t receive good quality leads. Far too many companies lose track of leads in the process.

    Modern marketing systems streamline this process and perhaps even automatically send out either physical or electronic sales collateral customized to the individual’s interests. Today’s systems can calculate ROI on the fly and report instantaneous results in real time. Customization of the marketing program can be made more frequently to increase ROI more frequently than the past.

    The result is more unified Sales and Marketing functionality within organizations.

  32. John Blicha says:

    Brilliant! These are excellent points that every marketing professional that wants to excel should know and execute on. I’ll be passing this on.

    Well done!

  33. [...] 10 Things I Wish I Knew BEFORE I Started in Marketing – An “insightful” piece by Mike Thimmesch that we used last fall. [...]

  34. Andrew-Kent Snyder says:

    #11. Accept failure graciously, & quickly learn from the opportunity the mistake created.

    When the recession hit hard, one of my startup websites I was marketing started to loose sales. I had only lost 20% of my gross, but I wanted to bring that up. While working with other online marketing leaders we all came to the conclusion that I should offer FREE SHIPPING, while increasing my prices by the amount of the shipping.

    This resulted in dropping to one sale every 2 weeks almost overnight. After 3 months I knew it wasn’t a fluke. While other industries thrived with this offer, my niche had tanked. This goes to Mike’s #1, I didn’t know my customer base well enough.

    There were a couple of others in my think tank that had the same problem, their sales almost halted. Though I decided to learn from the experience & try a new marketing approach. Sales were slow to pick up again, but the stop allowed me to redesign my site & create content that will benefit my visitors much more than my competitors.

    Learn from your mistakes graciously & tackle the problem from another angle.

    • Lorraine Abrutyn says:

      Hi!
      Thank you for your webinar today.
      Would you email us your template for lead cards?
      Thank you for taking your time to help us!

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