What Your Traditional Marketing Education Didn't Teach You About Marketing Today

Katie Burke
Katie Burke



retro-classroom-chairsIn the older days of marketing, most interview questions revolved around a marketer’s knowledge of marketing principles like “The 4 Ps” and how he or she could apply that knowledge to case questions in an interview setting.

Whether you studied marketing as an undergrad, graduate, or business school student, chances are your studies included classes about branding, marketing strategy, public relations, and the basics of advertising -- all of which are interesting topics and core to the history and relevance of modern marketing. But (isn't there always a but?) ... 

Today's successful marketer doesn’t necessarily look like Don Draper or Donny Deutsch. As a result, most classically trained marketers are lacking some critical skills required in today's marketing word. In this post, we'll explore how marketing has changed -- and what's missing from traditional marketing curriculums. And luckily, today we're announcing our new Inbound Certification program to help marketers and aspiring marketers alike bridge these gaps in marketing education. 

Old School: Smile and Dial for Media Coverage

Oscar Wilde once said, “There’s only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.” On some level, that’s the fundamental principle of public relations -- to get people talking about and interacting with your brand, your executive team, and your product in lovable ways that inspire great conversation and content. While the end goal of public relations hasn’t changed, the tactics used, mediums leveraged, and patterns of communications have fundamentally shifted.

Public Relations 101 used to be all about the art and science of press releases and effective pitch emails. Marketers were taught to load as many gobbledygook words like “unique” and “first ever” and “launch” into headlines and then charm, cajole, and convince reporters to tell their story in a positive way using a combination of press releases, pitch documents, and phone calls. In addition, aspiring PR pros were taught to tailor the release to the few, not the many. Press releases and pitches were tailored specifically toward the end readers (assignment editors, producers, and reporters) versus a wider net of prospects, customers, and leads who could benefit from the news as well.

Moreover, PR professionals wielded considerable power in the sense that if journalists wanted to interact with their customers, executives, or analysts, they were responsible for facilitating that interaction, so marketing education focused on making the most of those opportunities. As a result, marketing education focused on empowering PR pros to identify key events to expose their executive team to key audiences, and choose the venue, message, and invite list accordingly. Marketers were taught to be focused as gatekeepers to what truly happened inside a business, and journalists relied on them.

New School: Got a Story? Share It With the Many, Not the Few

Similar to the shift that’s transpired in the sales world (wherein the buyer now has access to customer reviews and other commentary about your brand with a quick Google search), journalists rarely have to pass through media relations professionals to get the information they want or need to craft a story. On one hand, this seems like bad news in the sense that it’s harder and harder to control the messages leaving your company’s door, but it also provides a unique opportunity: Marketers should no longer focus their press releases and content toward a few select reporters, but it’s actually a huge opportunity for marketers who are armed and ready to share their news with the world.

21st century marketers need to have the skills to develop, edit, format, create, and promote effective content that shares the brand’s core messages in a manner that’s remarkable. In that regard, press releases are no longer about winning over the hearts and minds of six key reporters, but rather about telling a compelling story to the world and promoting it via every relevant medium available, from your blog to your social channels to press outreach and events.

Lesson Learned: Take David Meerman Scott’s advice: Ditch what he calls “Ye Olde Press Release” and focus instead on creating blog posts, press releases, infographics, and social media posts that convey your brand’s core messages to buyers, media, investors, evangelists, and customers alike.

Old School: Work With Great Designers to Create Your Ads and Logo

Marketers and consumers alike recognized the importance of a distinctive logo (if you’re skeptical, read about the uproar Gap created when they altered their logo). However, marketers were typically trained to develop creative briefs, project manage logo design and refinement, and draft the core messages for an advertising campaign, while the visual storytelling and execution were typically left to a designer or agency to draft and return for feedback.

Two challenges emerged from this dynamic between marketers and designers. The first was that marketers developed briefs chock full of aspirational language, which designers were then supposed to comprehend and convert into reality. Second, design was very rarely tied to key performance indicators. Both of these challenges converged into one greater problem: logo designs, advertising executions, and brand standards were often relegated to subjective metrics, and there was a distinct gap between marketing strategy, execution, and feedback.

In addition, waiting until your project was 90% complete before including design meant that often the message and execution simply didn’t make sense to the consumer, so significant money, time, and energy were wasted for a project whose end result didn’t move the needle on consumer awareness, brand loyalty, or purchase behavior. Marketing courses espoused the importance of a strong logo and building your brand through paid advertising, de-emphasizing the importance of design and medium within the process, many times at the expense of valuable input and user experience insight that impacts the final product. Although it’s certainly true that your logo, brand marks, standards, and advertising play a critical role in your brand perception, the design paradigm is changing fundamentally, and we as marketers need to adjust accordingly.

New School: Design and Build for a Visual World

A great logo is critical, but if that’s where your design expertise starts and stops, your marketing is in trouble. As design expert Walter Landor notes, “products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind" -- so it’s more important than ever that your brand interactions are highly visual, lovable, differentiated, and memorable to survive and thrive as a 21st century marketer.

To illustrate just how important design is in modern marketing, consider the following: 40% of people respond better to visual information than plain text, and publishers who use infographics grow in traffic an average of 12% more than those who don'. In addition, posts with videos attract 3 times more inbound links than plain text posts,  and in just one month after the introduction of visual content in Facebook Timelines for brands, engagement increased 65%

As a result, marketers need to start with the finish line in mind, and garner enough knowledge to execute visual design concepts themselves or enough context around the mediums they leverage to give constructive, specific feedback to their user experience and design teams. Consumers don’t care how many hours you spent designing and testing your logo, or what your CEO thinks of its blue gradient. They care about a unified, intuitive, and lovable brand experience, and considering both the medium and means through which prospects find and interact with your brand is imperative for marketers in 2013 and beyond.

Lesson Learned: Attracting and delighting prospects, customers, and leads begins with highly visual and easily digestible interactions, so design simply cannot be an afterthought. Today's marketers need to understand the various channels they leverage to interact with prospects (from social media channels, to their blog, to TV or radio) and develop the expertise, understanding, and vernacular necessary to create and/or help edit visual materials.

Old School: Guess Which Content Your Audience Will Love

In the Don Draper school of marketing, a company would design a campaign, develop messaging (sometimes with the help from a focus group or two), agree upon an ad buy, then sit and wait to see what, if any, impact a given campaign had on customer growth, revenue, or awareness indicators. The emergence of Nielsen data made advertising efforts slightly more measurable, but they were at best an estimate and typically came back a minimum of one week after the ads actually ran. Marketers would capture successes in campaigns launched, estimated viewership for each ad, and subjective comments from consumers, executives, and colleagues alike.

With the emergence of digital advertising, targeting became significantly easier, particularly given that Google AdWords and other channels allowed you to target on multiple variables and keywords and adjust your buy in real time based on the interactions to date. Many marketers were even taught to go the extra mile, developing buyer personas and customizing campaigns and outreach around the perceived needs of specific segments of their customer base. That was a huge step, but still many marketers were focused on clickthrough rates and cost-per-click versus tying their marketing efforts back to core metrics such as the rate targeted individuals converted into customers and the return on investment specific to each campaign.

Fundamentally, whether you were spending to conduct a focus group, create an ad, outsource messaging, or test a user experience, measurement almost always came either after a campaign ran or just before it went out the door. On both occasions, companies expended significant labor time and energy on an effort before they received any measurable feedback on its success rate. Marketers were taught to spend first, then solve for the variables involved, one of many factors which resulted in marketers being perceived as more focused on “arts and crafts” than business metrics.

New School: Know Which Content Your Audience Will Love

Today's marketing happens in real time, and marketers have more tools than ever to access, analyze, and act upon metrics than ever. To that end, it’s not only imperative that aspiring marketers learn how to walk the walk and talk the talk on the marketing metrics that matter, but also that they learn from and act on data on a daily, not annual, basis.

Here are some examples of how today's marketers can evolve from the guessing game of the past to today's more accurate, metrics-driven approach:

  • A/B testing each email so contacts always receives the highest-performing email possible
  • Conducting ongoing polls in social media channels to facilitate lovable feedback in real time versus waiting to facilitate focus groups or customer interviews
  • Customizing calls-to-action based on where an individual is in the buying cycle to optimize for results
  • Investing more time and energy into social media channels that are the highest performing for the business in terms of revenue and customers
  • Terminating paid campaigns that aren’t delivering ROI

Today, the focus on measurement need also apply to a marketer's content creation approach. While a television ad could take months to fund, develop, produce, edit, and place, marketers can develop and publish smaller pieces of content like blog posts and ebooks, which are inexpensive to create, and require a relatively low investment of time and resources. In addition to the relative ease of developing short-form content, marketers can also leverage the analytics from that content to inform future efforts, replacing guesswork about what appeals to each of their personas with real data about what resonates with prospects -- which can ultimately be used to improve their marketing programs. 

The bottom line is that no company can pay their bills with Nielsen data, Facebook Likes, or retweets, so it’s imperative that marketers not only know but also act on the data that matters most to their business. To fulfill this promise, marketers need to understand, align, and deliver upon core business metrics (such as the cost of customer acquisition and lifetime value of a customer) and be tactical and technologically savvy enough to optimize on the fly. Measurement and alignment are often the greatest hurdle for marketers, which is why getting a little extra help from our expert inbound marketing professors can be useful for beginners and advanced marketers alike. 

Lesson Learned: Marketers need to learn what numbers matter most to their company and develop a plan for every channel and campaign accordingly. Moreover, it’s no longer enough just to capture data and adjust after you’ve completed a large promotional campaign -- marketers must always be measuring so they can constantly adapt and optimize for results and efficiency.

Old School: Build and Deliver Upon a Major Campaign

The crowning achievement for many marketing and communications students has historically been developing a campaign of their own to launch a product, announce a service, or drive awareness for a brand new business unit. The concept was simple: Every marketer has to juggle multiple priorities, messages, mediums, and team members, so the campaign was the ultimate way to leverage every asset available to make a big splash in awareness or impact.

While there is little question that these projects effectively simulate the fact that marketers at every company wear many hats, the fundamental premise of a campaign is rooted in old school marketing. Consider this: Marketers used to learn they should heavily front load their advertising buy to ensure their target audience saw it -- and time the press release, ad unveiling, and events strategy around that initial bump in awareness and engagement with prospects. All that is great in a world without modern technology, but now think about your own life: How often do you watch your favorite shows with commercials in real time? For many people, the answer is rarely -- if ever. In fact, a recent study by Motorola Mobility showed that 68% of DVR owners use the device explicitly to skip commercials, and that American forget to watch 41% of the shows they DVR.

In addition, campaigns have historically been built around rented assets. Running a back-to-school campaign? Plan on paying extra for the keywords that matter most to you because getting to moms in that critical time window is going to cost you. Launching a product at the Consumer Electronics Show? You’re going to have to work extra hard to break through the clutter in social media and earned media to share your story. Campaigns were built upon an outbound model of advertising whereby marketers “rent” eyeballs from Google AdWords, TV networks, blogs, or newspapers, and each of those entities charges a premium for highly contested marketing real estate, so campaigns are also typically an expensive way to do business.

New School: Continuous Engagement Outranks Campaigns

The reality is that the way in which consumers live, work, and interact with technology isn’t organized around your campaign schedule. Your prospects, leads, and customers leverage social media, Google, and other channels to research products, provide feedback, complain about customer service, and solicit recommendations every day. Very few -- if any -- consumers sit around waiting for your next campaign to launch to buy a product.

As a result, it’s imperative that today's marketing campaigns be continuous versus campaign-based. Eric Wheeler wrote an obituary for ad campaigns in Ad Age that correctly noted, “It’s no longer about

‘the campaign.’" Rather, it’s about understanding the social influence of your own loyal customers. What are these people interested in, what are they actually buying, and how can they be turned into a word-of-mouth marketing powerhouse?” 

The first step in this shift is building ownable assets over time versus always paying for rented space that your competitors have equal access to. Your blog, YouTube channel, Twitter account, Facebook Page, LinkedIn Company Page, and website are all valuable real estate just waiting to increase in value over time, so today's marketing must focus on leveraging those owned assets to differentiate yourself from competitors, meaningfully engage consumers, and ultimately, build an audience of evangelists, fans, friends, and followers that can consume your content, engage with your brand, and share your messages with their social networks as well.

Lesson Learned: Continuous is the new campaign. Unless you’re Apple, the chances that someone is waiting to make a purchase based on your next unveiling or campaign launch is exceptionally low, so don’t wait for campaigns to interact with your audience. Instead, build ownable assets over time to help you attract, convert, close, and delight prospects, leads, and customers. They’ll thank you, and your marketing budget will too.

There's an old adage that everyone in any organization thinks he or she is a marketer because all it takes is an opinion and some creativity and you're set to go. The reality is quite different: 21st century  marketers are expected to deliver measurable results, demonstrate continuous engagement, produce, disseminate, and promote exceptional and relevant content, and ultimately contribute to the bottom line of their business. While many textbooks will tell you otherwise, the reality is that today's marketers need a remarkable combination of skills, know-how, and business savvy, and each of us needs to adapt and grow accordingly.

In a month filled with graduation ceremonies worldwide, it's only appropriate that today celebrates the official launch of HubSpot's free, on-demand Inbound Marketing Certification program. We'll also be offering two in-person certification programs at the INBOUND conference in August. Learn more or sign up for either here.

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