If you’re in digital marketing or ecommerce, here’s a thought provoking question for you: How big is your job? No, I’m not talking about the size of your P and L or how many people you manage. I’m talking about your impact on the organization. Any idea? You may not know the answer to that, but you can bet your landing page that your employer does. Don’t confuse this with whether you’re a “rock star” or an “A” player or a “Mahatma Ghandi” of paid search. What I’m referring to is the relative value of your work within your organization, and the impact this has on your future digital marketing opportunities.
Put another way, does your job really make a difference?
When people think about the importance of their job and their digital marketing opportunities, many tend to focus on their willingness to take on added responsibilities, or how hard they work, or maybe how well they perform under pressure and in challenging conditions. These are certainly all highly valued attributes. You would think, therefore, that individuals with these particular qualities would rank among the most highly valued employees in the company. That sounds intuitively obvious. But I can give you example after example of ecommerce managers and digital marketers I know who possess those qualities and yet feel undervalued. In fact, I hear it often: “I believe I’m really good at what I do, and I swear I’m the hardest working member of the ecommerce team, but I just don’t feel like I’m valued by my employer.” Of course, I also hear the complete opposite. In fact, I remember once talking with two individuals who held similar positions within the same company, sitting in cubicles literally right next to each other. One told me she felt undervalued, the other told me he felt highly valued.
How does that happen?
What It Means to Be Valued
I have a theory about how your value is measured in an organization. It’s what I call the “Bernhart index of relative value.” After placing countless hundreds of marketing candidates over the past 28 years, the one characteristic that all “valued” marketers seem to share is their ability to have a direct strategic impact on the business. Those who are valued the most are not always the ones who make the most money, or have the biggest titles or budgets, or were the hardest to find. If that were true, then junior-level employees would never be highly valued. Yet, I hear about “most valued” employees at all levels of the org chart. I remember one hiring manager who said he valued one of his interns as much as anyone else in his department. Your relative value is determined by much more than just your proficiency in fulfilling the duties and responsibilities on your job description. Your relative value is largely a function of your strategic influence. For example, if a Manager of Digital Marketing is able to successfully penetrate a new market, and if this was an important strategic goal of the company, then that outcome will very likely score him some big value points.
Why is all of this important? Because being valued by your employer a good thing when it comes to opening up digital marketing opportunities. It can mean a promotion, it can mean a raise, it can mean more perks. Generally speaking, the senior-most digital marketing and ecommerce leaders in an organization are going to have more impact on the overall business than those they manage, but that doesn’t mean you can’t make a significant impact if you don’t sit at the boardroom table.
If you’re a lower or mid-level ecommerce or digital marketing manager, don’t forget that “bigger picture.” How is your work affecting the overall business? It’s a question you may not think about often, but it gets right to the heart of why you were hired in the first place, and has important ramifications for digital marketing opportunities in the future.
Add to Your Value by Being Hands-On
You know what I often hear from employers when they describe the kind of digital marketing or ecommerce leader they want to hire? This one may surprise you: “We want someone who can still roll up their sleeves. We want a hands on digital marketer.” That’s right. Being highly strategic, having strong leadership skills, building cross-functional relationships, driving the business forward, these are all highly sought after critical competencies, of course, for these kinds of positions. But being able to demonstrate your willingness to be a hands on digital marketer and stay in the fray, when the need arises, will score you serious points during an interview for any digital marketing job. I’m not talking just Managers or Directors here, but also VP’s and sometimes even more senior than that. It’s a rare job description that doesn’t make some mention of being “entrepreneurial” or a hands on digital marketer.
To be clear, this is not about micro-management. This is not about second guessing everyone’s work, or wanting to know where everyone is and what they’re doing, or being copied on every email. This is about what some might describe as “learning from the bottom.” The TV show “Undercover Boss” takes this concept to the extreme, where chief executives swap their suits for work-day uniforms to experience the world through the eyes of their employees.
Of course, this begs the question: Why is this such a desired competency for leaders in this space who, presumably, will be managing experts who’ve specifically been hired to work “in the trenches.” Maybe it’s because digital marketing and ecommerce teams are viewed within many organizations as more entrepreneurial, characterized by an “all hands on deck” approach to doing things compared with other more established departments that are more structured and have added layers of management. Perhaps it’s because staffers want to know they’re reporting to supervisors who “speak their language”, who have first hand experience with the actual day-to-day work, and who won’t be befuddled if someone starts talking about XML sitemaps. Maybe it’s because employers want to be reassured that their leaders know how to select the right agencies and service providers from the perspective of someone who actually has “walked a mile in their shoes.” Perhaps it’s because they want to know that their teams are being led by a true student of the game who stays on top of the latest cutting-edge marketing technologies to help their organizations gain a competitive edge. Perhaps it’s all of these. And when you think about it, it’s kind of hard to imagine a senior digital marketing or ecommerce leader who still doesn’t relish the occasional opportunity to get into the weeds. After all, it’s how they got to where they are. When you consider the dizzying amount of tools, the mountains of data, and the sometimes head-scratching complexity of campaigns, the work can be about as “dirty under the fingernails” as you can get for a desk job.
Most of the senior candidates I work with have not become so removed from the day-to-day that they’ve forgotten what it was like to fly at low altitudes. Having that flexibility, I believe, and remaining a hands on digital marketer helps any leader build strong bonds both up and down the organization, not to mention opening up more digital marketing opportunities in you career.
The Value of Being Brand Savvy
Not everyone who currently works in ecommerce or who wants to pursue ecommerce as a career has an MBA or a business degree and studied brand marketing in school. In fact, most didn’t. Many come from IT backgrounds, and I’ve seen many others transition into ecommerce from far-removed careers such as law, teaching and retired military with zero experience in marketing an ecommerce brand.
I had a college marketing professor who stated that the brand is what remains when marketing leaves the room. You buy Apple products because you believe it stands for quality and that they stand behind their products. You contribute to the United Way because you believe in their cause. You always stay in a Comfort Inn because you like the service, the price and the cleanliness. Considered a more strategic exercise than ecommerce, branding is crucial for any successful business operation, and It knows no size limits. I’m seeing it more and more on ecommerce job descriptions with clients of all sizes, so I felt it was worthwhile to issue a memo to those who are relatively new to the field: It’s essential that you understand the importance of the ecommerce brand to open up a bigger world of digital marketing opportunities for your career. You’re being hired to do more than just sell stuff on the internet. You’re also being hired to communicate what the business is and what it is not. You’re being hired to help build loyal customers and to create advocates who will “like” their experience with your brand and share it with others. In highly brand-driven consumer packaged good companies, ecommerce departments have big time interaction with brand marketers. Just like author John Gray put forth that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, ecommerce and brand marketing tend to live in different worlds. The ability to think like brand marketers do, or to at least understand what’s important to them, will make you a much more effective ecommerce brand marketer.
Expanding Your Digital Marketing Opportunities
If you have some brand marketing know-how, be sure to include that on your resume and discuss it with potential hiring managers. When I see on a resume how an ecommerce marketer has helped “build the brand”, it stands out. If this is a subject you’re not strong in, make a point to do some learning in this area of marketing the ecommerce brand. I always tell my candidates: Ecommerce and digital marketing are a life long exercise in on-going education. Instead of learning more about stuff you’re already really good at, bone-up on areas you’re not. If you lack formal education in marketing, not to worry. There are tons of educational resources online. You might have a boss you can learn from. And if you’re lucky enough to personally know a brand marketer, take him or her to lunch sometime and learn what they do and how they do it when it comes to promoting the ecommerce brand. It will be one of the best hours you spend as you build your career towards becoming an all around, stronger ecommerce marketer.