How to Transition Your Career Into Digital Marketing: Tips From 3 Women Who Have Done It
Picture this: you’ve just been hired in your first professional role as a writer at your dream company. You’re determined to get your name in print, only to be told that you’re heading up a completely online publication. For Chelsey Wilkins, a panelist at the recent Tech Talk: Digital Marketing 101, that experience became the first stepping stone on her way to becoming the Senior Manager of Entertainment at Coca-Cola.
Hosted by 2U, Inc., the discussion provided attendees with an in-depth look at three different pathways into professional roles in digital marketing. Moderator Alison Abbington led panelists Tina Witt, Manager and Lead of Digital Marketing Technology at CarMax; Chelsey Wilkins, the Senior Manager of Entertainment at Coca-Cola; and Phim Her, Senior Product Marketing Manager at the Washington Post*.
If you’re curious how you can leverage your current skill set and enter the field of digital marketing, keep reading to find out the top tips from these three female professionals who have done it themselves.
*Statements made by the panelists do not reflect the official policy or position of their respective organizations.
Entering the field
Before she was brought on as a liaison between developers and key stakeholders for CarMax, Tina Witt started in ecommerce where she fell in love with the idea of selling products online. From there, she got into web design, enrolled in boot camps, and got even more enmeshed in strategic thinking. For her, it was all about how technology can help drive digital marketing and product management in more meaningful ways — but it wasn’t an obvious pathway from the outset.
As we noted above, Chelsey’s journey to a career in digital marketing started as a passion for writing. When she learned she wouldn’t be writing for a print publication, she embraced the challenge of writing exclusively for an online audience and soon realized, “This is where the consumer is going, and there’s a lot of opportunity here.” Rather than holding out for the exact opportunity she originally hoped for, she pivoted and discovered her love of digital media.
Phim Her’s path into digital marketing at the Washington Post looks a little different from the other panelists. A tech student with an affinity for creative advertising and political science, she started out working as a designer, leading a UX team on best practices at just 25 years old. She’s since leveraged her skills and professional experience to market to the Post’s readers and advertisers — a role that requires an understanding of multiple audiences as a key marker of success.
Skills used on the job
If you’re interested in digital marketing, you already know that the field requires a blend of both hard and soft skills in order to be successful. While Tina, Chelsey, and Phim hold different roles within their companies, they share many of the same skills and responsibilities in their day-to-day work. Let’s take a look:
“You have to be a systems thinker,” says Phim. What does that mean? As a digital marketer, you may be asked to focus on areas that you’re not completely familiar with. For Tina, it’s about being able to see patterns and connecting dots, thinking logically through a problem to its solution.
Having a solid understanding of the whole system you’re working with gives you an informed perspective that will make you a more valuable and effective marketer. One of the top tips we received? If you’re a design thinker or a developer, lean on your understanding of front and back end principles to solve problems in a digital marketing role.
Data analysis and research
It may come as a surprise, but digital marketing is still a relatively new field; so, while there may not be as many obvious roadmaps available, it also means there’s plenty of opportunity for innovation. That said, the first step to a successful marketing strategy is conducting research. “My goal is to understand customers and get consumers to interact with our brand,” Chelsey says.
Being able to draw insights from user data and conducting research to further understand those insights is a crucial skill for any aspiring digital marketer who wants to move the needle.
Compliance and privacy regulations
In her role, Tina is responsible for identifying problem areas, digging into those problems, and making recommendations that support CarMax’s marketing while also adhering to industry practices. To do this effectively, she stays on top of privacy regulations and consumer rights — for instance, she’s currently conducting research on the future “cookie-less” world, which will impact targeting as audiences change.
With so much flux in the digital world, having an understanding of transitions and how they’ll impact users and your organization’s bottom line will save plenty of time (and potential headaches) down the road. Preparation is key!
Communication and translation
As a digital marketer, you may find yourself in a liaison role between a technical team and more traditional marketers or content producers. “The thing that has the most impact is communication. It’s so important, especially in a role where you are that liaison trying to connect a tech-based group with a business-based group,” explains Tina.
Phim echoed Tina’s sentiment; because her role requires communication across a variety of consumers — including readers, advertisers, and influencers — understanding her audience and knowing how to communicate with them is crucial. In order to get into the right headspace, she asks herself, “How do I push [the audience] in a way that speaks their language?” Another tip? “Be a student of your audience.” Read the books they’re reading, listen to their podcasts, and learn to think like your users to help move the dial as a marketer.
Innovation rarely happens when people play by the rules, which is why so much of successful digital marketing comes as a result of taking risks. It’s a fine balance between trusting your intuition and going outside of your comfort zone to see what’s truly possible. If you’re just starting out on a team, don’t be afraid to throw out some ideas that may seem outlandish — you never know where inspiration can come from!
At the end of the day, the most important soft skill you can bring to the table is confidence. As women in technical roles, Tina, Chelsey, and Phim know how hard it can be to have your voice heard in a male-dominated field. If you find yourself doubting your skills or expertise, think back on your journey from the outset — maybe you completed a challenging digital marketing boot camp, or perhaps you’ve had career accomplishments in previous roles — and be willing to step outside of your comfort zone and advocate for yourself to reach even greater professional heights.
Landing your first digital marketing job
All three of these women currently work in roles that challenge them as digital marketers — but you might be surprised to find out that they all had very different ideas of where their careers would take them when they first started.
Phim found an early passion for creative storytelling and oriented herself toward that path, but it quickly became evident that she had a knack for strategic thinking. Chelsey’s passion for print went out the window shortly after she started her first job and recognized the potential of social media and digital marketing. Tina originally wanted to become a teacher, wound up working for a marketing company, and made saying “yes” her superpower. Regardless of their goals and where they landed, each of these women was willing to overcome hurdles in the name of pursuing something they were genuinely interested in.
The path into digital marketing isn’t linear, and often requires a perspective shift to find potential in unexpected areas. Consider your career goals and determine how your current responsibilities can play into the bigger picture, make connections, and understand how you can pivot and apply your skills elsewhere. Remember, employers aren’t looking for candidates who simply check all the boxes; they want to know that you can think like a customer and work with different types of individuals.
Staying connected with your audience
One thing should be clear by now: a successful digital marketer is passionate about what they do — there’s no way around it. In order to truly connect with your audience, you need to understand who they are, their motivations, and why they interact with your brand. But how do you do it? Here’s a quick rundown of the top tips we learned from the discussion:
- Read up on what other companies are doing
- Stay on top of what’s trending and leverage your social media platforms
- Attend conferences (especially free virtual ones)
- Listen for buzzwords at work
- Find out what other marketers are saying by listening to podcasts or searching on Reddit
- Lean on the resources available to you and make connections
Digital marketing blends the fields of technical expertise with traditional marketing, leveraging data insights to make strategic creative decisions. If you’re looking to enter the field, consider the skills you already possess from your current professional experience and determine the gaps you’ll need to fill. A digital marketing boot camp is an excellent way to hone your skills in a short time frame, while also giving you the opportunity to work on real-world projects, build a portfolio, and receive career planning support. Learn more about UC Davis Digital Marketing Boot Camp and speak with admissions today by visiting our website.