Marketing technology and best practices are changing incredibly fast. Articles about social media from 2015 are already outdated. Institutional knowledge is only relevant for a few months at a time. If you studied marketing in college or grad school, much of what you learned has probably changed since you graduated.
In an age of constant reinvention and movement, how can marketers steer their own professional development and learning? I talked to four marketing and technology leaders about how they stay at the top of their game.
Find the best resources in your field
Alex Sarlin is a learning designer at the online learning company Coursera, and he knows that marketing professionals have a huge amount of information available to sort through every day. His advice: Become a master curator.
“There are a huge number of channels available to curious marketers — from industry journals to industry blogs to Twitter feeds,” he says. “The most difficult part is curating the flow of information so that it is actually useful and usable to your daily work. I recommend choosing a set of experts you know and trust and bringing them into your life on a daily basis.”
Kirk Biglione, founder of WP Apprentice, has curated his own must-read list of resources in SEO and email marketing.
For example, he says, “Moz is my go-to source for information on a broad range of topics related to inbound marketing. And Drip does a phenomenal job of making more advanced marketing automation topics approachable.”
Look outside the usual watering holes
After you’ve found the best thinkers in your space, Sarlin recommends finding perspectives outside your industry.
“Think like a futurist” he says. “There are changes coming to the marketing role out of fields like analytics, consumer technology, even medicine. Consider how some of the biggest trends in marketing over the last years manifested themselves through technologies that weren’t even on people’s radars at the time, but quickly became ubiquitous — mobile phones, social media, short video, search engines, wearables.
The same will be true in the next years. Gaining a working knowledge of the technologies that will shape the future of our daily lives will inspire new and creative ideas for your discipline.“
“I’m constantly focused on looking to the old masters of marketing, including Theodore Levitt and Peter Drucker. You always find great things to apply to the current work,” he says.
Read, don’t just skim
While it can be tempting to just scan the headlines or scroll through tweets, Rose advocates going deeper. He encourages marketers to take time to read each week.
“But make it time not just for Flipboard, or a roundup post or something — but for the deeper thinking going on in both marketing and the industry,” he says. “Read a book, explore Harvard Business Review or Wharton’s numerous publications.”
Avoid shiny object syndrome
If you’re overwhelmed by all the articles and books on your reading list, Biglione recommends focusing on what’s most important. “It’s not possible to keep on top of every new development,” he says. “Instead of chasing a million shiny objects, focus on the big picture — your customers. There’s no substitute for having a deep understanding of your core market. Use that knowledge to guide your marketing journey. Use whatever tools allow you to best connect and engage with your audience.”
Once you’ve narrowed your focus to your customers, Biglione suggests focusing on your core area of expertise. “For example, if you spend most of your time crafting email campaigns, spend your R&D time learning about the latest email automation and behavioral targeting tools. Don’t worry about learning everything. Be the best you can in your primary area of expertise,” he says.
Emily Journey, a WordPress trainer, agrees. “I try to remind myself that I am uniquely qualified to provide a solution,” she says. “No one else knows what I know and no one else can do what I do. Focus on knowing and developing that instead of keeping up with the herd.”
Build your own marketing lab
Beyond just gathering ideas, find creative ways to test and explore what you’re learning. Open-source tools can be a natural fit for iterative testing and changes on the fly. Biglione uses a local WordPress installation as a marketing lab.
“It’s a workspace where I can experiment with the latest lead-capture widgets, marketing plug-ins and landing pages tools. It’s a huge timesaver in that I can experiment with new ideas quickly, see what works best, then put those into production,” he says.