On the need to be better at marketing the marketing profession

—Gino Cantalini has some questions: Why is marketing so misunderstood? Why do marketers get grouped with injury lawyers? Why don’t parents want their kids to be marketers?—


“I want to be a marketer when I grow up” — No one, ever 

My parents never encouraged me to become a marketer when I was a kid. In fact, when I started specializing in marketing at university, it was a challenge to describe what I hoped to become.

Eventually, I would just say that I wanted to make commercials—something they were familiar with. They were supportive, but it was clear they would have preferred I become an accountant or professor, like my older siblings.

Why is that? Why is marketing so misunderstood, even despised in many circles? Why do marketers often get grouped with injury lawyers and politicians? Why don’t parents encourage their kids to be marketers?

Granted, some people understand precisely what marketing is and what it does, and don’t like us precisely because of that. We’ll never convince them otherwise, and that is not my intention. Rather, I’m interested in enlightening people who are interested in pursuing a challenging career that has measurable impact, as well as the parents of those people, and anyone who appreciates the power of people with a wide range of talents.

Marketing is one of the most challenging and rewarding careers you can choose. It uniquely requires its practitioners to use their whole brain—to challenge both the creative and the analytical sides. To combine business, behavioural science and art. To work with big strategic thinkers, talented artists, and skilled tacticians, and bring it all together cohesively, succinctly, beautifully.

It’s marketing that attracts the revenue that is the lifeblood for every business. That’s worth repeating, because we sometimes tend to forget that—and certainly other business functions tend to either overlook it or fail to give us the credit we deserve.

So, what do we have to do to entice the best and the brightest young people to proudly announce that they want to become a marketer? Here’s what I think:

  • Educate students and guidance counsellors on how diversely talented you need to be to succeed in marketing. Can you go from analyzing a spreadsheet to assessing a piece of creative content? In fact, let’s promote how it’s not for everyone, because not everyone can effectively toggle between left and right brain activity;
  • Position marketers as the engine for driving business results. Thanks to data analytics, we now have the empirical proof. We can show the ROI on our activity. This is a game changer. Marketers have always been the loud, upbeat, creative folks in the company cafeteria that annoyed the rest of the organization, who questioned their value. It’s time for that to change;
  • Show how marketing is the training ground for presidents and CEO’s. Not only is it now indisputable that marketers grow companies, but the skills required to be a good marketer align with those required of the organization’s most senior leader—building and selling a vision, client-driven strategic planning, leading teams with diverse talents and creating a strong culture;
  • Make the vocation more prestigious and potentially more exclusive. The Canadian Marketing Association is on the right track with the Chartered Marketer program. Let’s build on that. For instance:
    1. Partner with “badge” schools or organizations in developing the curriculum, and add them to the designation to enhance credibility;
    2. Leverage other international marketing associations to make the content more robust and attractive i.e. the U.K.’s CIM for strategy;
    3. Create an additional elite designation level with a limited pass rate—similar to CPA or CFA. Make it difficult to achieve so it is authentically a differentiator;
    4. Make the elite designation three letters, similar to other professional designations i.e. call it CPM (Certified Professional Marketer) or MCM (Master Certified Marketer); and
    5. Promote the program and its elite graduates.

That’s what “they” can do. But here’s what I think we as individual marketers can do to help our profession take its rightful place in the list of revered career options:

  • Work for a company you are proud to promote. It’s far easier to be an ambassador when you are building a business you care about;
  • Balance your acquisition spending with equity building activity. Attract your audience to your brand, versus solely using retargeting and frequency to try to beat them into submission;
  • Dive deep into your audience and build insightful, creatively compelling campaigns. Campaigns that aren’t seen as an intrusion, but rather as entertaining, insightful, smart, or informative. Make them feel something. Do work you are proud of; and
  • Stand tall and tell people, “I am a marketer!!” That you use your whole brain, working with people with a diverse set of strategic, creative and technical skills. That what you do drives business results.

Sure, we aren’t saving lives, but we are growing companies. And that’s pretty cool. And by the way, the passion may transfer subconsciously—that’s my youngest above.

Gino Cantalini is a marketer who spent 18 years working client-side before moving to agencies. He recently launched his own consultancy, Roadtrip Strategy & Creative Inc.