As more and more new disciplines enter the marketing field the term ‘expert’ gets attached to a lot of people who haven’t actually earned it argues Tym Yee.
In an ideal world we’d all be leading experts in our fields. We’d spend most of our time contributing to the latest research, reading up on breaking news, innovating with technology in cool ways and pumping out work to such high standards that Mumbrella couldn’t help but write about how great we are.
But this life we live is digital marketing, not a feel good movie, and so the likelihood of this happy narrative actually unfolding for you in this way is pretty slim. This is not said out of spite by the way, it’s just statistically impossible.
To be a true expert in your marketing field deserving of a Jedi-like reputation, you have to have a level of knowledge, skill and experience that cannot be widely found in the landscape – you have to be better than everyone else. You have to be the best.
If you consider your team to be social media experts, for example, because they happen to be really great at scheduling posts on Facebook and have lots of experience doing it, then the rest of the market has to be honestly woeful at it – which, unless this post is shared on the Mumbrella Facebook page at midnight on a Saturday, I will kindly assume they’re not.
This can be a hard one to grasp for many marketers, especially those working agency-side, because often so much of the company’s revenue generating efforts involve smutty conversations built on such ‘creative’ claims.
Phrases like ‘we’re Australia’s leading…’, ‘you won’t find better than…’ and ‘our team of industry experts…’ are enough to get you the initial meeting sometimes, but they’re also triggers that will make a well-tuned bullshit detector eat its own interface.
To have marketing stakeholders consider your skills in a realistic light (and to re-appreciate the value of a true expert), you have to use the term sparingly or else risk shooting yourself in the foot.
Calling a mid-level specialist an ‘expert’ in order to wow clients and to win business is not a sustainable practice and more than likely will lead to unhappy faces during your client WIP when all your amicable team has done is a good, competent job, instead of creating the “next ALS ice bucket challenge,” like you promised they could.
Outside of being bad for business, the floppy use of the ‘e word’ can actually do damage to your team, too.
“This is Tym, our content expert”, has been an introduction that’s plagued me with imposter syndrome at various stages of my career.
I don’t lack confidence in my skills, but the term does leave me thinking two things: if three to four solid years of experience and a couple of degrees is enough to make you an expert in this industry, then I might as well retire at 30. And: if I am an expert, why aren’t they paying me like one?
I’m sure there are many mid-career marketers who feel the same way, and even a few who might not, which then begs the question: if you’re not the true definition of an expert, what are you? You, the pretty-darn-good-at-your-job guy or girl sitting there reading Mumbrella at your work computer, which very reasonably doesn’t have a PhD or Grand Prix hanging above it.
And how do you refute such claims without seeming like a hopeless novice or an all-round office party pooper?
The first part is easy. Stop thinking of yourself as either being an expert or not. You probably haven’t accumulated the career capital to feel at home on a TED Talk stage just yet because you’re still in the grey zone, figuring out what your truest strengths are, and how you’re going to continue to hone them over the next 10 to 20 years.
This takes shape naturally as you run more campaigns, coordinate more shoots, create bigger concepts and pitch bolder ideas. And it can’t be rushed or faked.
Once you acknowledge that, it’s time to raise the bar. Don’t just sit there and let other people refer to you as an expert, even if it makes you feel pretty special – unless you are actually some kind of genius, of course, with a doctorate to prove it!
Start publishing, learning, experimenting with your marketing niche until you get to a point where your work speaks for you. Your account managers, sales team and co-workers won’t need to shout it from the rooftops if your results do all the talking for them.
Finally, gain confidence in knowing that if there are less people dubbed ‘experts’ but we’re all still really, really, really good at our jobs it means the industry is extremely healthy. Then all you have to worry about is taking aim at that top spot in your field and figuring out how you’re going to get there.
Tym Yee is a marketer and writer at Optus.