Making a Mark in the World of Marketing

Not many 10-year-olds know they want to pursue a career in marketing, but after spending a summer shadowing a marketing director at his parent’s engineering firm, Michael Barber was certain this was the industry for him. “It was basically love at first sight,” Michael recalled.

With a deep interest already invested in marketing, the decision to join the DECA chapter at Rancho Bernardo High School in San Diego, Calif., was not a hard choice to make.

“The DECA advisor there was an old family friend, so I think she actually called up my mom and told her I should be in DECA,” Michael said. Whether it was fate or just luck that brought him to DECA, joining as a freshman was a decision that impacted the rest of his life.

“I took the competitions as seriously as I took the leadership opportunities,” Michael said. He racked up an impressive collection of DECA accolades during his four years as a member, including serving as the Southern California DECA Vice President and placing in the top 10 at DECA’s International Career Development Conference.

While the awards were great to achieve, the real take away from Michael’s competitions and leadership experiences was a sense of confidence and comfort when speaking in public.

“The biggest thing I got out of DECA was to be able to give a presentation or have a conversation without being uncomfortable,” Michael commented. “Throughout my career I have done many presentations and speaking engagements, and the reason why I love being up there [on stage] and the information comes across so well is because I have had that experience since I was 15 years old.”

“Many people don’t get that [public speaking] experience until they interview for their first job out of college and that can be really scary to someone who hasn’t been in that environment. As DECA members, we had to chance to [speak in public] three to four times a year through competitions, or even 20 times a year when you’re practicing for role-plays, and as a DECA leader, you’re always on stage doing awards or presentations. All that experience is just invaluable as a professional.”

Although Michael had known for years he wanted to go into the marketing industry, you may be surprised to find out he pursued a communications degree at the University of Arizona.

“I think one of the biggest things students need to understand about the marketing industry today is that you don’t actually need a classic marketing or business degree,” Michael added. “To be successful in this field, you really need to understand consumer habits and what motivates people to buy products and engage with brands. Don’t worry about what degree you’re getting or where you’re getting it from, because there are so many avenues available to students to break into this industry.”

While Michael has clearly had a life-long passion for marketing, he also had an entrepreneurial spirit that he couldn’t continue to ignore. In January 2015, Michael finally listened to all those people who kept saying, “You should be doing this for yourself!” and opened his own marketing firm, barber&hewitt.

When asked why he decided to start his own business, Michael chalked it up to one notion: leaving a legacy.

“I really wanted to build something that I could leave behind,” he said. “My parents were real examples of the American Dream – they immigrated to this country, built an incredible business and then sold it and left a great legacy for my sister and me. I realized I wanted to leave something behind too.”

And while being a business-owner has been truly fulfilling, it hasn’t been without its challenges either.

“The fear of thinking you’re doing everything wrong never goes away,” Michael commented. “I think that fear is always what motivates [entrepreneurs] to continue doing what they do though. It’s a constant opportunity to learn, and whether you’re right or wrong, it’s ok because you figure it out along the way.”

As a life-long marketer, Michael finds that marketing to Millennials is a strange, new challenge for many brands.

“This is probably the hardest or second hardest group for us marketers and business owners to understand,” he said. “The classic generation before us could be reached with traditional TV and radio, and the generation behind us are no longer using any of those traditional channels, but the Millennials are a mix between both of these. Trying to reach Millennials has given brands an opportunity to tap into different channels and platforms.”

Besides utilizing a mix of traditional and non-traditional platforms, the Millennial demographic also has a strong need for transparency with its brands then groups before them.

“Brands have to understand that Millennials see through the noise and are consciously thinking about how good a product is or how it impacts our lives more than generations before us,” Michael added. “We won’t do business with a company that doesn’t have a solid product or reputation, and because of that companies can’t just sell with good marketing. The product has to be as strong.”

While marketing to Millennials has brought industry experts new challenges, many marketing professionals like Michael are already looking down the road to the next, even trickier, group – the Digital Natives.

“The biggest aspect about this group is going to be the cord cutting,” Michael said. “They are going to be the first wireless generation. They’re not going to have TV’s in their homes, but they’re going to consume content on YouTube and Vimeo, or Snapchat and Instagram, and that presents a whole different game for markets.”

It’s pretty clear that Michael’s love for marketing has given him an incredible career and an exciting new business, but all of that would not have been able to happen without passion.

“If you want to work in marketing, you need to work, live and breathe this business,” Michael advised. “You need to experiment and create your own product, or play with code and design and understand how they work together, because that will give you invaluable experience when you begin your career.”

DECA members take note – the high-energy, creative, thoughtful and exciting world of marketing is just as awesome as it seems, and Michael Barber is living proof that drive, passion and a little DECA experience can take a 10-year-old’s dream and turn it into a legacy.

Follow Michael on Twitter @michaeljbarber.

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