Why marketers suck at answering ‘What do you do?’

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Will Green

12. 10. 2016 | 4 min read

Why marketers suck at answering ‘What do you do?’

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But what do they all do? If you’re anything like me, it’s a question you’ll have asked yourself before. On a packed commuter train, jostling down a busy street, stuck in an evening traffic jam. Where are they going? Where have they come from?

What do they do?

It’s not just a rush hour question, to be honest. It’s one that stumps me even with friends I’ve known for years. I’ll have a vague idea of their job title, and (if they mention it enough) the name of the company they work for. And I’ll definitely know what tube stations are nearby and if there are any decent pubs in the area.

But what they actually get busy with when they get to work? Often, I’ve no clue.

Really, it depends on the job. Some jobs are very straightforward: teacher, nurse, builder, plumber. They are most certainly not straightforward jobs, but they are conceptually easy to grasp.

Then there are jobs that we sort of understand, even if we don’t know the ins and outs of the day-to-day: lawyer, banker, accountant, engineer.

But after that there’s a whole mass of jobs that are both difficult to explain in terms of what goes into doing them and why they need doing in the first place: programmer, management consultant, research analyst, politician.

I’d tentatively put ‘marketer’ into the third category. It’s broadly true that marketers do a poor job of explaining what they do and why they do it to a non-marketing audience. Which is weird, right? You’d think, given our skills, we’d be people who could really nail it.

I think (perhaps self-indulgently) it reflects the fact that marketing is a creative, complex and often theoretical job where input and output are not always tangible. And it might well be what causes the longstanding sales/marketing conflict.

Ask a salesperson what their function is, and they have an easy answer: sell stuff. If a marketer then goes on to say her job is to create the right conditions in which the salesperson can sell stuff, it’s both more long-winded and harder to prove.

That’s why traditionally sales wins the big contracts, gets pats on the back and pounds in the purse. And when marketers pipe up saying ‘But we helped too!’, they’re told to go back to their colouring-in.

That’s an exaggeration of course, and certainly not an argument that marketers should feel sorry for themselves. But on the other hand, I’m sure most marketers have at least one story of an occasion where they’ve been told: ‘Oh, marketing’s all just brochures’ or ‘Marketing’s just about annoying adverts’ or ‘Marketing is a waste of money’.

If anything, content marketers (and that’s what we are), have this problem double. We’re a niche within a niche. Not only do non-marketing people smile politely and carefully back away at dinner parties, even in the marketing community we sometimes struggle for validation.

“Content marketing. That’s like ebooks, right?” Well, yes, but not just…

“Oh, you’re an SEO shop.” SEO certainly matters but…

“So you mean, you write blogs.” That’s part of it. But if you’ll take a look… 

Fortunately, (for us at least) content marketing is becoming much more widely understood. In the digital age, content makes the world go round and that suits us just fine.

But that doesn’t mean there’s any less of an imperative for us to explain ourselves.

It’s all too tempting in a creative agency to respond to ‘what do you do?’ by pointing at the work. This brilliantly written slideshare. This beautifully designed infographic. This website revamp that is just so cool. And that’s fine. We’re really proud of our work.

But the thing about the digital age is it’s all about measurability and results.

And actually that suits us just fine too. We’ve gone all out for content ops so we know when our writing, our design and our dev chops are delivering results.

If that sounds like an anathema to creativity, it’s not. No artist of any kind has produced art that’s made to be ignored. Knowing your work is making an impact is what gets us creatives up in the morning and sometimes keeps us working into the night.

And as an added bonus, it helps us answer the question ‘What do you do?’.

I’m a content marketer. I make stuff that matters to people.

Published in:

  • B2B Content Marketing

  • b2b-marketing

  • marketer

  • marketing

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  1. Katherine

    Haydn Grey Copywriting Agency

    October 13th, 2016

    Laugh out loud funny and thought provoking. This hits the spot. Thank you.

    1. Will Green

      October 13th, 2016

      Thanks so much, Katherine. Really glad you enjoyed it.

  2. Cassidy Hennigan

    October 27th, 2016

    I read once somewhere that if you have a job that’s somewhat hard to describe when asked what you do for a living, the best answer is to say something like: “do you have a friend or a relative that has – and this is your cue to add a question to make them think and relate – a business who needs to appear in the first Google results after a search? well, that’s what me and some other marketers do”. Any thoughts? 🙂

  3. Gokul Suresh


    November 7th, 2016

    Hey Will,

    Lovely post and your subscription box cracked me up quite a bit. 🙂

    As an added input, so, yes I, who is a Content Marketer, also gets asked numerous times about what I do.

    So, initially what I used to tell people is I create stuff the people would love to read, sit on social media for the rest of my day, and gets paid at the end of the month for all of that. Sums it up, doesn’t it?

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