Career Overview: Marketing

Posted by The Editors on December 3, 2012

A marketer's job is often misunderstood. Some people see a commercial on television and think that's the work of a marketer. Actually, that's advertising. Other people look at the purchases that customers make and chalk that up to successful marketing. Nope-that's sales. But behind every successful ad professional or salesperson is a marketer.

Broadly speaking, marketing is the strategic function between product development and sales. The four components of marketing are product, price, promotion and place. Marketing takes a product with specific features and benefits, creates pricing and promotional strategies, and oversees the methods that will be used to bring it to market (that's the "place" part). Based on whether the product is high-end or low-end, based on its manufacturing specs and its price, the marketing team creates a selling approach that includes strategies for advertising, public relations, and other types of promotion, and the head of this team also coordinates with the sales team to determine how they will make the product or service available to customers. Depending on the structure of the company, this position may be called a marketing manager or marketing director. Other times, these responsibilities fall under the brand manager's domain.

So, that flashy commercial or eye-catching billboard campaign is the actually a by-product of a complicated process that takes specialized expertise and months of teamwork. Careful demographic and statistical analysis, extensive testing and surveys, supply and vendor management, and strategic thinking-not to mention a lot of collaboration with everyone from product managers to designers to supply chain personnel-all occur behind the scenes before any word is uttered on your television screen. If your creative genius is matched by your analytical acumen, you may find that marketing makes for a worthy challenge and an exciting career.

The uninitiated may mistakenly equate marketing with peddling household products, but marketers know that their roles are far more complex and engaging than that. They help their organizations anticipate the public's needs and position them to satisfy those needs. In this way, marketing is the necessary link between an organization and its target audience, which is now more broadly defined to include customers, clients, investors, and partners.

What You'll Do
Marketers create, manage, and enhance products and services so that they reflect well on the company's brand. (A brand can be thought of as the way consumers perceive a particular company or its products and how a company reinforces or enhances those perceptions through its overall communications-its logo, advertising, packaging, and so on.) Marketers want the consumer to ask: "Which product helps me look and feel my best? Which service can I trust?" Their goal is to make their product or service the obvious and uncontested answer to those questions in the consumer's mind. In marketing terms, this is called owning mindshare.

Of course, no product or service can be all things to all people. A key part of a marketer's job is to understand the needs, preferences, and constraints that define the target group of consumers (who may share a common geographic region, income level, age range, lifestyle, or interest group) or the market niche corresponding to the brand. How can a company aggressively expand its market share and keep customers satisfied? That question is central to everything a marketer does.

Who Does Well
Marketing appeals to creative thinkers as well as to numbers-minded statisticians, and marketers often seek the input of a wide range of professionals to ensure they have the clearest picture of their product or service. Engineers, for example, work with customers, so they are valuable in understanding new products and how they best meet customers' needs. Marketers may consult psychologists to analyze consumer behavior so that they can better target their promotions. A single purpose underlies the diversity of opportunity in various marketing roles: to create something customers will want and to help them understand why it meets their needs (or wants).


Marketing people come from many different academic backgrounds, but certain backgrounds will help more than others. On the creative side, a degree in advertising, communications, or graphic design may open the most doors. More specialized fields include brand management, which focuses specifically on the management of a company's particular line of products or other brand, or market research, which uses focus groups, surveys, interviews, and other testing tools to evaluate market trends and customer opinions. If you're interested in getting into either of these, an education that includes courses in business, economics, or statistics will serve you better than a liberal arts major will.

A marketing career of any kind requires a sharp, analytical mind; strong oral and written communication skills; and a keen interest in business and consumer behavior. Marketers keep the inventors of career aptitude assessment tests like the Myers-Briggs up at night, defying test typologies with their statistically unlikely combination of abilities in analysis and creativity, intuition and logic, people skills, and comfort with numbers. "Marketers think with their left and right brains in equal proportions," says one longtime marketer. "They can understand numbers and people," adds another. "They listen for subtexts when people talk, and are able to interpret people's emotions; this is what drives people to become marketers and makes them good at what they do. Marketers have to identify what people are implicitly saying but not explicitly stating, and deliver against those needs."

The best way to get into marketing, regardless of what you've studied, is by taking an internship. Many and high-tech and Internet companies offer marketing internships. Unless you're enrolled in an MBA program, internships are harder to come by at consumer products companies. The large consumer-products companies recruit at select schools, and the best way to get hired by one of them is through on-campus recruiting. For marketing positions in other industries, your best bet may be to network or to contact firms directly.

Job Outlook

According to the 2006-07 Occupational Outlook Handbook from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), overall employment in the field of marketing is expected to increase faster than average-exhibiting an 18 to 26 percent growth-through 2014. The BLS points to growing domestic and global competition in consumer products and services as a key reason for this job growth. However, this growth varies widely by sector: Robust growth is anticipated in scientific, professional, and technical services realms, while a decline is expected in the manufacturing sector. The BLS also cautions that overall, there will be increased competition for the available full-time opportunities in the field of marketing, especially since hiring contractors in lieu of replacing full-time marketing professionals is becoming a common practice.

This news comes as no surprise to marketers in the field, since few have been spared from widespread layoffs and drastic budget reductions. Nonprofit marketers have had to step up their efforts to sustain their organizations, given the shrinking pool of funding available due to government cuts, scarce corporate sponsorships, and decreased individual donations. Many companies have opted to hunker down, keep a low promotional profile, and wait out the recession, which has meant tough times for marketers in many CPG (consumer product goods) companies and advertising agencies.

After a few brutal years, however, marketers' job prospects are beginning to look up. As other industries continue to recover from the recent recession, marketing spending is sure to increase-and with that, so will job opportunities for marketing professionals. The best opportunities will be available to those with a high level of creativity and technical skills to conduct marketing activities on the Internet. Marketers should also find many opportunities in the health care sector, the country's largest industry, which is experiencing explosive growth.

Career Tracks

Wherever there are customers to be reached, there is a need for a marketer. At consumer products companies, you may be able to work your way up from brand assistant to brand or category manager over the course of several years. Start out by finding that all-important internship. They're easier to come by at advertising, PR, or marketing agencies, where you can make contacts that will help you leap to the corporate side.

Entry Level
With some work experience to your name and the right connections through colleagues, friends, alumni, or professional associations, you may be able to land a marketing department internship or entry-level marketing position that involves more than photocopying. Beginning marketers often crunch numbers to determine sales levels and may work on gathering data from which a strategy can be formed. Sometimes, those with experience or advanced degrees start out as a marketing coordinator, who is the hub for projects, maintaining timelines and ensuring that all players are performing as they should.

Do you need an MBA to get ahead in marketing? Not necessarily-but it can certainly pave the way. Chief marketing officers, vice presidents, and marketing directors at larger organizations are typically expected to have an MBA from a well-regarded school for marketing, such as Indiana University (Kelley), Northwestern, Dartmouth (Tuck), University of Michigan, University of Pennsylvania (Wharton), Georgetown, Harvard, or Ohio State. Your MBA may be a shortcut to a position as an assistant brand manager or marketing manager, saving you a year or two of rock-bottom, entry-level drudgery at the photocopier (though it won't save you from long hours of number crunching).

Midcareer Professionals
Midcareer candidates with extensive experience within a particular industry-say, sports team management-may find that their insider's insight gives them a boost over the competition for a marketing role within their industry niche. That said, midcareer candidates shouldn't expect to make a lateral move from an executive level in another discipline (say, sales) to an equivalent position in marketing. You will probably have to work your way up from entry-level positions alongside people much less experienced than you, and the going can be rough for those used to steady advancement. Marketers win promotions through consistently exceptional performance; they don't advance automatically via seniority.

There are other cultural differences to contend with as well. Midcareer professionals used to delegating nonstrategic tasks to subordinates may find the team-based structures and entrepreneurial orientation of marketing challenging. Marketers often earn less than successful sales reps or accountants-so when you hear the salaries on offer for marketing positions, you may think twice about making the switch. Midcareer professionals with a background in sales, customer relations, and supply chain management may have an easier time making the transition to marketing, which may require more unconventional creative thinking than finance or IT types are accustomed to and more analytical structure than designers or PR types are used to. Given the right balance of analytical skills and creative problem-solving abilities, an established industry niche and a well-placed connection, midcareer hires can find themselves well-equipped to make their mark in marketing.


Compensation for marketing positions ranges wildly according to industry, size of company, years of experience, and responsibilities. Marketing assistants typically earn between $30,000 to $60,000 with the lower end of that scale generally at marketing agencies and smaller companies. MBAs starting on the marketing track at a consumer products company may earn more. Market researchers have the most opportunities to move rapidly up the pay scale. At bigger companies and research firms, they can break into the six-figure range with a few years of experience to their credit. Salaries for Web-assisted market research and Web development positions aren't as attractive as they were just a few years ago, but they still fall at the high end of the salary spectrum for the market research and creative fields. Plus, positions requiring skills with new media are still relatively easy to enter with just a couple years of experience.

For experienced marketers, salaries vary widely. Managers can expect to earn between $50,000 and $90,000, with directors earning anywhere between $90,000 and $200,000 (the latter at big companies). At consumer products companies or marketing agencies, there may also be a bonus involved. Salaries for marketing managers in nonprofit aren't always shabby, and some are even competitive with those of their peers at advertising agencies and companies. But at the marketing management level, services marketers with a handle on customer relationship management command the highest pay. At the senior executive level, the salaries for nonprofit marketers and principals of advertising agencies fall far short of salaries for marketers at professional service firms and CPG companies, particularly larger companies with multiple brands and millions in annual revenues. A marketing VP at a big company can reach about $300,000.

About the Author