Recently, I was invited to speak to a class of students about embarking on a career in digital marketing and also share my thoughts on the future career prospects for digital marketers. To be honest, I have never penned down my thoughts on this topic before even though I have been working as a digital marketer for the last 10 years.
With this opportunity to speak to the future leaders in digital marketing, I took the chance to gather my ideas and put them on paper.
Why digital marketing?
The thought of embarking on a digital marketing career is an interesting one for me. My dad owned a computer repair shop in one of the suburb towns in Singapore and I grew up watching him put together pieces of circuit boards, chips, and other metal bits to assemble a fully functional computer. That was in the early 90s when computers were big and bulky and connecting to the Internet involves dialing through the modems.
It was an exciting time for me as a kid because I had the opportunity to learn how a computer was assembled and learned the basics in operating a computer (obviously to play my favorite game, Double Dragons) whenever the computer wasn’t used.
Being one of the first in my group of friends to have access to the Internet, I was a quick learner and created my first website at the age of 14.
As I progressed through the education system and had to decide on a course for my diploma, I decided not to pursue the family business of computer repairs and opt for a diploma in Business Informatics. This was mainly because computers were gradually being taken over by laptops and while I wanted to focus on computer programming, it felt right to learn a bit about business at the same time. Throughout the course, computer programming was like second nature to me and I enjoyed creating programs and websites by writing lines of codes on my own.
The next change in my career direction came when I interned in a multinational corporation as a junior web developer. During my internship, I found that there was a tsunami of programmers from overseas who were coming into Singapore to find work. These programmers were willing to do the same job for half the salary. It was simply unrealistic to compete with them in the long run.
That was when I decided that I wanted to be a digital marketer. At that time, digital marketer wasn’t even a real job title but in my mind, I just knew it will materialize.
Starting your digital marketing career
If you are looking to start a career in digital marketing, I would say that you are definitely in a better space than I was in 10 years ago. Do a quick search on LinkedIn for digital marketing roles and you will see that companies are actively hiring for digital marketers to join their organisations.
By and large, you have the option to join:
- a multinational corporation as an in-house digital marketer
- a small local enterprise as an in-house digital marketer
- an agency as an digital marketer to service clients
No matter what choice you make, there isn’t a right or wrong answer here.
The advantage of joining a multinational corporation is that you earn the glitz and glamour of working in a well-known company with large marketing budgets to spend on digital marketing activities. You will also have the opportunity to run regional and global digital marketing campaigns as well.
In a small local enterprise, you are given a smaller budget to spend on digital marketing activities but that develops your ability to think ‘out of the box’ to make the biggest impact with the little that you have.
While joining an agency is often considered as working in a sweatshop, you will gain the most amount of experience in the shortest period of time because you have the opportunity to work on a wide variety of digital marketing activities. You will also learn how to market to a diverse target audience as you work with different clients.
What if nobody hires you?
The biggest challenge a fresh graduate faces is that companies are often looking for experienced digital marketers. Let’s face it. Companies want to hire someone who can hit the ground running instead of spending precious time training a newbie.
My advice to fresh graduates who face this challenge is to create personal projects to grow their digital marketing experience.
In my case, I created an online shopping directory website that amassed a huge amount of user generated content when online store owners registered to list their online stores. Google loved the huge amount of content on my website and indexed me rather high in search engine rankings. As a result, I was able to drive massive amount of traffic to my online shopping directory and at the same time, earn some money through advertisements and affiliated marketing.
I also went on to create a personal finance website that allowed users to log their expenses in a simple ledger format. While the traffic was not huge, the complexities in developing this website allowed me to learn a lot along the way.
By sharing my experience and learnings, I was able to secure my first digital marketing role in a multinational company to kick start my digital marketing career.
Career tips for digital marketers
Here are my career tips for digital marketers who are looking to further their careers.
Metrics is king – ANALYTICS is everything
When you are creating digital marketing activities, always ensure that you are measuring for success. That allows you to align with your stakeholders on expectations and agree on what a successful digital marketing activity looks like.
Know everything and specialize in some
In most companies, you will often be the only digital marketer around. That means your stakeholders expect you to be the subject matter expert for everything related to digital marketing. So it’s important to be knowledgeable in all things related to digital marketing. At the same time, make yourself the expert on the digital marketing techniques that are most important to your organisation.
Be eager to learn
Many digital marketers fall in this trap where they think that they only have to focus in digital marketing alone. The reality is that digital marketers need to understand the full scope of the business and what’s important to their stakeholders in order to recommend the digital marketing strategy that works for them. Always be eager to learn about what’s happening in the organisation so that you adapt your digital marketing strategies accordingly.
Stay updated and relevant
Always keep yourself abreast of the latest technologies and Internet trends. You never know which digital trend will become the next Google or Facebook. Don’t be afraid to use small budgets to experiment on new ideas.
Network with talented people
There is no such thing as the best digital marketer because technology changes all the time. Network with the right people to learn about their successes and failures and every nugget of knowledge you gain can help you create a better digital marketing strategy.
Build your personal brand
Digital marketers need to talk the talk and convince others that they are the experts in digital marketing. The best way to do this is to build your personal brand on this subject. Create your own website to share information about yourself and blog about your experiences. Amplify your blog by sharing the information on LinkedIn and other social media platforms to build on your social media presence as well.
Certification in industry recognized courses
Invest time and money on industry recognized courses and certifications to broaden your knowledge and strengthen your expertise in digital marketing. Many companies like Oracle and Google set up online academies to educate digital marketers about their platforms. Having a certificate in Eloqua shows that you are knowledgeable in email marketing and increases your chances of being hired in an organisation that uses Eloqua for email marketing. At the same time, consider enrolling in courses that trains you on relevant skill sets outside of digital marketing such as project management and Six Sigma. These courses will strengthen your management skills and increase your chances of being promoted in a more senior position.
Run your own personal projects
Even when you are gainfully employed in a company, continue to run your own personal projects to experiment on big ideas that your stakeholders are not willing or ready to pursue.
In 2007, corporate blogs were not very popular yet but I strongly believed that blogs are great content marketing tools. I created a blog that focused on gold investments to test my idea. The result was that my articles generated a high traffic of visitors from search engines and I was recognized as a thought leader, almost instantly.
The best results were that I was approached by 2 major publications to interview me about my thoughts about gold investment and I also made money through sponsored posts paid by gold investment companies who wanted me to write about them.
Future career prospects for digital marketers
When I started my first digital marketing role, the biggest worry was whether companies would believe that they need to hire a digital marketer to manage their digital marketing strategies in-house. Fast forward to 2016, my worries are no longer warranted.
In my opinion, the career prospects for digital marketers are still pretty awesome and here are some trends that I am seeing now.
Companies are willing to pay for digital marketers
Companies are no longer hiring one digital marketer to manage their strategies. They are more willing to invest in a digital marketing team to build a strong digital marketing strategy and execute them.
Digital marketing expertise is still highly sought after
Companies are still actively looking for experts in the digital marketing space. If you are able to prove that you are the expert that they need, they are willing to pay top dollars for you to join them.
Digital marketers continue to evolve with technology advancements
With new technology advancements, digital marketers continue to evolve in their digital marketing activities by adopting new trends like virtual reality, 360-degree videos at lightning speed. They no longer sit and wait to learn from early adopters. Instead, more and more digital marketers are choosing to be the early adopters themselves.
Chief Digital Officer: C-level roles created for digital marketers
There is really no ceiling for digital marketers. Senior leaders are understanding the need for digital marketers in management positions and we are starting to see C-level roles created specifically for this purpose.
Convergence in roles: Digital marketers are headhunted to be head marketing teams
In the past, head of marketing teams are hiring digital marketers to develop strategies that complement their overall marketing objectives. These days, we are seeing the shift where digital marketers are being headhunted to head marketing teams and traditional marketing activities are now used to complement the overall digital marketing strategies.