Summary

Spending a few years doing marketing in the private sector can teach you highly generalizable skills that can later be used in a wide range of industries and causes. You should consider marketing if you have good social and verbal skills, want a decent work life balance and want to keep your options open across causes.

Pros

  • Marketing is a valuable and highly transferable skillset that keeps your options open across industries and causes.
  • A decent chance of reaching leadership positions in companies and good preparation for entrepreneurship.
  • Better work-life balance than finance, law and consulting
  • Reasonably well-paid (after a few years).

Cons

  • Some industries and marketing practices may be harmful.
  • Corporate culture can reduce altruistic motivation
  • Not as prestigious or well-paid as finance, consulting, law.

Ratings

Career capital: 

Direct impact: 

Earnings: 

Advocacy potential: 

Ease of competition: 

Job satisfaction:

Our reasoning for these ratings is explained below. You might also like to read about our approach to rating careers.

Key facts on fit  

Ability to communicate ideas very clearly, very social and able to get on well with a wide range of people, want decent work life balance.

Next steps

To get a sense of what’s involved in marketing, you can buy and read case studies used for teaching marketing at business schools, such as the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi-Cola case. Taking classes in business, economics or statistics can increase your chances of getting a position. The best way to get a full-time position is through internships – large consumer-product companies and some tech-firms do on-campus recruitment at universities; for other industries use your network or contact firms directly.

Research process

For this profile we interviewed Josh Jacobson who worked in brand management at PepsiCo and did an email interview with a user who worked in the marketing field for around 20 years. We also read the WetFeet Career Overview on Marketing, the WetFeet Insider Guide to Careers in Marketing, the relevant sections of the Occupational Outlook Handbook of the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, the marketing profiles on Vault, TargetJobs, Prospects, Oxford University and Kent University careers services, among other sources. See all our research in our wiki.

What is this career path?

Marketers help organisations to create products and services that people will want and increase the sales of existing products and services. They are often involved in creating the high-level marketing strategy for an organisation and co-ordinating its execution across a wide range of teams and departments, including product development, market research, advertising, PR and sales. Marketers work with market research and product development teams to develop products that are likely to be in demand and which the organisation is well-positioned to make and sell. They work with advertising and PR teams to communicate the value of products to potential customers and with distribution and sales teams to plan prices, packaging and distribution channels to reach their target market. Marketing is sometimes confused with advertising or PR, but marketing involves co-ordinating the overall process of identifying what products to make, how to promote them, and how to sell them, not just specific promotion channels. This 2 minute video explains more on what marketing is.

What are the major sub-options in marketing?

Marketing roles exist in almost all industries, so this is a very broad path. Here’s a breakdown of the most common types of employers:

 IndustryExample firmsCommon job titles
Client Side MarketingConsumer Packaged GoodsProcter & Gamble, PepsiCo, UnileverBrand Assistant; Brand/Product Manager; VP of Marketing
Tech companiesMicrosoft, Amazon, Apple, GoogleMarketing Associate/Assistant
Marketing Manager
Marketing Director
Chief Marketing Officer
IndustrialsGeneral Motors, AT&T
Financial servicesBank of America, JPMorgan Chase
Bio-tech and PharmaJohnson & Johnson, Pfizer, Eli Lilly
Non-profitRed Cross, Mayo Clinic
Agency Side MarketingMarketing agenciesOmnicom, WPP, Publicis, InterpublicMarketing (Account) Executive
Marketing consultanciesSimon-Kucher & Partners, BainMarketing Consultant
Market research companiesNielsen, Survey Monkey, Forrester ResearchMarket Research Analyst; Market Research Executive

Note that there are market research roles also in client-side marketing in larger organisations. In the rest of this profile we focus on client-side marketing in the private sector.

What are the major stages of this career?

The usual path in client side marketing is to start as a Marketing Associate/Assistant (Brand Assistant in Consumer Packaged Goods), then if you are successful you can become a Marketing Manager (Brand Manager), and then a Marketing Director. Some experienced marketers leave client-side marketing to join marketing consultancies or start their own consultancies, and some reach senior leadership positions in their firms.

What is it like day to day?

Why do marketing?

Keep your options open across industries and causes

You develop a highly transferable skillset because marketing is a function that’s necessary in nearly all industries. This keeps your options open in terms of which industries you can work in and also in terms of which causes you can support in the future. However there are differences in the way that marketing is done between different industries, so transitions aren’t always completely straightforward. One person we spoke to mentioned that transitioning into non-profit marketing can be somewhat hard, partly because non-profit roles rely heavily on fundraising. Marketing, and brand management in particular, can also set you up for becoming a non-technical co-founder of a startup because you learn a lot about how to run a business, including high-level business strategy.1

Reach leadership positions

Marketers often play a key role in influencing the strategy of organisations — marketing directors are often board members and get to influence corporate decisions and business strategy.2 Marketing also often leads into general management and senior executive roles, which give scope for even more influence and high compensation.

Better work-life balance than finance, law and consulting

According to the WetFeet Insider Guide marketing associates tend to work 45-65 hour weeks, and many MBA’s choose to work in brand management solely because it offers better work-life balance than alternatives.3

Well-paid (after a few years)

According to WetFeet, typical salaries for marketing positions, excluding bonuses are:

PositionSalary
Marketing Assistants$30,000-$60,000
Marketing Managers$50,000-$90,000
Marketing Directors$90,000-$200,000
Marketing VP at a big company~$300,000

The total compensation of the highest paid senior marketing executives is in the $1-$10 million range.3

Decent outlook

The US Bureau of Labour Statistics projects that from 2012 to 2022 there will be a 13% increase in the number of marketing managers (about the same as all occupations) and a 32% increase in market research analysts (who do more statistics and data analysis than other marketers).

In the longer term, we think that marketing roles are less likely to be automated than many other jobs, because they require social and creative intelligence. Economist Tyler Cowen thinks that marketing will be the biggest growth sector in the future — as wealth becomes more concentrated, there will be more competition for the attention of a smaller number of wealthy people.5

Reasons not to do marketing

Some areas likely have negative externalities

If you do marketing in an industry that’s harmful (e.g. alcohol, tobacco, parts of finance and law), then you’ll be contributing to the harms caused by that industry. But marketing as an activity may be harmful in some cases even independent of whether the product or service you are marketing has negative externalities. If marketing changes consumer tastes in a spurious way (e.g. by deception), it can increase the prices of products beyond the marginal benefit to the consumer, reducing consumer surplus, as well as increasing the barriers to entry to markets and making markets less competitive.6 There is evidence of this occurring in the pharmaceutical and sub-prime mortgage industries.7 On the other hand, in some cases marketing may serve a useful function — it can provide accurate information to consumers about the existence, price and quality of products, which promotes competition among established firms and helps new firms enter markets.8 The impact of marketing in general is unclear, and a lot depends on what you are marketing.

Corporate culture can reduce altruistic motivation

The cultures in private sector firms are focused around the aim of increasing company profits, and there is little or no emphasis on considering social impact. Spending a lot of time in an environment like this can over time reduce your altruistic motivation.

Not as prestigious or well-paid as finance, consulting, law

Marketing roles aren’t as prestigious as roles in finance, consulting and law, meaning that these roles are less useful as a general purpose credential. Moreover, the network you gain access to is likely not as strong. The pay is also lower.

Entry requirements

Outside of quantitative market research, marketing roles are generally open to graduates with any degree, but majors that demonstrate a strong interest in marketing such as business or economics are helpful for increasing your chances of getting in. For market research roles, social sciences degrees and statistics classes are usually required.

Top consumer-product companies do on-campus recruitment and it is difficult to get interviews if a company doesn’t recruit at your university – so find out which companies recruit from your university to get a sense of whether this is a realistic option for you.

Companies are looking for people who can think and communicate very clearly — interviewers are unlikely to give you a job if they can’t follow your train of thought easily. Marketing roles tend to have very social atmospheres, so being able to get on well with a wide range of people and generally being likeable is also important for getting a position.

Who should consider marketing?

You should consider marketing if you meet the entry requirements and if:

  • You have good social and verbal skills
  • You want a decent work life balance
  • You want to keep your options open across industries and causes
  • You want to gain experience in business strategy and/or you are considering entrepreneurship.

Next steps

To get a sense of what’s involved in marketing, you can buy and read case studies used for teaching marketing at business schools, such as the Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi-Cola case.

If you are still at university and want to go into brand management or market research, you increase your chances by taking classes in business, economics or statistics, rather than having a purely humanities degree.9 At universities where you can major in business as an undergraduate (e.g. University of Pennsylvania), you can take a brand management class. You also increase your chances of getting a position by demonstrating a strong interest in marketing by paying a lot of attention to what is happening in the marketing world, for example by subscribing to marketing and advertising publications, and developing opinions on current marketing strategies and advertising campaigns.

The best way to get a position is through internships – these are usually in the summer before your final year at university. Large consumer-product companies and some tech-firms do on-campus recruitment at universities; for other industries use your network or contact firms directly.10

Further reading

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Notes and references

  1. This point was made by one of the people we interviewed - Josh Jacobson who worked in brand management at PepsiCo and went on to do a startup.
  2. “In medium to large sized companies, the marketing director may be a board member, influencing corporate decisions and business strategies. In most cases, the marketing director will head up a team of marketing managers, executives and assistants.” Chartered Institute of Marketing - Why a career in marketing?
  3. The part about MBA's was mentioned to us by Josh Jacobson.
  4. “...the top-earning marketing exec on our list pulls in about $9.7 million a year.” Forbes - America's Highest-Paid Marketing Executives
  5. “And in terms of marketing, imagine, say, that 20% of America is millionaires or even richer. There will just be that much more competition for their attention, because attention is still scarce. But they'll have a lot more money. So in competing for their attention, basically in different ways we'll all be doing more marketing. And I see marketing as really the single biggest growth sector of the future, viewed in these somewhat unusual terms.“ Tyler Cowen on Inequality, the Future, and Average is Over - EconTalk
  6. “The persuasive view holds that advertising alters consumers’ tastes and creates spurious product differentiation and brand loyalty. As a consequence, the demand for a firm’s product becomes more inelastic, and so advertising results in higher prices. In addition, advertising by established firms may give rise to a barrier to entry, which is naturally more severe when there are economies of scale in production and/or advertising. The persuasive approach therefore suggests that advertising can have important anti-competitive effects, as it has no “real” value to consumers, but rather induces artificial product differentiation and results in concentrated markets characterized by high prices and profits.” Bagwell, Kyle. "The economic analysis of advertising." Handbook of industrial organization 3 (2007): 1701-1844.
  7. Rizzo, John A. "Advertising and Competition in the Ethical Pharmaceutical Industry: The Case of Antihypertensive Drugs." The Journal of Law and Economics 42.1 (1999): 89-116. Gurun, Umit G., Gregor Matvos, and Amit Seru. Advertising expensive mortgages. No. w18910. National Bureau of Economic Research, 2013.
  8. “The second view is that advertising is informative. This view emerged in force in the 1960s, under the leadership of the Chicago School. According to this approach, many markets are characterized by imperfect consumer information, since search costs may deter a consumer from learning of each product’s existence, price and quality. This imperfection can lead to market inefficiencies, but advertising is not the cause of the problem. Instead, advertising is the endogenous response that the market offers as a solution. When a firm advertises, consumers receive at low cost additional direct (prices, location) and/or indirect (the firm is willing to spend on advertising) information. The firm’s demand curve becomes more elastic, and advertising thus promotes competition among established firms. As well, advertising can facilitate entry, as it provides a means though which a new entrant can publicize its existence, prices and products. The suggestion here, then, is that advertising can have important pro-competitive effects.” Bagwell, Kyle. "The economic analysis of advertising." Handbook of industrial organization 3 (2007): 1701-1844.
  9. “More specialized fields include brand management, which focuses specifically on the management of a company's particular line of products or other brand, or market research, which uses focus groups, surveys, interviews, and other testing tools to evaluate market trends and customer opinions. If you're interested in getting into either of these, an education that includes courses in business, economics, or statistics will serve you better than a liberal arts major will.” WetFeet - Career Overview: Marketing
  10. “The best way to get into marketing, regardless of what you've studied, is by taking an internship. Many and high-tech and Internet companies offer marketing internships. Unless you're enrolled in an MBA program, internships are harder to come by at consumer products companies. The large consumer-products companies recruit at select schools, and the best way to get hired by one of them is through on-campus recruiting. For marketing positions in other industries, your best bet may be to network or to contact firms directly.” WetFeet - Career Overview: Marketing