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It’s a question I get asked after almost every talk I do.

“How do I advance my career in social media or digital marketing?”

Usually someone has become enamored of the social web or the power of digital to accelerate marketing and – just like many of us – wants to devote their careers to something they feel is changing the world for the better and where they know they can make a difference.

My answer to the question, however, is usually not one people expect.

It’s two-fold.

One: Learn marketing.

Not social. Not digital. Not tactics and campaigns.

But marketing. The principles of product-market fit, positioning, understanding your customer, understanding the market itself.

How does marketing create demand, both mechanically and psychologically?

You can’t be a specialist – and certainly not a “strategist”  in applied and programmatic marketing until you’ve got a solid foundation in the practice as a whole.

Two: Learn business.

If you have a role in marketing today, don’t stop there.

Go talk to the finance team, and learn what a P&L is and how they establish budgets and what key indicators they watch in your business to determine its financial health. Sit with IT and learn what they do to keep the infrastructure of the business running. Talk to sales people, learn their challenges and how they close deals. Shadow someone in customer service, feel their pain points, learn what customers ask for and how.

As marketers, we sit very much at the center of a business, not at the edges. We’re a hub for communication, for how the market perceives us, and for how our own organization sees ourselves. It’s imperative that we understand a little bit about a lot of aspects of our companies in order to do our jobs well.

The rest will start to take care of itself.

The best way to be a powerful marketer is to be an indispensable business contributor. The marketing skills and tactics can be learned, practiced, and refined. And let’s face it, they’ll change tomorrow anyway.

But someone who knows the business inside and out will always have value and a seat at the table.

And that is a career worth building.

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