Marketing Careers: The experiences you need to reach your potential

To be successful in your marketing career, there are many on-the-job marketing experiences you need to find your success. You will need to collect the experiencers throughout your brand management career. The skills we focus on include strategic thinking, brand positioning, brand plans, marketing execution, and marketing analytics. 

Below are the brand management skills, leader behaviors, and on-the-job experiences needed to reach your full potential in your marketing career.

Marketing Career Experiences

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To reach senior marketing levels, you need to show up as well-rounded and proficient in all skill areas. You need to be able to engage with strategic thinking. Great brand leaders need to define your brand positioning. You need to build a strategic brand plan everyone can follow. You need to inspire smart, creative marketing execution that drives growth. And, you need to be able to analyze your business’s performance. 

Marketing careers have a repetitive aspect to them, as we tend to work on the same essential work streams over and over. Think of learning as an iterative process. We try, repeat, tweak, improve, and perfect. We learn by doing. The essential on-the-job experiences encompass leading a strategic brand plan, managing people, launching innovation, and building successful advertising. Each of these experiences takes on many skills and behaviors.

The four phases of learning throughout your marketing career

1. Unconsciously incompetent (try):

When you are early in your marketing career, you jump in on a new task. And, you will struggle through and do your best. However, without any experience, you will have no idea of the right way to do it, so you are unaware that you are doing it the wrong way. You can start with your instincts, but if you are not successful, you risk losing our confidence. 

2. Consciously incompetent (repeat and tweak): 

When you begin to feel the friction and tension, you will struggle with each repetitive attempt. You might use some trial and error as you tweak your ways and eliminate the bad. At this stage, feedback from peers or managers can open your eyes to know the flaws and mistakes in your execution. You are now aware of the need to improve.

3. Consciously competent (improve): 

With a series of good and bad experiences, you perfect the details and apply the best methods to achieve consistent success. 

4. Unconsciously competent (perfect): 

With vast experience, the tasks become second nature. You exhibit full confidence and are able to stay in the moment and execute with brilliance. At this stage of your brand management career, there is an opportunity to share your knowledge through the teaching and coaching of those at the other levels.

With each skill, being realistic about which phase you are in with a given skill will help you to take on that skill and continue to improve. When you match the appropriate activity to the level of experience, it allows entry-level marketers to learn many of the same skills and behaviors on the execution of a coupon they will use as a CMO when they are making decisions on a Super Bowl ad.

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Everything you need in your marketing career to run your brand. Our readers reach for Beloved Brands a few times each week as a reference toolkit to help them with the day-to-day management of their brand. Over 90% of our Amazon reviews receive 5-star ratings. As a result, Beloved Brands has spent numerous weeks as a #1 bestseller. My promise is it will help you in your brand management career. 

The strategic thinking experience you need in your marketing career

First, the discipline needed for strategic thinking will frustrate you, especially as it slows you down. That is the whole point. Try it out on your own. Slow down. Let it frustrate you.  

Observe others in how they structure their strategies. Use challenging questions to see if they have looked into all the circumstances facing the brand. Do you understand the brand’s core strength? Do you know how consumers feel about the brand and whether they can see how the potential choices match? Have they considered the competitors and any war game options? 

Finally, have they considered the business situation, whether the health of the brand or the financial situation? Our 360-degree approach forces you to dig into all the circumstances before you begin to narrow the strategic choices. At the outset you might be disappointed to see that your team hasn’t dug in. Keep asking, and digging will become second nature. 

Brand Plan Marketing Plan template

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The five elements of strategic thinking

Try our five elements of strategy to map out your strategic decisions so you include a vision of an ideal future state, a focus of your brand’s limited resources, an understanding of an identified opportunity you can take advantage of. Make sure you create a market impact that can be leveraged to bounce back to the brand through added power or profit for your brand.  

The more you use both of these structures, the more you will identify gaps in the logic. After a while, you will quickly look to fill in those gaps through tough questions. You will ask about consumers or competitors. You will challenge them to map out the missing market impact or performance result. It will bother you when your team hasn’t dug in deep or hasn’t structured their thinking. Use these structures to perfect your strategic thinking. You have the ammunition to slow down by asking questions to challenge others and challenge yourself.

5 elements of strategic thinking

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The value of asking questions

When I was VP, I used to tell myself before every meeting, “I am the least knowledgeable person in the room, and that is an advantage because I have no solutions, and I can see more clearly and move the room through challenging questions.” I want questions to become second nature, especially as you move up to more senior levels. Stop giving solutions. Let your questions move the room to the ideal solutions. You will notice the subject-matter expert answering your question when you do this. They will see the solution themselves and believe it was their discovery rather than your pointed question that forced their solution. That’s the sign of a strategic leader.

Experience with brand positioning is essential to your marketing career

The best brand leaders always start their positioning work with the consumer, not the brand. The first flaw I see is when marketers use too broad of a target. The second flaw is to focus more on the functional benefits and features, never gaining comfort with emotional benefits. The final flaw is to use cliché emotions. All three flaws find comfort by focusing more on the logical side of the brand. Try our process to get more comfortable with how the emotional benefits will help your brand positioning come to life. This work will help you write better briefs and help you make better decisions on your brand’s creative execution. 

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One problem for your development in this area is that we don’t get enough opportunity to try out, tweak, and perfect our positioning skills. Many times, brand positioning is reserved for more senior roles or global roles. Even if the positioning is given to you, try the process to see if you can fill any gaps or if you can get a more robust brand positioning statement than you are given. If you wait to work on these skills at the director or VP level, this skill gap might restrict your ability to get to those levels.

The marketing plans experience is essential to your marketing career

At the early stages of your career, get involved in the planning process. The experience can kickstart your strategic thinking skills and by taking on a brand recommendation that contributes to the plan. Ask if you can start with one of the tactical plan sections and try to match the specific execution plan to the overall plan. 

Take on a deep-dive business review with a full 360-degree assessment by looking at the marketplace, consumers, channel partners, competitors, and brand performance. When I was at J&J, we assigned the business review to the Assistant Brand Manager, giving them a few weeks to dig in and then present their findings to a panel of senior marketers. The experience will help you uncover the underlying issues your brand faces. You will learn to write a persuasive strategic story to help convince others of the strategic issues you see. 

First time manager is more about ownership than managing others

As you move up to the position of brand manager, you will now take full ownership of writing the brand plan. You need to see the big picture of the overall strategy, such as vision, purpose, and key issues then can move down to the plan’s extreme details such as tactical execution,

The marketing planning process forecasting, or profitability. One of the most challenging plan-writing skills to grasp is writing with the flow so that every element of the brand plan fits together. A well-written brand plan should feel like an orchestral arrangement, with each component of the plan with separate music sheets, but everyone’s contribution adds up to one plan. 

marketing plan process brand plan example

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Experience putting your plan together

When you write something that doesn’t fit with the rest of your plan, it tends to stand out like “a tuba player playing their own song.” When your plan is disjointed or looks like a collection of disconnected ideas, it will confuse and meet resistance, which are the opposite desires for why you create a plan. When I managed a marketing team, I came up with this analogy and started to use the term “tuba” for any misfits that I found in the plan. 

From my experience, senior leaders are skilled at finding “tubas,” which can derail your presentation, as the debate becomes more about why the “tuba” is there and less about the bigger aspects of your plan. Go “tuba hunting” by reading through your brand plan and eliminating the “tubas” before management finds them. The worst “tubas” are those elements of the plan that seems to “die a quick death” in the document, or they “come from out of nowhere” with no analytical setup.

Leading a brand turnaround plan is more complex

The most challenging type of brand plan to write is a turnaround plan, which serves as a great experience to put everything you have learned into the plan. When the results are not meeting expectations, the pressure goes up exponentially, and the scrutiny intensifies. Most fix-it situations need in-depth analysis, because the issues are usually hidden deep beneath the surface level. Your new plan will need both the quick-fix tactical ideas and the longer-term plan with a new vision and brand positioning. The immediate quick-fix wins stop the hemorrhaging of the business, and they give the team a much-needed boost of confidence. 

You have to learn how to approve a brand plan at the senior levels. Let your manager maintain ownership, yet challenge them on the thinking, strategy, writing, and presentation. Set the bar high. When I was the head of marketing, with each brand plan, I would send a page of feedback that included what’s working, what’s not working, and questions I think you can expect. 

As the marketing lead, take ownership of the brand planning process, including formats, milestones, and check-in meetings. A good process will help you balance oversight without taking over control of the plan.

Experience leading advertising at various levels of your marketing career

Early on in your marketing career, you will learn many of the same skills from the experience of leading a promotional program. I was lucky that one of my first marketing jobs was managing five child cereals, each with quarterly promotions. In two years, I worked on fifty different promotional packages and 50 five-second TV tags. This incredible experience of learning-on-the-job stuck with me throughout my career. I learned how to translate strategy to execution, how to present to my boss for approval, and how to execute to my expectations.

As a junior marketer, a necessary advertising experience is the opportunity to provide feedback on a major ad campaign, even as a contributor, not the leader. You will feel the pressure to use your instincts, assess the creative, match it up to the strategy, gather your thoughts, and say something smart. Great practice for when you are in the hot seat as the decision-maker. Providing feedback to advertising is one of the hardest things a marketer will do. The more you do it, the better you will get. Being a contributor to feedback replicates how it feels to be on the hot-seat. 

The next level of experience is to lead a pool-out of a new spot within an established campaign. It is the advertising equivalent of a line extension. You will go through every step in a usual process, just with less pressure than an entirely new campaign.

advertising process

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Advertising gets more complex with bigger projects

The more challenging experience is launching a completely new advertising campaign that starts with a blank slate. You need to do all the strategic pre-work to determine the target market, brand positioning, brand idea, and write the creative brief. With so many unknowns, there is a lot of ambiguity that will add pressure to the process. On top of that, selling your ideas to management is even more difficult. 

When trying to gain approval from senior leaders, my experience says that when creative advertising is a higher risk, bring along the most senior account leader from your agency. They have more experience selling creative ideas, and it puts your boss into a more formal position when they give their feedback. I always tried to give my boss some contribution to the ad, with the hope that it would be something small. 

At a senior level, you need to build and manage the client/agency relationship. 

Build a relationship with your most senior agency lead, where you can provide each other with feedback on their performance. Listen to their advice on how you can improve, and how your team can improve. Learn how to inspire your agency to deliver their greatest work on your brand.

Innovation experience enhances your brand management career

You will gain an amazing overall experience by launching a new brand from scratch. It requires you to engage every marketing skill and ideal leader behavior. You will build up the brand positioning to create concepts, build the product, set up operations, come up with the name, design the logo, determine forecast, sell to retailers, ship, create advertising, displays, promotions, and analyze the performance. 

You will learn a lot by participating in the development and testing of concepts. It is a great experience to participate in the market research processes to uncover consumer need states and turning those into new concepts. You learn how to listen at a concept test to see how to optimize a concept that can be moved forward into a recommendation for launch.  

Early on in your career, you will replicate a lot of the skills through the rollout of new formats or line extensions, a simpler and safer form of innovation. It is a great experience to lead a launch team with the conflicting priorities of R&D, sales, agencies, and supply chain. 

To illustrate, click to zoom in for details.

Innovation gets more complex as you move up

A new level of complexity is the launch of a new product as part of an established brand. This experience is similar to the pool-out of a new ad within an established campaign. It’s a great experience in dealing with the unknowns and uncertainty. You will require a buy-in from senior management, you will present a launch plan to your sales team, and then help sell to channel customers.  

The most challenging innovation is the launch of a new brand, which has the opportunity for higher revenue but more uncertainty and risk. You will feel more pressure, which you will learn to deal with. You will experience the most senior management oversight that you will need to manage.

Take all the learning from your experience to lead the innovation process, with a stage-gate process that includes regular brainstorming, consistent stages of approval, and oversight on decisions. 

The experience you get in working with sales

Brand leaders work side by side with the sales team to manage the consumer through the purchase moment. The brand plan should guide the sales team on specific strategy and goals. 

Given that your sales team owns the selling execution and the customer relationship, work to gain the sales team’s alignment and buy-in on the best ways to execute your brand’s strategy through direct selling, retailer management, and e-commerce options. 

Build collaborative relationships

The collaborative decisions include pricing, distribution focus, shelf management, promotional spending, customer marketing, customer analytics, and specific promotional tools.

Use a “triple win” to find the ideal retail programs, which match up with a unique win for your channel customer: a demonstrated win for your shared consumer, and a win for your brand.

Understand that your sales leaders work through relationships and need to balance the strategies of their customer with the desired strategies of your brand. Your channel customers are trying to win in their market, satisfying a base of their consumers through your brands, while battling their competitors who also sell your brand. Your most successful programs will provide a unique win for your channel customer, as you will get much more support for your program.

The experience you gain from leading a team

Most people mess up managing their first few direct reports. I always see a similar pattern. The new manager is excited to have a direct report to do the little stuff they hate doing, so the new manager can focus on the big strategic issues. The new manager gives their direct report many easy, meaningless tasks, with very little coaching or support. The direct report struggles and the new manager feels frustrated that their direct report is incapable of handling the task, so they quickly jump in and complete the task by themselves. 

The frustrated new manager ends up thinking their direct report is incompetent. The direct report believes their new manager dumps meaningless work on them, refuses to train them, gives them little feedback, and is a control. Managing others can be so challenging that when we promote someone to the brand manager level, we usually put them in a role by themselves. 

Talent review systems put them on a brand without a direct report, so they could focus their development on ownership before they can learn the art of how to delegate and manage others.

Leading others

At the junior levels of marketing, you can replicate managing others by starting by managing or mentoring an intern, where there is a lower risk of failure. Managing an intern can replicate the experience gained at the manager level. You can learn through the daily interactions where you have to teach the intern how to complete key tasks, learn how to review work, and provide feedback in ways that hold the intern to a higher standard, and at the end of the term, you can learn how to write a performance review.

As you take on your first manager role, remind yourself that your primary role is to make your direct report better. They are not there for you; you should be there for them. Learn to teach the skills you have learned, express any of the expected behaviors, and then share the personal experiences you once faced as you took on each task they now take on. 

Many new managers fear going negative, so they take a passive-aggressive approach to managing the direct report. New managers tend to overdo the positive messages, as they think their primary role is to motivate, and they avoid providing any negative feedback. This leaves the Assistant Brand Manager feeling frustrated and confused. Stop thinking you have to be a negative person to identify gaps in the work of your direct report. 

With multiple direct report, your leadership becomes even more obvious

When you manage multiple direct reports, it becomes even more of a challenge. As much as you have to adjust to one direct report, you will now have to adjust to multiple personalities, with varying degrees of strengths and weakness, or levels of experience. While you have to show up as a consistent leader, you have to learn to adjust your style to manage people on a case-by-case basis. 

When you take on an executive-level position, you now lead an overall team with layers beneath you, the role becomes more complicated. You still manage your direct reports, but you have to lead everyone else. Use town hall meetings to set your vision of what you want the marketing team to achieve. Lay out what you want to continue and any differences you want to see. Establish the expected behaviors and standards you want the team to deliver, and use the town hall to highlight examples that show what makes great work, to reinforce what you want to see with communication, innovation, the purchase mount, and the consumer experience.

Be aware of your impact at senior levels

Every move you make will be talked about at the lunchroom table. Everything you say will be analyzed and be at risk to end up spinning or exaggerated. Your words of feedback can make or destroy someone’s day. Keep an open-door policy, and engage freely with your entire team. 

I always had informal meetings or lunches with everyone on my team, which was an opportunity to hear their ambitions, recognize their contributions, and listen to any informal feedback that comes out. It also gives you the chance to reinforce your own values and beliefs to every level of the team.

The skills you need to achieve success in your marketing career

We have taken the five elements of our marketing excellence program. We focus on 20 core marketing skills, four for each of the five areas. These twenty skills form the foundation of our Beloved Brands training program.

Learn how to manage your marketing career

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In a classic marketing career, the four key roles are Assistant Brand Manager up to Brand Manager then up to Marketing Director, and on to the VP/CMO role. For each role, our game plan has five factors of success. Your boss will need to see these skills in the you before they are willing to promote you to the next level. The list is cumulative. Once you can demonstrate one of the success factors, you will need to keep improving on that skill at every level. 

Early on in your marketing career, it is all about trying and repeating every new task. As you move up in your marketing career, you need to keep working on tweaking, improving, and perfecting.

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Graham Robertson

Email: graham@beloved-brands.com

Phone: 416–885–3911

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