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How To Start A Career In Digital Marketing

It is a collection of disciplines, involving many different functions and skillsets.

All you need to know before you make the switch

One of the most common questions asked by students and young professionals is “how do I start a career in digital marketing?”  This article will attempt to give you practical, to the point and actionable advice on how to make the career switch and break into the space.

First things first, we need to describe what digital marketing entails. In the end of the day, what is digital marketing?

Digital Marketing is not a monolith – and hence, it cannot be defined in a one-liner. It is a collection of disciplines, involving many different functions and skillsets. Before we go into the details, let’s start with your brain first:

Human brain can be split in two parts:

  • The left part of the brain is responsible for rational thinking, mathematics, logic and numbers.
  • Your right brain is responsible for emotions, creativity, imagination and art.

Digital marketing utilizes your brainpower in two ways:

  • Left-brain digital marketing involves campaign planning, implementation and analyzing data and includes disciplines such as SEO, Paid Search, Programmatic advertising, Digital Analytics, Ad operations and E-Commerce. We tend to call all the above “Performance Marketing”.
  • Right-brain digital marketing involves, communications, visual and video marketing and includes disciplines such as copywriting, UX/UI design, Branding and Content Marketing.

As you can see, we already talked about very different disciplines, hence there are multiple career paths you can follow.

Now let’s be a bit more specific on the actual skills needed. If you are looking to kick-start a career in performance marketing, you need to acquire the following skills:

  • Excel. It may not sound sexy, but Excel is a MUST-KNOW in order to plan and implement digital advertising campaigns. Digital Analytics, E-Commerce, Paid Search and Programmatic advertising are all very Excel heavy roles.
  • Basic Mathematics & Statistics. Performance marketing requires you to be able to calculate metrics such as CTR, CPC, CPA, Conversion rate, Drop off rates etc. These formulas are very simple, yet, you need to be able to grasp what these metrics mean for your digital marketing campaign and for the business.
  • Fundamental Economics. Marketing is all about helping businesses grow and sell more stuff. Hence you should be able to understand economics fundamentals such as the supply and demand theory, the difference between elastic and inelastic demand, what is a fixed cost and what is marginal cost. Without a solid understanding of the fundamental economic theory, it’ll be very hard to grasp the bigger picture.
  • Fundamentals of digital advertising. You need to understand the basics of how digital advertising work behind the scenes. A good starting point is Google’s Academy for ads and Facebook’s Blueprint training.

If you are a right-brain type of person and would like to work in more creative roles involving branding, UX, social media and content marketing, there are different skills, you need to master:

  • Basics of human psychology. You need to be able to understand how humans make decisions, what drives human actions and what catches human attention.
  • Copywriting. You need to understand the art of great communication. Marketing is not about saying “Buy Now”. Learn how to better command human language to emotionally connect with your audience.
  • Design & Typography. You need to be able to understand the science behind colours, typography and how they can affect your communications. Most importantly it’ll be beneficial if you can operate software like Photoshop or Illustrator.
  • Marketing Fundamentals. Most importantly you need to be able to grasp traditional marketing concepts such as positioning and segmentation in order to be able to connect the dots and develop branding strategies that work.

What if you are a mix?

If you have a flair in both left and right brain skills, there are great news for you! First of all, you’ll be in very high demand! Secondly, there are a lot of hybrid roles which require mixed skillsets, for example:

  • SEO specialists, need to be numerical and tech savvy, but they also need to grasp marketing fundamentals and possess strong copywriting skills.
  • A UX designer, needs to understand human psychology, possess strong design skills but also be able to understand basic statistics to evaluate his/her solutions.
  • A Content Marketer needs to understand the marketing fundamentals, immerse in human psychology but also grasp the basics of SEO.
  • And the list goes on!

Most of the digital marketing roles are hybrid ones; and require T-shaped employees.

What is a T-Shaped employee?

Someone who understands all the above (left and right brain), but also has a deeper specialization in one of those disciplines.

All these are great, but which skills are in high demand?
Am I going to be able to find a job easily?

There’s no sugar-coating here: the world evolves at the speed of TECH. Meaning that hard numerical and technical skills are in much higher demand than right brain skills. In the digital era you need to be digitally savvy and data literate.

“Hard” right-brain skills such as UI design and copywriting are also in very high demand. The number of websites and mobile apps coming up will only increase and the need for skilled and talented designers and copywriters will grow exponentially.

Does this mean that there’s no room for generalist creative people?

There is. But there’s also a much lower barrier to entry. Ideas can come from anyone; hence anyone can jump in the space, even with very limited or no prior marketing training. Hence my advice to all students and young professionals out there is to find your niche and invest in hard skills.

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Written By

Sotirios (one of the most difficult names you’ll come across in your life), lived in London, Dubai and Singapore, working for some of the world’s leading media agencies (WPP and Omnicom). Along the way he built 2 digital performance departments from the ground-up and worked with clients such as Unilever, Volkswagen and Google. Currently, he is a Digital Marketing Instructor at General Assembly and the founder of XYZ Lab. Follow him on LinkedIn.

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