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10 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started In Marketing

September 2, 2009

By Mike Thimmesch

A turning point for me was several years ago when I was asked to speak to a college marketing club that was touring the Skyline Exhibits International Design Center about what it’s like to work in marketing.  It led me to really examine my beliefs and strategies as a marketer.  Here’s what I shared with them -- the 10 things I wish I had known over 25 years ago before I began my marketing career:

1.  Know your customers better than anyone else. Marketing starts with solving the customer’s needs.  So figure out what your customers’ needs are and which needs are the most important.  Find out how they look for products, what language they use to describe your products, who they trust for ideas, and what they can’t get today that they wish they could.  Get a mental picture of who they are as people, and if it’s a B2B customer, what is their job title, and the size and industry of their company.  In learning how they think, you will also be learning what they value most about your product or service.

2.  Market segmentation is essential. Good marketing depends on knowing how to segment your markets.  Figure out how your market can be divided into groups of similar customers with the groups being distinctly different from each other.  Then target the most attractive segments big enough to be worthwhile (segments with growth opportunities, or that match to your core competencies, or have the greatest profit potential).  Use segmentation that makes it easy to identify prospects.  If you can, segment your market according to which key benefits they seek.  Once you’ve picked your segments, invest your time in them and ignore the rest.

3.  “Push” marketing is broken, because the customer is in control. Thanks to the Internet and Google, with just a few clicks, the customer can find hundreds of choices.  And with social media sites to engage them, consumers have broken away from the old media that once held them captive.  Anything you do to get their attention must add value in terms of what matters to them.  Which usually means their jobs or personal needs, and not directly your products.  Prospects will consider you less intrusive when you show them how to solve their problems.  Even before the Internet, push marketing was dying, but Internet search engines have shoved it into the grave.

4.  Don’t just measure ROI, keep improving it. Marketing is going the way of the statisticians, and also to those who can create marketing that is worth measuring in the first place.  Marketing budgets continue to shift to methods that can be measured for results.  Almost anything can be measured for its marketing impact, from the color of a direct mail envelope, the change in brand awareness from trade show displays, to the size of a button on a landing page.  Aim for marketing that is highly profitable, repeatable, reaches a big chunk of your target audience, and builds your brand.

5. Marketing goes beyond the Marketing Department. To create a legion of brand ambassadors within a company requires more than the marketing department, it can only happen with support from the top and buy-in throughout management.  The best companies instill a clear understanding of their brand promise into each employee.  With that clarity, employees make better decisions because they know how each decision will support or harm their brand.

6.  Do you have a marketing career path? It’s been said that life is what happens while you’re making other plans.  Similarly, your career path can be accidental, or you could purposely strive in a direction you intend.  Consider which of these different choices you have before you.  There’s no wrong choice, just perhaps a better choice for you:

  • Corporate marketing vs. ad agency
  • B2B vs. B2C
  • Product marketing vs. marketing communications
  • Employee vs. business owner
  • Doer vs. manager
  • Large vs. small company

7.  Know — and live – the difference between Environmental Sustainability and Greenwashing. This long-lasting recession has put value in front of environmental sustainability.  But as commodity prices rebound with the world economy’s returns to health, consumers will likely soon return to Green thinking.  Consumers will also continue to become better informed about what is truly a sustainable product.  They will see through Greenwashing and keep ratcheting up their environmental sustainability expectations for their purchases.  You will need to invest in learning the science of sustainability yourself because these better informed consumers will turn on you if you fake it.

8.  Bridge the Sales & Marketing divide When you get into marketing, you discover that many, if not most marketing jobs are at B2B companies, where your new best friend could be the sales force.  Unfortunately there is sometimes a divide between Sales and Marketing and that’s truly a lost opportunity.  Top B2B sales people know so much that can help you be a better marketer.  They know which questions to ask prospects first, which is a great clue to creating good market segmentation.  They’ve got a gut understanding of your clients’ demographics, language, key desired benefits, and budget ranges. They know who your top competitive threats are, and why they are growing.  Sales is your natural ally, not your enemy.

9.  Keep your marketing education going after graduation. Some things in marketing are eternal, but many things change as the economy, technology, demographics, and media evolve.  There’s many ways to keep up on the next marketing trends.  Get a subscription to marketing, advertising, or communications magazines.  Regularly visit top industry websites and blogs.  Join one or more associations, and go to your industry’s trade shows as well as to events centered around marketing that are specific to your area of expertise.

10.  Market Your Marketing It has never been harder to be a marketer.  The consumer is in control, you are competing against smarter competitors who are constantly improving their marketing through testing and measurement, and customer expectations for value are higher than ever.  So when you succeed against those high odds be sure that you scrupulously document and share your success with your management, using metrics that matter to them.  Be sure to also help them understand the new marketing landscape you and your company are competing on.

If ignorance is bliss, then when I started in marketing over 25 years ago I must have been a very happy camper.  Now I have a few less hairs on my head and a few more pounds on my belly.  I look forward to further insights to be learned in my next 25 years, but hope that for the most part these 10 things will continue to serve me, and today’s new marketers well.

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