How do you explain your job?

Or: an excuse to dive into the realities of Dilbert.

*warning: excessive use of the word “turd” ahead

After drawing that cartoon, and probably laughing insanely to himself throughout the entire process, Scott Adams asked his readers on The Dilbert Blog to provide their own short job descriptions. Did they ever deliver!

I enjoyed reading through a lot of the comments, but I wondered – how do these people explain their jobs when it counts? Are they that self-deprecating, framing their jobs in terms of the “turds” they have to deal with every day? Are they that pessimistic?

As marketers, we often deal with the perception that we’re putting lipstick on a pig. That assumes two things:

  1. that our underlying product or service is bad, and
  2. that we’re trying to sell it to you whether it’s in your best interest or not.

I see people describing their jobs like in that cartoon, and I wonder if they’re just steering into the skid.

I can honestly say I’ve very rarely felt like I was in that position. I generally get to work with products I love, and people I believe in. And because of the trends in digital marketing, I get to focus my efforts on being there when people are looking for a solution. I don’t have to interrupt their day with top-down messaging.

But, it’s not all sunshine and rainbows. As a marketer working in tech, I’m locked in a battle of mythical proportions with the engineers and developers I work with. Just ask them!

There are misperceptions on both sides, and it makes sense when you look at it from each group’s perspective.

Especially in the startup world, you have developers building the coolest tech on the planet. And you have marketers like me telling them emphatically that no one cares.

When we go to take that tech to market, the writers and busy business owners we’re talking to don’t care how awesome our natural language processing algorithms are. They just care that they’re going to be able to write their blogs twice as quickly and get on with the rest of their day!

No matter which company I’m working with, I make it very clear that we’re not going to build a communications plan based on how innovative their tech is, or the features of their product. So it doesn’t really surprise me when they feel this way:

On the other hand, it can be tough to be successful as a marketer when the developers and engineers who control the product and the (sometimes flexible) timelines occasionally act like this:

There can also be tension between what developers and product teams want to build, and what marketers know their customers need. Disagreements don’t have be as fundamental as building a crappy product (or a turd, if you’d rather) though. They can be about the priority list for building features, or whether it’s more important to build a new product or fix bugs in an existing one.

And when a developer happens to be running the company, they can even be about how we talk about our products, and what really is important to our customers.

The best companies I’ve worked with have built really well-aligned dev and marketing teams, with everyone “knowing what they don’t know”. That means the engineers trusting the marketers not to misrepresent the amazing thing they’re building, and the marketers trusting the engineers to put the customer first while creating something awesome. No spray painting necessary.

So, marketers, how do you explain your job to people? Do you focus on that epic battle? Or do you talk about solving problems? Are they one and the same?

Or are you stuck spray painting a turd?