Most us probably heard about first-principles thinking for the first time after listing to Elon Musk’s interview. It piqued my curiosity, and I started wondering how first principles can be applied for building your marketing career. For those of us who do not have a scientific background, first principles have their foundations in physics.
First principles requires you to boil things down to their fundamental truths and reason up from there. Sounds complicated? Let’s apply this to a problem Elon Musk was trying to solve. He was often told that people are never going to use battery-operated energy sources because they are expensive.
So he started reading as much as he could about lithium-ion batteries. Most lithium-ion batteries are made of iron, nickel, cobalt, and manganese. So if you were to buy these components from the London Metal Exchange, how much will it cost? Then you have to put them in some form to make up lithium-ion batteries. As demonstrated in this example, first-principles thinking gives you a framework for decision-making.
What makes this so effective? When faced with an issue, most of us tend to focus on the problem’s peripheral aspects while ignoring the basics. So, though you may have remedied the problem, you neglected the underlying reason. So how do you apply first principles for building a marketing career?
Applying First-Principles for Building Your Marketing Career
First-Principles thinking can also be a great framework to build your marketing career. I thought of applying first-principles thinking to one of the questions I had, which is ‘what makes a successful marketer.’
Of course, I’m going to overlook the typical BS used by the business to characterise someone as a good marketer, such as accolades or social media influence.
Let’s start with the fundamentals of marketing. Consider marketing as a tree with roots, trunks, branches, twigs, and leaves.
Roots: As the roots grow deeper, you’ll notice lateral roots sprouting from each major root. For example, psychology contains several subgroups that are important to marketing. While we are required to understand our consumers, we are also required to understand our internal stakeholders. Both have different motivations.
Trunk: As we get to the trunk, we develop a deeper understanding of marketing fundamentals, leading us to a specialization. For some of us, this decision is made for us by default; for example, if you begin your job as a specialist. Then you may either pursue a super specialty or become a generalist.
Branches: Branches provide several streams of specialty from which to pick, such as brand communications, digital marketing, social media, programmatic, and so on.
Twigs: Twigs symbolise many super specialisation streams. For example, someone who begins their career in programmatic may opt to specialise in a certain area of ad tech.
Crown: The initial years of learning & experience helps you to form that crown. In some ways, you can say that the more branches and twigs you add, the bigger the crown. But does having a bigger crown imply that you are a brilliant marketer? If you don’t have solid basics, you won’t be able to use your talents in a meaningful way to provide an output.
Let’s look at an example to demonstrate the idea. As a marketer, you have great ideas, but you don’t have strong persuasion skills. Finally, if the individuals on the opposite side of the table aren’t persuaded, you won’t be able to execute your ideas.
Marketing Fundamentals Alone ≠ Great Marketing Career
So, do good fundamentals make you a good marketer? You have an advantage over others, in my opinion. However, a few more factors determine how good you are or how good others believe you to be.
Because assessing talents or knowledge is challenging, most marketers are initially evaluated based on their educational background, relevant experience, communication skills, and so on. It serves as the first filter for corporations or other folks evaluating you.
When most of us hear that someone is the Chief Marketing Officer of a company, our initial thought is that this person is presumably a marketing subject matter expert. However, this is not always the case. We are frequently judged based on the designation or title we hold.
If you want to be a very excellent marketer, you must provide both actual and perceived value. Yes, the world operates on the basis of perceived value. We, as marketers, are more aware of this than anybody else. We are, after all, in the business of creating the desired perception. Similarly, when you are unable to give genuine value, your perceived value plummets.
Knowledge, like anything else, loses value with time. The advent of digital has merely expedited the process of erosion. For example, social media did not exist 15 years ago, yet it is now a crucial weapon in the marketers’ armory. Like a tree that gets impacted by the change in temperature, the quality of soil and water, and other environmental disturbances, our careers also get impacted by unknown variables.
The most crucial dimension to building a marketing career is people. People we work with can elevate our skills. Some of the strongest marketers are those who are conscious of their weaknesses rather than those who have strong foundational skills.
Most of us are really proficient in two or three foundational skills, but you have to rely on your teammates to compensate for your flaws ultimately. Every time you pull off a great campaign, you have people working in perfect harmony, often making up for each other’s inadequacies to deliver the perfect outcome.
When it comes to fundamental skills, some of us have an unfair advantage over others. Some of us, for example, have a natural talent for storytelling. It may be because you read a lot of non-fiction books as a kid, or you were unconsciously training for this career without even realizing it.
So, if you’re beginning to build your marketing career, what should you do? During the first few years, focus on developing your fundamentals. This will allow you to utilise your knowledge more effectively later in your career. Consider learning some of those foundations outside of your present role and company. For someone with experience, it is never too late to strengthen your fundamentals.
Most of us feel while building our marketing career that it will follow a linear path. The modern career path trajectory is a continuum rather than a climb to a destination. It’s a journey between episodes, with experiences that inform and build on top of each other.