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5 Life Lessons from a Career in Marketing

Isn’t hindsight a wonderful thing? I’m sure there plenty of things in life that we’d all go back and do differently with the benefit of hindsight. For this particular post I wanted to take a slightly different slant on looking back at the past and examine some of the lessons I’ve learned in my career as a marketer that my younger self could have done with knowing – as well as things I learned growing up that have helped me as I’ve gone down this path. Some are serious, others less so, but at the very least I hope I’ll raise a smile on a dreary winter’s day!

Let’s start by going back thirty years. Here I am:




This is probably the lesson I learned earliest in life. How come? Well you see, this is my full name:

Birth Certificate


Yes. Really.

I’ve lost count of the number of times when I’ve introduced myself and the conversation has gone like this.

“Hi, I’m Arianne”.

“What, like The Little Mermaid?”

“No. That would be Ariel. COMPLETELY different.”




Definitely what I would call an #epicfail for Disney in the brand recall department. On the other hand, on an innumerable number of occasions I’ve had people see that middle name and make this connection:




That’s Storm from X-Men in case you didn’t know the comics or haven’t seen the movies. I couldn’t bring myself to watch them until I was about 25 – kids can be so cruel 🙂

What this story highlights is the importance of brand recall. As brands, or marketers working with brands, increasing brand recall is one of our key goals with the ultimate dream of becoming (and staying) a household name.

Growing up as one of four girls, the ability to make yourself stand out and be noticed was key. Early on I tried different ways to do this. One way that proved successful was my love of novelty knitwear:


Less successful was my plan to become a world-renowned dancer:


This reminds us that not every attempt to stand out and be recognised will be successful. We have to keep at it – persevering until we find something that really resonates with our audience. I talked last year about Suarez and the importance of perception where we looked at examples of brands that have been able to successfully revive themselves and their public images. It can take time and it’s often not easy – you’ll not only need a Plan A, but probably also a Plan B and Plan C. Remember to be open to customer feedback. While I got some rather harsh feedback from the judges at my Bronze Tapdancing Exam, it helped me understand that I was on the wrong track and should definitely focus my efforts elsewhere!

Looking Back

The second lesson relates directly to hindsight. It’s about the importance of looking back.


Harry Potter movie lovers might recognise the top of Malham Cove from The Deathly Hallows. It’s a place I’ve been several times and I always enjoy the visit. The pictures above are from 1996 and 2012. I believe it helps us understand how important it is in life to revisit things. It could be a place but I think it’s incredibly important to do this with regard to our work. We can look back to past projects that were both successful and not so successful. Time can give us perspective which for projects that didn’t turn out as we hoped can be a real blessing. Rather than viewing them as failures we can be more objective and see what parts did work well and work out what could be improved in the future. Besides, it’s always lovely to look back on our successes too.Don’t forget that sometimes it doesn’t hurt to take a break. We’re great at working very hard in this industry – sometimes to the point of doing ourselves harm. Remember to take five minutes to enjoy the view sometimes.


Malham View


The Right People

There have been so many discussions in the last couple of years about culture within our industry – what constitutes good and bad culture and the role/number of women within digital in general.

One of the biggest things I’ve found that makes a huge difference to me is the people I spend time with. Our friends are our friends generally because we share things – interests, background and so on. These will be the people who sit and have a sometimes much needed drink with you.

CIMG6553 - Copy

The takeaway for me here is that wherever possible you should try and find people who share your values. Be it colleagues or clients or friends – spending time or working with them is one of the best ways to feel fulfilled and happy. Not to mention that it helps time fly!

Learning to say no

This has been a huge one for me. Back in the early days of my career I used to say ‘yes’ to everything. I was worried about missing out on opportunities, or what people might say or think of me if I said ‘no’ to a request. What I didn’t realise at the time is that taking on so much did more harm than good – it led to missed deadlines, significant stress and lots of unhappiness.

Say No

For a while I swung too far the other way and said ‘no’ to everything. As with most things in life, the key is finding balance. Don’t be afraid to say ‘no’ – particularly if it stops you taking on more than you can comfortably manage. Ask yourself whether saying ‘yes’ to other people means saying no to yourself. It is ok to say ‘no’ – it doesn’t make you a bad person!Besides saying ‘no’, there are times in life when 95% is good enough. I am a horrible perfectionist but there are instances where the time and effort involved in that last 5% is just not worth it. Deciphering when to put the effort in is something I wish I’d learned years ago. Sometimes even 90% is enough!


This is always the response I give when I’m asked to give advice to school leavers or people who are new to our industry.

Be bold. It’s better for me have regret, than to wonder “what if”.

We all make mistakes – it’s part of learning in life and it’s what enables us to progress. I’ve always been of the mind that I’d prefer to make those bold, potentially dangerous moves in life, to take those chances, as long as I’m the position to (otherwise say no, in line with the above). Sometimes they work out and sometimes they don’t. If they do, fantastic! If not, I’ve earned valuable experience along the way. The alternative is wondering “what if” about the opportunities and chances you don’t take – and thinking about “the one that got away” has the potential to cause lots of sleepless nights.


Be Bold


This has led to me making lots of interesting choices in my career – some of which haven’t always turned out how I’d hoped. But I’ve met and gotten to know some great people which has had a domino effect of leading to other opportunities, such as new roles, opportunities to speak at conferences and even blogging for State of Digital! I’ve also learned so much, particularly about myself. Taking these chances has shaped me as a person and elements of my character. I’m much more resilient, more patient and I take things less to heart than I used to – something that used to cripple me when things weren’t easy. I also think that taking on big challenges and overcoming them has helped me value myself more – something for which I’ll always be grateful.

What about you? Is there any advice you wish you could go back and impart to your younger self? Or are there any lessons you’ve learned along the way that have helped shape your career as it is now? I’d love to hear from you in the comments.



Arianne Donoghue is a Digital Marketing Manager at Icelolly.com. Having started off her digital career client side in 2006, she's worked for both agencies and brands in-house, specialising in search. She is now back client side delivering paid media digital strategy for leading holiday comparison site Icelolly.com.
  • I also used to have a problem with saying NO. I guess I just really want to please everyone and project myself as dependable. It was hard to let go of this habit but it became imperative when I started feeling burned out.

    • Arianne Donoghue

      Amy, completely agree! You do feel like you’re letting yourself down in the beginning and others, but it is imperative and I think helps make you more dependable in the long run! I’m glad you’ve found a way forward 🙂