Have you ever had a vision for yourself but didn’t know exactly how to achieve it?
Story of my life. In fact, that’s been my career journey in a nutshell. But in an age in which more of us are pushed and incentivized to specialize, I am grateful that my career progression has looked a lot more like climbing a jungle gym than a linear, orderly climb up a ladder.
Growing up, I was fascinated by consumer behavior and the reasons people gravitate to certain brands for their purchases. The path seemed clear enough as I imagined myself becoming a marketing leader — even a CMO — for a range of amazing brands.
But it was an early lesson in the power of visualization. I learned that visualization may be an effective element in defining your career path, but the applied skills development is what actually makes the goal possible. Over the decades that followed, I approached my career as an exercise in building a toolbox of relevant skills and experiences. Each new tool I add to my kit has been an invaluable resource.
Take research, for example. Without a grounding in qualitative and quantitative research, you will be challenged to uncover key insights for your business. I’ve been grateful to draw on a range of tools in developing this muscle, including marketing analytics and brand strategy — the ability to articulate clearly what your brand stands for and the role it plays in the lives of consumers.
I have learned that while having a roadmap is useful for providing direction, it can also give you tunnel vision if you never look up from it or deviate to pursue an interesting detour. In truth, my toolkit expansion has primarily come from moving around industries — and learning the tricks of the trade in each of those industries. This would have been anathema to most of my mentors, who spent their careers at one or two companies and usually within the same industry.
The reality is that we’re working in a profoundly different environment today. Despite the longtime stigma against “job hopping,” it’s clear that today’s marketplace rewards fast learners and risk-takers who are willing to jump to new opportunities, quickly make an impact, and cross-pollinate ideas and skills they have gained elsewhere. The old logic about planning years ahead can feel dated, given how quickly new skills and technologies are emerging. Imagine advertising for a position demanding “10 years of experience in creating viral, effective TikTok campaigns” when the platform didn’t exist a decade ago — but is quickly disrupting its competitors as well as legacy media actors.
There are times when the greatest opportunities for growth will come from flinging yourself away from the safe path. Your parents (or your loved ones) may not like this advice, but the reality is that working in a business that is fundamentally sound may not give you a chance to learn how to navigate choppy waters.
After business school, I joined American Express, where I learned about the power of brand from the best of that discipline. I learned about the importance of creating differentiated value as a way to gain competitive advantage — something I have carried into other businesses. Later in my career, I did a pivot to learn more about digital marketing, leading to my time at Viacom.
In time, I would fulfill that youthful aspiration of mine, even if it seemed like I took the scenic path to get there. But as the CMO at Gannett, the development didn’t end. In fact, I learned about the power of purpose-led marketing and the important role that storytelling and content played in engaging consumers.
Despite the very real differences across the sectors and geographies where I worked, I was fascinated by how many common themes there were — the power of narrative, for example, or the importance of listening to the customer.
Experiencing new industries has also helped me stay curious. Moving from American Express to Columbia House, I was able to experience the complexity of a retail business. From product licensing to product fulfillment, I learned the importance of marketing working lockstep with the operations side of the business.
It’s a tragedy that so many people feel as though they’re stuck going through the same motions each day in the modern workplace. My experience has, very fortunately, enabled me to learn continuously (as well as un-learn, when necessary), whether in financial services, health tech or elsewhere.
For me, exposure to a range of industry sectors ultimately helped me achieve my original CMO goal, even if it didn’t happen on the trajectory or timeline I would have expected or hoped for initially. But consider all the benefits: I was able to gain valuable experience in marketing transformation and social media marketing much faster than if had I stayed in one vertical.
At Viacom, I was immediately immersed in the power of social media to engage viewers of our programming. Plus, I learned the importance of tailoring your brand's content to meet your audiences where they are (e.g., using different strategies to speak to your Instagram audience than you do to connect with your Snapchat audience).
It’s easier to connect the dots looking backward, as Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford commencement speech. That is certainly true for me, as I could have never laid out the path my career has taken when I first began. My advice to young people — plan ahead, but be flexible and open to possibilities you haven’t considered.
Andy Yost is the chief marketing officer at HomeServe USA, with responsibility for HomeServe’s multi-channel marketing strategy and execution. Andy brings nearly 30 years of marketing leadership and experience in both start-ups and industry-leading corporations such as Gannett, Viacom, Dow Jones, Columbia House and American Express. Most recently he was chief marketing officer at Kinsa, a health tech startup, leading B2B/B2C marketing. Andy has a bachelor of business administration from Bucknell University and a master's of business administration from Columbia University.