I’ve been working with digital marketing for the past 5-10 years by now. When I began, I also asked myself the question “is digital marketing a good career choice?”
Contrary to what you might have read elsewhere, the answer isn’t simply a resounding YES. The industry has evolved since I started, so has my point of view, and a lot changed.
Especially, in regards to privacy, GDPR and the whole Facebook data breach-shenanigans.
What marks a good career is a personal choice and so what might make digital marketing a good career for one might not for another.
It is impossible to cover every possible situation out there. So instead, I’ve asked around as part of my research and found the most common reasons as to what makes people feel something is a good career choice.
I’ll cover each one as it relates to digital marketing and we’ll also look at the future of digital marketing, so you can get a better understanding of where the industry is heading and what you are getting yourself into.
Let’s start by diving deeper into what makes a good career in the first place.
How to judge if digital marketing is a good career choice
In order for us to judge if it’s a good career choice, we first have to judge it against something since we don’t share preferences with everyone.
There are different career stages but also preferences such as do we want more freedom from having to go to the office (location independence) or are we more focused on getting rich?
One doesn’t necessarily rule out the other but understanding your priorities will make it easier to make the right decision for you.
Not only can both be achieved but digital marketing as a career can also help you if you are looking to switch industry or if you are looking for work-life balance e.g. if you are having kids.
The reason I’m pointing it out is that there are subtle choices you can make within your digital marketing career that can steer you to the best path for you.
For example, if you are a freshly baked parent, working long hours at a startup with a “growth at all cost” mantra might make you hate your career whereas a digital marketing job with almost the same tasks at a slow-moving corporate organization might be the perfect fit.
Have a look at this guide to your digital marketing career path to learn more.
Are you looking for $100K/year, location independence, work-life balance, or a career switch?
Is digital marketing a good career… If you are looking to earn $100k/year?
Digital marketing is not a horrible choice if you are looking to cross the $100K/year mark but there might be better ways to do it.
Whereas in finance and tech it is fairly common to earn $100K per year out of school, digital marketers aren’t paid as well as it is often suggested.
Many digital marketers do earn more than $100K/year but often you’ll either need to be located in a tier 1 city (e.g. Silicon Valley), working at a hot tech startup or in upper management.
If you are purely considering it for the money, I’m sure there are better options if you have access to good schools or training in advance. Digital marketing tends to pay just fine but not amazingly well for most people.
However, considering that the barrier to entry is low, it is one of the better choices on the path to $100K/year if you don’t want to get a degree or years of training before starting.
What if you are switching from a different industry?
Overall, yes. The low barrier to entry (you don’t need any certification or degree) means that a switch will be fairly easy and straightforward since you don’t need to go back to school.
If you can find digital marketing work related to the industry you are switching from, you have a great advantage.
But if you are not willing to learn on the fly and look for solutions online it might be difficult to keep up since the industry is evolving all the time and we are discovering how everything works, together.
Is digital marketing a good career… if you are looking for work-life balance?
The answer is both yes and no because it depends on the industry. If you are looking for work-life balance, you’ll find it in some industries while not in others.
For example, you won’t often find it at tech startups but in exchange they tend to pay well. But you might find it in government or large corporate organizations with lots of bureaucracy even though the tasks and skills needed might be the same.
And what if your focus is on location independence?
Yes! Since everything is done digitally and everything that is produced usually is digital, it is a perfect fit for location independence and remote work.
The question is whether working from a phone or computer is your weapon of choice. If you want more details about making a location independent career in digital marketing, please leave a comment below.
The future of digital marketing and it’s dark side
I wanted to leave you with some thoughts on the future of digital marketing and if it might be a good career choice in the future.
There is a lot of generic and one-sided advice out there which all seem to suggest that it is the best career ever. I want to take the opportunity to show the other side of the coin to help you make a better decision overall.
This is based on my many years in the industry moving up from a fresh grad through internships to the director-level.
Since we are discussing the future, this is speculation as there is obviously no one who knows the future.
Digital marketing will be a commodity
In many aspects, digital marketing is already a commodity. For example, content writing for search engines and running Facebook ads is so popular that it is easy to find employees or contractors to help.
In fact, there are so many that it is usually impossible to tell the difference between them when hiring.
They’ve all written for popular publications or spent thousands or millions on ads with crazy returns and they all have great testimonials.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be a good choice because competition means there is money. But for our long term career progression and ability to withstand downturns in the economy, we benefit from expertise that isn’t easily replicable because it gives us leverage.
If no one else can do what we can, we have great leverage.
A number of other popular digital marketing services will follow Facebook ads managers and SEO writers sooner or later as the cycle is easy to predict.
A platform like Google becomes popular among users. That attracts advertisers or businesses since they can sell their products and it is easier to focus your energy in one place than to spread it out across many.
That attracts specialists who want a cut since there is money to be made and the businesses are interested because with a specialist they can boost their return and win over the competition.
Eventually, a portion of these will turn around and coach newcomers and attract more money hungry people to specialize.
Then it becomes saturated and people move on to the new hot trend and the cycle repeats itself.
We’ve seen this happen with affiliate marketing traffic arbitrage, chatbots, dropshipping, Amazon FBA, Facebook ads, Instagram, Google search/SEO and on and on.
Some things will commoditize faster than others like media buying whereas sales copywriting will be more challenging.. although we have seen signs that it will likely be possible through AI.
The hardest element to commoditize is critical thinking of what to do and why.
Digital marketing will be automated
Digital marketing offers us a scale that businesses haven’t seen before. We can reach thousands of people for next to nothing online.
And if there is something businesses and digital marketers LOVE, its automation.
We love that we can set things like an email funnel or ad up once and it will sell for us with the click of a button and little maintenance.
We love it so much that we are driving ourselves out of business.
It’s the natural progression of technology and we are already automating the simplest of tasks like split testing different advertising text or images with software.
The big tech companies are making terrific advancements in the field and this will only continue just like a truck driver eventually will be out of work as it gets taken over by driverless cars and satellites.
This is for the greater good of humanity and it means we have to be smart about our career choice within digital marketing so we won’t get stuck.
The simplified cycle tends to be that western companies pay good money for the skills, which attract outsourced labor from all over the world.
Eventually, the businesses get greedy and in an attempt to increase their return, moves the skills to the new world, where people offer the same skills and talent at a much lower cost.
Word spreads and the process accelerates. Eventually, technology becomes good and cheap enough that it makes sense to outsource the tasks.
Meanwhile, the employees in the west might be retrained to higher level tasks and the cycle repeats itself.
Of course this is a simplification of what happens.
Digital marketing as a stepping stone
Digital marketing won’t change much over the next five years, so it can function as an effective stepping stone on your path to something even better.
Digital marketing works well for driving sales under a certain price tag. Above, customers expect to speak with a human, so using it as a stepping stone for sales can be a good fit.
For example, sales writing or B2B sales. If you are ambitious, you will eventually move up and out since the real money and prestige tends to be in some form of partnerships and relationships.
Often, the path is moving up into a broader marketing role or similar.
Digital marketing is a rarely a high level role simply because in many businesses, even if it drives an important portion of sales, it is still a small part of the organization and so new that it hasn’t found its place yet.
Tech startups are a common exception since the rules are different there.
But it is an industry with a low barrier to entry and that is a major benefit. Because it is so new, you don’t need a degree or certifications to enter as everyone is figuring things out together.
So, as a senior or high-level executive, you are unlikely to benefit from switching to a digital marketing career if you are looking for prestige and money but it can benefit to have a basic understanding of the field and what’s possible.
You’ll avoid looking stupid in meetings when the topic goes to digital marketing.
Your industry choice is crucial
That means some industries will be a better choice than others. For example implementing marketing automation might be a good choice since the digital side is more likely to be automated before the marketing part.
As you and I discussed, the human side — e.g. sales writing — will be more challenging to automate effectively.
Other industries like healthcare are unlikely to be a bad choice because of the need to speak with people and the regulation in the space. It is too costly for a brand to make a big marketing mistake in exchange for simply automating a few tasks.