We should treat marketers like doctors

In spite of what your boss wants you to believe – keeping you in the office at 8 pm on a Friday before of a long weekend – marketers don’t save lives. In spite of that, they could probably benefit from a similar rigor to the one put in place when pursuing the medical career.

Having worked in marketing for many years, I’ve always been fascinated by the variety of people that call themselves marketers. Marketing – like medicine – is an inclusive profession and the are many fields. But in the same way that there is a big difference between an ophthalmologist and a podologist (and you wouldn’t ask the latter to treat a cataract), there is a huge difference between a brand manager and an email marketing expert.

The more worrying part about it is that anyone can call himself a marketer with no specific training, skills, or experience. Having organized a brand event, managed a mailing list, or run a couple of AdWords campaigns, doesn’t make someone a marketing expert, more than putting together the yearly budget for your department makes you a finance expert.

Wouldn’t it be amazing if every single day the ads you saw on TV were as good as the ones during the Super Bowl? It would be a win for the advertisers, the network, and the consumers. I believe that with the right education, mentorship, and career opportunities it could be possible.

First, specialized training

Doctors and Lawyers go through specialized schools and undertake a standardized test before they can practice. The same thing is true for accountants, engineers, architects, estheticians, and many other professions. For marketers instead, there is no formalized training. Nowadays marketers come from all walks of life: I, for example, have a degree in economics which is no more relevant than a degree in law. But even if a lot can be learned on the job, having solid fundamentals will create much more well-rounded professionals.

The Hippocratic oath

Bad marketers spam your inbox every day, interrupt your favorite show with incredibly boring ads, or even lie by omission. Poor practice is the cause for huge waste from advertisers, mistrust from the consumer, and destroys the industry.

Wouldn’t be wonderful if every professional marketer took an oath to uphold specific ethical standards before starting to practice? Even if not everyone would adhere to it, I believe it would lead to benefits through the entire ecosystem, from companies to consumers.

The residency

Too often you new grads hired as interns, managing a social media page and an email newsletter without anyone truly competent supervising them. And after 3 or 4 years, they call themselves “marketing experts.” As you wouldn’t trust a doctor with no residency experience for your next epidural, you probably shouldn’t trust self-made marketers with large budgets or your brand’s reputation. It wouldn’t be such a bad idea to have them go through a structured residency before they can call themselves experts.

Acknowledge the investment in the profession

The flip-side of that is that marketing interns should be paid decently and put on a career path. Like many other entry-level jobs, they work very hard in their early days, but there are many environments where they are not remunerated fairly. Although it’s true they don’t undergo as much formal training as lawyers or doctors (hence my points above), they deserve to make a good living. Only in this way they can take their job seriously without cutting corners, and bringing the discipline to new levels.

Seek a Qualified Opinion

Even though grandma’s remedies can work wonders (at least according to the stories you heard growing up), if you take your health seriously, you should seek the opinion of a real doctor.

I am sure that anyone that has worked in marketing has found himself having to go against his better judgment because someone else with the final say (the boss, the client, the HiPPO) wanted to express his unqualified opinion. One of the problems with the marketing profession is that almost anyone thinks they can do it, and therefore everyone wants to have a say. There is nothing wrong with expressing an opinion, but it needs to be something that they are qualified for. “That tagline positions us too close to our competition” could be a fair objection, “I like the white background better” often time is not. It is true that marketing is a mix of art and science, but there is much more science to it that people thing. A white banner, for example, may not be in contrast enough with the background color of many sites, therefore not viewed enough. An expert would know this because he has run a thousand tests in his career.

General Practitioners and Specialists

Like doctors, marketers are not all the same. In both cases, a generalist cannot do the work of a specialist, and they are only good in simple scenarios.

Someone that only worked for a small company taking care of everything from press releases to the SEO campaign will hardly be an expert in anything. It is particularly important nowadays to put experts in charge of specific marketing roles because data and technology have made everything more complicated and nuanced.

Often, marketers that have done a bit of everything but never truly specialized in anything tend to sell themselves as having all the know-how necessary to run marketing operations for a company. It is almost impossible to find someone with a truly holistic experience, but if your fast growing startup relies heavily on SEO and email, you are much better off hiring someone that has worked at an agency and focused on those fields for 3-4 years of their career, than someone that comes from “the startup world” but has no structured approach to the discipline. It is easier to teach someone how to work within a particular culture when everyone around the new hire lives and breaths it, than teaching him or her the practice for which they are supposed to be the only subject matter expert.

Your Next Chief of Medicine

Like in medicine, expertise is not easily interchangeable: product marketing manager will have limited ability to evaluate a plan from the media agency, as media managers may have troubles briefing a creative agency.

In a world where data, technology, and creativity are becoming even more intertwined in the marketing profession, I believe that the next generation of CMOs should have a meaningful, varied experience in multiple fields: a graduate trainee program if you will. You cannot have a media expert without any brand experience be the CMO, as you cannot have a creative person with no quantitative/ technology background. You can hire a solid staff under you, but in this field where success is a mix of art and science, the best leadership given by whom who have experience balancing between the two.

Author: Paolo

Economist by education, marketer by profession, coffee roaster by hobby.