Best Marketing Career Advice From 10+ Top Marketing Minds

I asked top minds in marketing about the best marketing career advice they have ever received. Here are their responses:

Go, start something. Don’t wait.

Seth Godin, author of Linchpin and Seth’s Blog

The best career advice I have ever received is actually very counterintuitive. I talked to people and they said that if you really want to learn something you are passionate about you have to be willing to do it for free. It started as an unpaid intern at SEOmoz. I came in and said I would work for free as long as they would teach me. As you can tell, this worked out great. SEO was something I was passionate about and looked forward to learning it everyday. Over the course of three years my job changed a lot as I took on more responsibilities. The experience was fantastic. That wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t offer to work for free.

Danny Dover, author of Search Engine Optimization Secrets. Danny also blogs at

The best marketing advice that I ever received I got from my mother. She told me to always be empathetic. (Rather, she pounded this value into me so acutely and successfully as a child that I began to empathize with inanimate things, which is a whole other story). Empathy is easy and the only way to reach your audience with a sincere and useful product or message. Put yourself in your audiences’ shoes and ask every question you can about what you have to offer. If it is useless, annoying, not genuine, too complicated, condescending, or ugly to you, it likely will be to your audience. Sincere empathy works with client communications and employee relationships as well. It is a guiding principle for life and for business.

Anika Lehde is the co-founder of Projectline, a Seattle marketing agency that was named as one of the fastest growing private companies in America by Inc. Magazine. You can follow Anika on twitter @anikamarketer.

So much great marketing advice…..! But the best piece I often remember was, “Intimately Talk to One Ideal Person.“ Your communications shouldn’t be you shouting to a room of 5000 people, but should be you connecting one on one to that person who matters the most. This comes from an amazingly talented advertising agency Creative Director I worked with long ago. He said he wrote print ads, not as if he was speaking to a large room full of people but remembering that the ad would be consumed as one person reading a magazine in his or her lap. His job was to ensure he was speaking to that one person.

I remember this when I work with clients on their ideal customer. Creating brand messaging that speaks to the needs of a real-life person you imagine (ie, Jane, 45, married, lives in Redmond, has two kids, etc.) is much more connective and will resonate much more than if you just try to boil the ocean (ie, Busy moms everywhere!). If you are aiming for a huge, generic blob of people that don’t exist, your marketing will reflect that. So even though you can sell to a variety of people who want to pay you money, no matter their profile, always keep an ideal customer profile and “character” in mind. Your communications will resonate much more effectively and memorably that way if you write “for him/her.”

Maria Ross is the Chief Brand Strategist at Red Slice and author of Branding Basics for Small Business. She also blogs at the Red Slice blog.

Don’t try to be good at everything. Try to be very good at one thing. – Al Ries

Laura Ries, co-author of War in the Boardroom and the blog Ries Pieces.

The best advice I ever got was in my first-year marketing class in business school: Habit change is extremely difficult. People naturally embrace and hold onto habits because it makes their lives easier; and they develop a deep resistance to marketers’ attempts to convince them to buy new products that necessitate a change in habit. I learned this the hard way myself during my first assignment at Procter & Gamble, where I was tasked with launching a natural soap for people to clean their fruits and vegetables. It failed to succeed for many reasons, but mostly because it forced people to add a step and product their age-old habits. I later learned five ways to more effectively build new product habits through marketing:

  • Reduce barriers – make it easier to do the new habit, provide incentives and a range of options
  • Provide a link to the familiar – associate the new habit with an existing one; make it similar to what they are doing today
  • Encourage usage frequency – it takes regular use of around 14 times to get a new habit to hold; create usage reminders, tips and other positive reinforcement along the way
  • Actively engage the consumer – obtain a commitment to change at the start
  • Provide social reinforcement – foster a community of others who are changing together

Bob Gilbreath is the Chief Marketing Strategist at Bridge Worldwide and the author of The Next Evolution of Marketing. Bob also blogs regularly at Marketing With Meaning.

“Get involved in the process.” Oddly, I learned this from Senator John Montford in the late 80’s. We were flying back to Austin from Lubbock and I asked him about impacting the legislative process: At the time the state was beginning a new push for insurance regulation. I thought it was a simple matter of having the best products. He said, “No, it’s what your customers say about you.” That simple re-orientation of marketing perspective changes everything. From that point forward, my career in business and marketing has been defined by a customer-centric POV aimed across the entire organization, which is exactly what excites me so much about social media and the new career opportunities for CMO’s who are willing to exert themselves beyond the marketing department.

Dave Evans is the author of Social Media Marketing: An Hour a Day and also blogs at @evansdave on Twitter

There was a guy at Labatt, a client at the time, that I think nailed it about the risk of over management, risk avoidance, paint by numbers marketing and analysis paralysis

“Sean, there are a tonne of things you could do in an average day – marketers could feasibly work 168 hours of week and feel justified. But let me tell you – if you can find the 3 most important things to affect your brand tangibly, importantly – focus as much time, attention and effort on those and do the minimum on the rest.”

Sean Moffitt, author of Buzz Canuck

Perhaps the best advice was succinctly stated by ad agency, Wieden & Kennedy, in Portland: Fail harder. So few of us give ourselves permission to fail let alone court failure as we try to achieve our goals. It’s even worse for corporations or brands. Yet the best brands in the world and their advertising partners take big enough risks consistently that failure is inevitable and invaluable learning at the same time. So as we rush to be “something” or achieve a goal, perhaps the best advice I ever heard was plan to be good at failing too because its a tough but wonderful teacher.

Simon Mainwaring, Owner of Mainwaring Creative and author of Mainwaring Blog

I would say something I have said for a long time, “Dont Fight the market”. Too many draw lines in the sand and don’t want to accept the new rules, I embrace them!

Gary Vaynerchuck Co-Founder at VaynerMedia and author of Crush It!

I’ve been in the business for 25+ years now (it sucks to type that!) and what I’ve learned is that if you are not willing to always be learning, experimenting, asking new questions and wondering why — you will be mediocre in marketing. You’ll survive and maybe even Peter Principle your way to a cushy job — but you won’t be able to keep the fire in your belly.

What makes marketing the best career in the world is that is it ever evolving. There’s always a new insight, new tool or tactic. So if you want to be at the top of your game and really be someone your clients love and rely on — keep learning. Read, write, listen. Every day.

Drew McLellan, Top Dog at McLellan Marketing Group and author of the blog Drew’s Marketing Minute. Drew is also the Co-Editor of the book Age of Conversation 3.

The best advice I’ve every gotten for my career actually comes from the Bible. And no, this is not proselytizing. It’s just a simple truth that’s always stuck with me: “Only in his hometown, among his relatives, and in his own house is a prophet without honour.” (Mark 6:4, if you’re interested.)

The one place you are absolutely destined to be taken for granted, pigeon-holed and disrespected in your career is among your co-workers and in the eyes of your employers. This is especially true if you are one who challenges accepted thinking or encourages new action. Why do you think the people who do as they are told and never challenge authority are always the ones who walk away with the Employee-of-the-Year awards? It’s because they fit the mold. They not only “do” what’s expected of them, they also “are” what people expect of them.

A prophet, though, has thinking too big to contain. He (or she) is disruptive. He is an agent of change and change, for all companies talk about it as a necessity, is a bad thing for power-structures. This kind of message can find a home, but almost never in the confines of a “hometown.” It needs to be set free.

All this was finally made clear to me when I found myself out of a job two years ago. I had a bad parting with an employer and a choice to either find another job or be on my own. And in choosing the latter path, I finally realized how suppressed my message had become. I had rallied for transparency, content strategies, relationship-based promotion, networking among peers and other key messages of the social sphere for over ten years. And I had let most of the digital revolution pass me by, fighting for it among people who didn’t want to hear about it.

My advice is simple: If you have a message and people aren’t listening, go find someone who will listen. Take the risk. Get out there. It won’t be easy or necessarily bring immediate financial success. It may never bring financial success for that matter. But it will bring you integrity. And in many ways that’s the most gratifying business success you can have.

Bob Knorpp, host of The BeanCast
, @beancast on Twitter

The best marketing career advice I have is never stop learning and experimenting. Marketing is constantly changing. The second you start relying on the old techniques you used to use and stop learning new things, is the second you start getting lower performance and become less valuable to your company. Make sure you are always watching for new trends, learning new things, and experimenting with new techniques.

Mike Volpe, VP of Marketing at Hubspot, co-host of Hubspot TV and author of the blog Marketing With Mike.

Do not study marketing in school. Study anything but marketing.

David Meerman Scott, author of World Wide Rave and the blog Web Ink Now.

Listen more.

Bill Green, Idea Guy at Plaid, co-host of the podcast AdVerve and author of the blog Make the Logo Bigger.

Check back for updates as I get more responses!

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5 thoughts on “Best Marketing Career Advice From 10+ Top Marketing Minds”

  1. I worked with an award winning Creative Director and Ad Agency President, he shared with me that ‘we’re only right about 67% percent of the time’. That philosophy allows you to go for it and remove analysis-paralysis! It is the genesis of my Golden Rule #1 “There are No Rules” . The answers come from lots of testing and measuring what works, let the consumer tell us what’s right.

  2. I am currently a student studying marketing. I am willing to drop everything in my life and go anywhere to do anything as long as it involves a LOT of cash and a great career! Does anyone have any suggestions as to where I should start?

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