Guilty! Practicing Marketing Without a License


I have a confession to make. Three years ago, I didn’t know much about how social media could be applied to business. As a classically trained direct marketer, I struggled to reconcile this new platform with what I’d been trained to do my entire career; drive quality responders at the lowest cost possible. It was difficult to find 1:1 correlations between investment and return in social media marketing. Besides, there were more fundamental things to tackle that would bring us results faster.

On the other hand, I recognized businesses would not be exempt from the massive change sweeping people-to-people interactions. Increasingly, our customers would want to interact with us through these same channels. Intellectually, I knew I had to expand my skill sets and evolve as a marketer in order to stay relevant.

So I dove in. And along with the support of a tremendous team, was able to build a social media practice that became a model for the rest of the organization. Throughout the process I challenged some fundamental principles I’d learned, validated others, and became a more comprehensive marketing professional as a result.

But this story isn’t about the value of social media. It’s about staying relevant and consistently evolving yourself in a rapidly changing world.

My wife is a doctor. Every five years, she needs to recertify herself in order to continue practicing medicine. Her degree is only as good as her last recertification. The system forces her to stay on top of the latest advances in medicine. And for good reason; in fact, given the pace of change in health care, maybe recertification every two years would be more appropriate.

I’ve seen many people in marketing struggle to recognize the need to transform, or find the time to update their skills. The system doesn’t require it. Yes, the market will eventually weed out those professionals who haven’t kept up to date. But you can continue ‘practicing’ for quite some time before that happens.

What if the system were different? What if we took a page from medicine, engineering, accounting, or other professions that require periodic recertification? What would a university degree in marketing or business be worth if you had to update your skills in order for it to remain in good standing? Would it make you a more valuable candidate? What if employers established recertification programs that you had to pass in order to keep your job, or as a perquisite for advancement? Would you find those employers more attractive? Would the market look more highly upon those that were trained at those companies? I’m talking about real recertification here, not a 10-question pop quiz on new industry terms and definitions every 12 months.

No skyscraper is going to collapse unexpectedly if marketers don’t keep their skills up to date. No one is likely to die. So I’m not advocating setting up the “[Pick Your State] Office of Marketing Recertification”. But given the pace of change in how media is consumed, how customers interact with companies, and the weakening patience for interruption, we need to take continuous learning more seriously. From an industry perspective, not doing so could result in a shortage of qualified professionals in the very near future. And from a personal perspective, not taking the time to keep yourself relevant could be extremely hazardous to your livelihood.

Would love to hear your thoughts.

Follow the conversation at @Adriel_S or

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