A brief guide for those just starting out as digital analysts and marketers
Context into what to expect from companies and clients, as well as some areas to ensure you spend time exploring
I loved the lede of a previous New York Times story on data: “Good with numbers? Fascinated by data? The sound you hear is opportunity knocking.” Since then, we’ve continued to see a growing trend in the need for qualified analytics professionals at all levels in an organization, including leadership.
The need is painfully real: analyst firm Gartner previously predicted big data demand will reach 4.4 million+ jobs globally, but estimate just one-third of those jobs will be filled. So it’s no surprise that finding top analytics talent, as with any specialization in-demand, can be challenging.
The benefits of having a data-savvy team at all levels, including leadership are significant. Organizations skilled in data analysis optimize marketing and sales results like a well-oiled machine. They bust bureaucracy and focus resources on the things that matter. They fix most IT problems before workers ever experience them, improving productivity. Their team members own their results through hard numbers as opposed to “gut feel.” Everyone has results dashboards to track results of their work, not simply activities completed/boxes checked. Still to this day, the number of teams with this as core part of company culture (with exceptions of course) are in the minority outside of major tech hubs like New York, Austin and Silicon Valley. We absolutely do still live in a business world that’s on the whole greater parts emotion/HiPPO (highest paid person’s opinion) than logic-driven. But that’s not the future. The future is data-driven leadership and teams.
Data chops can no longer be locked away in pockets of your organization. They need to be a part of a company’s culture and ethos from the top-down. Getting the most out of analytics requires ongoing reinvestment and education to understand how to use new data sources, what opportunities they unlock, as well as best use of the tools and technologies available. It’s a big step, but one companies need to take to become digital-first and unlock the invisible opportunities they currently miss daily.
While there is clearly increasing demand for analytics talent with obvious benefits for your team’s success, you still need to source carefully to ensure you are getting quality hires. Having viewed things from the perspective of managing agency teams as well as senior roles in-house for the more recent part of my career, I hope this is a balanced perspective and useful for you.
Questions from young pros just getting started, similar to what new hires may be asked
Question: What are some of the essential tools every marketing student should know going into their first marketing internship/job?
Of course, as I used to work on it I believe Google Analytics is one critical tool. There are even online analytics courses my former team produced and a demo account to help new users get up to speed quickly and become proficient at making decisions with data.
But while understanding specific tools is great, it’s still by far more important when first starting out to understand how to create a digital marketing strategy, as that always comes before tools and tactics. This way, you don’t purely understand the ‘how’ of tactical execution, but more critically why you are doing it.
Still, from tactical perspective being proficient with not just Analytics, but CMS (content management systems), CRM (customer relationship management) tools, programming languages like HTML, dashboard creation in tools like Data Studio etc would all be smart ideas and core to what we do. If you have at least a basic grasp of technical requirements and major martech software, you’ll immediately be a much more enticing hire, even if you don’t have much formal work background just yet. If you don’t know everything, don’t worry, that’s normal. No one does, not even the pros (the people at the top of their game are still learning daily).
Question: What do you think makes certain interns or brand first-time hires stand out from the crowd?
I think the best thing you can do is begin building a sandbox project (a place you can test and tinker on ideas without worry or oversight) from the ground up, without help or requiring to ask permission.
Create something real and tangible you plan to grow long-term in your free time such as a blog, an app, an e-commerce store selling something you’re passionate about, or another side project. Find a friend if you want to have someone to collaborate with (totally optional) but also document your process and be sure to be involved at every step (so you can write a blog on your journey and share lessons with the world to help others - potential employers will also love this, as it puts your thinking on display).
You’ll learn so much as the result of experimenting on your own and be forced to go through the entire process a start-up or brand will when conducting digital marketing, including creating the actual end product you’ll be sharing with world – something far too many marketers skip. You can’t get the same, real life, hands on experience in school or through certification. Testing ideas in the wild is now free, don’t sleep on it.
Smart, driven leadership at brands, the type of folk that are really essential to work with early in your career (go out of your way to find them!) will value this greatly.
Question: What are the habits you believe a successful marketer should have?
Keeping your analysis/creative skills in top shape as well as following industry and sector trends together are two of the most important thing you can do.
Beyond this, great marketers know not just how to record metrics and what KPIs matter, but how to use that data to influence decisions at the strategy table and get buy-in for new projects. They’ve baked this into their thinking, so it is definitely something which requires work to build as an unconscious habit for how you process the world as a marketer. If you’re not working on any active brands just yet, case studies from industry trades and blogs should help you start to think in the right way about this.
Also becoming proficient with data-driven storytelling requires lots of practice, so working on it daily is helpful (why not start a Pinterest board sharing examples of creative data visualization you find clever or articulate, or analyzing the ones you feel could be improved). Regardless of how you go about this, there’s big demand for analytics-savvy professionals, so having daily habits to keep your skills and thinking fresh will provide a leg up.
Question: What kind of things should I be reading?
To be an effective marketer or analyst in a world of constantly-changing communications trends, it is essential to stay at the edge. Embrace this and take the charge personally to follow sector news.
Read books from luminaries like Seth Godin, case studies, industry trades, relevant blogs – consider creating a system (email subscriptions + labels, RSS, Twitter/lists of folk you admire, whatever you find most helpful) to get the right information and data coming to you every day without spending much time trawling for it.
I’m less concerned with where you follow our sector, the social networks used or the trades you subscribe to, just that you do follow and are a part of at least some of the conversation. It’s important that all marketers do put in the effort to stay informed as things change fast, but after enough work here you’ll start to get a sense of which trends matter, which do not and how/when to take advantage of them. Building that skill is a requisite to one day becoming a senior leader in our sector.
Question: How do I choose between going agency and going in-house?
This is a personal choice. I personally started my career on the agency side and think it’s a great decision because you get a view into many different types of companies, sectors and styles of manager. You also get to implement all different types of strategies and tactics, as your different clients’ marketing needs are unique and specific.
Agencies are a great way to get your feet wet in our sector and gain a diverse skill set. But if you find a company you really love right out of college, go for it. Your first roles will be great learning experiences no matter where they are. Just realize if you do end up at a FANG type company out the gate, it likely will not be representative of future professional experiences (megacorps are outlier companies and work environments for a number of reasons, and on certain teams there you might end up spending more time on politics than craft which is not great, so just be aware of that and ask lots of questions up front).
Question: How do I make my resume really stand out?
There are countless articles on making a great resume so I’ll offer another idea: do something creative, in addition to the resume, which gets noticed by targeted companies or key executives. I recently wrote an entire post on this very subject.
On the web, it’s “show me, don’t tell me.” Showing dedication through consistency is a powerful way to demonstrate you’re a cut above the rest.
For brands building teams: While many organizations (and particularly the marketing operations within) still operate on “gut feel” as opposed to data-driven, the opposite will be true tomorrow. And tomorrow’s leaders are already here today, pushing things forward with a passion for data and interest in moving the needle for their company. To sort the wheat from the chaff, ask the really tough questions and look for in-depth answers and experience from potential marketing and analytics team members. Don’t be afraid to hire smart and ambitious people and get out of their way, let them thrive and do their best work, enabling and supporting where necessary (and never micro-managing, by far the most efficient way to lose your best talent). Investing in the right team today is almost certainly the best step you can take to set yourself up for future success.
For new marketing/analytics pros: our industry is still growing rapidly and the demand is there; everyone who puts their mind to it can have a great, fulfilling career as a digital marketer or analyst. Think critically, make a career plan and start executing on it. If you try, I am almost certain you’ll succeed. Also, if you have specific questions, young digital pros message me all the time with questions on Twitter and I nearly always respond - never be afraid to reach out to myself or anyone else in our sector for guidance.
Bonus content: I touched on this topic (and much more) during a keynote presentation to Moz users in Seattle several years ago, which you can watch on YouTube here or below.
Hot Takes is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.
Organizations have to view these candidates differently than in the past.
Old school "analytics" people were/are viewed as nothing but reporting monkeys or part of the IT team.
Having leaders that understand analytics can make the difference between analysts working on;
- incrementality instead of attachment rate.
- deep dive of problems instead of a stakeholder's arithmetic monkeys.
- compiling and analyzing the disparate data sources instead of "reporting"
I'm looking to transfer my 10 years of DoD intelligence experience to the business intelligence/analytics field. I really enjoyed reading this article because it helped me get into employers' heads to figure out what values they look for.