The life cycle of marketing career development

Life cycle of a marketer - from assistant brand manager to chief marketing officer

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Snapshot : The Product Life Cycle is a well-known topic in the world of marketing innovation. But what if you took the same thinking that sits behind the model and applied it to the marketing career path? At what stage of the life cycle of a marketer, do you have the best mix of impact, expertise, enthusiasm and tolerance for bullshit? And when do you make the leap into either marketing consulting, executive coaching or doing something more worthwhile?

Product Life Cycle : Life cycle of a marketer

So, with some extra free time this week, we fixed up a major content gap we’d spotted in in our various marketing skills guides.  We hadn’t really spent much time talking about marketing innovation, so now we have a whole new skill guide on that very topic. It covers models, processes and how you get marketing innovation going once it’s in-market. 

We revisited a few old favourite models like the Ansoff Matrix and the Product Life Cycle in the process of creating the content. 

Remember the Product Life Cycle?

Product Life Cycle - Introduction, Growth, Maturity, Decline with Sales, Investment, Competition and Profit

Marketing innovation launches go though an S-Curve. Where you have to spend big for no immediate sales impact (introduction). Your finance and sales team bitch and moan that the launch is a dud.

Then out of the blue, something completely unexpected happens and the product takes off and suddenly everybody claims a piece of the glory (growth).

Then, it peaks and you coast along a little enjoying the fruits of your hard work (maturity). You keep design agencies happy with “design refreshes”.

And then some clever bugger comes up with something new that makes your product look as up to date as a Nokia 3310. (decline).

And suddenly the cycle starts again. Yeah, that.

(There’s a much more detailed and less sarcastic view of the Product Life Cycle here by the way).

But as we were putting the guide together, it struck us that there are some parallels between the Product Life Cycle and the life cycle of a marketer.

What do we mean by that?

Well, let’s look at the typical marketing career path that a marketer would follow.

Life cycle of a marketer - from assistant brand manager to chief marketing officer

Introduction – Assistant Brand Manager

At this stage in their marketing career, everything about marketing is NEW. You get to go to meetings where they talk about some of those things you heard your university lecturers talking about.

Or you remember reading in that big but kinda boring marketing book.

But they also seem to bitch and moan a lot. They being the more experienced marketers. About how the leadership team don’t know what they are doing. And about budgets. Oh god, budgets.

And the operations team, there’s a lot of moaning about them. What’s their problem? They seem to never be able to make enough, or they make too much, or it takes too long, or they rush it and it comes out wrong. Jeez, how hard can it be?

Anyway, no matter, everything is NEW.

You aren’t given anything important quite yet, so your impact is low. But with all the grunt work you get, your expertise grows. And hey, everything is NEW. Brilliant!

Pretty soon, the inevitable happens. 

Growth – Brand Manager / Senior Brand Manager

So, you’ve proved yourself capable of writing joined up sentences that (mostly) make sense.

You can read actions from a project task list and politely chase people up to do the shit they were supposed to have done weeks ago. Yes, those operations guys again.

Pretty soon, you’re trusted enough to write Powerpoint slides for more senior marketers. You’re trusted enough to manage a budget and wonder why the finance team need to have quite so many updates on where the money is spent.

But ever so slowly, you find the work level has gone up and the time available has gone down.

So you come in a little earlier just to get ahead of the day. And you start to leave a little bit later, just to get yourself ready for the next day. 

Everything is not quite so new, and it’s harder work. But hey, your marketing career is on the up, right? Your impact / expertise / enthusiasm / BS tolerance is heading towards its peak.

Enjoy it while you can, because soon enough …

Maturity – Marketing Manager

Now you’ve made it, huh?

You’ve got a whole brand or portfolio to look after. And a team to lead and manage. Yippeee. That sounds important. YOU should important.

And now you’re here, you’ll get to do all the things those senior idiots knocked you back on in the past.

Oh, except, you still have a senior idiot, sorry, Marketing Director to keep happy.

And he / she seems to in meetings, travelling, out of the office A LOT.

So when you do see them, all they want are bullet points and an executive summary. Surely, the higher up in the business you go, the smarter and more able you are to handle details?

Oh, wait a minute.

That brand manager’s idea is a bit like the one you had two years ago. When the finance team profit threshold meant you have zero chance of it getting approved.

And oh wait, you have to spend how many days visiting the factory to talk about capital expenditure for that new piece of machinery that’s needed to improve your packaging? Really?

And what the hell is this meeting invite?

A three day off-site leadership workshop set up by the HR team? To talk about the company vision and purpose.

And then back to back 1-2-1 meetings with your team to set KPIs, review progress on projects, ask them how their family and the dog is doing and all that stuff. 

And then there’s the damn agency. Suddenly, you’re the most senior person in the weekly status meeting. Everyone expects you to approve and comment on everything. 

Except, you have this horrible deja vu, that all the agency are doing are regurgitating the same idea that you didn’t really like three years ago, but felt too junior to say so. 

Now, you’ve got to spend lots of extra hours managing the team, dealing with other functions, sorting the agency out, AND delivering all your KPIs. 

Everything is not new. In fact, there’s an increasing and inescapable smell of bullshit round the place. What didn’t you spot that before?

Maturity – Decline – Marketing Director

It’s a well-known phenomenon that when you hit the giddy heights of marketing director, your tenure in that role is about the same as the average Premiership football manager.

Anything more than three years in the role is seen as pretty good going. This stage of the life cycle of a marketing career is precarious.

Here, though in theory you have the most “power” to drive and influence marketing, you also find you have the least amount of “time” to actually do anything about it.

It’s the Catch-22 of the marketing world.


A groundhog day of meetings with other directors in the business. A procession of Powerpoint slides to yawn through or bicker about. More workshops. Why so many damn workshops? 

And then, all the people stuff. The legal stuff. The endless finance reports.

This wasn’t what marketing was supposed to be about.

Remember those days when you had time to go to focus groups? And the debriefs? When you got to write marketing plans and work with the agency at every step of the communication plan? Rather than just see it right at the end, when it’s too late to change.

So, right here, round about that marketing manager / marketing director level is where escape route #1 comes in.

You become a marketing consultant. You join one of the better agencies you worked with before. Or take the major plunge of going alone. 

You get back to marketing, without all that other nonsense. 

Except, the people you want to consult with. Yep, guess what they’re all doing?

In those same damn meetings, you’ve just worked so hard to find a way out of.

Armageddon – VP, Marketing or CMO

Still here?

Oh, you passed on that first chance to break the life cycle of a marketer.

Hey, the money’s good, your tolerance levels not quite broken yet, and there’s bigger titles and air miles and bonus payments to go for. 

You’re probably in a big global business, so take the chance to grab a Vice President or “Chief” title.

You spend ALL of your time travelling, or in yet more meetings. Life as you knew it passes you by in a bit of blur.

When was the last time you actually read anything beyond the executive summary? Do you find when you are asked for feedback, you resort to a stock standard list of phrases that you remember the previous VP using? You thought they worked then, so why not stick at it?

But eventually, the corporate word will grind you down. And while you’re not quite ready for retirement, you’ve got the reputation and the contacts for escape route #2.

Welcome to the world of the executive coach. 

And so ends the lifecycle of a marketer.

Like Luke Skywalker vanishing into thin air, the world of marketing now seems like it’s in a galaxy far, far away.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

We can help

We work with marketers at all levels of impact, expertise, enthusiasm and BS tolerance. Check out our coaching and consulting services to see how we can help, or contact us directly. If you’re not already in a meeting, that is. 

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