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What do you do?


In our professional careers, we all have been asked this question many times. Sometimes by CEO, Financial Controller, Business Heads and even friends and family. So why do we as marketers struggle to answer this important question?

But what do they all do? If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you’ll have asked yourself before. On a packed evening rush hour or jostling down a busy mall. Where are they going? Where have they come from? What do they do?

It’s not just a rush hour question, to be honest. It’s one that stumps me that when we meet friends or friends of a friend at dinner, I’ll have a vague idea of their job title, and (if they mention it enough) the name of the company they work for.

Really, it depends on the job. Some jobs are pretty straightforward: teacher, nurse, builder, plumber. They are most certainly not straightforward jobs, but they are conceptually easy to grasp.

Then there are jobs that we sort of understand, even if we don’t know the ins and outs of the day-to-day: lawyer, banker, accountant, engineer.

But after that there’s a whole set of jobs that are both difficult to explain in terms of what goes into doing them and why they need doing in the first place: programmer, management consultant, research analyst.

I would put ‘marketer’ into the third category. It’s broadly true that marketers do a poor job of explaining what they do and why they do it to a non-marketing audience. Which is weird, right? You’d think, given our skills, we’d be people who could really nail it.

I think it reflects the fact that marketing is a creative, complex and strategic job where input and output are not always tangible. And it might well be what causes the longstanding sales/marketing conflict.

Ask a salesperson what their function is, and they have an easy answer: sell stuff. If a marketer then goes on to say her job is to create the right conditions in which the salesperson can sell stuff, it’s both more long-winded and harder to prove.

That’s why traditionally sales wins the big contracts, gets pats on the back and more compensation in the purse. And when marketers raise up saying ‘But we helped too!’, they’re told to go back to their colouring-in.

That’s an exaggeration of course, and certainly not an argument that marketers should feel sorry for themselves. But on the other hand, I’m sure most marketers have at least one story of an occasion where they’ve been told: ‘Oh, ‘Marketing’s just about annoying adverts’ or making brochures, having fun with talents at shoots or ‘it is a waste of money’.

Now let’s make things more interesting, by throwing content marketers into the equation. Simply put, content marketers are a niche within a niche. Not only do non-marketing people smile politely and carefully back away at conferences and networking parties, even in the marketing community we sometimes struggle for validation.

“Content marketing. That’s like ebooks, right?” Well, yes, but not just…

“Oh, you’re an SEO shop.” SEO certainly matters but…

“So you mean, you write blogs.” That’s part of it. But if you’ll take a look…

Fortunately, content marketing is becoming much more widely understood. In the digital age, content makes the world go round and that suits just fine for them. But that doesn’t mean there’s any less of an imperative for us to explain ourselves.

It’s all too tempting in a creative agency to respond to ‘what do you do?’ by pointing at the work. This brilliantly written slideshare. This beautifully designed infographic. This website revamp that is just so cool. And that’s fine. We’re really proud of our work.

The digital age is all about measurability and results; actually, that suits us as marketers just fine too. We know when our writing, our design, our videos are delivering results.

So, ‘What do you do?’.

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