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6 Things I Didn’t Learn in Marketing Class

The long road to marketing enlightenment…

I’ve learned the most important marketing lessons on the fly, and often, through long hours spent on secondary certificates, courses, seminars, conferences and industry literature. And I know I’m not alone. My peers and I have commiserated about the pitfalls of our education over many a-pint of lager. The lessons we were lacking for the most part were common knowledge in the real world of marketing – and we know this now – but we didn’t read about them in marketing textbooks and we didn’t hear about them in classrooms.

This may sound harsh, but it’s true. Don’t get me wrong, I had some fantastic professors that taught me a lot and I do respect and cherish (most of) them and how they helped me become the marketing professional I am today, but there are a few things that I missed out on that are still absent from the majority of marketing classrooms today.

Simply put, the game keeps changing but the curriculum struggles to keep up

Studying marketing isn’t like studying Renaissance Literature, an area of study fixed in one period of time that may have many players bringing their own perceptions to the game, but only one, static, playing field. The past is the past, after all.

When it comes to marketing, everything is changing and it’s always changing. While there are fundamentals (e.g. the 4 P’s), today’s marketing has no set standard of rules, per se. No rules except this one: never, ever, stop learning. This is the umbrella strategy that will ensure you and your brand(s) stay successful and relevant. Under this overarching approach, I’ve learned that there are a few more specific lessons that are vital for your success. These lessons are hard to teach and have a lot to do with personal experience, if you’re an autodidact individual, you’ll have no problem. Teach yourself these lessons, keep learning from others and always stay ahead of trends in the industry.

6 Things I Didn’t Learn in Marketing Class

1) Relationships are Currency.

customer relationship

Long gone are the days of talking at your customers; now, we talk to them. We talk to them like family, like friends, like they are the lifeblood of our world and our very being relies on their esteem, and above all, their trust – and it does.

Despite what many ego-maniacal marketers of old may have thought, the power is always in the hands of the consumer. Sure, there’s some pretty persuasive marketing out there, but at the end of the day, it’s the wants and needs of your customer that’s going to determine whether or not your campaign is effective. This is why you will always be more successful if you focus on building and nurturing solid relationships instead of building and nurturing a robust bottom line. That bottom line will come – and come with ease once those relationships are established. While you see this tactic in effect in the real world with campaigns like Dove’s Real Beauty and PC’s Recipe to Riches, which focus on empowering the customer (in markedly different ways), you likely won’t see it outlined in marketing course textbooks today, but you will soon.

This rise of the relationship is also why social media is such a powerful marketing tool. Social media is where people go to interact with family and friends, and when you become a part of that world for your customer – when they ‘Like’ you, re-tweet you, +1 you or share your post – they are saying they trust you, and everyone they are connected with can see it too. This virtual word of mouth is an invariably powerful place from which to market.

It’s not only about actively reaching out to clients via intrusive ad campaigns on social media or in search either. You can create strong relationships with your customers by simply taking a step back and letting them come to you with less abrasive tactics. This is why advanced advertising technology like Google’s Remarketing are so massively effective – though, again, it’s not something I was taught in school. Remarketing allows you to track visitors to your site and showcase your product or service across multiple touch points delivering your message in a tailored way as not to disrupt, but aid in the buying process, giving you the understanding of the micro-moments where your client may need that extra push (ZMOT: another very important method that isn’t taught or even considered in today’s classroom).

The point is that we, as marketers, are only as successful as our least successful relationship. There could be an entire course dedicated to creating more empathetic graduates. Sadly, this course doesn’t exist. Yet.

2) Know the Necessary Evils.

website coding

Not every marketer loves data, and even fewer are familiar with HTML/CSS coding. While you don’t need to be a math whiz or a coding guru, you do need to cozy up to these two practices. Knowing how to extrapolate, interpret and apply data is by far more crucial to your success than knowing how to code, but a basic understanding of coding is useful for when you need to make a quick tweak to your website or when you want to talk to your developer.

SEO/SEM are also important. OK, they’re not the stuff Don Draper dreams are made of and we know that keeping up the Google’s menagerie of algorithms is about as much fun as chewing tinfoil, but a solid knowledge of SEO and SEM is simply not optional in today’s world. It determines how your website is ranked by search engines; it determines if people can find you. Adequately teaching marketing students about these concepts, however, seems to be optional.

3) The Revival of the Written Word.

marketing writing

Being able to bang out a smattering of catchy taglines and slogans does not make you a good writer. It doesn’t even make you a mediocre writer, and in the era of content marketing, you are going to have to know how to write well. Every single marketing degree should come backed with at least a couple courses that focus solely on the art of the written word, but (you guessed it) most don’t.

I was lucky enough to have a very prominent writing teacher during my student days. He taught me more than just creating a powerful tagline or unique selling proposition, he coached me in the art of persuasive writing. He was ahead of the content marketing trend and those types of individuals are lost in most classes today.

4) Tech Evolution Preparation 101.

technology in marketing

The road to graduation can seem long, but rest assured, the real world of marketing moves much more quickly – so quickly that you almost want to forgive the curriculum for not keeping up. Almost. The field of medical science changes rapidly as well, but you don’t sit down in one of their classes and learn to cure mental illness with lobotomies or heal a scraped knee with mercury or ease chronic migraines with trepanation. No, no. The study has evolved with the times.

Comparatively, the syllabus in most marketing classes has remained unchanged, especially when considered in light of all the remarkable technological advancements, notably, the mobile movement. Not only are many graduates mostly ignorant about how to market effectively for mobile devices, but they don’t fully understand that staying on trend is not enough. Killer marketing means you always, always have to stay ahead of the game. It means thinking about how wearable technology like Google Glass and the Apple Watch might impact digital marketing, it means foreseeing how tech will influence in impact consumption. It means being a modern day marketing visionary, which is unteachable and hard to master.

5) Confidence and Collaboration Go Hand in Hand.


Not to be confused with cockiness, confidence can do wonders to further your career as well as the potency of your output. It’s important to note, however, that being confident does not mean you have to be right. A large part of your success as a marketer will involve not being afraid to ask a question, not being afraid to be wrong and not being afraid to ask for help when you really need it.

Likewise, no marketing department will reach its full potential without working seamlessly alongside other departments like HR, sales, customer service and R&D. You can be a master of your domain, but not at the exclusion of others. Utilize the knowledge of others to make you a better marketer.

6) The Art of Ad Space

ad buying

Whether it’s on Google, Bing, Yahoo or social media, many graduates admit to being clueless as to how to buy ad space while staying on budget and getting their ad seen by the right people. Buying up the right ad space is the best way to ensure measurable, targeted, relevant and cost-effective results. I still deal in traditional mediums, but the majority of my time is spent purchasing smart digital ad space for my clients. Things like Programmatic Advertising are non-existent in today’s classroom and students are falling behind this major advancement, setting them back as they enter the workforce. An entire course could be made up of advanced digital ad buying, but it is far removed from today’s classroom and these lessons can cost students big time.

Off the Soap Box…

All this said, I’ll readily admit that nothing except getting your hands dirty in the day-to-day of marketing can truly teach you what you need to know to be a success – and even then, you will only know what you need to know when you accept that there will ALWAYS be more to know. The key is to engage with your respected professors outside of the classroom, read, read, read and always continue building on your knowledge of the rapidly evolving digital marketing world.