Like many people during the 2008 recession, I considered returning to school to earn my MBA. We all wanted any extra edge we could get, given how quickly jobs were disappearing and how incomes were stagnating for those still employed. And like many of those same people, I got sticker shock when I researched schools.
Ultimately I shied away from the idea because of the time commitment, the costs, and the dubious proposition it would pay for itself. Still, I knew I needed to find a way to set myself apart amongst the thousands of other marketers out there.
I have always been a self-learner. I read daily several blogs and always have a book (or two) in progress. Rather than reading more of that daily material, though, I switched gears to focus on learning specific skills that would set me apart in the hiring managers’ eyes.
Given that I have always been attracted to technology, I naturally gravitated toward digital marketing. I loved reading about email marketing, display advertising, and how to build landing pages. I knew if I could learn those skills and best practices that they would give me the language to use in interviews, and the opportunity to put to work all of my learning. Luckily, that strategy paid off, as I have grown my income significantly in the past few years and developed a set of skills that are in demand: lead generation using marketing automation.
If you are still early in your marketing career, you may want to take a similar approach. Formal education is becoming less important as the rate at which technology changes increases. The information you need is all available online for free, and it’s just a Google search away. If you invest the time in yourself with the intent of learning a new skill (you can live without Facebook for a few hours), you can quickly differentiate yourself in a sea of marketing generalists who are largely interchangeable. Instead, make yourself indispensable.
Here are five key papers I turn to again and again still that helped me along the way. Hopefully they will help you advance, too.
The Definitive Guide to Engaging Email Marketing (Marketo)
Marketo knocked it out of the park with this one. More than 150 pages of deep detail explain the how and why of building great email marketing that works. Whether you’re a novice or old pro, there are plenty of lessons in this tome worth the time to read. I consumed it on a direct flight from Seattle to Boston (just about enough time to finish it) and still refer to it when I forget specifics. Consider using on your team if multiple people are involved in production so you are working from the same starting point.
The Ultimate How-To Marketing Guide (HubSpot)
No lie: I’m a HubSpot fanboy. I learned much of what I know about inbound marketing by reading (and rereading) many of their white papers over the years. And in 2012 I became a HubSpot customer — remaining one ever since by taking it with me during my past few employers. That loyalty is in part due to what they taught me over the years. They know what they are talking about and they share it freely. This great paper will give you a good introduction to a well-rounded list of areas where you need to build knowledge and help you discover where you can further emphasize your own development. Really into producing events? Learn project management. Like dealing with the media? Learn how to pitch properly. This is a great jumping-off point to go in several directions.
The 7-Day Lead Gen Landing Page Course (Unbounce)
More a one-per-day email course, this series is a must for all marketers. After all, marketing is largely about driving people to your site to convert and drive revenues for your company. Whether you’re working on public relations, events, social media, or other areas, everyone should understand what makes for a good landing page — and tilt their efforts in favor of helping those landing pages do their job. Nobody does this better than Unbounce. Similar to HubSpot, they teach you the how and why behind what they share. Whether you sign up to use their platform or not, the lessons are portable to any landing page design tools. Do what they say word for word, and you will find great success.
How to Build a Brand Newsroom (Contently)
This is a recent discovery for me. Contently has built a whole experience on a new content platform called Ceros. No more static PDFs! Thank you! Follow along to understand why your content must go above and beyond being useful. Content marketing continues to evolve and cutting-edge brands are adopting old-school journalism in an effort to stand out by offering not just useful information but meaning and creating emotional impact. The best storytelling achieves this. If you find yourself motivated by what they say, then you should understand what your own content should do, too.
The Value Proposition Canvas (Strategzyer)
And that’s it. Hopefully the items here help you discover new knowledge and lead you to develop new skills that you can put to use to make your LinkedIn and resume truly stand out from all the rest.
OK, this one is more than a short read. Buy the physical book as well as read their site. It’s so engrossing you’re going to love it. Have you ever had to develop content without really understanding who will be reading it or why? You’re essentially trying to create meaning and value in a vacuum. It doesn’t work. Try Strategyzer’s method instead. Work backwards from the world of your sales targets: the people who buy your products and services. Understand what their jobs are like (not just in terms of their decision-making process around what you sell); come to know their challenges and the goals they have. When you start with a solid understanding of their day-to-day world, you can then build a more empathetic message that resonates and that positions your products and services to address those challenges, goals, and concerns they have. Doing so should lead to the outcomes you want. This is an ideal exercise for Sales and Marketing to do together, as it takes several hours. It is worth every minute for the eye opening it causes.
If you have favorite go-to resources, please share them in the comments.