A Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of Marketers of 2016 - Insights

A Commencement Address to the Graduating Class of Marketers of 2016

by Dayna Sargen and Dayna Sargen

8 minute read

Everyone knows that today’s marketer wears a lot of hats. While we are marketers at heart, we are also product visionaries, content experts, customer journey mappers, and sales enablers. I’m lucky that one of the hats that I wear in my spare time is as a Professor of Integrated Marketing for New York University’s graduate program.  My class tends to be one of the best parts of my week – not only because I’m back in an academic setting, but also because I’m privileged to learn so much from my students. Their voracious appetite for knowledge and information is inspiring and energizing. As the academic year comes to a close, it brings with it a time of reflection, well-wishes, and unsolicited advice from professors. Looking back at the questions that my students have asked during our time together, below is a compilation of my advice and nuggets of guidance as they embark on their next adventures – and really, advice to any marketer evaluating our ever-challenging and changing landscape. 

Advertising and Content are Synonymous

Many people enter the field of marketing and become enamored by the idea of launching advertising campaigns. Maybe it’s the creativity required for a successful campaign or maybe it’s because we’ve all watched too many hours of Mad Men. Whatever the reason, working in advertising sounds like a lot of fun. But in today’s marketing landscape, the value of ads is rooted in content. So the savvy and promising young marketer will recognize this opportunity and will harness the power behind content marketing. And I’m not just saying this because I’m a content marketer! It’s about understanding how to capture your audience’s attention, what they are looking for, and how to avoid the advertising blindness that has developed in today’s crowded marketplace. If I could give one piece of advice to today’s graduating marketer, it would be to become a content expert and fully understand how to best utilize content across marketing channels and to prove the ROI of your efforts. 

Clearly Define What is Great Content 

If content is at the center of what every marketer will be tasked to produce, we owe it to ourselves to define what exactly is great content. It’s a more complicated challenge than it may initially sound like. One of the best ways to figure out how to define great content is to surround yourself with great content. When I started teaching in 2012, I immediately modified the standard syllabus to include reading recommendations for my students beyond the standard textbook. By signaling what I find to be inspiring, thought-provoking content, my hope is that my students will also pick up the trends and patterns of what makes content strong. As a busy professional, I still carve out time every day to read trade publications, blogs, magazines, and posts that inspire me to be a stronger content creator. At NewsCred, we’ve actually started to use a content scorecard to better quantify what we are looking for in great content and to ensure that everything we publish is meeting this standard. Content is a discipline and expertise that is only becoming more and more important across marketing organizations. The more we can all as marketers become content experts, the better equipped we will be to conquer the industry. 

Master Both the Art and Science of Marketing 

Many students decide to study marketing and think they can utilize only the right or left side of their brain exclusively. Today, no marketer is able to focus on only the art OR the science of marketing – they are interconnected and both equally as important for success. Yes, many of us excel at one half of this equation. However, the best marketers are those who work to be a master at both. We are all surrounded by messaging and demands to keep data at the center of everything we do. This is the era of big data after all, isn’t it? Yet, I’d like to make a plea to the next generation of marketers to bring back the art of marketing. There is something so captivating and impactful about the most storied and successful marketing campaigns of all time. While I’m a firm believer in the power of data, I also think that the softer side of marketing can be incredibly impactful and is sometimes underutilized. 

Always Keep the Customer First 

With more channels, outlets, creative formats, and distribution options than ever before, it is easy for marketers to become lost in the clutter of figuring out not only what to say, but how to say it. The challenge is that we tend to lose sight in all of our mapping and planning as to who we are ultimately trying to serve: our customers. The most successful marketers today are those who remember to keep the customer first and frame all of their planning and campaigns around how to best reach them. In academia, the number of traditional marketing funnels that are taught and reviewed could make your head spin. As I stress in my class, and as hopefully all students have been taught, we are no longer working in a world of a linear customer journey or “funnel.”  Today’s customer is incredibly complex with countless touch points, entry points, and opportunities for engagement. The most successful marketers will be those who are equal part marketer to anthropologist and keeps the customer at the center of everything that they do. Embracing the modern marketing organization and keeping the customer at the center of everything you do will keep you grounded in the fundamentals leading to success. 

Don’t Forget About Segmentation, Targeting, and Positioning 

Again, balancing the complexity of the world that we work in can lead us to often overlook the basics that can make marketing incredibly impactful. All marketers have been trained on how to effectively segment, target, and position their product or service to their audience. While it seems so simple it hurts, it’s often something that can be neglected. We hear so often about the power of marketing to specific generations – most especially millennials. While there is no doubt that millennials have an incredible amount of impact and buying potential, and that their behaviors are greatly changing what we know as today’s norm, I challenge today’s marketer to think beyond their audience’s birth year. What defines a generation is not your age but rather your experience and behavior. The way that people are adapting to technology and the access that we all have to information and content today has changed consumer behavior forever. However, the strongest marketers are those who can recognize greater patterns beyond just age-behavior correlations and can recognize larger patterns across their audience. Truly understanding these behavioral differences will open up a world of opportunity about how to effectively reach your audience. 

Stay Generalized Yet Maintain a Focus

When I entered the world of marketing a million years ago, everyone felt the need to be as focussed and specialized as possible. If you couldn’t say that you were something as specific as a “direct marketer” or “audience specialist,”  there seemed to be no chance you could ever move up. This dynamic has changed today and I encourage my students to remain as generalized as possible, but still finding a way to have a focus. As marketing channels converge, it is difficult to find a marketing role that doesn’t cross over and touch all aspects of the discipline. The walls between teams and disciplines are dropping and the best marketers are the ones who are able to work cross-functionally and to expand impact beyond their specified discipline. So many of my students will begin my class saying that they are a “social expert” or are an “event specialist.”  I constantly encourage them to see the broader world of integrated marketing practices and to keep their knowledge and experience as generalized as possible. Yes, we will all fall into some sort of categorization at some point in our careers and that is not necessarily a bad thing. At heart, I’ll always consider myself a brand marketer. But it has greatly helped my career that I also have experience in direct, social, acquisition, events, and more.

Follow Your Passion

We all work far too many hours a week to focus on something that doesn’t get us out of bed in the morning. At the end of the day, our goal should be to figure out what our passion is and pursue a career that lets you follow that. I’m fortunate that I spend my day thinking about how to educate and support marketers – and marketing is not only something that I’m incredibly interested in, but also am passionate about. I can’t encourage my students – and any marketer for that matter – to figure out what their passion is and pursue a career that let’s them focus on it. Working in a role where you are forced to fake an interest in what ever product or service you are offering can be exhausting and soul-crushing. When your job description matches your life goals, not only will you feel excited and energized by your role, but you will also find that the best of your skills and capabilities come out to shine. 


Dayna Sargen is the Brand Marketing Director for NewsCred and an Adjunct Professor of Integrated Marketing for NYU.