To say that marketing is a quickly evolving field is an understatement. If it feels like every day there’s a new tool or platform for you to master, you’re not imagining things. No matter how effortless we like to make our work look, marketers everywhere are learning and adapting on the fly.
Take it from someone who’s been trying to keep up with a constant stream of changes while working in marketing for the New York City Marathon, Adobe, two healthtech startups, and three digital marketing agencies over the last 12 years. Throughout this time I’ve had to learn—and keep brushing up on—the latest strategies and best practices for web content, SEO, email marketing, and an ever-expanding list of social media platforms, all while teaching myself how to use more digital tools than I can count on two hands.
The good news is there are steps you can take to adapt and juggle the many evolving hats today’s marketer must wear. Here are eight tips you can use starting today, based on what’s worked for me and three other seasoned professionals with experience in events and field marketing, email marketing, and marketing strategy.
1. Find Your People
Look for mentors, peers, and networking groups (in person and online) to find people you can run ideas by before launching a big campaign or commiserate with after a video you poured your heart into didn’t generate as many views as you’d hoped. These may be people on your team at work, but sometimes you’ll find you’re a team of one or that you’re the only one who specializes in your particular area of marketing.
“Keeping up in communities related to my marketing interests has been crucial to learning about ever-evolving best practices,” says Stephanie Gohn, an email marketing manager at Penguin Random House, who says she’s found her people through Reddit, Slack, Facebook groups, and the Women of Email network. “In these settings, it seems more people are open to knowledge sharing across companies and industries.”
Be sure to also look for user communities and befriend the sales and customer relations representatives of the marketing products and tools your company uses, Gohn says, as these connections can be invaluable for staying on top of updates and new features.
2. Identify Your Go-To Resources
While it’s clear that the field of marketing is (and likely always will be) in a constant state of flux, it’s not always easy to stay on top of what the latest and most important changes are. Finding reliable resources to help you keep up is key not just to day-to-day survival, but also to long-term growth for your company and your career. When something major changes—say longform content is out and video is in—you want to be among the first to know and to have a solid game plan for what to do about it.
Within email marketing, for instance, Gohn’s trusted sources of information are the email newsletters and Twitter accounts of Really Good Emails, Emma, and Litmus. But the sources will vary depending on the type of marketing you focus on and the industry you’re working in.
For Aarti Gala, Vice President of Marketing Services for NetStrategies, a marketing agency whose clients include a Michelin-starred restaurant and the automotive parts manufacturer Trimark Corporation, that trusted resource is Econsultancy. The subscription platform offers weekly insights and analysis briefings, best practice guides, trend reports, and case studies. Danielle Adone, a field marketing manager at Nestlé USA, has two go-tos for staying in the know: reading AdWeek regularly to keep track of what other brands are up to and attending annual marketing conferences to hear what other marketers are thinking about.
Ask the people you work with and others you meet which resources they rely on, pay attention to what colleagues are posting and talking about, and spend some time exploring on your own. Over time, you’ll figure out what’s most useful for you.
3. Keep Your Eyes on the Competition
Looking at your own marketing channels and analytics will only reveal so much about trends in engagement. For a bigger picture understanding of shifting consumer preferences, you should be checking in on the competition and even brands in completely different industries. That way you can see what’s working and what’s not, find inspiration, and, perhaps most importantly, take a break from your own daily grind and get a much-needed fresh perspective.
Not only that, campaigns that go viral often create new trends—ones you may be expected to learn from or participate in, either because your employer wants you to try to replicate others’ successes or because a campaign is so effective it becomes part of the cultural lexicon.
While it can be hard to keep track of what everyone’s up to all the time, major tentpole events, like the Super Bowl, offer a great opportunity to look out for new marketing campaigns, tactics, and strategies that either flop or take off. Take the Mr. Peanut Super Bowl campaign, which “had everyone buzzing about an iconic yet dated brand mascot for weeks,” Adone says. When she sees campaigns like these do well, she likes to dig in deeper and figure out what elements have made them successful and how she might apply new ideas to her own efforts.
Looking to the competition can be particularly helpful when you’re stepping into a new role or company, especially if it’s in a different industry. Whenever I take on a new gig, I like to conduct a landscape marketing analysis of the company’s digital channels and presence and that of their competitors, to find opportunities for improvement when it comes to social followers, engagement, and campaigns as well as overall website presence, blog content and format, and email themes and cadence. I use this exercise to further my picture of what best practices are—since this is a constantly moving target—with real-world, up-to-the-moment examples from others working in the field.
4. Let Yourself Experiment
Sometimes the best way to learn is by trial and error; testing things directly with customers can be more valuable than market research, Adone says. Your goal should be to try things out quickly, learn from your experiments, and adapt based on the results.
To be successful, you should have the tools in place—such as social listening platforms, A/B testing capabilities, and engagement analytics—to be able to quickly assess how your consumer responds to whatever changes you introduce. If you try something new you should be able to tell right away if people love it and also if they don't, Adone says.
Depending on the initiative, early indicators of success could include an uptick in email subscribers, social media followers, or comments. But longer-term signs of effectiveness might be more positive reviews, an increase in overall customer engagement, and higher conversions or sales.
5. But Don’t Test Everything
When you’re working in a field with so much change, and resources like time, money, and energy are limited, you’ll need to learn when to act right away and when to wait and see. When a new platform or trend emerges, there’s often a bandwagon effect—and that can create a sense of urgency. If everyone else is doing it, you may feel the pressure that your company has to try it out as well. That if you don’t act fast, you’ll miss the moment or be perceived as behind the times for hopping on too late. But it’s never a good idea for companies to act rashly—especially if it’s something that might not be a fit for your customers.
Whenever I start managing social media or digital strategy for a new company, I usually find the aftereffects of attempts to try out a new channel or platform without a strategy in place. The results aren’t pretty: I’ve come across abandoned profiles, dated content and logos, blogs that haven’t been maintained in years, and the wrong phone numbers and hours listed on accounts on Yelp and Google. These remnants of hasty and poorly planned efforts can create customer service issues and definitely don’t shed a positive light on brands looking to stand out online.
So keep in mind that sometimes it’s just as important to know when not to move forward as it is to know when you should seize the moment.
6. Foster a Love of Learning (and Get Certified)
If you don’t love learning, then modern marketing probably isn’t for you. Every day is going to be different and while that can make things challenging, it’s also what makes things exciting. As long as you keep on learning, you will never be bored and you’ll have a greater chance of job security.
To get started, there are plenty of free online trainings and certification courses available from popular channels like Facebook and Google and from marketing platforms like HubSpot and Marketo. Being a self-taught marketer has helped me push myself out of my comfort zone and advance in my career. In 2016, I took some time off to bike across the country as I relocated from New York to Los Angeles. Around that time, I completed HubSpot and Google marketing courses to brush up on my skills and round out my resume to prepare for my search for a full-time job on the West Coast. (Since it’s now been nearly four years—a lifetime of changes in marketing—it’s undoubtedly time for a refresher.)
Gohn has also prioritized learning over her 11 years of experience by taking employers up on the professional development perks they’ve offered. “The first time I was interested in a course, I was a little intimidated to ask a boss to spend a few thousand dollars on my career, but after making a case for why I thought a specific certification would help our marketing team, they agreed and were also excited to see my skills expand,” she says.
To make room for learning on the job, she blocks off time on her calendar whenever there’s a new platform to become familiar with or when she’s starting out in a new role. That’s something Gala does as well—she dedicates time every Thursday or Friday for learning. “This can be hard when you also need to be there for your clients, but in the long term it will pay off,” she says.
No matter what type of marketing you’re working in, get in the mindset that learning is an ongoing process, rather than a one-time endeavor. Because whatever you’ve mastered today won’t necessarily be the best way to do things a year or even a month from now.
7. Remember Marketing 101
The channels we use to market to customers will change. The types of messaging that resonates with customers will change. Facebook’s dominance may be replaced by TikTok or messaging apps. Today people may be more engaged with web searches but a couple years from now they may be more likely to conduct those searches via smart speakers like Alexa and Google Home.
While marketing trends may come and go, the basic rule of marketing is here to stay: You only have a product if you have a customer. Remembering this should help anchor you and keep you focused on what’s mission critical, even amidst all of the chaos of new platforms and evolving metrics. In other words—no matter what’s trending today or tomorrow—it all comes down to understanding the wants and needs of your specific potential customers and doing your best to meet these needs.
Gohn says this kind of customer-centric focus that keeps those basics top-of-mind has helped email marketing change for the better over the last decade. She’s seen the field move from generic “batch and blast” campaigns (sent to every single customer) to a much more nuanced, tailored approach, powered by stronger customer data. “Instead of just thinking of our database as a whole, I’m constantly trying to segment to make sure the right messages are reaching the right consumer at the right time,” she says.
If you make sure never to lose sight of the fundamental principles of marketing, you’ll find it easier to successfully react to—and leverage—the right tools and trends.
8. Go Easy on Yourself
This is a big one. There can be an intense amount of pressure to be the expert for your team or company, whether that means being caught up to the minute on the slightest changes Facebook and Google make to their platforms, the latest splashy ad campaign from a big-name brand, or what’s trending in the general zeitgeist, and it can be a lot to keep track of for any one person. It’s OK and healthy to set boundaries. Here are some things that have worked for me:
- Ask for time to assess and respond. It’s unfair for people to expect you to know everything at a moment’s notice or to give them an answer relying only on intuition. Give yourself time to do your research—whether that’s brushing up on a new campaign or tool, deploying a customer survey to get answers, or reviewing your analytics—and, if necessary, create a thoughtful report to share your findings.
- Take breaks. Give yourself time and space away from your work and from social media and other websites, especially on the weekends and at night. Even if it doesn’t feel like work, it is work—and working 24/7, especially in a work climate with constant change, can lead to burnout.
- Ask for help (especially from “your people”). These people are in the trenches every day too, and if they don’t have the answers, at least they’ll be able to understand what you’re going through and help you brainstorm and troubleshoot.
- Know that it’s OK not to have the answers to everything at all times. Marketing isn’t a skill you learn all at once—it’s a muscle you’re constantly working on and building up.
Navigating change can be scary, especially when you feel like you’re figuring it out alone or operating without a roadmap. The truth is that the channels, tools, and metrics we rely on to do our jobs are changing minute-by-minute, as are the interests of the consumers we’re trying to reach and engage. But realizing that there’s no well-defined roadmap is half the challenge. Once you figure that out, there are plenty of resources—right at your fingertips—to help you adapt and succeed.