Marketing professionals are an interesting breed. Some were born to be marketers, some learned to be marketers, and others had marketing thrust upon them. In today’s rapidly changing marketing landscape, it’s difficult to say which of these three are likely to fare best.
For Connie LaFlamme, Senior Marketing Consultant at construction equipment company Caterpillar, marketing was always the plan. She studied for an undergraduate degree in mass communications with an emphasis on advertising account management. LaFlamme says: “In terms of the four P's of marketing, I am a specialist in the promotional P.” Following her degree, LaFlamme completed a Masters of Business Administration in order to understand the interdependencies between the various functions of business. During the program, she lined up an internship at Caterpillar. Thirteen years on, LaFlamme is still with the company but not all of her colleagues in the marketing department have a similar background.
“One of the real challenges at Caterpillar is that so many of the people in product development are engineers and they often then take on roles in marketing without having a marketing background,” she says. “Our company being dominated by engineers makes the discipline of marketing really challenging, especially as it relates to the focus on the customer.”
Tom Goodwin, SVP Strategy & Innovation, Havas Media (US), found himself in the reverse situation and says having an engineering degree is no barrier to entry in the marketing world. In fact, he reckons it’s an asset. The native Brit studied for a Masters in Structural Engineering at the same time as a Bachelor of Architecture. He says: “In retrospect, it was about the perfect degree for marketing. I didn't realise that at the time. It wasn't part of some incredibly smart way to be good at marketing. I was just as lost and confused as most 20-year-olds are.”
Going in, Goodwin wasn’t entirely clear what his intentions were for his career but when he fell into advertising, something clicked. He says: “In essence, my degree spans everything we need. The engineering side has done a really good job of making me think logically, and I've got a robust and innate understanding of maths, percentages, logic, and all that rational stuff. The architecture was very much about a design process, a brief, constraints, and an iterative way to ideate within parameters.”
Ultimately, Goodwin’s education helped him to marry the right and left sides of his brain, a key skill for anyone working in the marketing industry.
In terms of other skills required to make it as a marketing professional today, LaFlamme says passion is critical. She says: “You need to be a storyteller. You need to have discipline and rigour. If you don't have strong data analytics skills, you need to have strong management skills to manage data technicians to understand how to leverage data.”
Goodwin sees the value in having empathy. He says: “The most important skills are empathy; understanding the client’s situation and their business strategy. It's about understanding the modern world and how things are changing. It's much less about knowledge and much more about values and attributes like curiosity and relationship building.”
The marketers of the future, according to Goodwin, are more likely to skip their gap year and form a start-up as opposed to committing to studying. He says: “Rather than going to Peru or something, people will go to a co-working space and make an app.”
Given that, if Goodwin had his time again, he’d think twice about earning his degrees. “It sounds like a really obnoxious thing to say, but I wouldn't necessarily think university is the only choice,” he says. “I probably have learned more from my Twitter feed than I have from university.”