When conferences aren’t enough

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At a certain point in your journey to becoming a competent marketing professional, you’ll find yourself at a marketing conference. Conferences are terrific places to meet new people, to get exposed to new ideas, to jump headfirst into a topic area and see what’s available, at least at good conferences. Think of conferences like a buffet restaurant with a thousand different dishes. You can have the experience of snacking on a little bit of everything, or have a few exploratory bites and dine on a familiar, reassuring dish.

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At some point later in your career, you will wonder whether conferences are enough. Or you’ll reach a point where it feels like conferences might not be generating the same sense of enthusiasm and “ah-ha” moments that they once did. The answer for your continued growth as a marketing professional at that point is not more conferences. It’s at that point when you will want to start thinking about more formal training, from workshops to entire degree programs.

The turning point that will help clarify when you’re approaching that point (so that you don’t get overly frustrated or feel like you’re wasting time and money) is simple to diagnose: when you find yourself struggling to organize everything you’ve learned. What you typically get out of conferences and related events are little hints, tips, tools, and tactics. They’re the equivalent of little dishes, like the samples from the buffet or perhaps a tapas restaurant.

Your ability to make use of all of those tools and tactics is dependent on understanding a big picture context of where they fit into your overall marketing strategy. If you feel like you’re drowning in tips and ideas, that’s the point at which conferences aren’t enough. Neither are blogs or social media posts or any other “snackable” content going to be helpful, as they’ll just add more stuff you can’t organize and contextualize.

When you reach that point, go in search of strategies and frameworks instead. Formal education can provide some of them – instead of reading blogs every day, consider taking a timeout and reading something like the Portable MBA in Marketing or other solid business textbooks to get those bigger frameworks.

Once you have those bigger picture strategies and frameworks, then you’ll find that reading blogs and going to conferences becomes a pleasure again, as every new tip and tactic fits neatly into your framework – and when you find something new that doesn’t fit in the frameworks you know, you realize that you’re exploring new territory. That should then be a sign to seek out or create a framework around the new topic area so that you can quickly learn it.

That’s my preferred long-term strategy that will help you learn marketing as quickly as possible and keep making it a joy rather than a burden.

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