The marketing career advice that no one gave me

According to contributor Travis Caldwell, there are some things you just have to learn the hard way: If you're not moving up, you're moving back.

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Ss Bike Win PfhiveAs I started my professional career, I also started down another lifelong path of passion: bike racing. Early on, bike racing for me was all about riding, about putting in the time. The more I rode, I thought, the stronger I’ll be, and therefore the better at racing I’ll be.

And for a while, this was true.

But in bike racing, you hit a point where the competition is strong enough that just putting time in the saddle isn’t enough to ensure racing well. It’s at this point that you have to learn how to train for racing.

Learning to race took me several years and many demoralizing races. But it was during this time that I learned one of the most valuable lessons for racing, my professional career and life:

If you’re not moving up, you’re moving back.

For racing, this is all about positioning and how to hold your position in the pack and race smart. This is important because the other 99 riders in the group are also trying to do the same exact thing you are: win. Which means that you have to be diligent about monitoring your position, because if you become complacent, your competition will gain an advantage and take your position.

Professionally, it’s a similar scenario. Every other marketer is trying to do the same exact thing you are: win — attention, views, clicks and sales, or the next big client. You might be in a good position today, your brand might have good market share or be experiencing good growth, but it can change quickly. All of your competitors are trying to move up in the pack, and if you’re not diligent, focused and determined, another brand or service provider will take the opportunity to take your spot.

And they’ll have ample opportunity, because in marketing, and primarily the current digital arena, the tools, products, user behaviors and more are all continually moving — quickly. You have other brands and companies all competing for the consumer’s time, eyeballs and dollars. This makes for a highly competitive and dynamic industry.

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Marketing, as an industry, moves fast and changes quickly, and there is no refresher course because it’s perpetually shifting.

This is true now more than ever because:

  • the technical landscape changes faster.
  • the competitive landscape changes faster.
  • customer demand changes faster.

If you’re not moving up, you’re moving back; if you’re not improving your position, it’s getting worse.

If you’re not learning new technologies, staying on top of the latest trends and consumer models, you’re losing ground to your peers and brand competitors. The technology and trends that are relevant now could easily become irrelevant and buried just a few years down the road — and your business with it.

So, how do you race smart? How do you hold your place in the pack?

Holding your place: Keeping track of what’s relevant

A lot of “thought leaders” and companies tell you who you should be following or what books you should read and what you should be doing. But YOU have to figure out what makes sense to you and your career strategy.

You don’t want to chase things just because they’re hyped. Appraise your own goals as a marketer, and then appraise the long-term career path you’re attempting to build and move forward from there.

Don’t be afraid to get granular. If modern marketing has rotated in any way, it’s that the quality of your knowledge has become more valuable than a survey view of the field of marketing as a whole.

If you think your strategy would most benefit from PPC and email marketing, read every book you can find on those topics, attend those conferences, and learn about those tactics from a completely immersive perspective. Learn about the psychological influences of PPC, the research, and the psychology that goes into a successful PPC strategy. Or how to build the most optimized emails and how to leverage analytic data, automation and transactions in email marketing.

If you just narrow yourself to pursuing what others say is “relevant,” you can severely limit yourself.

Reading the competitive landscape: Finding, implementing and maintaining your business’s tech

Here are some considerations and questions to ask before moving forward with new marketing technology:

1. How does it play with our martech stack?

It’s likely that you already have a number of tools in your martech stack, and expanding your strategy with a new tool that’s incapable of working with your other tools will lead to frustration and unusable data silos.

Finding a tool that works well with the rest of the tech in your stack will save you headaches later on when you’re manually passing user data between your email marketing software and your CRM and trying to hunt down data on user behavior that’s been collected by several different systems.

2. What barriers did our business have that we were trying to solve?

Before you go searching for a new tool, try to appraise the needs of your strategy and find the holes or pain points that the tool you’re looking for could help with.

For example, we recently added a new CRM to our martech stack. We needed a CRM that would be capable of automatically accepting new client contact records from our system. After identifying the hurdles in the way of our daily usage with our old CMS, we found that many of our new clients’ contact information was stored in our Google Calendar events. After identifying that we needed a CRM that could integrate with Google Calendars, it was easy to narrow down our CRM search to four or five software options.

3. Monitor your tech from the perspective of your audience.

When social media started growing, many marketers were hesitant to make it a part of their strategy because they never thought it would catch on. But they weren’t looking at the trajectory of it from the perspective of their audience. Be wary of your own bias, and make sure you’re looking at the facts.

For example, we’ve seen companies slow to take up a mobile strategy on their website because they believe that it doesn’t apply to them — their kind of customers aren’t finding them on their phones. But that doesn’t change the fact that for several years now, the amount of mobile browsers online has exceeded that of desktop browsers and that Google has now updated its search engine with an index that prioritizes mobile-responsive websites.

4. Be flexible.

When it comes to marketing technology — the tools that you should be using every day — if they’re difficult to use, then they’re negatively affecting your strategy. This is where a lot of marketing startups have an advantage over larger, B2B-oriented organizations. They tend to be leaner and more flexible, capable of moving on and changing their system when a part of it doesn’t work out for them.

The crux of this is that I can’t say that certain tactics, like email marketing, social media and PPC, are absolutes for a successful marketing strategy. Every strategy is unique.

What is crucial is having a thorough knowledge of where your business stands, your own capabilities and your audience’s perceptions of you and their needs. From there, you should have one eye fixed on the tech you’re currently depending on and another eye fixed on modern developments.

Let me say up front that there is no secret to successful marketing. And if you read anything that promises that, I recommend walking away immediately. A lot of people consider marketing to be a science, because we deal with data and implementation. But it’s just as much an art as it is a science.

Being responsible for driving growth and revenue, and helping shape a company, has a different set of demands. But with every decision you make at that level, you can ask yourself, Does the decision I’m making help the company move forward? If the decision doesn’t move you forward, then it is a regression.

And the same is true for any growth — internally or externally.

As I sit here, writing this article after a long week, I’m reviewing the work that’s needed to be done to set Bear Group up for another year of steady, solid growth.

Over and over again I ask myself, does this strategy move us up, or are we moving back?

Opinions expressed in this article are those of the guest author and not necessarily MarTech. Staff authors are listed here.

About the author

Travis Caldwell
Having worked in environments from startups to digital agencies, Travis Caldwell brings 10 years of digital experience working on a wide range of projects and clients, and an endless curiosity that moves him to continually be pursuing new and exciting technology and tactics. Currently, he works as marketing director for web development firm the Bear Group.

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