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5 UNEXPECTED DEGREES FOR SUCCESSFUL MARKETERS

May 18, 2020

There are so many different paths to the perfect career these days. And your dream career may shift multiple times in your lifetime as your priorities change and markets fluctuate. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated a higher than average growth rate (8%) for advertising, promotions,or marketing managers over the next ten years, so it’s no wonder that the marketing field has become a popular frolicking ground for those looking to switch up their work routines. Frolic, my friends, frolic!

It may come as a surprise that a large percentage of marketing professionals received no formal education on the subject. Many are self-taught and, perhaps like me, have ended up needing to learn these skills as part of another position (when you work for nonprofits, all things are possible via free online educational courses and sleepless nights – pin another hat to my head and let’s get this thing done). Still, most job postings will require a Bachelor’s degree in a related field, but what exactly counts as a related field? How can you make a case for a seemingly unrelated degree and earn the chance to prove yourself?

Look no further, here’s my list of 5 unexpected degrees that can prepare you for a highly successful marketing career (and how to sell them):

COMMUNICATIONS:

Okay, okay. So this one isn’t quite as “unexpected” as the others. Marketing is all about successful communication, particularly when you start exploring the fun-filled world of public relations. If you’re working for a small business or nonprofit, it pays to have the ability to act in a PR capacity – to respond to client crises with grace, patience, and just the right tone to keep the court of public opinion on your side. Communications professionals can also make excellent copywriters.

Copywriting is one of those skills that most people assume they can do. They think, “I can write. I took an English class. It’s not like it’s a skill.” Alright, so I’m presuming what people think, but I have definitely been told, “It’s not that hard. I’ll do it myself” before. But, as it turns out, writing copy is HARD. There are a lot of factors that go into making content compelling, honest, human, and – most importantly – convincing. With training in understanding the importance of rhetoric and culture as well as the theory behind effective arguments, you can do this. A call-to-action is essentially a super short argument in favor of your client exercising a particular behavior. You have to convince them. And you don’t have much time. Personally, in such a debate, I would love to have a communications professional on my side.

Yes, communication degrees get a bad rap as a more generic field (society’s words, not mine – please don’t send me well-worded, conflict resolution-oriented hate mail). As much as students in other departments might enjoy condescendingly calling you a “generalist,” I’m here to tell you that generalist is NOT a bad word. At least, not when it comes to managing your own freelance career. Your ability to see the bigger picture is invaluable, and, once you’ve got an idea of where your own talents lie, you can find dozens of legitimate online learning opportunities to build up those individual skills. Plus, when your degree is applied to a marketing-related profession, you’re looking at a national average salary of about $78,000 – not too shabby!

PHILOSOPHY:

To be a marketing professional or not to be…a marketing professional? Okay, it doesn’t quite have the same ring to it, and now, if you are a philosophy major, you most likely despise me. Apologies – moving on!

Look,the ability to delve into, dissect, and attempt to understand multiple worldviews is EXCEPTIONALLY valuable. You’ve spent a significant amount of time reading what was often difficult to digest content, and I would bet that you’ve had to simplify and summarize that content when you’re filling out long-answer test questions. Am I right? Well, it was worth it! The ability to distill difficult arguments into easy-to-understand, concise copy is FAB. Tell people about it!

Not to mention, just like your Communications compatriots, you are well-versed in making successful arguments. Critical thinking is not as common as you might think, especially given that it has basically become second nature to you at this point. When it feels as natural to you as breathing, you’re probably an expert in it. And that is extremely valuable as you determine the most appropriate traction channels for your campaigns, decide how to respond to a PR crisis, or conduct market research to get a handle on campaign feasibility.

Learn to consolidate your arguments, and no one will be able to resist your CTAs! Okay, that’s an exaggeration – no matter how good your CTA is, you will still always turn someone off with your copy or product, or, my favorite, get a “hide post”on FB from someone who thinks they need to hide every post after they’ve read it to remove it from their timeline like you would archive an email in your inbox. They’re just trying to clean up the clutter – you get it – but Facebook is less understanding than you are.

HISTORY:

This one is my wheelhouse. History degrees are extremely useful in the marketing profession due to two key inter-related skills: understanding context and empathy.

As a historian, you’re trained to put yourself into the shoes of others. Let’s all say it together – historical empathy! Historical empathy is a practice that you don’t much see outside of a history classroom, and, in fact, some people are absolutely horrified at the practice. But, unlike you, those people might not know how to look at situations through a contextual lens. It’s likely that you  have an incredible ability to separate your personal feelings from your analysis of all sorts of events and characters (including some objectively reprehensible practices in hindsight – that part is key) and to understand the societal pressures, cultural norms, and emotions that drove past decision-making. This understanding of context can be valuable as you research and generate buyer personas and fine-tune your audience language.

You probably also feel fairly comfortable discussing trends, which is great because being able to anticipate trends will put you ahead of the curve and may make you particularly successful at viral marketing. Did you see the writing on the wall when Pokemon Go launched (whether or not you participated)?  “Who could have seen that coming?” You. You might have seen that coming. If so, drop the “successfully anticipating social trends” line in your next interview.

LIBRARY SCIENCE:

This is a far more unexpected degree to transition to marketing, but, again, this one is in my wheelhouse, so let me explain.

A major focus in library science is the concept of the reference interview.Reference interviews are strategic conversations with patrons seeking information, the goals of which are to listen actively, understand what they’re saying, AND understand what they may not be saying. What are they really asking about? You learn pretty quickly that people often don’t know exactly what they’re looking for, and, if they do, they are often hesitant about asking for it. The more passionately people feel about something, the more likely they are to consciously or subconsciously dance around the subject. They’re dodging potential judgment like Neo dodges bullets (do I get geek points for a Matrix reference? No?). Can you tell they’re in distress? Can you discern what information they’re really after?

In marketing as well, people don’t tend to know exactly what they are missing in their lives, or they don't necessarily want to voice it. Can you study your target audience and look past what might appeal to them on the surface in order to make a deeper, long-lasting connection? After all, marketing isn’t about reaching someone once and calling it a success. In order to get that idyllic flywheel model up and spinning, you need to establish fulfilling relationships with your audience. These aren’t just your acquaintances. These people are your supporters. Your cheerleaders. They’re in your court. What are you doing for them?

NONPROFIT ADMINISTRATION:

You may not have expected this one, but as I mentioned before, nonprofit employees couldn’t possibly wear any more hats – but then they do! If you’re planning to work in nonprofit administration, one of your core traits is likely your ability to adapt (if not, maybe invest in a stress ball). Nonprofit administration requires lots of strategic planning, hours of time spent on research and crafting the perfect approaches within strictly-limited budgets, and, lastly, the ability to throw all of that in the garbage at zero hour and come up with a completely new plan in approximately 15 minutes.

If you’re planning to pursue this career, you are a champion for good, and I salute you! But, if you’re thinking of jumping ship to marketing, or even just exploring marketing within your nonprofit, you are in a great position for success.

Marketing requires research, understanding, planning – yes – but, most importantly, a successful marketing manager is quick on their feet to respond when things aren’t going to plan. If you’re ¼ of the way through a digital display campaign that is not converting, you might (read: will) need to put your personal feelings for the campaign aside and shake things up. If your attempt at viral marketing backfires, you may need to reverse course. If you’re halfway through a rebranding and discover that a competitor has beat you to the punch on a gorgeous color palette, you might need to grieve the loss of the potential graphics that will never be and move forward with a new plan. And if you’ve been trained to plan contingencies and feel confident making informed decisions on the fly, you’ll be ready.


As a fellow marketing convert, I believe in you. You don’t always need a business or marketing degree to be prepared to think like a successful marketer.Celebrate what makes you unique, and be proud of the numerous ways your unconventional background has prepared you for your new career. At the end of the day, your results will speak much louder than the education section on your resume, so get out there, get to work, grow your stats, and stand tall among your peers as a true marketing professional.