I was recently asked to give some insights to a student who was entering college and considering a marketing degree. While of course I would absolutely talk to him and give advice, I found myself hesitating for a few moments before figuring out how to start the conversation.
What is his interest in marketing?
Before launching into my own passion and concerns for the industry, I knew it was critical to understand where his interest was, as marketing is such a vast industry, even larger and more intermingled with so many other areas of business than when I began my career.
His end goal wasn’t marketing. I breathed a sigh of relief.
I’m concerned about my industry. I have been for a while. I’ve watched over the years as we’ve gone from thinkers to specialists, optimizing to outcomes, focusing on the needs of the boardroom.
I’ve watched account managers go from client consultants and advocates to essentially entry level traffic managers at best, with companies developing “Account Based Marketing” and “Organic Growth” teams to direct the account executives.
I’ve seen companies dismantle their marketing teams and meld them into sales teams, undoing years of work separating them to allow for the input of different perspectives to the shared goal, or with their IT teams, suggesting marketing is more an issue of tools and tactics, not strategy, planning, and people.
It makes me sad. It also makes me excited.
The opportunities abound to assist companies with the ever growing knowledge and insight gaps.
Tools are not the answer. In fact, tools without knowledge and understanding are not only useless, they’re dangerous.
A previous manager of mine once informed me that a junior staff member should be able to do the graphic design work needed for the new catalog since by my own admission, she’d learned the basics of Photoshop quickly. He was less impressed with my response when I asked if he had a novel completed, since he knew how to use MS Word. (Speak truth to power, they said.¯\_(ツ)_/¯ )
Marketing only recently got a seat at the table,
but we’re still expected to bring the coffee.
So should that woman’s son pursue a marketing degree? My answer and discussion was based off his end goal, which was not directly in the marketing industry. Yes, he should. His end goal required further education, and the marketing program at his school of choice was focused minimally on tools, more heavily on thinking, strategic analysis, and the relationship to business goals.
Had he said he was interested in a marketing career I would have directed to another major. Learn to think, learn to understand the psychology, the cultural aspects, and the business focus. Minor in business, take marketing courses, but focus on the psychology and sociology influences.
By the time students today will graduate, tools will be different, trends will change, buzz words and in-demand specialties will have come and gone. Thinking will never go out of demand (out of favor, of course, but never out of demand.)
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