Mark Schaefer recently posed the interesting question, “Is this the most difficult time to be in marketing?”

Maybe. To be certain, many of the factors Mark listed, such as overwhelming amounts of information and rapidly shifting change are valid and true. That said, what really makes marketing either difficult or not today is dependent on your personal answer to one key question:

How good a student are you?

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By student, I mean someone who studies the profession of marketing to learn and master its intricacies. A dedicated student is one who acquires and tests knowledge. One of my martial arts teachers and mentors, Ken Savage, has often said that to be a true student of anything, you must acquire academic knowledge and then put it to the test. When you take ivory tower theory and marry it with practical application, you create wisdom. The very best students can learn in a self-directed manner in addition to learning from great teachers.

The current state of content marketing lets us deceive ourselves that we are learning. But it’s learning in the same way that snacking isn’t the same as eating. We read dozens of status updates, pithy quotes, and short ‘stackable’ blog posts about the topic of marketing (“9 ways to blog about marketing!”) and feel as though we’ve learned something. The reality is that we’ve barely gotten the academic knowledge. Reading it is certainly not the same as applying it.

You have to be curious.

You have to try, and fail, frequently.

You have to get your hands dirty, often.

When you look at the skills Mark listed in his article, they all require actual learning, being a dedicated student of marketing. You won’t advance your capabilities from just reading a few blog posts on the topic or going to a conference for a couple days.

You have to be an actual student.

If you can be, and you can be a student for life (or at least the duration of your career in marketing), you will find that this isn’t the most difficult time to be in marketing. While the details and technologies change, while the landscape is ever shifting, your dedication to study will not only allow you to keep pace, but to eventually lead the pack.

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