A New Generation of Marketers Faces New Challenges

Pride and love drew me to my son’s college graduation last weekend, but it was nostalgia that caught me by surprise. It would be cliché to say the crowd in their caps and gowns was filled with eager faces and bright futures but truly it was. There were hundreds of business graduates ready to launch their careers, some portion of them in marketing but all in a completely different world than I or any of my contemporaries encountered when we started our professional lives. Though my son’s path may not be marketing, the occasion still made me wonder about the vast differences in the field in just one generation and the differences it might make for the new crew of marketers in this age of connectedness.

  • New graduates will soon be practicing in a professional capacity where they have been participating personally for years. What will their countless hours of personal surfing, texting, sharing, rating, buying, and creating bring to their new professional interest? How will their expectation of two-way brand conversations shape their approach to marketing? You could argue that my generation also consumed marketing messages in print and TV, received flyers and direct mail pieces, but it was unlikely that we developed them before we entered the workforce. It remains to be seen how much of that personal experience will translate to professional advice appropriate for brands or companies.
  • This young group brings entirely different expectations to their careers, including the assumption that they will be lifelong learners. They expect a dynamic work environment and constant change. The pace of that change is also accelerating, which means the skills that will be important to their success will be those that help them absorb new information, understand and create a framework for incorporating varied opportunities, and recognize when and how to shift focus and resources. Sort of like getting up from the blackjack table when you are ahead; it takes a certain kind of discipline to juggle currently performing programs with a steady eye on where consumers will be taking you next.
  • Most new graduates assume they’ll have multiple jobs, probably even multiple jobs in the next couple of years. They’ll remain loyal to the right opportunity as long as it grows as quickly as they perceive they should be growing. The bright side of this is they’re constantly looking for challenges and responsibility, but they may need to stay longer than they think to get the full value out of the experience they are in.
  • They must develop and exercise strong complementary skills. They’ll have to be well versed in technology and software packages and be extremely data fluent to fully participate in online marketing.
  • In some cases, they’ll be forced to create their path without meaningful mentorship in the field. In e-marketing the young guns often know as much as the veteran marketers. It requires careful balance to bring solid business and marketing experience together with the e-marketing expertise. It is this combination that brings true results.
  • Because they can work virtually, it will happen more often. This can take them out of day-to-day contact that provides training and encourages teamwork. They’ll have to create a new set of skills to make this alternate situation work for them.
  • They’ll practice in a world of marketing accountability through data access that forces closer collaboration. The offline work must be integrated with the online work, which must be supported by the right kind of Web presence, and so on, maybe with partners or sometimes across competing entities.
  • They’re forced to simultaneously think both large and small. Cause-and-effect time frames have been collapsed significantly, making thoughtful testing not only efficient and valuable but also essential to success. Every budget is now a test budget, and proving on a small scale to earn your way to a larger budget is commonplace.
  • Because the platform is global they’ll have to rethink audience, reach, and context. This group will have to make sure certain programs are relevant beyond the regional or national context. This requires a broader understanding of consumers and significant additional planning. At the same time global reach is available, local targeting is critical, requiring the dexterity that this group embraces.

My advice to graduating students entering the world of marketing in this opportunity-rich time is to learn from the past but invent the future. Begin by acknowledging that everything we do now is grounded in lessons from past expert marketers — before there even was an Internet. The work done by direct marketing pioneers still informs the work we do online and in e-mail marketing. Branding experts are finding new ways to apply their insights and creativity in an interactive environment. This next generation of marketers has inherited a versatile, interactive platform on which to make their mark. It is up to us veteran (read: old) marketers to keep up with them as they reinvent marketing –again and again — as we all move forward together.

Join us for a one-day Online Marketing Summit in a city near you from May 5, 2009, to July 1, 2009. Choose from one of 16 events designed to help interactive marketers do their jobs more effectively. All sessions are new this year and cover such topics as social media, e-mail marketing, search, and integrated marketing.

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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.