Published: November 3rd, 2015

When asked by an interviewer how he became a Rocket Scientist and founded SpaceX, Elon Musk, who’s educational background consisted of a business and engineering degree from the University of Pennsylvania, gave a very simple, yet brilliant, answer. “Well, you’d be surprised, but I just read a lot of books and talked to very knowledgeable people.” In the time span of roughly one year, Musk mastered topics such as astrodynamics and founded a company who rivals NASA in space exploration, and has the ultimate goal of inhabiting the planet Mars.

This might seem like an extreme, as well as an off topic, example compared for marketing, but the gem here lies in how Musk became an expert in rocket science. And the truth is, it can really be applied to anything, especially marketing. I know this, because its essentially what I do everyday.

Why I really resonate with Musk’s learning philosophy is because I, like him, do not have the traditional education in my current working field (and that’s as far as any comparison goes between Elon Musk and I). I am not a marketing major, and the truth is, when I first joined the Executive Board and started work with the AMA, the concept of what marketing is and how it applies in the real world was a very daunting realization for me. So I realized that the best thing for me to do would be to deconstruct everything I could about marketing and start learning the fundamentals in the most efficient way possible, while building my own unique experience that would allow me to advance my understanding from those basic concepts.

Now, I know that sounds like a lot of jargon, but essentially what I did can be summarized by two words, or processes; Context and Procedure. I’ll elaborate on each one and show how they can help you create a better understanding of marketing, or anything for that matter.

Context:

Going back to what Elon Musk said about his preparation in regards to rocket science, he said that he “read a lot of books and talked to very knowledgeable people”. So really what he did was simply gather and digest information for his own understanding. That sounds simple right? Ultimately, this is a process called creating context. Context is simply your understanding of a certain amount of information and how it allows you to compare and contrast it to new sets of information. This is key in marketing. Whenever you study a case, start analyzing and deconstructing its situation to things that you are already familiar with. What is the issue in this case? Is it lack of brand awareness, poor target marketing? Do you recognize any of the problem’s symptoms from previous cases you have looked at? Ultimately, the more context you have, the more similar many cases will seem to you, and the easier it will be for you to identify possible solutions and strategies.

One of the first things I started doing when working with marketing, was to read anything I could that would help me create context. There are fantastic articles, books, Ted Talks; all that address some sort of aspect of marketing, and further help you create your better understanding of the subject. All of these, by the way, are rich in examples and cases where many themes and issues constantly overlap. “Purple Cow”, by Seth Goden, and “The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing” by Al Ries are just a few examples of how I was able to create context for myself (and they are very good reads, if you are interested in picking up a copy or two).

Remember that marketing is part art form, and to know what kind of art you are making, you need to have some sort of reference point that will help you in the creation of your work.

Procedure:

So while marketing is part art form, it is also part science, and this is where it can really throw a lot of people (especially marketing majors) off. While context applies to the grasp of theory and textbook knowledge, procedure is more of a process that relies on science. If you have ever taken any basic science class, you have heard of the scientific method. You know, the whole thing where you ask a question that is your “problem statement”, and then you form a “hypothesis”, from which you go to “test an experiment”, and so on. This is the most famous example of procedure, and as marketers, it is our imperative duty to becomes masters of procedure.

Whenever we work on a case, and thus are forced to develop our strategies and theories on how we can solve certain problems, we become the main extractors of primary information. Unlike cases and books which you will pick up and the information will already be there, it is our job to find it through research. And how does one properly conduct research, ensuring the highest quality results that ultimately will lead to superior information? Through well executed procedure! For example, if you will be conducting multiple focus groups to test a new product, you have to ensure that every single focus group is done exactly the same way, or your results from different groups cannot be compared to each other. How could they be? If you conducted each experiment differently, there are different variables at play that will effect your data. These are metrics, and in any research process, metrics need to be taken seriously. Many marketers actually call this the “hard part of marketing”.

Not to mention, doing all of this creates more context for you (see how these two processes come hand in hand?), and the last thing you ever want is poor context. So let’s trace those steps: Poor procedure leads to bad results. Bad results lead to bad information. Bad information creates unreliable context. Unreliable context puts your entire understanding of a certain situation in jeopardy and into question. So long story short? Always conduct proper procedure.

To Wrap it All Up:

Marketing is a huge practice. There are so many minor fields of study and application within it that makes it so exciting to work in. But regardless of what you are approaching, and how you are choosing to understand it, context and procedure will always be your allies in helping you master your work. Am I an expert in marketing (or anything really)? Definitely not, but using these processes I have been able to tackle such a complex subject, one that is not even my primary foundation of study. And I know that it is applicable for anyone. Whether you are like me, a foreigner to the brave new world of marketing, or an experienced individual who has worked on many projects and taken many classes, context and procedure will always be your friends, and constantly improve your knowledge.

And remember, this applies to everything. Do you want to be like Elon Musk and start up your very own SpaceX or Tesla one day? Read a lot of books and talk to very knowledgeable people.