Explaining Your B2B Marketing Job to People Who Don’t Work in Marketing

January 23, 2018 | Dan Trefethen

To my luck, there are still frequent times in my life when I find myself in social situations where the majority of people present are not marketing professionals – are not, bless them, even professionals who work predominantly on the web.


During these social settings, one of the frequent hurdles I am tasked with is answering the more American-centric (according to The Guardian) question of “So, what do you do?”


Though I know exactly what I do (for the most part), and I do it for a significant amount of hours every week, I nonetheless stumble at such moments as if the record needle in my mind is pushed off its groove, creating an abrupt and dissonant “ummm…”


The first obstacle to regaining my means of communication is determining how specific I want to be with my response. I could go the easy route and simply shrug “I work in marketing.” But how would this reflect upon me as a conversationalist? In terms of small talk, this would be subpar form, and I genuinely value the art of good conversation.


Plus, in my experience, marketing creates a relative intrigue and rarely does responding vaguely elude the follow up question “Oh? Like what kind of marketing?” or “For what kind of company?”. And in practice, it is this follow-up that can create the challenge.


What makes jumping right into a more detailed answer difficult is the vocabulary used by the digital marketing and B2B space. The terms and buzzwords make the simplest form of explanation sound like made up gobbledigook.


“I specialize in content creation for a B2B marketing SaaS platform to help inform and educate our audience and create multi-channel demand gen campaigns. Next question?”


Sure, that means something to other folks in the industry, but to outsiders? Just a stream of nonsense words that amount to quizzical faces and terse responses like “cool”.


These are the types of explanations that leave your parents and friends saying things like “oh, he works on the Twitter all day; I don’t really know what he does.” And in the cool light of the big broad world, that answer is really not all that far off.


So how do you explain the job?


I’ve found that there are two essential steps.


  1. Gauge how genuinely interested they are.

  2. Build a common frame of reference.


Step one is subjective; you’ll have to feel it out. If the asker in question is merely being polite, then you’re genuinely better off just saying “I work in marketing” and then immediately changing gears: “So when’s the last time you had a really good scone?”


If you have a real enthusiast on your hands, step two is to find the right level of mutual understanding. Sometimes, it’s even best to rebuttal with “Well, what do you do for living? This will help me explain.”


Or, you can assess their level by covering some basic vocabulary, for instance: “If I say the word content, what does that mean to you?”


Based on their responses, the explanation can begin where it needs to begin. Through my experience, I’ve crafted a few different boilerplate approaches based on the professions I’ve run into and how they might be able to relate to my experience.  


Publishing/ Media/ Graphic Design/Editors and Writers

A gentle sigh of relief. This one’s easy. These types of professions are like a cousin to inbound marketing. For better or worse, they understand the broad blanket word that is “content.” They have niche audiences of their own that they want to increase, and they work online.


Feel free to speak liberally and jump right into specifics, if they don’t follow certain parts, usually they know the right type of questions to ask to understand for themselves.


Engineers and coders

Much like digital marketers, engineers and coders use a variety of tools and technology to get their work done. Whether it’s designing a building, electrical layout, or writing software, the platform used to do their work has, presumably, some competitors. These competitors need to showcase why they’re the best solution – this may come in case studies, articles, videos, and events – all of these are a content and demand gen marketers job.



Perhaps start with “What’s an academic journal you subscribe to?” Whatever it is, B2B digital marketing tries to mirror that academic community but for their own industry space, you know, minus the quality rigors a bit (it’s the truth). And, of course, the end result is to usually drive revenue – not solely new research.



Compare your audience, prospects, and customers to donors, grants, and company partners. A nonprofit employee understands the necessity to market to an audience and create engaging experiences for donors and partners. And the idea of driving awareness to drive sales is not that dissimilar from the need of a not-for-profit to drive support in their cause (and to even drive donations). Ask about the marketing department and efforts of the non-profit, then compare and contrast.



So for this one, as briefly as you can, inquire about a grading tool or a communication platform they use with their students, like Blackboard. Then explain that their school system shopped around for that technology and Blackboard used marketing content to show why they’d be the best choice. Boom.


Lawyers and Doctors

Don’t explain what you do, simply ask for free consultation.


Covering the basics

Obviously there are exceptions to all of these, and sometimes the least likely person understands it immediately and is oddly well versed in the concept. Those usually make for enjoyable, if not a bit nerdy, conversations.


In a pinch, I fall back on these very basic definitions for the two pillars:


What is B2B marketing?

Candy bars can, in theory, be bought and enjoyed by everyone. They’re inexpensive and broadly appealing. They often have chocolate. Marketing for candy bars casts as wide a net as possible and targets quick wins (displays at checkout counters).


Skyscrapers have windows. Many of those windows are really high and hard to clean. Managers of these skyscrapers need the windows to be washed. So, they’re going to shop around and research the best skyscraper window washing solution for them.


Those professional skyscraper window washers specialize in exactly that, and they’re good at it. They are not good at washing, say, two-story home windows. So, they create marketing material specifically for skyscraper managers. That’s B2B marketing.


What is content?

Even if you’re not directly involved in content creation, the word is largely inescapable in modern B2B roles. 

So, begin with a flourish: With the advent of the internet, these things called web pages began to dominate. On web pages, there can be displayed images, text, video, audio, and other dynamic elements – all of which are used to communicate something. “Content” has been agreed upon as the blanket term to refer to all of these things.


With the ubiquity of the web in everyone’s lives, content is essential for people to both find information via search and to learn about organizations at their own leisure. This is even outside the whole marketing aspect. Wikipedia has all kinds of mixed media on their pages, to sum it all up their pages contain content.


At the end of the day, you may just want to go with “maybe, let’s not talk about work?”


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