How to learn marketing?

Well, how about googling it?

Search “how to learn marketing,” and you’ll find lists of online courses and a Quora thread on the topic suggesting that you “read marketing blogs.”

Um… That’s way too broad and not very helpful. 🤷

So what are the actual first steps to start learning about marketing?

Let’s turn the tables and start with a few things you should not start with:

  • You should not start to read tens of marketing books without having a clear goal.
  • You should not pay $2000 for an online marketing course or attend a conference.
  • You should not necessarily acquire a university degree in marketing.

There is a time and place for all of the above, but none of those are essential to growing into a marketer.

There’s a bunch of other stuff you should be doing tho.

But first things first.

Like with all long-term projects in life, it’s important to have a solid high-level understanding of what you want to achieve.

So, you want to be a marketer?

But what does it even mean to be a marketer? Can you define what a marketer does?

A good place to kick off this article is by apprehending what learning marketing means in 2019.

What does it mean to be a marketer?

Well… There are many different marketing careers you can choose between (and you can’t have it all).

Arielle Jackson, a Marketing Expert in Residence in the VC firm First Round Capital broke down the four main skill sets for marketers today:

  • Product Marketing
  • Performance Marketing
  • Communications
  • Brand Marketing

Take a close look at the chart below and you will realise that there are plenty of different paths you can follow as a marketer.

It’s one of the best charts I’ve seen explaining what marketers in modern companies are working on.

learning about marketing roles

Being a marketer can mean different things – Image source

With the understanding of all the possibilities to learn marketing also comes another revelation:

There is no way you can achieve top-level expertise in each of these fields.

Which means that you’ll need to specialize.

Let’s complicate things even further. 😈

Each of the four directions listed in the chart can be broken down further. E.g. a performance marketer can learn digital marketing, and get highly specialised in various fields such as paid advertising, social media marketing, CRO (Conversion Rate Optimisation)…

This means that you’ll need to decide on the level of specialization you want to reach.

That’s also what Arielle from First Round is saying:

“Most marketers who aren’t new to the field specialize in either the so-called “soft” or “hard” sides of marketing, focusing more on brand and communications or growth, analytics, and channel optimization. “Even CMO-level candidates typically tilt more heavily in one direction… You wouldn’t expect an engineer to be amazing at front-end and back-end, but unfortunately this expectation exists for marketers.”

You just can’t have it all.

But you do have a choice.

Here are a few questions to steer you in the right direction.

1. Do you want to be a specialist, a manager, or a CMO?

The intuitive answer to this question is “Of course I want to be the CMO of a well-known brand one day.”

But do you, really?

Take a look at the chart below. With fancy job positions also comes responsibility.

Various marketing roles

Understand what is the best job seniority for you

CMO (Chief Marketing Officer)

Being a CMO means taking a tremendous responsibility for other people’s work performance, and very likely sacrificing many nights and weekends of fun social activities in exchange for advancing your career. Not only will you have to work hard and be proactive in driving the entire Marketing team’s performance, you will also need to develop mid-level knowhow of every marketing skill your individual team members have. How else can you be an empowering teamlead to them?

If you still feel you want to become a CMO with a team of 10+ people one day, make a conscious decision to build up a strong skill set in as many fields of marketing as possible.

A good entry-level job for you will be in a startup where you can get your hands on many various projects. More on landing the first marketing job later.

P.S. being a CMO in a 5-people startup is rather a Manager- or Specialist-level job, don’t get confused with the terms but think about the content of the role.

Manager / team lead

Manager is a mid-level marketing team member in charge of one specific field. To bring some examples, in Bolt we have roles such as Social Media Marketing Manager, Paid Advertising Lead, Local Marketing Manager (in charge of marketing in a specific country).

Being a Manager requires a high degree of knowledge in one particular field. Also, you may have to learn to work with and lead a small team which takes a considerable amount of your time.

Consider whether you want to spend your days fully focused on hands-on work or pass 20% or more of your time at meetings, working on reports, and coming up with improvements to your team’s work.

Being a Manager can be rewarding and you can make a higher impact. However, you will need to constantly invest in improving your skills and keeping up with the latest trends.

To sum this up, being a Manager requires that you’re highly passionate about your field.

Specialist

Often, Managers grow out of Specialists.

As you start off learning about marketing, you will first have a few Specialist-level jobs before stepping up to the Manager role. As a specialist, you will have the choice whether to invest your time and effort in reaching the level of knowhow where you can manage a team. Or you can decide to keep working on the Specialist level and enjoy a lower level of responsibilities and, oftentimes, stress.

The decision whether to reach the Specialist, Manager, or CMO level is essentially a lifestyle question: how much of your time are you willing to devote on your career vs social life and other hobbies.

2. Are you more of a creative or numbers person?

Do you rather enjoy working on ideas and conceptualize things or to crunch the numbers and work on highly measurable marketing projects?

I personally enjoy both. But even while I like to zoom in on behavioral economics and branding, I am more inclined towards the numbers-based Performance Marketing.

Let’s take a look at the chart once again.

marketing roles breakdown

Some marketing tracks require more creativity, others more logic

The projects listed under Product Marketing and Performance Marketing are more suitable to the people comfortable with numbers and spreadsheets.

Communications and Brand Marketing require a higher level of ideation and creative skills such as writing.

❗ This is not to say that Communications and Brand Marketing should not be measured!!

Whatever kind of marketer you want to become, you can’t do it without a basic understanding of tracking and measurement.

Also, Performance Marketing requires creativity when it comes to writing the ad copy, coming up with social media post ideas, and even building tracking spreadsheets requires an open mind.

It’s all about realizing where in between creativity and math you feel the most affluent.

Summing up Part 1

To help you summarize the above and take the next step towards your marketing career, here’s a brief summary:

  • Define what kind of marketer you want to be: Product Marketing vs Branding, creativity vs numbers
  • Consider what level of seniority you’d enjoy working in: how much of your overall time do you want to invest specifically in your career

If you are unsure what’s the right marketing job for you, test several fields. 💁

  • I started out as an assistant in a PR agency, mainly working on writing content.
  • Next up, I moved to a Content Marketing role in a startup, working on writing and SEO.
  • I moved up the ladder to the role of Digital Marketing Manager, working on blog, SEO, CRO, social media, paid advertising, and some product marketing.
  • I took some time off from the full-time job and consulted startups, being a full-stack marketer, working on the same things as in my previous role + learned graphic design to create ad visuals.
  • I joined the Bolt team full-time in the Performance Marketing Manager role, working on paid advertising, social media, graphic design, and occasional copywriting projects.
  • I grew into the team lead for Bolt Marketing team, working with and consulting many specialised teams, and being in charge of hiring and the high-level marketing strategy and reporting.

For me, the growth into marketer was rather organic, with the right things happening at the right time.

It also took more than three years and several turns to realize what field of marketing I like the most.

For example, I found a book about digital marketing on the bookshelf of the PR agency I was working in. In a few weeks, all I wanted to do was to work on content marketing, SEO and paid ads. Thanks to this lucky chance, I took the jump and landed in Scoro, which opened the door to many other projects.

At some point I decided to start a marketing blog. That’s how many of my freelance customers and also Bolt found me.

learning marketing

This blog turned out to be a very good idea

Note that cool jobs and promotions won’t come knocking on your door. You need to work hard before an opportunity opens up, and be curious enough to notice it and follow up.

Not to get too off-track, let’s resume to the assumption that you have a vague notion of the field of marketing you want to learn about.

Say you want to become a Facebook advertising expert or a partner in a media agency.

What’s next?

Where to get started with learning marketing?

You have no idea where to get started? 😓

That’s OK.

I didn’t know that either.

Not when being 18y old. Not when being 20y old. I am still not sure where I want to be in 5 years time.

However, looking back at how I got here, there are a few patterns that emerge. I will try to break them down for you.

Start from learning the essential “marketer” skills

There are a few skills that will give your marketing career a strong foundation, whatever direction you want to move in.

And, surprise-surprise, you don’t need to get a university degree in marketing to learn them. 🤭

Every good marketer I’ve met is characterised by the following: they can take on challenges and find solutions fast, they understand how people’s brains work, and they are excellent writers.

mad men gif

Or just be like Don Draper :p

Start by training yourself in both creative problem-solving and critical thinking as well as learn to write and get a basic foundation on how the human psychology works.

Especially in the early years after high school graduation when you’re unsure what exactly you want to do, sharpening these three skills is a good way to grow as a marketer without an immediate pressure to specialize.

The reason I placed the word “marketer” between quotation marks in the headline is that these skills are relevant to plenty more career paths.

Even better so. By honing your creativity, empathy, and problem-solving capacity, you are not limiting yourself to a marketing career only. You’ll have the opportunity to switch to many other fields if you later find that another career path interests you more.

How to learn to write?

I could write an entire article on the topic. So in the general interest of keeping this article on track, I will share a few quick suggestions.

First of all, you will not learn to write by reading a few online articles, no matter how good, on “how to write a good marketing copy.”

Writing is a skill acquired through years of reading, learning, and writing. It’s a muscle you will need to train.

lazy gif

Or try to place a new book under your pillow every night – Image source

OK, so you want to learn to write, but need some guidance?

Read. Read a lot.

Be generally curious and read plenty of books, magazines, blogs and newspapers. Make yourself a goal to read 1 newspaper daily and finish at least 1 book per week. To give you some suggestions, I posted a list of things I’ve been recently reading in this article.

When it comes to picking the books for mastering the art of writing, I personally prefer literature to business books, due to the rich use of language.

There are also a few great books about writing I recommend that you check out:

    • Everybody Writes by Ann Handley – link 
    • On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King – link

Write something every day.

What on earth would you write about every day? Well, it’s up to you. Either create a blog or start a personal diary. The point here is not to produce publishing-ready literature every time you set your fingers on the keyboard. The goal is to train yourself to write.

Find yourself an editor.

I give the most credit for learning to decently write to my high school teacher and the editors from various marketing blogs. Every time they jotted down an irrelevant sentence, meaningless adjective, or asked for a point of proof to back up my out-of-the-blue statements, I learned to avoid a rookie mistake the next time.

You can find an editor by offering to intern for a blog/magazine, finding a first job where your manager has strong writing skills and is willing to teach you, or by asking someone to become your mentor and edit your first writings.

How to learn about psychology?

As with writing, your empathy and knowhow on consumer behavior will develop in time.

Generally, it helps to read literature and to listen attentively what people are saying to you, trying to understand things from many different viewpoints.

There are also a few amazing books on behavioral economics that I consider a must-read for every marketer, no matter their chosen field:

    • Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman – link
    • Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert B. Cialdini – link
    • Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions by Dan Ariely – link

Learn to understand what people really want – Image source

Here are a few examples of how understanding consumer psychology will help you be a better marketer across all the possible roles.

  • Product Marketing: you will understand that $59 is a better price for your product than $60 as people perceive this as a significantly lower sum.
  • Performance Marketing: you will understand which message drives people to click on your online ad and write highly converting copy using the triggers like urgency or scarcity.
  • Communications: you will understand why a journalist should/should not care about the news you’re trying to get covered and can package it in the most appealing way.
  • Brand Marketing: you will understand what makes people choose your product over the competitors’ and can double down on that value proposition in all your marketing channels.

How to train your critical thinking skills?

Being a marketer in 1950s was very different from being a marketer in 2020s.

With everything being digitalized, we’re able to measure a significant amount of marketing activities. Basically, all the online marketing activities can be tracked, measured, and improved upon.

As a marketer, you will need to compile strategies, figure out how to track and measure campaign results and find efficient solutions to ongoing challenges.

For me, logical thinking is a derivative of math skills mostly learned in high school + everything I have learned from my incredibly smart managers and colleagues at various jobs.

Learn to measure and evaluate marketing results – Image source

So where to get started?

If you’re still in university, take a few math courses.

If you’ve already graduated, take a course in Excel spreadsheet management – it sounds old-school, but you’ll need the spreadsheet and automation skills throughout your career.

Or pass a coding course in Codeacademy – learning a coding language, e.g. Python, will give you a better grasp of how to apply a systematic framework to various projects.

Summing up Part 2

Most people unfamiliar to hands-on marketing jobs tend to think that marketing is a specific skill set that can be acquired through online courses, business books, and a university degree.

That’s not true.

The best way to start learning marketing is to acquire a few basic “life” skills: writing, listening and understanding other people, and logical thinking.

Also, learn to google stuff. If you don’t know anything, don’t shrug and leave it be. Just check out what’s written about it online. Be curious, c’mon!

After you have obtained some of the basic knowledge, it’s time to dive in to specific marketing studies.

Learning marketing skills

There are a few options to learn specific, e.g. digital marketing skills:

  • By taking university courses or paid trainings on marketing
  • By reading marketing books, blogs, and newsletters
  • By passing some online courses or watching Youtube videos
  • By researching and analysing how successful brands do marketing

Which one of those is the most efficient way to learn marketing?

It depends on your level of motivation and the current place in your career.

Should you enroll in a university degree in marketing?

I’m not saying you shouldn’t, but I’d like to emphasize that a university degree in marketing is not a must-have for becoming a successful marketer.

If you haven’t gone to university yet, it could be a good idea to enroll in a marketing track or take some courses on the subject. If you’ve already been working on another job and plan to turn a new page in your career, getting a university degree is not the most efficient way to learn about marketing.

You could use that time to acquire some specific skill set, e.g. learn to create Facebook ad designs or go through thousands of ad creatives to learn what’s working.

See the 162 best Facebook ad examples in this post.

I think I’ve browsed more than 10 000 Facebook ads in my life 🤭

When hiring people to Bolt marketing team, I never evaluate the candidates based on their educational track. I look at their previous work experience, motivation letter and later the home task. However, some companies do still require job candidates to have a relevant Bachelor’s or Master’s degree.

Do not expect the Marketing university degree to teach you everything you need to know.

University degrees that guide you towards becoming a marketer well versed in the digital world are a needle in a haystack. Generally, you will learn the theory and get very little practical know-how.

However, a huge benefit of going to university is that you will have time to learn, also outside of the curriculum.

If you’re fresh out of the high school and unsure what to do, my recommendation is to go to university rather than find a low-level job (it does not necessarily have to be a Marketing degree) and earn yourself three or five extra years to grow both personally and professionally. Also, companies prefer the interns who are attending a university vs candidates with no higher education.

What about paid marketing courses and trainings?

Next question: Should you take any paid online or offline marketing courses?

You can, but it is not a requirement for learning marketing.

If you decide to take any courses, I suggest that you only pay for world-class courses such as CXL’s Online Marketing Training. Unless you live in the UK or the US, you are likely to find high-quality stuff online rather than when attending some local offline trainings.

Should you go to marketing conferences?

The short answer is no.

Conferences are great for networking and boosting motivation, but not for learning detailed skills. If your goal is to learn marketing, conferences are not the most efficient way to go.

👉 Marketing books, blogs, and newsletters 👈

The above three resources are where I learned most of what I know about marketing.

When it comes to marketing blogs, be careful not to fall for basic advice written by freelance copywriters with no marketing background. The best stuff is put out by the agencies and a few marketing tools.

The marketing blogs I dare to suggest are:

To keep up with your favourite marketing blogs, sign up to their email newsletters and bookmark them with the goal to check out the new articles at least once a week.

Here’s the list of the best books on marketing I’ve read:

  • Ogilvy on Advertising by David Ogilvy – link + my review to the book
  • Reality in Advertising by Rosser Reeves – link
  • The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott – link
  • Growth Hacker Marketing by Ryan Holiday – link
  • Contagious by Jonah Berger – link 
  • The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry – link
  • The behavioral economics books mentioned above

A page from The Advertising Concept Book by Pete Barry

P.S. The two above lists are not the holy grails of all you will need to read to become a good marketer. There is a lot more good stuff out there.

And I also suggest that you read online (and offline) magazines + newspapers, and browse around in the online design galleries such as Dribbble and Behance to increase your general know-how and writing skills.

Summing up Part 3

There are many ways to educate yourself about marketing.

If you’re fresh out of high school, enrolling in a university curriculum (not necessarily a marketing degree) may be a good idea.

Either way, complement the highly theoretical knowledge with information about the latest best practices by reading blogs and newsletters. (Even if you’re already working in marketing, you should keep up the reading to stay on top of your game).

Now, now… let’s assume you’ve acquired some basic theoretical knowledge about the field of marketing you want to proceed with.

The best thing to do next is to get some practical experience.

Which leads us to… 🥁🥁🥁

Landing your first marketing job

If you have never worked in a marketing role before, why would a company hire you?

  • You have no certificate to validate your skills
  • You have no tangible results, nor job experience to present
  • You have no references from previous managers

Moreover, you’ll be competing with people older and more experienced than you.

Sorry, that’s harsh.

But it has not stopped many people before you from succeeding.

So how can you get your foot in the door?

Start with internships

Instead of applying to a marketing job fresh out of university or after finishing a marketing course, try to land a few internships.

In fact, you can already pass a few summer internships during the university, and maybe even have a part-time marketing job by the end of the third year.

Also, apply to volunteer in marketing-related roles, helping to organize small events or work for an NPO (Non-profit Organization).

marketing internship

Find yourself an internship – Image source

Internships are beneficial on many levels:

  • You are not expected to know everything but learn.
  • You will have an experienced mentor who will guide your learning progress.
  • You will see the kitchen side of various marketing projects and get a feel of the job.
  • An internship is non-binding and only lasts for a month (low-risk commitment).
  • You can do several internships to check out multiple career paths.

Not all internships are equally useful, and there are companies that only hire interns for the “dirty work.”

Which leads us to the next question…

How to land a good internship?

There are a few basic rules to follow:

  • Do your research: ask around to identify the agencies/companies that do very good marketing.
  • Send your motivation letter and CV to 10+ places and expect only around 20%-50% of them to answer.
  • Write an exceptionally strong motivational letter as this is the main thing you’ll be evaluated upon.
  • If you get no answer in two weeks, don’t let the opportunity fade away. Follow up.

Pro tip: You can create a CV that looks better than 95% of other people’s by using the free Canva templates.

Use Canva templates for your CV

P.S. I am thinking to publish an article on how to land your first marketing internship. Let me know in the comments if it’s a topic you’d be interested in.

❗One more thing!

Most companies accept the interns that come to them, and won’t even look for them publicly. If you only apply to the companies that have an intern job opening on the website, you’re missing out on 90% of the opportunities.

Reach out to all [email protected] emails where you’d like to do the internship.

Getting your first entry-level marketing job

In my experience, the best entry-level marketing job types are in agencies and startups – they’re fast-paced, have a wide variety of projects, and keep up to date with the latest marketing trends.

I suggest that you join a marketing team with at least one more experienced team member. If you become the only marketer in a tiny company, you’ll have nobody to learn from.

How to find your first marketing job?

Most people only search for a job on job sites like Indeed.com, etc.

However, a lot of marketing roles are filled in through headhunting and referrals.

If you’re just starting out and don’t know many people in the industry, simply send your CV and motivation letter to all agencies and brands you’d like to work for. If you have a few internships under your belt and sound hyper-motivated, there’s a high chance someone will hire you, even if they’re not publicly looking to grow the team.

Use LinkedIn to research the companies you’d like to work for, google lists of marketing agencies and startups or simply ask around.

Also, it often happens that the companies you intern for will end up making you a job offer. So make sure not to slack through the internship, but do your best work, occasionally exceeding the expectations.

Summing up Part 4

The fastest way to getting your first marketing job is by completing a few internships and building up your CV.

Also, starting your own small project or helping out a non-profit or friends’ company will be a nice springboard to a “real” job.

Be prepared to work for free or a low salary at first, developing your skills, and give your best at every job, paid or not. Eventually, you’ll have amassed the critical level of experience, references, and performance record to apply for a full-time marketing role and land the job.

Remember that your first jobs and internships will not define what you’ll be doing for the rest of your career. You will have tens of years ahead of you to learn new skills and make complete U-turns, wherever life may take you.

Questions?

Consider this a free marketing career counseling. 💁

Leave a comment or ask anonymously via this Google Form, and read the replies in the comments section.

Now go learn marketing.