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When people think of marketing, they tend to think of the old glitz and glamour (Mad Men?) side of what marketing appears to be: advertising, commercials, websites and colorful brochures or collateral. And while that is a visible aspect of marketing execution, in reality it is only a small part of what a marketing professional can deliver for a business.

We are often asked by young, upstart talent in waiting, what area they should focus on in college to “get into” marketing after they graduate. The immediate inclination is to suggest they stay away from college marketing programs entirely. “Marketing” in itself is like “premed” as a course of study. It is so broad an area that until someone specializes, it is rendered almost useless. It would be better to focus completely on a specific avenue of discipline immediately instead of larger concepts, waiting for those larger concepts to come into play after they gain experience in the work world.

Aside from the almost certain initial disheartenment such a proclamation might provide, a better consideration is to suggest a more useful avenue of study, a path that may actually help businesses grow in a practical manner rather than theoretical one. And that is to recommend they focus on finance, lean process development or design.


Finance is important primarily because it grounds the student of marketing in the financial and revenue growth strategies of business. Without an understanding of how money and finance work, it’s difficult to understand how to “fix” the money side of business. Of course, if a marketing professional isn’t going to help a business financially grow then they can skip this avenue entirely.

Lean business development helps the marketing student understand how to eliminate risk and distraction from business growth. By focusing on this area of business strategy, a marketing professional can understand the basics of efficiency, deliberate project management and deployment for initiatives. While not “classically” focused on making an advertisement, the conceptual and strategic side that is learned would help in those decisions later on and can benefit a company much more than the single advertisement ever would.

Design is key in any marketing professional’s life. If they desire the hands dirty side of creating actual ads and marketing collateral as opposed to the more in-depth business strategy side of things. Often, if a marketer desires to move up in a company in a competent manner, they need a strong design eye as a starting point. How they develop from there is up to them. Graphic design, web design, or any kind of visual manipulation as a focus is a good way to specialize and foster growth in design. A powerful marketer understands image flow, color, content and layout at a moment’s notice and is able to tell if a marketing piece “looks right” or not immediately. Without that well-trained instinct, the challenges will look larger and the creative side will suffer.

Ultimately, no matter the tact, a hopeful marketing student (or student of marketing – there is a difference) decides to take, the key is to focus first then grow from there later. Don’t take on the entire body of what marketing encompasses and expect any level of success. Specialize, gain experience then veer … not the other way around. It’ll benefit the talent, the businesses they are trying to help, and the results will be better for it.

Martin Perez
President and CEO, Merge Left Marketing

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