5 Ways to Build Digital Marketing Expertise

You know all those articles about secrets of successful people? About how entrepreneurs sleep 4 hours a night and don’t eat solid food? They feed into all of our desires to be successful overnight. But success in life or your career is less dependent on luck or tricks as it is a product of practice and hard work.

Whether you’re a client-side marketing coordinator, an advertising agency VP, or a freelance SEO contractor, you need to constantly work on your skills to maintain value as an employee. In marketing especially, there are new technologies, tools, and industries popping up each year, so it’s extra important to be vigilant about your abilities.

Part of being vigilant with your career is setting goals for personal growth. You can’t learn everything at once, so it’s best to learn a little bit about a lot of things while knowing a lot about just a few that are your specialties. Companies like employees who know how to find the answers to all their questions, but keep in mind that it takes expert skills to really get things done.

Before you go clicking away to find out what Mark Cuban eats for breakfast, here are a few tips to help you set goals, build your marketing skills, and gain expertise.

Study Harder and Smarter

To start here’s a real expert tip about studying from Elon Musk, the founder of Tesla and SpaceX, from his recent Reddit AMA (found through Quora):

This is a valuable bit of advice for marketers. Depending on your role in your organization, you likely don’t have to know everything about everything, but you should have a reference of knowledge about the subjects that come up on projects.

For instance, if you’re in a meeting with a client or a vendor, and they bring up something about SEO, and you’re really a creative strategist, you need to be able to understand why they would bring that up and how to give an appropriate answer. Your answer may be “we should ask my colleague Jill” or a detailed answer that solves the problem. Stay close to what you know. The knowledge tree of marketing has many big branches, so be sure to not to go too far out on a limb.

Evaluate Your Current Position and Track Progress

If you’re in marketing, you likely have a number of valuable skills. They’re probably right there on your LinkedIn page. Keep in mind, however, there are a lot of other people with those same skills too.

Set benchmarks for yourself in the way that a supervisor might rate you on those abilities and plan a way to build those skills. Those benchmarks might be completing some work tasks more efficiently by learning an online tool, or starting a new collaboration project with colleagues.

Some specific benchmark examples include reaching a certain number of social media followers, or gaining a desirable new responsibility at work. Keep in mind that benchmark goals should be attainable and realistic, because in the long game of your career, it’s the little gains that add up to experience and knowledge.

Little by little, find ways to build your technical, organizational, and interpersonal skills so that soon, those LinkedIn skill endorsements start pouring in, those project requests become inbound, and you start to build some real expertise.

Read How-to Books in Your Category

As many of you know, it’s tough to find time to read books in the all digital, multi-screen, on-demand world that has collided with our already-busy lives. Even if you read novels, or non-fiction, while those certainly build skills, they’re not going to help you as much or as fast as the tactical guides published by current experts every year.

Besides the great industry magazines, newspapers, and blogs that cover industry topics regularly, there’s no substitute for the deep tactical dive that a focused how-to book can give you. Here are some tactical marketing books in a few popular categories.

Online Marketing – TopRank CEO Lee Odden published a comprehensive and extremely practical online marketing toolkit in his 2011 release, Optimize. Read through the chapters and you are guaranteed to find something you didn’t know before about the cycle of content marketing.

Content Writing – One of the godmothers of content marketing, Ann Handley, published a new book, Everybody Writes, in the fall of 2014. It starts you from square one and takes you through the whole content planning, editing, and publishing schedule to get your writing skills moving fast.

Marketing ManagementThe Lean Startup, written by Eric Ries, started a movement of Minimum Viable Product and inspired countless others. The lessons in this book are applicable for any manager who wants to create actionable change in their marketing organization or team.

Consumer Behavior – A controversial book by an undeniably successful venture capitalist is,Zero to One, from Peter Thiel, a founder of PayPal, an early investor in Facebook and more. This book will enhance your ability to examine your business and consumer segmentation strategy

For those, like me, who just don’t make time for books like this, audiobooks are a fantastic way to get through some of these when you’re on a commute or just doing chores around the house.

Reach Out and Participate

This is a bit more obvious to many, and hopefully already part of your routine. From networking in person at happy hours, industry gatherings, and major conferences, to simply being active in social media, you can learn a lot by offering your own opinions and requesting answers from others.

Search for local events through websites like and LinkedIn to find groups of professionals in your subject matter. Conferences are publicized and advertised in major media and likely through your personal networks.

Use Twitter chats to connect with influencers and learn from others. Usually moderated by a company or a well known marketing expert, you can simply “lurk” and watch answers come in through the hour long chats, or you can take a risk and contribute what you have learned. If you’re wrong, people are usually helpful enough to guide you to the right answer. If you’re right, you can find a lot of encouragement and support as well.

Practice Makes Perfect

If you have any more time after all of this, jump on Codecademy, get certified in AdWords, or start an LLC to get your growing skills working toward progress in an active way. The resources to help you build specific skills and take calculated risks through the internet are endless, and there’s nothing like first hand experience.

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