So you’d like to begin or deepen a career in marketing. Well, the good news is that the marketing industry is growing—and modern marketers can specialize in a wide variety of roles based on their unique skill sets.
As the industry changes, so does the make-up of each company’s marketing team, and you might be uncertain which direction you want to go. To help you decide what type of role you’re best suited for, I’ve outlined nine common positions within marketing, what folks in those positions do, and what you can do if you want to start down that path. I've worked in a few different kinds of marketing myself, including in social media and content marketing, and turned to other marketers, including some of my former colleagues at Contently, to learn more about their roles.
Keep an open mind as you decide which area of expertise you’d like to pursue, as many overlap with several others and draw on similar skills and qualities.
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1. Social Media Marketing
When a brand makes an off-color joke on a social media platform, it’s common for people watching to attribute this misstep to “the intern running the Twitter account.” But no responsible company would hand over the keys to a brand’s Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram feeds to an inexperienced intern. In fact, the larger the brand, the larger its social media team likely is, with more senior-level marketers overseeing its social strategy.
I’ve worked in social media strategy for brands including Walmart, Amazon Prime Video, and Lionsgate Films, and I’ve learned from each experience that social media marketers are often expected to think of themselves as editorial professionals first, brand strategists second. Even if a tweet is on brand, it’s useless to everyone if it’s written in a boring (or worse, offensive!) way.
A social media marketer posts content informed by a brand’s style guide, but it’s important to note that they aren’t simply writing copy all day. They’re engaging with a brand’s audience in real time, preparing analysis of engagement data, planning future campaigns and approaches based on that analysis, and collaborating with other marketers to determine how a social strategy can support a brand’s other work. And they’ll often have ambitious KPIs (key performance indicators) to reach for.
If you’re interested in working as a social media marketer, the first thing you can do is develop a robust professional online presence for yourself. You can also try to work on a project basis for brands or small businesses and build a portfolio of social copy and multimedia elements. If that’s not an option, you can always develop a sample social media strategy for a brand you admire, sort of like a prospective TV writer putting together a spec script.
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2. Email Marketing
Because of social media algorithms, only a small portion of an account’s audience will see their social media content. So companies look for additional ways to reach the majority of their target audience. Email is still a precious commodity in the marketing industry because a newsletter’s subscriber base opts in to a brand’s messaging. It’s a naturally more captive and curious audience, and email marketers who know how to leverage the opportunity to connect with users in their inboxes can do very well for themselves.
To work in email marketing is to toe the line between data analysis and editorial strategy. You’re often curating blog posts and links to include in newsletters or promotions for subscribers; using an email service provider to build and launch campaigns; keeping an eye on open rates, click through rates, and subscriber numbers; and running A/B tests and other experiments to try to boost performance.
If you’re interested in email marketing, independent email publications like TheSkimm are great examples to study, but you can also subscribe to newsletters from publications, like this one from The New York Times Cooking, and brands, like this one from General Electric.
You can also get some experience by starting your own personal newsletter. Platforms like Substack and Mailchimp have taken off with writers, almost as if the email newsletter is on its way to becoming the new blog. You can start a regular correspondence with subscribers for free, learning the ropes on each platform as you go. This way, when you apply to an email marketing job, you’ll already have a portfolio of work.
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3. Brand Management
A brand manager oversees every aspect of communication, both internal and external, and brings a company or product line’s brand persona to life. A brand persona is a collection of messaging and customer experiences, and it carries a company’s narrative (the sort of thing you saw on the “About” page 10 years ago) across all platforms. “You can think of brand management as the complete manifestation of the company in the marketplace,” says Henry Bruce, former VP of Marketing at Contently. “It has one voice, tone, look, and feel.” A brand manager is responsible for maintaining all those aspects of a brand persona at once.
In larger companies, a brand manager will probably work on an individual brand or product line within the organization—like this brand manager at Staples who works specifically on the company’s TRU RED line—but the same ideas apply.
Working in brand management is partly a creative job, but it’s also part project management. Adrienne Todd, communication manager at Celonis, a process mining company, says brand management requires organizational skills and expertise in motivating and incentivizing your coworkers in different departments. “It's a fact of marketing that no one marketer can (or should) do something entirely on their own,” she explains. “You have to coordinate with designers, copywriters, digital marketing, marketing operations, and more, and that coordination doesn't happen on its own, nor does it come naturally to people.”
Breaking into brand management is near impossible without any marketing experience, but if you’re already a marketer looking to move up, volunteer for corporate strategy projects at your office. When you’re interviewing for a brand manager position, you’ll want to be able to point to multiple scenarios in which you put out a fire for a company, reworked a brand’s messaging to appease a specific audience, or developed a project with multiple team members.
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4. Content Marketing and Copywriting
Brands are beginning to create content the way publishers or media companies would, and the writers and designers they hire to create all this content are called content marketers. Simple enough, right?
Jordan Teicher, a content marketer and the editor-in-chief at Contently, says the ability to tell a story is paramount to the job. “Most [consumers] hate the hard sell,” he explains. “Narrative entertains and challenges consumers in a creative way.” In recent years, marketers who write blog posts, internal documents, e-books, Powerpoint decks, op-eds, speeches, and more have begun to centralize their efforts around the concept of storytelling.
If you’re a marketer and skilled writer, you may still need an education in branded storytelling before your content marketing career takes off. And that’s perfectly normal. “Marketers can sharpen their skills by reading books about the mechanics of storytelling. Telling a story may seem intuitive, but when your job is ultimately to sell something, it's easy to forget” that the story must come first, Teicher says. “So spend time studying the elements of a powerful narrative. Then, when you're watching TV or listening to your go-to podcast, step back and analyze what the story is trying to accomplish. After some practice, you'll start to do the same with your own work.”
To get into content marketing, all you really have to do is write. A lot. You need to prove to hiring managers that you are passionate about the written word, which means you’ll need to flex your muscles writing social media copy, video scripts, blog entries, investigative articles, zines, brochures, flyers, or other materials. A marketing degree can look appropriate if you’re applying to a content marketing job, but believe it or not, you’ll be even more attractive as a candidate with a literature or creative writing degree. After all, you need to know a good story.
5. Product Marketing
Product marketers often act as an important liaison between the marketing team and colleagues in product management, engineering, sales, account management, customer service, and more. They spend a lot of time learning about their target audience, understanding what they want and need, and “translating” information about customer experience to those tasked with creating and promoting a company’s offerings.
This set of responsibilities means product marketers ought to have a high comfort level for multitasking and collaborating with different kinds of people. They’re the professionals on our list who most desperately need to develop a rapport with other teams.
As Bruce puts it, “product marketing increases the effectiveness of a company’s sales team to convert interested audience members into customers. Responsibilities include creating and maintaining sales playbooks and tools, sales collateral, and presentations; [running] sales trainings; executing all product launches; [and] conducting competitive/market intelligence and win/loss analysis.”
If you’re interested in product marketing, study the corporate success stories of brands that have rallied behind a single eye-catching product: the Apples, Nikes, and Glossiers of the world. Read about how products are created and promoted. Talk to product marketers at your own company or find folks to reach out to through your network. Make sure you’re keeping your writing skills sharp. And if you can’t find preliminary experience in developing product marketing work for brands, create your own materials on spec.
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6. Marketing Analysis and Growth Marketing
It’s difficult to have a conversation with a modern marketer without touching on data. While a marketer in any area on our list will need some familiarity with number crunching in order to get ahead, analysts live or die by a company’s data. A marketing analyst or growth marketer specializes in distilling and studying a company’s data and presenting their findings internally to inform a company’s marketing strategy.
Let’s say, for example, that you work at Walmart and your team has been tasked with launching a new blog for customers. As an analyst, you might dig into anonymous data gathered by the brand’s web team, discover that most people reading about Walmart products are women between 30 and 50, and notice that most users tend to read during the day. You might conclude that Walmart’s new blog should be aimed, in part, at stay-at-home moms, in which case you’d present your findings to the team and get them excited about this new target demographic.
“The person who controls the numbers controls the narrative,” says John Fernandez, senior vice president of marketing at Glia and a data-driven marketing analyst. “As marketers we're natural storytellers, so a marketer armed with data is pretty unassailable at the executive and board level.” If you’re going to make a compelling case for anything, you’re going to need to be comfortable with numbers.
For example, if your boss tasks you, the growth marketer, with improving a company’s opportunity win rate (how many people actually decide to buy out of the total pool of prospective customers), you’ll take a look at a lot of different things to determine where potential customers are wandering off. Is the company’s purchase process logical? You might design an experiment to shift the order of fields to see if it encourages more prospective customers to complete their transaction. Are the brand’s promotional emails spurring purchases? You might work with an email marketer to test different messages, send times, and more, and analyze the results to see which approach is most effective.
If you’re hoping to land an entry-level job in growth marketing or marketing analysis, you might have a degree or coursework in statistics, business, marketing, or other quantitative and technical areas. And you should come to an interview prepared to show off both your quantitative and qualitative skills. You should have examples of brand messaging you tailored to a specific audience, but as your math teacher always told you, show your work. You’ll need to prove that you can take a certain kind of information like user data, synthesize it with your own ideas, and shape a promotional strategy around those findings. To demonstrate those skills, even if you haven’t used them in a past job, conduct a survey and visualize the data in an interesting way or design your own experiments and write about them on a personal blog.
A marketer focusing on public relations or corporate communications will, like many of the other roles on this list, work closely with social media marketers, content marketers, and event marketers. PR reps are often tasked with promoting the content a company’s marketers create as well as the brand and company as a whole, and they’re often expected to enter a role with a robust professional network in order to do their job effectively.
As a comms professional, you’ll likely draft a lot of press releases and you’ll need to foster relationships with industry journalists who might find your company’s updates newsworthy. Working in PR, you’ll be almost constantly communicating on the phone or at corporate events with potential stakeholders, journalists, guest speakers, and comms professionals. You’ll also need to be able to downplay certain aspects of your company’s history while getting people excited about others. If you’ve got the writing chops, you might even ghostwrite op-eds for your company’s executives and try to place them in notable publications.
To land a job in PR, develop a portfolio of work by doing some promotional work on a small scale (for a friend’s side hustle, for example, or a local political campaign), and be sure to show the breadth and depth of your abilities. Create promotional copy, leverage your network in interesting ways to garner publicity, and test out your speechwriting skills.
8. Event Marketing
The focus of an event marketer depends a lot on a company’s overall goal. If you’re specializing in event marketing, you may find yourself ideating viral “experiential” marketing stunts. These are the sort of Instagram-friendly pop-ups you’ll see in cities around the country. When you think of public stunts, mascot characters, pop-up shops, scavenger hunts, and Red Bull’s Flugtag competition, well, that’s all event marketing.
However, if your company sells products to other companies, as opposed to consumers, you may find yourself designing booths for corporate trade-shows, scanning attendee badges and following up on possible leads, and working with handouts, one-sheets, corporate swag, and business cards.
This role requires excellent interpersonal skills. If you’re an event marketer, you may also spend many of your working hours on the road, whether you’re launching a company’s presence at a trade show or meeting with clients alongside your company’s customer service reps. That means you’ll need resilience, a knack for organization, and a thirst for collaborating with different kinds of professionals.
To land an entry-level job in event marketing, volunteer to help plan any kind of social event, even if it’s just a series of movie nights for a student organization on your college campus or for a networking group in your city or town. As long as you’ve got promotions, social media campaigns, and communications with a team, that counts as fodder for your portfolio! You’ll also want to stress your ability to stay calm under pressure, maintain conversation with strangers, and pitch in wherever you’re needed.
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9. SEO/SEM and E-commerce
Search engine optimization (SEO) and search engine marketing (SEM) are based on the idea that most potential consumers Google their questions before making a purchase. SEO is the practice of tailoring a company’s website and marketing content to search engine requirements, and SEM drills down on that idea even further, targeting potential customers who use search engines through paid advertising.
Search is a really lucrative and exciting area of work, as search engine algorithms change so swiftly that your day-to-day life as an SEO or SEM professional will likely change a lot. After all, marketers who specialize in SEO are perpetually trying to match a company’s online strategy to a series of algorithms that Google and other companies can adjust at any moment. It’s a bit like chasing a dragon, which means getting a nice search hit can feel addicting.
You can also choose to specialize in e-commerce as a marketer, which is a combination of search engine marketing, content marketing, and product marketing. E-commerce professionals oversee all monetary transactions that happen online between a company and its customer base, from web stores to paid memberships. Essentially, you’ll want to draw folks in with curated product listicles and explainers and provide links to purchase the products you’re describing in your copy. Your company will likely earn affiliate money when readers click on these links.
Although marketers who specialize in SEO are definitely in demand, a familiarity with search engine tactics is pretty much mandatory for any communications professional at this point. Luckily for marketers, the best education in SEO and SEM is available for free, as Google’s training programs have been made instantly accessible to anyone who wants them. Take your time; Google’s videos and tutorials are a little dry, but the program’s certificate of completion makes for a great resume booster.
If you find yourself fascinated by search, you’ll be able to build on your initial knowledge and potentially transition into an SEO or SEM speciality, especially if you commit to reading publications like Hubspot Academy and the SEMRush blog. Another great way to hone and demonstrate your growing skill set is to create a personal website for yourself and practice the key points of an SEO strategy there. You’ll be able to show a hiring manager how you changed your website to increase traffic.
No matter which marketing focus you’re drawn to, you’ll find that those hiring for roles want candidates with strong interpersonal skills, excellent verbal and written communications skills, and a varying degree of experience working with data. The marketing industry is hungry for professionals who love learning new skills, using data to inform their work, and collaborating with colleagues in other departments.
As you figure out which route you’d like to take, you can ask your colleagues, friends, second-degree connections, and even folks you don’t know at all to go for coffee or meet for an informational interview and tell you about what they do. You might just discover there’s a marketing role you didn’t know much about that you’d be excited to pursue down the line!