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What is Marketing?

Name the product, from Apple iPods to Zip Drives, and chances are there's a marketing executive out there trying to connect with a buyer. Convincing a specific target audience that your product is better than that of the competition is the essence of marketing.

Name the product, from Apple iPods to Zip Drives, and chances are there's a marketing executive out there trying to connect with a buyer.

With a world full of consumers making purchasing decisions every day, it is the job of marketing professionals to know what people need and to educate buyers so they can make informed decisions about which products to purchase.

Convincing a specific target audience that your product is better than that of the competition is the essence of marketing. Marketing executives need to be great communicators, outstanding listeners and of course be creative problem solvers who are immune to stress, deadlines and demanding bosses.

In a consumer products company, generating new ideas about how to develop, modify, and improve products so that they will be more appealing to consumers is the main goal of the marketing group. At other companies, the marketing department is responsible for sales, connecting with new clients, market research and coordinating advertising and public relations efforts to promote awareness of the firm and its services.

Bottom line: The marketing department needs to create a buzz.

The U.S. Department of Labor lumps the many different aspects of the job together in its estimate that the broadly defined marketing industry employed approximately 700,000 workers in 2002, the most recent figure available.

Marketing experts are found in virtually every industry and jobs can range from entry-level researchers to senior executives offering key advice to the chief executive officer.

Government experts say those entering the marketing field tend to come from diverse backgrounds, with a bachelor's degree the common threshold for entry. Employers look for experience (internships are a great chance to beef up your resume) and a broad liberal arts background that includes majors in business, psychology, journalism, literature and sociology. Courses in accounting, finance, economics and statistics can be helpful.

Employers want candidates who are competitive (the whole idea of marketing is to beat out the competition!), analytical, and who can think creatively to come up with ideas that will stand out above the crowd.

Changing lifestyles and societal trends affect the consumer market, so it is also critical that marketing professionals have a thorough understanding of the values and needs of today's consumers. It is up to the marketing department to know what people are buying and why.

There are typically two doors that will be open to entry-level candidates: marketing associate and market researcher. Both are important members of the marketing department.

As a marketing associate at a consumer products company, for instance, you will be working on a team that is responsible for the promotion and support of a particular product. You will support the development of product strategies by conducting significant financial analysis and assisting with market research efforts, such as focus groups. You will also help your team develop appropriate packaging, price points, advertisements (usually with the help of an outside advertising agency), and other promotions to support the sale of your product.

You might be responsible for tracking budgets, speaking with sales people, implementing key changes to the product, financial forecasting (analyzing supply and demand, talking to the market researchers, making sure that changes in demand are reflected in the financial reports), and meeting with the brand managers or marketing directors to support the team's efforts.

College graduates also are often hired as junior or associate market research analysts. Entry-level positions usually involve handling correspondence, proofreading questionnaires, and data entry. However, even as a junior analyst you will play an important role in helping the marketing team develop strategies for the company's products. Throughout the first year, you will be involved in developing questionnaires for surveys, analyzing data ("number crunching"), organizing studies, and writing reports to summarize the findings. Undergraduate degrees in math, psychology, computer science, marketing, and business make the transition to market research relatively easy. This position is very analytical in nature, and requires an aptitude for numbers and data analysis.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics notes that skilled marketing executives are in demand, which means there's lots of competition for entry-level jobs. Employers will particularly look for those with solid computer skills to augment their degrees.

Bureau forecasters say marketing jobs should grow at a faster rate than the average growth for all industries combined, fueled by intense competition at home and as more companies choose to compete in the global economy. They caution, though, that some industries -- scientific, professional and related services such as computer systems design-- are likely to see higher growth rates than other sectors such as manufacturing.

For grads looking for a challenging career and insights into the worlds of business and sales, marketing sits squarely at the intersection of the two.

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