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Marketing Professional Development

How to Become a Digital Marketer: Common Marketing Career Paths

There are many ways to become a digital marketer.

Not everyone with a position in marketing studied it in school.

Likewise, they’ll likely all agree that there’s no one career track you need to follow to get started in digital marketing.

The digital marketing career journey is an exciting, diverse, and ever-changing expedition that will undoubtedly be a part of the future of work. And, the internet isn’t going away anytime soon. As a result, companies are relying more heavily on digital channels than ever before.

That makes digital marketing the perfect career choice for individuals who want to balance creativity and business acumen.

Depending on your interests, you can take a more analytical route –  probing into experiments that lead to better results – or flex your artistic abilities with innovative ideas that push boundaries.

There’s a place for the computer wiz and the writer, the charismatic leader and introverted intellectual. You can work in an agency setting or a large company, strike out on your own as a freelancer, or start your own business and build a team.

The point is: there’s a place for everyone in marketing.

I’m still early in my career, but when I look back on my journey, I couldn’t have planned it or foresaw what opportunities would open up that would lead me to where I am now.

When in university, I wanted to get a job that would look good on a resume. What better way than to start a student painting business? The experience was grueling but showed me I enjoyed sales and seeing things grow.

Throughout the rest of my university experience and after, I pursued marketing roles and freelance gigs that would introduce me to as many different areas of marketing as I could get my hands on.

My career path is unique to me.

But I’ve had the opportunity to meet dozens of marketers who also shared their windy path to a career in marketing with me.

This article will explore the diverse career paths that will bring you to a position in marketing.

I spoke to almost a dozen other marketers that I look up to for advice and guidance to get their answers to the following questions:

  1. How did you land a career path in marketing?
  2. Why do you like a career in marketing?
  3. What advice do you have for marketers just getting started?
  4. If they had to chart out the ideal marketing career path, what would it look like to you?

Here’s what they had to say.

What A Career Path In Marketing Looks Like (Experiences from Actual Marketers)

I spoke to several marketers to learn about what led them to a career in marketing. I wanted to understand how many different paths can lead to this field.

In the following section, we’ll hear the stories of several marketers who came from different places yet still made their way to a career in digital marketing.

Let’s dive in!

How Being a Creative Entrepreneur is Also a Crash Course in Marketing

I connected with Lani Assaf, Marketing lead at Elpha, a Y Combinator company that built a community of over 50,000 based around supporting women with careers in tech.

When I asked her about her career path, she shared that it started when she discovered her passion for photography.

“In high school, I decided to become a photographer. As I taught myself photography using every Youtube video and resource on the internet, I also had to build a business alongside my passion. This meant creating a website, launching social media campaigns, and building influencer relationships.”

Her experience starting her own photography business took off, and she pursued opportunities to work with clients globally.

“At the end of college, four years later, I had worked with clients across the country – influencers, clothing brands, and creative agencies. I had traveled the world, creating international photography projects in cities like Montreal and Budapest.

Most importantly, I learned how to harness the power of digital marketing to grow a little idea into a business success.”

When building a business, you wear all the hats – sales and marketing being your two biggest early on. This process is a crash course in marketing that can rival even the best marketing MBA.

Coming from a similar background as Lani, Sydney Arin Go, a Growth Marketer that specializes in Content Marketing at Animalz, a content marketing agency, states:

“I actually didn’t know I wanted to go into marketing until I started. I was a teacher, a journalist, and an events photographer before I ever became a marketer. And then I did a marketing internship for Johnnie Walker and had to create a whole marketing campaign that spanned the 3 months that I was there which included producing videos to go in supermarkets, organizing events, organizing photoshoots for our models, and running social media for our #LoveScotch and #KeepWalking campaigns. It was a lot of fun, and I fell in love”

There’s a theme that you might notice throughout this article.

Individuals looking for creative outlets in their careers find themselves in marketing a lot of the time.

For example, Sydney’s background as a teacher certainly came into play as she taught me much of what I needed to know to also begin a career in content marketing.

For that, I’m very grateful (shout out to Sydney!)

But creative entrepreneurship isn’t the only path that ends in a marketing career. In fact, digital marketing jobs can be easier to obtain than jobs in other industries because the skill set is relatively new and most new marketers learn a lot on the job.

Marketing Jobs Have a Lower Barrier to Entry than Some Others

Jennilyn Weber is the Marketing Manager at Bright Funds, a platform that makes workplace giving, volunteerism, and grants management easy for companies and employees.

When describing how she got started with marketing, it came down to whether or not to pursue a career as a professor.

“I had just graduated from UCLA, and I initially planned on attending grad school. My long-term goal was to become a professor. Unfortunately (or fortunately), I couldn’t justify the financial cost. So, I started applying to entry-level jobs no matter the industry. Oddly enough, I landed a job that I found off Craigslist. It was for an Office Assistant position at a digital marketing agency. I quickly moved up the ranks, and I’ve been in the marketing industry ever since!”

Although she doesn’t recommend using Craigslist to get a job now, Jennilyn advocates for growing where you’re planted.

“I was just an Office Assistant, and I eventually ended up running the entire SEO department. Working for an agency is a great way to learn quickly, work with multiple clients across industries, and see if you may want to specialize in specific marketing channels… I wouldn’t be here without my previous agency experience.”

Based on the last few stories, it would seem that most marketers accidentally fall into their careers. But that is not always the case.

From PR Professional to Content Marketing Expert

Nicole Kahansky is a Content Marketing Manager at Hypercontext, a platform to make team meetings and goal setting simple for managers.

She was outgrowing her position in a PR agency and wanted to transition into marketing to pursue more professional growth.

“I started my career in PR and worked in the space for about four years. When I was looking to make a change, marketing appealed to me because I wanted to have a more measurable impact on the business while also using the skills I’d developed in Public Relations. I did a course called Growclass, which is focused on growth marketing, and that ultimately played a huge role in helping me land my current role as content marketing manager at Hypercontext.”

While many marketers seem to fall into a position in marketing, in Nicole’s case, she knew what she wanted and charted a path to get there.

Now that we’ve heard about how these marketing professionals found themselves in their current roles, let’s shift focus to what they enjoy about their day jobs.

Why Do You Like A Career In Marketing?

Autonomy and Responsibility

Jeff GoodSmith is a Content Marketing Strategist at Clique Studios, a digital design and experience agency. When discussing his role, he emphasizes how much responsibility and autonomy agencies give their teams.

“I love the creativity and strategy required for marketing. There’s a lot of responsibility when you’re basically tasked with your company or client’s success and worthwhile investment.

I remember my schooling emphasized developing something to benefit your customer instead of trying to tell the customer what they want. I think marketing, done right, is like that.

It can be really empowering to the people you serve. You’re able to expose people to new and amazing things, and it’s a great feeling to be a part of that.”

Being at an agency provides experience in a variety of industries and areas of marketing.

They do, however, require a lot of fast past work and competing priorities. If you’re considering pursuing the agency world, keep this in mind.

The Ever-Changing Landscape

Lindsay Adams, a Social Media Strategist at Formstack, a workplace productivity platform eliminating paper forms to breaking digital silos, has much to say about the agility required in social media marketing.

“I’m currently in an in-house role for a B2B SaaS company which admittedly comes with its creative challenges, but I enjoy it for the same reasons I chose to continue working as a marketer – the ability to be creative in my work, push boundaries (especially on social media), and the constant challenge of keeping up with the ever-changing field of marketing. It’s a pretty exciting field of work and can be extremely fulfilling if you find the right role for you.”

Working in marketing requires you to be tuned into the industry.

What are your competitors doing? What limits are the best brands pushing? What’s trending? You’re constantly looking for new ideas to solve challenging business problems.

The Psychological Components

Araminta Robertson, Marketing Consultant at Mint Studios likes marketing because it teaches her about people.

“I like marketing because a lot of it really boils down to psychology. It’s about understanding what makes people tick, and that’s always fascinated me. I also love the fact that the best marketers are often those who think outside the box. You don’t have to have spent 30 years in marketing to be a great marketer, and that appeals to me.”

You can spend your whole career in marketing and learn new things every day. But you also don’t need several degrees (if one at all) to get started. The fundamentals can be learned through a plethora of videos online. From there, you can apply what you’ve learned to your own personal brand or with freelance clients.

Ability to Continuously Ideate and Optimize

Continuing Lindsay’s thoughts on creative challenges within marketing, Jacalyn Beales, a Content Marketing Manager at Lever, a recruiting software company, believes that marketers thrive in an environment that is constantly ideating and improving.  

“I think marketers thrive in a certain type of environment, where you can ideate, try, and test new approaches to building and marketing brands. There’s a particular kind of rush that comes with that work—but more than that, you get to flex so many different ‘muscles,’ both creative and logical, that no two days are ever the same.

Marketing as a career can be addictive because of how rewarding it can be. The best kind of marketing is the kind that helps businesses genuinely help people, and that’s why I love working in marketing. It’s that rush that pulls you in, and I couldn’t imagine doing anything else. Unless ice cream tasting is a job—I could see myself doing that!”

We can’t all have a job as an ice cream taster, but marketing is a close second.

What Path Would You Suggest For Someone Starting In Marketing?

It’s clear there’s no one established track you need to follow to become a marketer.

In fact, the only careers with clear paths today are your lawyer and surgeon-type jobs. So I wanted to know what advice they’d have for someone interested in a career in marketing but not knowing where to start.

Be Really Curious

Lani Assaf from Elpha encourages marketers to be curious about people. That’s the basis of marketing, isn’t it? Understanding those we are selling to.

“Be really curious, especially about people. Read books about behavioral science and persuasion (I always recommend Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion). Marketing is all about building trust and leveraging influence, so learning to be a really great, clear communicator will help you a lot.”

Focus On Learning

Jennilyn Weber from Bright Funds speaks to the importance of learning as much as possible.

“Learn as much as you can if you’re first starting out. Marketing courses are useful, but you need to be able to execute the strategies you’ve learned. If you’re not in a position to experiment, I highly recommend using your own website. It’s also nice to have on your resume.”

Likewise, Jacalyn Beales at Lever recommends exploring diverse experiences.

“You’ll find that 99% of the people you come to work with and for, have diverse backgrounds that are checkered with a range of different experiences—from industry to role to expertise. What matters most is that you never stop learning, which includes learning from those around you. Pick something you’re passionate about, and go all-in on it. Then, learn about and find new ways to tie it to what other people do around you. Throughout my career, three tenets have helped me progress through what I love to do, and where I want to be: don’t hesitate, always test, and don’t be afraid to ask ‘why.'”

Network Whenever Possible

Jeff GoodSmith from Clique Studios realizes now that the simple advice of connecting with others is critical for those early in their career.

“It’s such basic advice (that I didn’t follow for about eight years, and when I finally did, I was able to get an opportunity) but – networking. Reach out to people who are doing the kind of work you might want to try, and reach out to them and ask to have a virtual cup of coffee. You can find a lot about their journey, or you might even find out about available positions, but it shows that you’re curious and hungry, which is essential to being successful in the field.”

Like Jeff, Hiba Amin, Senior Marketing Manager at HyperContext, echos the importance of talking to other marketers.

“Reach out and talk to a slew of marketers. This was the best thing I could have done in my career and continue to do to this day. I would message people on LinkedIn who I aspired to be, or who seemed to have a lot of credibility, and I would get on a 30-minute call with them to learn about their career paths, lessons learned, why they like the particular type of marketing they’re in and use it to help refine my own career path. Not to mention, you’ll build up an incredible network of smart and talented people who will be there for you in the future again. And, if you work hard enough, you’ll be able to return the favor in no time.”

What Will Your Career In Marketing Look Like?

There’s no one career path in marketing you need to follow. There are a myriad of different roles within this business function, and more are coming as AI and other cutting-edge technologies enter the world of marketing.

Additionally, it’s a growing industry.

Statista reports, “Until 2020, when the coronavirus put a halt on many industries, the spending on advertising worldwide has been increasing steadily. It is expected to go back on steady growth track starting in 2021, and surpass 630 billion U.S. dollars in 2024.”

If you’re looking to start a career in marketing, now’s a great time to start.

And if you need some advice, look no further than the great community of marketers within RevGenius and at all the great marketers who are in this article who are open to sharing their own experience with the hope of helping you achieve your marketing career goals.