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The life cycle of marketing career development

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

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Why read this? : We explore the similarities between marketing career development and the Product Life Cycle. Learn how your impact, expertise, enthusiasm and bullshit tolerance evolve over the course of your marketing career. Read this to see what’s ahead on your marketing career path. 

With some extra free time this week, we fixed a gap we’d spotted in our marketing skills guides. 

We hadn’t spent much time talking about marketing innovation. So now we have a whole new skill guide which covers models, processes and how you get marketing innovation going once you launch it.

We revisited a few old favourite models like the Ansoff Matrix and the Product Life Cycle as we wrote this content. 

Remember the Product Life Cycle?

Product Life Cycle - graph labelled Introduction, growth, maturity and decline

The Product Life Cycle (PLC)

The PLC shows innovations follow an S-Curve over time. You start by spending big but don’t get a lot of sales (introduction). Your finance team moan at you. They tell you, it’s a dud. Your profit and loss is more of the latter than the former. 

Then out of the blue, things look up. The product takes off, and suddenly everybody claims a piece of the glory (growth). We knew it was a winner all along, they say. 

Then, it peaks. You coast along enjoying the fruits of your hard work (maturity). You keep your agencies happy with light brand refreshes and updates.

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

So you go back to the start of the cycle with a new product. You learn a lot about marketing when you do innovation. But damn, there are many tough challenges to deal with too. 

As we wrote about the PLC, we realised there are many similarities to how a career in marketing develops. There’s a similar life cycle to marketing career development. The challenges products face at each stage mirror those marketers face as they build their careers. Let’s look at some examples.

Introduction - Assistant Brand Manager

At this stage in your marketing career, everything about marketing is NEW.

You get to go to meetings (wow!). They talk about some of what you studied at university. (great!) 

But woah, they also bitch and moan a lot in these meetings. And we do mean a lot. 

They being the more experienced marketers.

About how the leadership team don’t know what they’re doing. And about budgets. Oh god, budgets.

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

Uni courses don’t teach you about budgets. Because if they did, you’d never want to work in marketing. Purchase Orders and invoices are a marketer’s kryptonite. 

Plus, there’s lots of moaning about the operations team. What’s their problem? They can’t make enough. Or they made too much. They’re either too slow. Or too fast. They’re always fixing or updating things. Jeez, how hard can it be?

Anyway, no matter. Everything is NEW. New’s fun.

You aren’t given anything important to do quite yet, so your impact’s low. But the grunt work helps build your expertise. 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 which (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 so many updates on where the money goes.

Business meeting round with a man presenting in front of a screen to 5 colleagues

But ever so slowly, you find the work level has gone up. And the time available to do it has gone down.

And there are more meetings. Oh god, so many meetings. Meetings to write the brief. Meetings to review the creative work. Then the meetings with the media sales team. And worst of all, the meetings to plan all those other meetings. Argh.

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

Everything isn’t 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. Yippee. That sounds important. YOU sound 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 they seem to be from a generation which doesn’t get what social media or marketing technology can do for marketing. 

And they seem to be 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 you get? The more able to handle details?

Oh, wait a minute.

That brand manager’s idea resembles the one you had 2 years ago. When the finance team profit threshold meant zero chance of it getting approved. Gotta kill that idea. 

And wait, you have to spend how many days at the factory talking about capital expenditure for that new packaging machine? Really?

The leadership workshop

And what the hell’s this meeting invite?

A 3-day off-site leadership workshop run by HR? To talk about the vision, values and purpose. Again. 


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

Like they don’t think you’re an idiot already.

Woman wearing smart business suit in front of a laptop looking bored

And then there’s the damn agency. Suddenly, you’re the most senior person in the weekly status meeting. Everyone expects you to smooth out all the creative approval challenges. 

Except, you have this horrible deja vu. That all the agency is doing is regurgitating the same idea you disliked 3 years ago. But you 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. 

Nothing’s new any more. In fact, there’s an increasing and inescapable smell of bullshit around the place. Why 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 3 years is pretty good going. This stage of the marketing career life cycle is precarious.

Theoretically,  you have the most “power” to drive and influence marketing. But 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. It’s only your resilience that keeps you going. (See our where to focus your marketing brain article for more on resilience). 


A groundhog day of meetings with the other directors. 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 and all the approvals. The endless finance reports and the painful decision-making processes.

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, not spend all your time fixing the marketing planning process

When you got to enjoy working with the agency? Rather than sorting out creative issues and being schmoozed by media sales teams

So, right here, round about that marketing manager / marketing director level is where escape route #1 comes in. When you get so frustrated, you can’t take it anymore and you look for a way out. 

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

You get back to marketing, without all that other nonsense you put up with. 

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 escape from.

Man with hands behind head and a frustrated look on his face

Armageddon - VP, Marketing or CMO

Still here?

Oh, you passed on that first escape route, did you?

Hey, the money’s good though. Your BS tolerance levels aren’t quite broken yet. And there are bigger titles, more 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 blur.

It’s been a long time since you read anything beyond the executive summary. When asked for feedback, you resort to stock phrases you remember the previous VP using. You thought they sounded OK then. Why not stick with them? Consistency is important, right?

You encourage others to do all this digital marketing stuff. Even though you don’t really understand it because you’ve never had to do it yourself. (See our marketing timelines article for more on this). 

But eventually, the corporate world grinds 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 marketing world now seems like it’s in a galaxy far, far away. So long, and thanks for all the fish.

When you need help

If you’ve been lucky, you’ll have connected with like-minded marketers along your career path. Not everyone’s an idiot. It helps to just get things off your chest sometimes. 

But if you ever need a neutral and sympathetic ear when it comes to marketing, we work with marketers at all levels of impact, expertise, enthusiasm and BS tolerance. We’re happy to listen and sympathise. 

Check out our coaching and consulting services to see how we can help. Or drop us a line. If you’re not already in a meeting, that is. 

Two people holding up large ears on a small dog

Photo credits 

Business meeting : Photo by Campaign Creators on Unsplash

Bored in front of computer : Photo by on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Dog ears : Photo by kyle smith on Unsplash

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