How to Become a Marketing Manager, According to Those Who Made It

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How does one become a marketing manager?

We asked experts to give us their advice and insights.

Table of Contents

Steve Smith

Steve Smith

Marketing Director, Sany

Go to school

There are tons of marketing schools, as well as, certificate programs that help you become a marketing manager. Nowadays, you can attend in person or online.

Build your portfolio

The most important phase of marketing is the results. What can you accomplish? How long will it take? On which platforms? If you have no experience, start small and work your way up. If you can’t land your first big portfolio project, volunteer to help a small business or non-profit.

Market your own brand

We are in the age of the gig economy and side hustles. This particular way can help you not only test on something you’ve created but help you build your skills faster. Start a small side hustle or gig, and market your own products and services.

Apply for an internship

If you’re fresh out of school, there are tons of agencies who are seeking promising talent. Find a marketing agency and learn from the best.

Decide the marketing niche you want to work for

Marketing is very complex. The best way is to find out exactly what kind of marketing you want to specialize in.

Datis Mohsenipour

Datis Mohsenipour

Director of Marketing, Outback Team Building & Training

Start by asking yourself if you really want to be a leader

Many people think they want to be in a leadership role because it’s the next rung on the “corporate ladder” – but not everyone is fit for the role, or willing to take on the responsibilities that come with leadership. Ask yourself:

  • Am I ready to take on ownership for my work and the work of others?
  • Am I ready to work long hours if needed?
  • Am I ready to make hard, uncomfortable decisions?

Always be learning

There’s no shortage of incredible resources out there to help you grow as a marketer. A portion of your free time should be dedicated to your personal growth as a marketer.

I’m not a firm believer in standardized education for Marketing, as it grows and changes at such a rapid rate that school curriculums just can’t keep up. Everything you need to know is available on the internet and through applications. Here are some of the resources I check out daily/weekly:

  • HubSpot
  • Unbounce
  • WordStream
  • Orbit Media Studios
  • KlientBoost
  • Moz
  • I also love listening to Marketing Smarts (by MarketingProfs) and Marketing Cloudcast (by Salesforce) podcasts
  • LinkedIn + Facebook groups for marketers are fantastic sources for learning/networking as well

Apply your learning

There’s only so much you can learn by reading. Applying your learnings is critical to your growth as a marketer. If you are in an organization where you are not given opportunities to apply the lessons you have learned, you should push to get those opportunities.

Your leader will respect you for it, and if they don’t, you may want to reconsider your place of work. By applying what you’ve learned, you’ll also demonstrate value to the people you report to and build your resume.

Be a T-shaped marketer

There are so many things you can specialize in the world of Marketing. It’s nearly impossible to be good at everything – so people will often specialize in one focus (IE: Conversion Optimization, PPC, SEO).

I’ve always been a firm believer of knowing as much as you can about as many things as you can – but specializing in a few. For me, I have a strong understanding of PPC and SEO, but I hire contractors who specialize in these mediums to do the work. I know enough to question them on the work they are doing and challenge them on anything of concern, but it isn’t the best use of my time to manage/implement/moderate these efforts myself.

By having a solid understanding of multiple aspects of Marketing, you’re able to manage others who specialize in them. This is further reinforcement for points 2 and 3 above.

Polly Kay

Polly Kay

Senior Digital Marketing Manager, English Blinds

Education is important but is not always enough

Having a solid grounding in the principles of effective marketing is important, but as this is a very fast-moving industry – particularly in the digital age – educational qualifications and solid academic performance are no longer enough.

Many of the best marketing managers have little to no formal education in the subject, and whilst this can be a barrier to getting a foot on the ladder in the first instance, does little to hamper career progression later on.

This is because marketing is very much a performance-related industry that incorporates tangible metrics for success, and if you can meet and exceed them, you will rise, regardless of your qualifications on paper.

Ergo, even a first-time telesales trainee or a rookie club promoter can easily make a name for themselves in a fairly short period of time if they have the drive and skills to do so and begin to develop the type of reputation that allows the ambitious would-be marketing manager to identify opportunities to progress.

Keep your passion and be up-to-date with the knowledge, and understanding of the industry

You have to have a real passion for the marketing of course, and keep your knowledge and understanding of the industry as a whole, and what drives consumers and retailers alike, up to date.

Choosing a specialist niche is vital in order to attain a good position

This should be something that you’re genuinely enthusiastic about. Your niche could be a specific industry you wish to serve (such as logistics, supermarkets, fashion or virtually anything else) or a specific area of specialism within marketing, such as social media marketing, real-world retail, or event planning.

Starting at the bottom is often the best way to build up your skills, knowledge, and reputation, and also to help you to find the right niche and your main areas of interest.

You have to be proactive about pursuing opportunities and having the confidence to speak your mind and not be daunted by opposing opinions – and if you don’t have this type of confidence to start with, you need to be able to fake it effectively!

Know how to sell and market your own self

On which note, as a marketing manager, the first thing that you are selling – before, over and above anything else – is yourself. So you need to look, dress and act the part, speak with authority, and ensure that your own personal brand, and the package that you present, is one that people are willing to buy into. As they say, dress for the job you want, not the job you have!

That said, baffling with bullshit, promising things you cannot deliver or claiming expertise you don’t have are to be avoided at all costs – you’re a marketing manager, not a con artist, so don’t get the two confused.

Keep it real, keep learning, and be prepared to take the hits and get back up again, and you will soon begin to develop the skills you need to become the type of marketing manager that people want on their team.

Finally, you have to love what you do and be enthusiastic about doing it

This isn’t the type of niche that you can succeed in if you’re just there to do the absolute minimum necessary in order to earn a paycheck.

Michelle Ngome

Michelle Ngome

Marketing Manager, Sutliff & Stout, Injury & Accident Law Firm

The best way to become a marketing manager is by immersing yourself in all things marketing

Marketing managers are generalist surrounded by specialists. The manager has enough information to steer the company’s vision, oversee the team’s strategy while remaining practical and tactical.

I would encourage beginners to dive into popular blog posts and podcasts

Some examples are Social Media Examiner, HubSpot, Digital Marketer, and Search Engine Journal. A marketing manager will be informed on various platforms such as WordPress, social media, video marketing, SEO, and content creation. In addition, the manager should be to manage a budget and reports. Last a manager should be personable with solid communication skills.

If necessary, you can invest in a course or a certification which can boost your resume

Entry-level positions include marketing assistant, marketing coordinator, or social media specialist. These positions may be a good fit to get you involved in all aspects of the department. In most cases, the next step is a marketing manager.

If you are unable to get a job, I would encourage someone to grab a free or low fee client

This will allow you to test the information that you are reading and apply it to their business. Be sure to track your progress and duties as this can be applied to your resume or build out your business.

Ryann Richardson

Ryann Richardso

Founder, Ellington Lafayette Co. | Former VP of Marketing, Victor

No need to know it all

While they may prove helpful, successful marketing managers don’t need an all-encompassing advanced – or even undergraduate- degree in marketing. In fact, many marketers come to the profession after pursuing unrelated fields of study and career paths.

What’s important is possessing an understanding of the robust landscape that is “marketing” and where one can add expert-level value. Marketing encompasses everything from market research and audience segmentation to brand development and communications to financial modeling and data analysis (and a whole lot more).

That means there’s a great diversity of skills needed to run an effective marketing team. While you may encounter the occasional marketer who claims to “do it all” well, they’re about as common as an actual unicorn.

Aspiring marketing managers, whether they’re coming right out of school or are making a career transition, are best advised to highlight the transferrable skills they have in one or more marketing verticals, establish a well-defined expertise niche, and add further practical, on-the-job education as they advance in their careers.

Think like an operator

There’s an unfortunate stigma around marketing held by many in non-marketing functions of the business. They seem to think of marketing as a creative, non-essential, cost center (the “pretty stuff”), rather than as an actual revenue driver in and of itself.

Simply put, many non-marketers can’t really explain what marketing does, but they know it’s a wasteful expense. Are they wrong? Absolutely. But it’s hard to blame them for the erroneous assumption. The reputation of marketers as wasteful creatives is one that’s been well-earned by generations of, frankly, bad marketers.

To be truly effective, and have their work valued, marketing managers, should think more like operators than esoteric artists. Take a holistic view of the business, understanding its health, key performance indicators, and objectives at a macro level, not just in the marketing function.

Ensure that your marketing strategy is rooted in those core business objectives. That sexy new Snapchat acquisition strategy that feeds leads into a 45-day email drip campaign is a likely dud for your regional Shipping and Logistics company looking to sign contracts with local business owners this week.

Measure what really matters. In case you were wondering, that’s not Media Impressions or your Instagram Follower count. Speak the language of the rest of the business, not “marketer speak”. Your non-marketing colleagues don’t care about your CTRs, the resonance of your CTAs, or your CPC on PPC. They want to know that your work is driving a net positive financial contribution to the business. Period.

Do it with your own brand

What better case study to flex your marketing chops on than yourself? Companies look for marketers that can effectively build a brand, promote a product or service, and move consumers to act. The best way to model that capacity (and hone your skills) is by treating yourself as the business first.

Build your own brand. If you don’t own it already, buy {yourname}.com. Publicly establish who you are, what you do, and why you do it. Demonstrate your ability to galvanize a large audience through social media, a blog, podcast, newsletter, etc.

Establish your own unique value proposition and monetize it through consulting/freelance gigs, independent projects, or off-the-shelf marketing products. Then, when you’re looking for your next (or first) marketing manager job, prospective employers are actually your consumers.

Beth Cooper

Beth Cooper

Director of Marketing, KNB Communications

In order to move up in marketing, you must market yourself

Be aware of the personal “brand” you are showing to colleagues and superiors. Even when I didn’t feel this way inwardly, I portrayed someone who was confident, professional, and creative.

Advocate for yourself, always. Show the world who you are and the talent that you have. Especially when you are younger, it can be hard to take real ownership of your thoughts and ideas in a business setting. Making sure you are seen and heard is extremely important. Share your ideas freely, and when they are liked and used, do not hesitate to take credit for them.

That’s not to say teamwork isn’t important. It is — support your teammates when their ideas are great, and they will (hopefully) do the same for you.

Stay on the lookout for opportunities to get published for your expertise, or even search for speaking engagements

Remember that you deserve to show others what you know and have learned throughout your journey in marketing thus far.
One of the most important factors in becoming a marketing manager is learning to understand and speak in numbers. Understanding the analytics is what will give you a leg up and separate you.

You can be the best creative, but until you show an exec the ROI resulting from your marketing efforts, your contributions may go unnoticed.

Study about the current trends

In addition, marketing is a field that relies heavily on current trends, so learn them and implement them into your work. You will need to make a constant effort to stay updated in your tactics to succeed and continue to grow. If you are not enjoying it, you might be in the wrong business.

Sean Allan

Sean Allan

Digital Marketing Manager, Aware Group

For me I have two pieces of advice:

Learn something practical and in-depth that makes a tangible business decision

Master AdWords, SEO, Learn practical Content strategy from creation to outreach – do things that make a bottom-line difference to a business.

I have a lot of meetings and its truly amazing too many how many Senior Marketing executives can’t do anything practical – a lot of fluff about “strategy” – but a business is built on revenue and actual business results. If you start moving the needle on the bottom-line you will have a very happy boss.

If you are young, choose a small company who give you exposure and opportunity

It’s easy to get bogged down and lost in big corporations, a lot of red tapes and isolation. You want to experience it all – not just small departments. If you are older I would recommend that you specialize in one area and pair it with Data Science.

A person who can create campaigns and break them down technically is a very rare bird.

Nathan Piccini

Nathan Piccini

Marketing Manager, Data Science Dojo

My first piece of advice on how to become a Marketing Manager is to put your head down and work

I started out as a Marketing and Communications Intern at Data Science Dojo. I don’t mean be a “workaholic”, but, to be frank, just get your stuff done.

I made it fun for myself to remember deadlines by creating my own personal competition with my Senior Marketing Manager. My goal was to get projects done before she could ask me about my progress or start projects before she knew they existed.

In this way, I showed my ability to work independently as well as an awareness of what the team needed to be successful.

Take responsibility for your mistakes

You will make mistakes along the way, and that’s okay. Just make sure you learn from it. I made countless mistakes on my journey, not all of them minor, but was able to learn, grow, and move on. You aren’t the only one that can learn from your mistake either.

Share the issue and the solution with your team. They will be less likely to make the same mistake, and your solution might help solve a different problem a team member is having. Your mistakes don’t dampen expectations. They spark innovation.

Kayla Kelly

Kayla Kelly

Marketing Manager, Paypro

Over the past 7 years, I’ve had the pleasure of serving as Marketing Manager of 3 different companies. During that time, I’ve seen marketing change a lot; gone are the “Wild, Wild West” days of Internet marketing, where people would build backlinks by the thousands using “blackhat” techniques.

Be aware of a wide variety of skillsets, and well-versed in a few

From PPC to social media to organic SEO to long-form content to direct response copy, there is a lot to learn. You may skew towards data-driven, using platforms such as Google Analytics, or you might prefer a more friendly UX and harness tools like Leadfeeder to do the heavy-lifting of data for you.

Know where to focus

Most importantly, if you want to lead a company’s marketing department, you need to know where to focus. You only have so many hours in a day and days in a year.

You can’t do everything, so it’s important to stay abreast of automation tools which can save you time. You’ll also want to build your skill as a people manager, and learn where and how to source talented contractors.

At the end of the day, working in close concert with your sales and customer service counterparts to deliver ROI for your employer should be your true ambition.

Maile Waite

Maile Waite

Digital Marketing Manager, CloudApp

Have a passion for work

After graduating with a degree in sociology, I started my career at the beginning of 2016 as an entry-level hourly SEO employee in a glorified customer service job. What set me apart and allowed me to eventually become a digital marketing manager was my passion for the work.

Show your employer that you are willing to put in the time and effort to become an expert in the field

Each day, I spent several hours outside of work (and off the clock) studying the craft and working on my own projects to learn as much as I could. Credentials and past experience don’t mean anything if you’re not actively keeping up with your industry and continuing to provide value.

Alexandra Bohigian

Alexandra Bohigian

Marketing and Sales Director, Enola Labs Software

Take time to learn the different methods of marketing and stay well-read on recent trends

To become a marketing manager, one must have at least a few years of experience working in marketing — and maybe more, depending on the company. The type of experience one has can make or break their chances of becoming a marketing manager.

Employers typically want to see a breadth of experience in different areas of marketing, from social media to content marketing to email marketing.

Education is key in bringing new and exciting ideas to a marketing strategy and can help bridge the gap for less experienced marketers who are vying for that manager role.

Antonella Weidman

Antonella Weidman

Digital Marketing Manager, WebTek

To become a marketing manager you must be organized, detail-oriented, and have good communication skills

You have to believe in what you do and always push yourself, and your team, to strive for the best. In addition, when working for an agency, you need to always be exploring the cutting-edge elements of digital marketing to discover the new tactics and strategies that allow your clients to thrive.

Laura Troyani

Laura Troyani

Founder & Principal, PlanBeyond

While I was rising up the ranks in established organizations and later young startups, the thing that let me show off my marketing chops was executing programs and campaigns that were completely new to an organization and frequently completely new to me too! This meant readily accepting steep learning curves and finding ways to scale over those curves as quickly as possible.

Read a lot

The number one way I did this was by reading every piece of digital content—white papers, ebooks, guides, etc.—I could find that covered a specific topic area. By hoarding information from a variety of sources, I was able to start identifying generally-accepted best practices as well as how industry professionals measured success.

It gave me a way to develop blueprints for my own organization’s campaigns, show managers and colleagues how we were going to move forward, and create a process for program measurement.

The benefits of this were twofold. Not only was I able to showcase my value to my organization by developing value-creating programs but I was simultaneously able to significantly build up my own skillset.

Related: The Benefits of Reading

Lauren Morley

Lauren Morley

Chief Marketing Officer, Techvera

It’s most important to find a company that values marketing and understands it takes trial and error to be effective

In my case, I never thought I would become or set out to be a marketing person. I had gained some light experience in previous positions, doing occasional social media posts or emails for a company. When I started with Techvera, I was hired as a dispatcher.

After a few months, I’d noticed that the owner was handling all marketing functions which was taking away from his core responsibilities. So I offered to start handling our social media accounts with the experience I had at the time.

Luckily there’s tons of knowledge online about how to do business social media effectively, so the internet was my best friend in learning to do it well!

From there I slowly but surely took on more responsibility – emails, advertisements, content creation, events, promotions – until I was handling all the company’s marketing needs and eventually moved into the CMO position.

A big part of getting to this point was uncovering needs and opportunities and presenting my ideas to our CEO. Every company wants to make more money and acquire more customers, and if you can show a game plan for getting there it’s much easier to get approval to bring your ideas to life.

Many people don’t see it as something they need, don’t feel like putting the necessary money/time/resources into it, or have been burned by ineffective marketing in the past.

Luckily for me, my CEO knows that good marketing isn’t an overnight thing. It’s taken lots of research, testing, tweaking, and time to find what works best for our business. And even then we’re always trying new things, there is no finish line in marketing!

I never went to college for this, everything I know has been self-taught, so it’s very possible to make it without formal education as long as you show initiative and are willing to start small. And possibly even in a position that has nothing to do with marketing, to begin with!

Do plenty of research, take online courses, and learn from those who have come before you. If you see a need in the company you’re with now or one that you’re pursuing a job with, don’t be afraid to speak up with your ideas. It could turn into your perfect marketing career!

Olga Mykhoparkina

Olga Mykhoparkina

Chief Marketing Officer, Chanty

The best way to become a marketing manager is to never stop learning

I would suggest finishing a BA in marketing first, but if you don’t have the opportunity to go to university, you can make it up by learning on your own.

To start with your marketing career, get an internship at a company as a digital marketer before applying for a paid position.

You’ll be able to learn different tactics such as PPC, Adwords, social media, content marketing, SEO and learn a little bit of everything. Later on, as you want to specialize in a specific area of digital marketing, you can choose a company and role that fits this area best.