An "incoming class" of marketers will enter the workforce in 2025. Today, they're 10 years old and in fifth grade. How (and when) will today's fifth graders develop an interest in a marketing career?
And how can we show children today that marketing may be the right choice of work in their future?
As a kid, I used to ask my parents about family members. "Mom, what does Uncle Joe do for a living?" Mom knew that Uncle Joe ran a business but didn't know the particulars, so she'd answer, "Oh, he's a businessman." She may as well have said, “Oh, he does marketing,” a term equally nebulous (for me) back then.
What About Marketing?
Recently, I taught a lesson on personal branding to a class of high school students. I asked the class to define the term "marketing."
No one raised their hand. So, I waited for fifteen seconds.
Still no one.
That's a problem.
Kids today want to be scientists, teachers, lawyers, accountants, and doctors—but no one wants to be a marketer. Some students may want to be marketers, and they just don't know it. How do we raise the level of awareness for our profession?
We start by introducing marketing in elementary school.
Model the Marketer
I recently attended an end-of-year concert at my daughter's school. As a fifth grader, she and her classmates selected an instrument to play for the year.
The school invited the entire fourth grade to attend the concert. The conductor asked each section's musicians to raise their instruments. "Those are violins," the conductor said. "Listen to the violins and ask yourself whether you'd like to select that instrument next year." He did that for the various instruments.
Let's do this same sort of modeling for the marketing profession.
Moreover, my daughter's fifth grade class did a classroom exercise in advertising. Students worked in groups of five to design a printed advertisement. They worked on the project for a week and capped it off by presenting the finished project to the class.
Hey, that's marketing! That's messaging, positioning, and communicating a value proposition... The missing link, however, was the connection between their project and a possible career destination.
"Those posters are a form of marketing," the teacher might have said. "If you enjoyed this activity, here are some electives you could consider in middle school and high school..."
Connect Students With 'Real-World' Marketers
Teachers ask parents to come into the classroom to talk about their jobs. Doctors can talk about the lives they've saved. Scientists can talk about curing a disease. In my years of schooling, I've never had a marketer visit the classroom to talk about marketing.
Perhaps that's because the impact of marketing is less tangible. We're not saving lives or curing diseases... but we are using creativity and imagination to create magic.
So let's do what we do best: Let's market our own profession!
When visiting our children's classrooms, let's use stories and visuals to show students what marketers do. And more importantly, let's demonstrate the impact of our work.
Guide Students Who Are Naturally Inclined Toward Marketing
As a volunteer for Junior Achievement of Northern California, I've taught lessons on business and entrepreneurship in my daughter's classroom. Junior Achievement provides the curriculum and materials, but the lessons are taught by parent volunteers. The program is a fabulous way to draw connections between classroom learning and "what happens in the real world."
We need to create similar programs that bring real-world marketers into elementary school classrooms. My fifth grader worked on feature articles and persuasive essays this school year. How about having a marketer visit the classroom to teach students how to publish their first blog post?
In middle school and high school, we should profile the skills and interests that make someone inclined towards a career in marketing. As teachers and counselors spot students with those profiles, they should guide (not force) them towards marketing as a destination.
What This Means to Present-Day Marketers
If we do a better job of "marketing marketing," then future high school students will raise their hands high when asked to define marketing. They'll have been introduced to marketing during elementary school.
Come middle school and high school, students will understand marketing in the same way they understand mathematics and chemistry. Some will go off to college to major in math or chemistry. Others will go to liberal arts colleges.
However, if we introduce marketing in elementary school, some students will enroll at liberal arts colleges for the express purpose of a career in marketing.