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How to become a Digital Marketer

Someone recently asked me how to become a Digital Marketer. As in, how to break into the industry. A great question I thought, given that according to a recent study 82% of Digital Marketers learn on the job! (Adobe 2013, Digital Distress [PDF]).

Digital Marketer memeHow can you learn on the job when you haven't got the job yet? There aren't many avenues to become a digital marketer yet, though I've compiled a list of social media courses at UK Universities  (and we will of course be launching our own MSc in Digital Marketing at RGU Aberdeen in 2014).

In the meantime, what can you do? I thought about this for a while including self-reflecting on what characteristics I and other successful digital marketers I know, share.

Here are my top tips on how to become a Digital Marketer - stuff that you can do already, starting today.

(1) Use the tools of the trade and become a digital native

You can't learn about social media by reading about it. It's a bit like a car mechanic who's only ever read books about cars - would you trust him or her to fix your car? Eh.... no. In digital, you need to be and stay in the thick of it, every day. You need to develop a digital native mindset.

You see, I don't believe that digital is just for people who grew up with the Internet - quite the opposite. Anyone with a dedicated, professional approach can do it - you just have to spend enough time and immerse yourself fully, using the tools of the trade.

A word of caution - it will take time to become an expert. I'm not sure if it's the 10,000 hours of practice made popular by Malcolm Gladwell's Outliers - but certainly I have spent at least that amount, and it's never ending.

So, use the tools of the trade - Twitter, Linkedin, Instagram, Facebook, Pinterest, Blogging (start a WordPress-hosted blog if you don't want to invest in your own website yet).

(2) Build your personal brand

I cannot overstate the importance of this. If you want to become a digital marketer, but have no digital footprint and online personal brand, forget it.

Forget it!

Personal brand
CC image courtesy of ryan_rancatore on Flickr

Unless your future employer is really behind in their digital maturity, they won't employ you if they can't find you online. People google people all the time (I'm sure you do!), and every HR professional / recruitment agent worth their money will check someone's online footprint (Linkedin particularly, and to a lesser extent Twitter) before considering them.

In addition, there are plenty of headhunters out there looking for candidates to fill digital positions, especially on Linkedin - I've been approached myself a good number of times.

It's similar to point one - you have to live it, and breathe it, to understand it. If you want a job in (digital) marketing, and a google search reveals you don't exist, then you're clearly not a digital marketer.

Or, to paraphrase Fight Club: The first rule one of digital marketing: Market yourself.

(3) Observe yourself

Those YouTube ads annoying you again - especially the ones that you can't SKIP? Getting uninvited and uncalled for emails? Pushy text messages that you never asked for? Think Marketing in all aspects of your life. Analyse what companies do and don't do and how it delights or annoys you - what works / what doesn't work, on you. Don't think Marketing is a just a theory - it's real and is happening all around us, all the time.

The key here is to not just observe, but to try gain understanding and derive insight from it. Remember that observation is an acceptable and respected method of data collection in qualitative research - so don't just notice things, but analyse and evaluate - what does an intrusive ad on YouTube mean in terms of marketing effectiveness for that brand? Your loyalty to it? Effect on your purchase behaviour? And so on.

(4) Observe the news

Similar to above. You need to know what's going on, and importantly, what it means. Ryanair shares dropping because Michael O'Leary has been despising his customers for 20 years, and they're finally voting with their feet? What does this indicate in terms of the voice of customer, and (social) listening as a strategy for your business?

Ryanair memeThe same goes for any other big and small brand stories, such as Burberry's huge success after switching on to Digital over the last few years. It'll be interesting to watch what their outgoing CEO Angela Ahrendts will do to transform Apple's current and perhaps slightly outdated high-street and online shopping experience as their new Senior VP (Retail and Online Stores) when she takes up the role next year.

The point is, learning is all around us! And you can significantly deepen your understanding of the impact of digital by observing what's happening in the real-world - these are real companies with real profits increasing, or dropping, after all.

(5) Find your passion - and become an expert

Yes, passion. I wanted to call this point here 'Find your niche', but it's more about passion (if you don't have passion, stay away from this industry). You can't become a Digital Marketer who knows everything, in depth. That's like saying a doctor needs to be able to be fully competent in any and all areas of medicine, and being able to perform any and all operations, at all time and to a high standard. It's just not possible.

There is plenty of talk of a T-shaped marketer being the most appropriate approach to digital marketing - that is, a broad knowledge of several disciplines (all of which, let's face it, are interrelated), combined with deep i.e. expert knowledge of one or two of those (e.g. social and SEO). Below is an image from Moz (associated article here) that nicely illustrates this point.

The T-Shaped Web Marketer - Moz
The T-Shaped Web Marketer - Moz

You need cross-discipline competence to be able to talk the lingo with your tech and creative colleagues - but you don't need to have expert knowledge in all areas (luckily so! RegEx in Google Analytics anyone? 🙂 ).

When deciding on what area to specialise in, let passion be your driver. Acquire a broad base of knowledge across several disciplines, through learning  by doing and using the tools of the trade - and once you found the one or two that hit the spot, that you want to learn more and more about (as it's so EXCITING!), progress along that route and go deep - specialise in it. For me, that's been social / community management and in the last 2 years or so, SEO, due to the merging and interrelationship between search and social and the Google changes that (finally) reward great content, relationships, and creativity over and above just technical know-how.

And those are my 5 top tips on how to become a Digital Marketer! I hope these tips are useful and will help kickstart your career in one of the most exciting, creative, addictive, and ever-changing industries!




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