Marketing has been around for as long as humans have had something to sell. As a business practice, though, marketing is a relatively new discipline.

Moreover, during the past 60 years of marketing practice, most every aspect of our profession has changed—including just about every marketing tactic and delivery channel imaginable.

Marketing professor Mark Ritson points out it's hard for marketers to be sure of anything these days: "It has never been a more exhilarating or exhausting time to work in this discipline. Never before has so much happened in marketing with so little consensus around what is and isn't working. We do our business on what appears to be a continually moving and undulating platform of knowledge that constantly contradicts and reverses itself as we cling on for grim life."

Consider these challenging realities for marketers

Short tenures: Executive search firm Spencer Stuart has found that the average CMO tenure among consumer brands was 44 months in 2017, with more than 20% of those CMOs appointed in the previous year and more than half of them first-timers.

Invisible on boards: Of the roughly 9,800 board seats held within Fortune 1000 companies, marketers occupy a scant 68.

First to be blamed: CMOs are themost likely among the C-suite to get axed when growth targets are missed.

Undervalued: In survey after survey, marketing is listed as one of the least valuable professions to humanity, scraping the bottom alongside politicians and civil servants.

No professional code: Marketing operates largely under voluntary and self-regulating principles that go (slightly) beyond a company's legal obligations. Our profession has no unifying code of conduct (other than slow-to-react and open-to-interpretation Federal Trade Commission rulings). Nor do we have a professional designation, certification, or recertification process, unlike doctors, accountants, and lawyers.

Lack of standard reporting: Nearly every business function—Sales, Legal, Operations, Finance—has a generally accepted or legally mandated standard for reporting results. Marketing does not, hurting our ability to justify and compete on an equal footing for continued investment.

Tension between CEO and CMO: 80% of CEOs don't trust or are unimpressed with their CMOs (ouch!). In comparison, just 10% of the same CEOs say they feel that way about their CFOs and CIOs.

Tension among practitioners: Marketers are not a particularly cohesive lot. There's little consensus among us on what constitutes marketing best-practices, accompanied by a continual jousting over resources and budgets. You'll find plenty of advocates and detractor for inbound versus outbound marketing, brand building versus demand generation, paid versus earned versus owned media, and traditional versus digital channels.

Despite the odds, business degrees (including marketing, business, and management) continue to be a popular career choice: One in five US college grads receives a bachelor's degree in this field each year. That is in addition to the 10.6 million professionals worldwide who list marketing or marketer in their LinkedIn job title. (Which just goes to show that we marketers are not easily deterred!)

No one would call marketing a staid profession

The adventure and excitement of our field has long attracted the most imaginative, innovative, pioneering, and boundary-pushing talent. Everchanging consumer needs, wants, motivations, and behaviors demand everchanging marketing strategies and tactics. Indeed, that is what draws many of us into the marketing profession. It seems every day we wake up to a new surprise or a new crisis that demands our time and energy.

The future of marketing has many surprises for us:

  • As time and attention continue to dwindle, consumers will become even more sophisticated and demanding.
  • As technology advancements accelerate, marketers will be forced to continuously re-evaluate how we deliver messages to the market.
  • As business pressures mount, marketing programs and leaders will continue to come under increasing scrutiny.

Reality will continue to surprise us, so we need to be ready. The best way I have found to prepare for the future of marketing is to have an active hand in shaping it.

Shape your marketing Future

There are three things you can do today to prepare for the exhilarating yet uncertain future of marketing:

1. Hone your skills

Experts predict by the year 2034 fully 47% of today's jobs will be automated, and 65% of today's students will be applying for jobs that don't exist yet. The marketing prowess that landed you your current role will likely be outdated when you are vying for your next one.

Commit to becoming a lifelong learner.

2. Become more strategic

Though exhilarating, marketing can easily turn into an endless game of whack-a-mole. After a while, even whack-a-mole becomes tiresome. That's because those "moles" keep reappearing no matter how perfectly or heroically you swat them: There's always another marketing challenge demanding of your attention.

Working faster or harder is obviously not the answer; we need to become more strategic marketers. Take the time to question how that next urgent marketing request advances a broader marketing strategy and, in turn, how both will help achieve your company's overall business strategy.

3. Invest in yourself

Investing time and money in yourself is one of the best investments you can make. Doing so will better prepare you for an uncertain future, but there is also current payoff in terms of career readiness.

Whether it's learning to become more strategic, more creative, more analytical, or more agile, take actions and make decisions that push you forward and move you out of your comfort zone.

* * *

What's the future of marketing? If the past is any indication, it will be exhilarating, exhausting, and uncertain.

Marketing is an everchanging landscape, as are our customer. We need to continually challenge, adjust, and advance our marketing strategies, our teams, and ourselves to stay ahead. To do that means we must hone our skills, become more strategic marketers, and invest in ourselves as lifelong learners.

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image of Engelina Jaspers

Engelina Jaspers helps business leaders build nimble marketing organizations with customer insight and speed to execution at their core. She is the author of Marketing Flexology: How to Outsmart Change and Future-Proof Your Career.

Twitter: @Ready2Flex

LinkedIn: Engelina Jaspers