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How I Got My Start in Marketing

Social Media Revolution

Social media changed everything about traditional marketing, and helps brands engage with their customers.

Social media changed everything about traditional marketing, and helps brands engage with their customers.

The Internet Changed Marketing

I returned to school to in 2001 to complete my Bachelor of Science degree because of my interest in marketing. I learned that the University of Phoenix (UOP) was about to open a campus in Dallas, and offered a degree program in e-commerce. Businesses were trying to figure out how to reach customers online, and I wanted to be part of that process.

This was 'back in the day,' when we all read our email. I mean, we actually read every email that we received. Marketers hadn't yet figured out how to blow up our Inbox with discounts, incentives, or loyalty programs. Social media had not been born, so it did not compete with email. We had not yet become addicted to our smartphones or tablets, and the only people that competed for our time and attention were our family and our existing commitments. We had no idea that our communities would become virtual.

Team Sports

The Interstate Batteries race car.

The Interstate Batteries race car.

My First Marketing Job Had a Steep Learning Curve

I graduated in 2003, and my marketing career began in 2004. I joined Interstate All Battery Center (IABC) as an Administrative Assistant. Four months later, the company was restructured and my boss moved to a position with the parent company. I was offered the chance to work with the marketing department as a Marketing Analyst, and I jumped at the opportunity. A few months later, the new Director of Marketing was terminated and only one other person and I remained on the team. She was very unhappy about the termination and soon found a job with another company. That left me as the only marketing person, and this would happen two more times in my four years at IABC.

I could not find any documentation, processes, or even a list of resources so I began to meet with cross-functional groups such as the creative team, legal, and branding to find out their role in marketing so I could map out processes and timelines. Over the course of a few months, I was able to reduce the marketing timeline for direct mail from 90 days to 30 days.

Geotargeting and Postage Costs for Direct Mail

I learned how to create geotargeted lists for direct mail, and how to suppress areas such as prisons, schools, and multi-family housing. I also learned valuable lessons, such as how to estimate postage for direct mail and how to calculate in-market deadlines for direct mail. I learned a valuable lesson in estimating postage. I had submitted a print job for a quote, and it seemed 'too good to be true.' I had no marketing coworkers to lean on because they had been terminated or left the company voluntarily. I shared the quote with an in-house analyst and he agreed that the price seemed to be very low. Neither of us knew that the cost of postage had not been included, or that it should be included. That was a costly lesson, and I documented the inclusion of postage for all future direct mail marketing.

You Can Learn From Your Competitors

I began to study marketing trends and website layouts to find out what other businesses and competitors were doing in digital channels. This was right before Google went public. I signed up for email newsletters, ezines, and online promotions. I studied email templates and I learned how different types of messaging would make me want to click through for more information.

How I Started Email Marketing for Retail

I wanted to start an email marketing program and was granted permission. We used an in-store campaign and offered customers a discount in exchange for their name, email address, city, and state. These data points helped me create geotargeted email lists for the retail and franchise stores. The Point-of-Sale (POS) system was not designed to capture email addresses, so we provided customers a tear-off slip to complete and give it to the salesperson at checkout. The stores bundled the slips each week and mailed them to me at the home office. I would key the legible information into a spreadsheet which became a database. By the end of the first year, we had acquired over 10,000 email addresses.

I Created a Content Management System for Franchise Owners

My biggest project was to work with a vendor to develop a web-based Content Management System (CMS). Another description is Enterprise Content Management (ECM). This system would house creative assets and branded templates for print and in-store marketing. The goal was to develop the CMS and then train our franchise owners how to use it so they could manage their monthly marketing. I developed product and service offers, price-level discounts, and custom maps by location. I developed the process so that franchisees could create custom campaigns in a point-and-click user interface in less than 30 minutes. This was achieved through login credentials that would automatically load the store details and store map to a marketing piece, without typing any text. This not only saved the franchisees time, but also eliminated the possibility of mistyping a store phone number or address.

I Experienced My First Workforce Reduction

The recession started in 2007 and we began to consolidate stores and inventory. We did everything possible to tighten up. By 2008, the recession was in full force and I was laid off through a workforce reduction. I loved my job, the company, and so many of the people I had worked with every day. It took eight months to land another position. From 2008-2010, most companies only hired contractors, so those are the roles I accepted.

Catalog Marketing Has Changed

This shows how far marketing has advanced since the days of catalog marketing.

This shows how far marketing has advanced since the days of catalog marketing.

Targeted Catalog Marketing for Retail Customers

In 2008, I landed a short-term contract role at JCPenney (JCP) in their catalog marketing division. I learned how to work in Teradata, which is a massive Customer Relationship Database (CRM). Each week the catalog team developed criteria to target specific customers for sales related marketing. My job was to query Teradata to locate these particular customers and to use suppression data to exclude specific types of addresses.

JCPenney has many segments within Teradata and one broad category is people that are of a generation that did not grow up with email, or the internet, and still have a personal relationship with their banker. This particular segment may use the internet for search and social media purposes, but they don't make online purchases. This is the segment type the queries were based on because they were good customers, and they still made purchases from the catalog.

Loyalty Marketing is Very Effective

People love to be rewarded, even for shopping.

People love to be rewarded, even for shopping.

Loyalty Marketing for Retail Customers

My next role in 2009 was also a contract role at JCP in the Loyalty Marketing department. The role was for six weeks, and I was to fill in for a Project Manager on maternity leave. When I started the job, we had a million JCP Rewards Members, but we experienced explosive growth during those six weeks and gained another million members. When the new mom returned from leave, the department Director asked me if I would like to stay on for a while. I worked there for a little over a year and by the time my contract ended, we had more than three million JCP Rewards Members.

We partnered with an agency that managed the redesign and user interface of the JCP Rewards website. They also managed the deployment of our monthly email. As mobile devices changed, responsive design became part of our toolbox. This ensured that content would render correctly across multiple platforms and devices. Part of my role was to manage the creative process, develop contests and promotions, and work with brand managers to plan monthly contests, product discounts, and in-store sneak peeks. I worked on a contact retention strategy to segment offers based on a Member's prior purchases. I also worked with the rebranding team to develop a tier-level program based on spend. Instead of a $10 Reward Certificate each month, JCP Members could receive a higher dollar amount based on their previous month's spending.

The $25 Million Android Smartphone Promotion

The most interesting project that I managed was the development and execution of an Android smartphone promotion. I was responsible for the messaging, branding, and development of creative assets. I had some initial concerns about the promotion including; customer perception and trust, lack of inventory control, and the actual mail delivery of each phone.

My biggest concern was how the promotion would be perceived by our Members because this was unlike any other promotion the company had ever offered. We developed the promotion 'through their eyes', and we had one goal. The goal was to overcome objections before there was an objection. I believe this was achieved through a great working relationship with our partner, PageMaster Mobile. During user experience (UX) testing we were provided a link to a landing page that included information about Android smartphones and the carriers. I asked if we could brand the page with the JCP Rewards logo, and PageMaster completed the request. We did more UX testing and I asked our partner if "jcprewards" could be included in the URL of the landing page. This request was also approved.

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The UX was critical because we wanted our Members to have the same sense of security on the smartphone landing page (through branding), that they would have on the website. We believed that if they had confidence in the branding at this point, that it would prevent the call center from being overloaded with questions about the validity of the promotion. The logo and URL on the landing page was a double validation to the end-user that this was not a phishing email. The promotion was a huge success and we transacted over 500,000 Android smartphones. Out of all those transactions, there wasn't a single complaint from our Members about the delivery or quality of the phones they had selected. It was amazing.

Poll Question

You Can Gain Valuable Experience By Volunteering

I volunteer because I believe in these organizations and their mission.

I volunteer because I believe in these organizations and their mission.

Volunteer Work for Brand Building

In 2010, I was invited to join Bands For Arms (B4A) to help create brand awareness and build an online fan base on facebook and twitter. There were many volunteers, and some of them are still volunteering at B4A. By the end of the first year, we had over 10,000 actively engaged facebook followers. By the end of the second year, Facebook executives named the organization a Top 10 Small Business because of growth. I served on the Board of Directors from 2010-2012.

Water, Sun and Fun!

Recreation destinations are a great way for families and friends to get together.

Recreation destinations are a great way for families and friends to get together.

Marketing for Recreation Destinations

After JCP Rewards, I had a short stint in 2011 with a recreational brand as Marketing Communications Specialist. I was responsible for print and digital marketing to promote 300 vacation destinations for recreational users. I discovered a lack of brand consistency across the digital channels, so I worked with our designer to create templates that would provide consistency and brand recognition. I also incorporated social media icons within our digital marketing channels to encourage online sharing and engagement. I also managed the annual marketing plan which included the strategy to promote properties by zone, season and by specific customer segmentation.

Volunteer Work to Help Veterans With Post-War Needs

In 2012, I joined the Board of Directors for Wellness 4 Warriors (W4W). This is military-related non-profit whose sole focus is to help veterans heal by providing natural products that do not require pharmaceuticals. This is accomplished through fund-raising efforts in order to purchase specific items for veterans. W4W also partners with online retailers that donate a percent of a consumer's purchase to the organization.

A vetting process is set up to ensure that no one takes advantage of this program by pretending to be a veteran. My role is to manage the website, and to create images and messaging for the Annual Wellness Expo.

Product Marketing for Digital Signage and Displays

I moved to Houston in 2012 and was recruited for a two-year contract role at Hewlett-Packard (HP) for the Displays group. I had wanted to learn how to use PhotoShop for many years, and I got that opportunity at HP. In this role, I was responsible for creating sell decks, presentations, and technical documents for flat-screen displays and digital signage. While at HP, I created a SharePoint site which consolidated project documentation in a single place. This was critical because our team was spread out in different countries and time zones. A few of the other things I did in this role include creating web banners for online advertising and managed a monthly internal newsletter. I created and managed a Google+ site for posting information and links to new products.

Digital Marketing for a Software Company in Healthcare

The HP contract ended in March 2014, and I was recruited for my next role as Marketing Manager for a software solutions company. I interviewed on June 2 and they made me an offer during the interview. I was invited to meet with their web design team right after the interview. The company was rebranding and had just started the process of redesign with this agency. One of the tools I had always wanted to learn was Search Engine Optimization (SEO), and I had that opportunity in this role.

At the time, we were working with Simplified Sales Strategies, a sales consulting company in Houston, and I learned so much about nurture marketing, account-based marketing, trade shows, telesales, developing scripts and sales channel follow up. We used Microsoft Dynamics CRM as the database and ClickDimensions for email marketing. I quickly learned both applications and soon discovered a potentially expensive problem with the data. Data that had been previously imported had not been identified as to the source, or the date of acquisition. Purchased data has an expiration date, and if we emailed an expired record, it would cost the company a minimum of $5,000 per violation. It took me a few weeks to clean up the data.

In this role, I also managed website updates, trade shows, branding, and was responsible for vendor management. I managed all aspects of lead generation, new web content, email marketing, nurture strategies and a $1 million budget. I managed social media and increased Linkedin followers by 400% by developing thought leadership articles which were posted on the website and shared on social media. My job was eliminated due to changes in executive leadership which unfortunately led to budget cuts and the first ever workforce reduction. However, I would go back to work for the man that hired me in a New York minute!

Marketing Will Continue to Evolve

As I reflect on the changes to marketing that have happened in just a little over a decade, I am amazed at consumer response. I am in awe of how quickly new apps are developed and consumed, and how they become a part of our lives. Can you image a world without facebook, Instagram, Linkedin or Pinterest? Can you imagine waking up in the morning and not checking your cell phone for news that had the audacity to occur while you were sleeping?

As marketing continues to evolve, I remain passionate about every component, from developing creative content, and segmenting data and personalizing messaging, and data analysis. Oh, my God, I am in love with data. Consumers see the sexy side of marketing, but they don't know the hours spent studying their purchasing behavior, and online browsing habits. No, consumers see the final output in the form of advertising. They see shiny new cars, luxury vacations, and incredibly beautiful ads for perfume and makeup. They don't know about the science behind the messaging, and that's OK because they should enjoy the final product, not the discipline of marketing.

I'm Ready For Whatever Happens Next

Marketing is a beautiful combination of science, technology, and an ever changing toolbox. I began my marketing career with a great team of people at a great company, and I look forward to the next opportunity. I met someone recently that thought I had bad luck, and it was too bad there are so many contract roles on my resume. I don't see it that way at all. I learned something new in each one of those jobs and it has only served to broaden my experience and increase my passion for marketing. Bad luck would be never finding another job in the field you love. Bad luck would be a form of pride in seeing contract jobs as beneath me and ignoring the opportunity. I prefer to be optimistic, and opportunity is what you make out of it.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.

© 2017 Michelle Orelup


Michelle Orelup (author) from Las Vegas, NV on March 23, 2017:

Its not always easy, but I love what I do, so adapting to the constant force of change is necessary. Thanks!

FlourishAnyway from USA on March 22, 2017:

Sounds like you've had an interesting career. Those workforce reductions can be difficult, especially on contract employees who are typically the first to go. Sounds like you are adaptable and resilient though.

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