Sara Clifton: Summer School, Learning from the Experts

This summer we are taking you back to school! We are focusing on education in Digital Marketing: what is the best education, what background is important? Questions you will see answered throughout the summer by those you can learn from the best: the experts. Those that already earned their stripes and are now willing to share with you how they got there and what you should do to get that far as well.

Today we hear from Sara Clifton. Sara has 15 years experience in conducting strategic digital marketing consultancy for clients with high complexity and is now managing her own company; Search Integration AB.

More about Sara here. Summer School

Sara CliftonWhat type of education did you have?

I studied international marketing in 1999, and as a part of the education we were in NYC for 6 months. I attended Pace University part time doing marketing studies followed by a 12 week internship program. To get the internship we went to different interviews and one of the ones I picked was for Sage Marketing Inc. A small one-man band with a very driven woman working in digital marketing and search as a speciality. I got the job… and as a result of this I got involved in search marketing before Google took over the algoritms and changed the landscape. Exciting times to say the least.

Is your education related to what you do now?

Absolutely. I am a marketer at heart and believe in truthful pull marketing where companies need to learn how to adapt to the ever changing consumer landscape. Online or offline is not a question for me… its only about where the consumer is and when he/she is ready to interact. Timing is essential for sales. Marketers spend way to much money and waste time on doing planning that is not relevant to the end-consumer.

How did you get into digital marketing?

I came out of University when people where ecstatic about pop-ups and DHTML Banners… I was still in the mindset of good marketing is true to the user and not just related to interruption. I evolved in the age of Seth Godin and his permission marketing strategies with Yahoo and online. I loved the search engines way of organising the information and although I have always struggled with peoples million dollar plans in “Brand-building”, I had to be in the market to teach people about all the opportunities that the digital marketing world had besides banners…

Did you need extra schooling? If so, what type of extra schooling did you get?

I took a pause from the Marketing/Media landscape as I needed to spend time understanding move behaviour science and psychological manner. I studied this along with running a company called the Silent Engine, where we tried to get people to spend as much on the people delivering the services in the organisation as we did on marketing. It was a great idea, but organisations  weren’t ready to act and change the budgets around so that we really could achieve a difference back then. Today – I carry this material in my pocket all the time as I pick clients to work with and understand that they need to have the organisation ready to be able to return the investments in sales and marketing, no matter what channel.

How do you think the state of education in marketing is these days? Do marketers learn what they need to learn?

It is still shallow. Focus is way to much on the channels and new opportunities, instead of teaching them about data management marketing strategy, insights patterns and the big importance of understanding human behaviour on the consumer side but also in your own organisation in order to get things done. Marketing should integrate with IT/Sales and human resources.

How do you feel about online training courses?

Not a bad idea but it all comes down to ambition and the level of both the students and the teachers. Small tutorials and general trainings are good and they need to be free – but any kind of online training courses with a fee have to have to be at a really good level and put the ambition on the student to achieve their own goals. They should also need to report on how they actually use it.

What is your tip for those that want to learn more?

  1. Start to work in an organisation early in life.
  2. Listen more than you speak!
  3. Keep learning and spend time in evenings/afternoons on good podcasts or training courses to grow your own understandings.
  4. Find a mentor or two that have experience and seem wise. They don’t have to be in marketing – they just need to know about life and business.
  5. Be humble to the knowledge people have but keep questioning the way things are done. New patterns will only come from new mindsets.

What resources are best to learn marketing?

  • Philip Kotler is still a man of truth – adapt his methodology to your own world.
  • Read general books and blogs from Seth Godin, Brené Brown, Chris Anderson.
  • Find industry experts that you can trust in Analytics, IT and Software and behaviour science.

What’s the last lesson in marketing you learned?

So many that I can not list them all. The most important thing to learn is that you never know what you do not know. Accuracy and relevance is key to develop and always always strive to understand more.

Marketing is never a silo and has everything to do with how well you are able to lay the consumer puzzle.

Don’t take the lazy route of doing what you did last time. Make sure you have time to think and not just work and be open to adaption.

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About Samantha Noble

Samantha Noble is the Client Strategy Director at Koozai and also heads up the State of Digital team as the Co-Chief Editor working alongside Bas and the rest of the Editorial Team. Samantha setup the Digital Females group back in 2011 and has since run over 15 events for the group.