I've had the good fortune of talking to a few university and college classes about what it takes to build a career in digital marketing lately. Since it's the time of year when students are starting to plan for next year - be it as newly-minted workforce participants or as they advance their studies - I figured I'd share some of my thoughts here.
1) Specializations are great but you better know how to integrate
Digital marketing is all about integrating these days. As trendy as it seems to be to hang out your shingle as a Social Media Specialist, if you don't understand how social (or any other aspect of the digital landscape) fits into the bigger picture, your effectiveness as a professional is going to be seriously limited. The big trend on the technology side is towards integrated marketing suites, not standalone products, and the professionals that rely on these technologies have to be equally agile.
2) Business comes first
Being good at Twitter doesn't make you a good digital marketer. Neither does being a good writer. Nor a good designer. The days of considering eyeballs and impressions (and their digital cousins, web hits and Twitter followers) as meaningful metrics are mercifully coming to an end. If you can't tie a number or an insight to the broader goals of the business, you're wasting your time and, more damningly, your employer or client's money. There are two big factors at play here:
- Digital channels are more measurable than traditional channels
- Budgets are shrinking so showing a return on marketing spend is critical
Taken in conjunction, this means businesses want business metrics. You have to understand that to be successful. I'm not saying you need to run out and get an MBA (though if that does appeal, we hear good things about the Rotman School) but you do need to know the basics of business.
3) Sorry, there's going to be some math
If you flinched reading that, I sympathize. I went to journalism school, for crying out loud. But, as I hinted at in the previous point, analytics and data interpretation are critically important these days. You don't have to be able to do complex algorithmic data modelling (but if you can that's pretty awesome) but you do have to be able to understand what your analytics are telling you and, even more importantly, when they're telling you something you need to act on. The great thing about working in digital is that the data trail is miles long. The downside? The data trail is miles long. And your business stakeholders know it. And they expect you to be able to provide some insight. As a base level, go do some of the Google Analytics certification training that is available free of charge. Even if you don't want to pay the test fee to become certified, review the modules so you can speak the language. This will quickly become table stakes in the industry.
4) There's also going to be some tech
You don't have to be a developer to work here but it helps. More seriously, you don't have to be intimately familiar with coding techniques and programming languages but the days of blissful ignorance about the black box of tech are coming to an end. I jokingly refer to what Nonlinear's developers do as "black magic and wizardry" but the reality is digital marketers need to know the basics of the technology platforms they rely on. If you don't know an API from a CMS, you've got some learning to do.
5) The internet is awesome
This all sounds sort of doom and gloom, I realize. Or, at the very least, daunting as all hell. But it's equally important to realize that digital technologies are freaking amazing. The pace of change is constantly accelerating, meaning today's epic sci-fi coolness is tomorrow's commoditized tech. We work on the bleeding edge of amazingness and every day is a new challenge and a new opportunity to do bad ass work. It's not easy but it's not arduous either. Get your bases covered and you are in for one hell of a ride. And if, by chance, you do have your bases covered already, get in touch. We may have a spot for you.