How we became digital marketers

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As a Digital Marketer, there are a few questions I get asked a lot when I meet new people outside of the industry. The most common ones are “So what work do you actually do?” and “How did you get into the industry?”.

Usually, I answer the first question with something along the lines of “I use internet magic to move where websites show up in Google”, but the second one I don’t really know the answer to. Really, my journey happened accidentally and started in a jam factory of all places.

At the time, I was in college and doing part-time work. I then ended up getting a shift at a jam factory, where I worked for one day before deciding I needed to do something with my life, anything but go back to working in a jam factory. So, I mulled things over & started to think about the best way to kickstart a career. Eventually, I settled on an apprenticeship to get my foot into an industry and applied for every single one I could find.

Anyway, a couple days later I get a call from 3aaa’s, (an apprenticeship company), asking me to come in for an interview. They had seen I was looking for an apprenticeship and had an opportunity for me, so the next day I went in and had an interview. I talked about what I wanted to do with my life & was recommended to take a Digital Marketing apprenticeship. A while after that interview, they set me up with an interview at an agency in Chelmsford and 20 minutes after that interview, I got a call saying I got the position. That’s how I got into the industry.

So, like many other people, I found my career entirely by accident (I actually wanted to be an Estate Agent). Before I had that call with 3aaa’s, I never even knew what Digital Marketing was, but almost 5 years later I’ve found my niche so to speak.

But obviously, that’s just my story. Digital Marketing is one of the fastest growing industries in the UK and the 18th most in-demand skill in business, so obviously there are thousands of people with their own stories to tell working in a myriad of different roles. Due to this, I decided to see how people broke into the world of Digital Marketing. I made up a survey & put it out on my LinkedIn & Twitter and also asked a few marketers I know personally to tell me their story of why and how they got into the industry.

The Survey

So at the start of 2019, we put together a survey for digital marketers (you can look at the raw data here), & ended up surveying over 80 people in the industry on how they got their first digital marketing job.

For ease of viewing, we have grouped the data from Question 1 & 2 to be in age & time ranges, rather than individual years. The full breakdown can be viewed in the Google Doc with the raw data.

Whilst doing this we found out some amazing stats about our industry, some of them you can probably guess, like how the majority of people started young & had their first job at an agency. But, we also picked up on some other trends like how almost 23.4% of digital marketers got their first job in the industry from an apprenticeship, like I did.

Anyway, here’s what we found, broke down question by question.

Q1) How Old Were You When You Got Your First Digital Marketing Job?

Question 1 was a pretty simple one, how old were you when you got started in the Digital Marketing Industry?

This showed results you’d expect with the majority of people getting into the industry at a young age, with 52.4% of Digital Marketers getting their first role between 16-21 years old and an average starting age of 22 years old.

Furthermore, there weren’t many ‘Late Starters’ to the industry, with only 9.72% of people getting their first Digital Marketing role in their 30’s or later.

Interesting Data Points

📊 30.7% of people started Digital Marketing in their teens.
📊 82% of people got their first DM role whilst 25 or under.
📊 Youngest age to start was 16.

Q2) How Many Years Have You Worked In Digital Marketing?

Question 2 was also pretty cut & dry in showing the ‘youth movement’ Digital Marketing is currently undergoing. This was looking at how many years our respondents had been working in the industry.

We found that 64.6% of people in Digital Marketing have been working in the industry for less than 5 years (42% have been working for more than 5 years), but the average respondent has been working in digital marketing for 5.3 years.

Interesting Data Points

📊 Longest a respondent had been in Digital Marketing was 22 years.
📊 8.93% of respondents have been in Digital Marketing for a year or less.
📊 10.9% of respondents have been in Digital Marketing for 10+ years.

Q3) In What Environment Was Your First Digital Marketing Job?

The aim of question 3 was to find the most common environment for people to get their first experiences with Digital Marketing.

From this, we noticed an entrepreneurial trend, with 9.8% of people starting as a freelancer, 6.1% starting digital marketing with their own websites & 1.3% of respondents getting their first DM job when they started their own business. This accounts for 17.2% of respondents getting their first taste of digital marketing in an entrepreneurial environment.

But overwhelmingly, the most popular entry point to the industry was digital marketing agencies, with 51.9% of respondents starting their career at an agency, compared to 29.3% of digital marketers getting their start as part of an in house team at an agency.

Interesting Data Points

📊 Amongst In-House teams, B2C companies are a more popular career starting point (15.9%) compared to B2B companies (13.4%).
📊 Despite the entrepreneurial flair in Digital Marketing, 82.9% of respondents got their start as an employee, rather than an entrepreneur.

Q4) How Did You Get Your First Job In Digital Marketing?

In question 4, we were looking to find how people landed their first role in their digital marketing career, to find out what the most common entry points into the industry were.

The most frequent ways to get into digital marketing were: from an apprenticeship (24.4%) & applying for a junior role at a company (24.4%). This shows that taking a low-level role with an opportunity to grow is a great way to get into the world of digital marketing.

The next most common way to get into the digital marketing world was moving in from another industry (17.1%). People who do this usually make a lateral move from a sales or account management role, into a digital marketing company. But, of course, it’s not unheard of for traditional marketers to move into the digital realm.

A trend we noticed from this, was people taking ‘work experience’ style routes (Apprenticeships, internships & work experience). These prove to be rather popular with 34.1% of digital marketers getting started from one of these routes.

Interesting Data Points

📊 4.9% of respondents broke into the industry as a result of networking with people in the industry, showing that knowing the right people is still a viable way to get a job.
📊 Getting into the industry via an apprenticeship (24.4%) is more common than internships (8.5%). Traditionally, people don’t associate digital marketing with apprenticeships, so it’s good to see that the tide has turned on that front.

Q5) How Did You Learn Digital Marketing?

With question 5, we were looking to find how people learned the intricacies of their niche in the digital marketing world, whether they had been taught by a mentor at their workplace, learnt how to do it at university, or spent countless hours online teaching themselves.

One of the big things we noticed was despite 24.4% of people getting into Digital Marketing via an apprenticeship, only 18.3% of people say they learnt from the apprenticeship. This could attribute to many factors, but most likely is due to apprenticeship training focusing more on learning in the work environment (which is how 26.8% of respondents said they learnt).

If you group all the methods of being self-taught (trial & error, online resources, and via online exams), being self-taught is by far the most frequent way people learnt digital marketing, coming in at 43.9% of all respondents proclaiming to have taught themselves.

Interesting Data Points

📊 Of all the ways to teach yourself Digital Marketing, using online resources (forums, how to guides, etc.) is the most common way, with 19.5% of people teaching themselves with those resources, compared to: trial & error (14.6%), and online courses/exams (9.8%).
📊 Learning from a University course was one of the least common ways to pick up digital marketing, with only 6.1% of digital marketers learning from a university course. This could be because there are few digital marketing courses & oftentimes those that exist can be out of date & no longer relevant by the time they’re completed.

Q6) What Is Your Specialty Or Favoured Area Of Digital Marketing?

This part of the survey was to get an overview on what areas of digital marketing people tend to favour & work in. The headliner for this question was SEO, with 34.1% of respondents saying that they favour it.

Social media marketing (15.9%), content marketing (14.6%), and PPC (14.6%) all had strong showings as runners up, showing that these skills are still high in demand in the digital marketing world.

Interesting Data Points

📊 There’s nothing really that stands out about this question – the more integral aspects of Digital Marketing are favoured the most & the auxiliary aspects like graphic design have fewer people favouring them.

Q7) Do You Have Any Digital Marketing Related Qualifications? (If You Have Multiple, Just Select Highest Level)

And finally, we’re on to question 7. For this question, we were looking to find out what (if any) digital marketing certifications people had garnered.

24.4% of digital marketers have no official qualifications in the industry (which is not surprising when you think about how many people learnt on the job or taught themselves). This leaves 75.6% of the industry with some sort of industry qualification, whether it be an online qualification (Google’s GAIQ, Hubspot academy etc), a qualification from an apprenticeship (14.6%) or a related university degree (14.8%).

Interesting Data Points

📊 Again, there are no real underlying trends or data points that are that noteworthy of the bunch, the pie chart tells the tale for this one.

Why Did You Become A Digital Marketer?

Getting your first job in the digital marketing world is one thing, but why you got it is another. Some people got into the industry as they were fascinated with the inner workings of Google, some people moved from traditional PR to digital PR or Help a Reporter Out after seeing that print was on the decline and some people like me just ended up stumbling into the industry with no idea why.

So, I got some quotes from 6 expert Digital Marketers on how they became marketers & this is what they had to say.

“I started off in a graphic design role at a digital marketing agency and as I found out more about Digital Marketing I couldn’t help but want to learn more. There is so much to Digital Marketing that I just wanted to get stuck in and involved with the industry.“

“I became a digital marketer after realising that my love for being online and being creative could work together to benefit other people. I loved that there were so many avenues to explore in digital marketing and that no day would be the same.”

“It was by complete accident, I didn’t even know whether I’d like it. I just left school post a-levels and needed a job, wanted to earn and learn so got an apprenticeship. Unfortunately the working conditions were horrendous and taught myself most of my foundation knowledge, so I left my first job swiftly and then joined VBD where I have now completed my apprenticeship and received a promotion to exec”

“By accident / through demand. I was a techy geek and then the internet came along, Google launched in my first year at UNI, my work moved to the cloud, I started writing ‘early’ websites and then social media was invented and everything changed. I even remember in the early days having to explain words like ‘blog’ to my clients and colleagues.”

“Truth be told, I didn’t at first! I started an internship as a digital PR exec to get experience in public relations while I was studying, but ended up falling head first into the world of digital and not wanting to leave; hence me edging from traditional PR to digital marketing come graduation time. ”

“When I just started SEO there was almost nothing online about it, there were no courses, one could hardly understand what I was talking about. But I felt that I belonged. I felt and keep on feeling that what I’m doing is helping businesses grow, improve their revenue and expand their geography.”

What Advice Would You Give To Yourself When You Were Younger?

Hindsight is 20/20 and after being in the industry a while you pick up on things you wish you knew on day 1, whether it be a solution to mistakes you made early on in your career, a time you discovered a time saving trick that would have been helpful early on or even just getting involved in the industry sooner, there’s always something we wish we could go back & tell our younger selves.

So I spoke to 9 people (and wrote down my thoughts) to see what would be the bit of advice they’d shout at themselves before getting in to the industry.

“Don’t follow the leader. Find yourself a mentor or an internship with an organization proven in their successes. What’s important it to always test things yourself and constantly strive to do better and always learn.”

“Get into Digital Marketing as soon as you can, get a work experience role, make your own blog anything you can to get started in the industry early, learn from the marketers you want to be like, listen to podcasts, read how to’s and ask questions. Learn as much as you can and use that knowledge to get yourself ahead of the game.”

“I wish I could’ve told myself to find and do something more fun and creative. I would’ve tell myself to be more entrepreneurial minded. Focus on creating a lifestyle business so I can set up a good life for myself where I don’t work 9-5. You can choose your own destiny. ”

“Trust data not opinions, there are too many people who have a viewpoint that is opinion based and it could pollute your development.”

“I would advise my younger self to be more aggressive with building a personal brand. There are many in the industry that have done very well based on the way that they have promoted themselves. This does not come naturally to all but is undeniably helpful to your career!”

“To a younger me, I would say keep expanding your knowledge through reading, courses and events as you will find the digital age is fast-moving and ever-enhancing. Step out of your comfort zone to seek what is new and upcoming in the digital marketing sector. Learn new applicable skills that come with the advancements of technology. While there may seem limitations with B2B compared to B2C marketing, be aware of all the changes to expand your own skillset which could be useful in the future.”

“Find an apprenticeship in a digital agency and learn as much as you can from as many people as you can. Discover what you enjoy and where your skill set lies, then pursue that as a specialism.”

“My advice to a younger me would be to first of all, identify what you enjoy and try to pursue any route required to reach a job role that includes your passion. I would say to not be afraid of knowing less than some people, your passion will help you persevere.”

“Don’t be scared about what you don’t know yet. You’re at the beginning so there’s going to be people who are more experienced, this is a good thing you can learn from them. You’re in your current role for a reason and you have time on your side to get better.”

“Learn SEO. Like, really learn it and take time to absorb it. Two years into my Digital PR career and I’m now a Digital PR Manager in a London based agency, but SEO still manages to confuse me! Also, asking for more support to network and learn other parts of the industry as they all work together so closely.”

So there you have it, tales of how people broke into the industry, stats on how people got into the marketing world & learnt their trade and some advice we would have given ourselves when we started out way back when.

If you’re looking to get into the industry why not check out our jobs page or get in contact with us to see if we can help you get into the digital marketing world. Or if you simply want to learn a bit why not check out our guide on inbound marketing or have a look through our blog!

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