Real-World Education for Modern Marketers

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Why We Need to Teach Children About Marketing

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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.

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Dennis Shiao is director of content marketing at DNN. Dennis is a contributing author to the book 42 Rules of Product Marketing and is editor of the DNN blog.

LinkedIn: Dennis Shiao

Twitter: @dshiao

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  • by Mike Barry Thu Jul 3, 2014 via web

    Very cool. Thanks Dennis. Throughout the first half of my career in the music business (appreciate the music example), I didn't even know I was a marketer. Sure would have been helpful! Once I figured it out, I went back to school to fill in the blanks and have been a consultant ever since. Most of what I do is teach my clients what marketing is before actually getting down to work.

    All the best and happy holiday.

    Mike Barry
    Princeton Creative Marketing

  • by Dennis Shiao Thu Jul 3, 2014 via web

    Thanks for the comments, Mike. Whether we're in business for ourselves or work for a multinational corporation, everyone is a marketer. And like you said, most people don't know that. The interesting thing is, how do they respond when they discover that they are marketers!

  • by Mark Simon Fri Jul 4, 2014 via web

    Very interesting post Dennis. I myself had a very difficult time defining exactly what 'marketing' was all the way into the first semester of my MBA. I do have a follow-up question though: what is the motivation for encouraging children to go into marketing? Do we have a disproportionately low number of marketers compared to doctors and scientists; so much that we need to alter the way students engage with career prospects? This may be out of place on a marketing website, but maybe a greater focus on under-serviced areas of employment would be much more beneficial to society as a whole.

  • by Dennis Shiao Fri Jul 4, 2014 via web

    Mark: good question. My motivation for writing this piece was not based on which disciplines are under-served (if that were the case, perhaps we need to better encourage software developers!). Instead, my motivation was based on the observation that marketing is under-represented in primary education. Or more specifically, it's not formally identified, even when kids work on marketing concepts (e.g. persuasive writing, creating presentations, etc.). I'm not advocating that we encourage kids to pursue Marketing; rather, we identify those who are so inclined and then we guide them in that direction.

  • by roy Mon Jul 7, 2014 via web

    Good Article. My question is "what persuaded you to become a marketer"?

  • by Dennis Shiao Mon Jul 7, 2014 via web

    Thanks, Roy. For a look at my personal journey to Marketing, have a look here:

  • by Mary Cauwels Thu Jul 10, 2014 via web

    This article reminded me of my educational journey. When I entered San Jose State as a young student, I was in Honors Chemistry and dreamed of becoming a mission scientist with NASA. Then the shuttle blew up (which tells you how long ago that was) and I happened to be taking a business class for my general education and decided "Marketing looks like a safer career." I got my MBA in International Marketing and have a minor in Chemistry (which only comes in handy when speaking to my husband, the Master Brewer, about beer recipes). I'm proud of my career and agree with you whole heartedly.

  • by Carrie Thu Jul 10, 2014 via web

    I like your thinking. In our area, career days tend to be broken up by the "company." Perhaps schools should consider career days that cluster people in career "aptitudes." That would better mirror the tests kids take. It would point them to a tribe and field rather than a company.

  • by Mary Cauwels Thu Jul 10, 2014 via web

    Carrie: That is a terrific idea!

  • by let's work for it! Mon Aug 18, 2014 via iphone

    I read with interest your article and I find it very interesting and proactive. I would add that your proposal is especially important now, at this time, when the marketing has become a social as well as economical subject. If we want to make a better world we need to have better marketing. In Italy we are working on it with our project called MarketingCamp. Let's please share experience in this direction.

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