#Whystudyhistory Invades the World of Marketing

market-analystsDo you want to be an effective marketing analyst?

Then study history.

If you are a longtime reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home you know about Cali Pitchel.  She has written a lot for the blog and has been featured in at least three different So What CAN You Do With a History Major? posts.

Cali is the Director of Marketing at Analytics Pros, a digital analytics consultancy in Seattle, WA. She studied history as an undergraduate at Messiah College, received her M.A. in American Studies at Penn State, and spent two years working on a Ph.D in American history at Arizona State before dropping out to “channel her inner Peggy Olson.”

Cali does a lot of writing about how her study of history has made her a better marketing analyst.  In her most recent piece, which appears at LiftOff blog, she urges her fellow marketers to “approach your data like a historian.”  Her study of history has taught her important lessons about humility, empathy, and  interpretation that she uses every day in her current work.

Here is a taste:

I’m a trained historian. I spent the better part of the past 10 years studying the past, collecting some graduate degrees, and thinking I wanted to be a history professor. After two years of coursework in a PhD program, I took a one-semester leave for a much-needed mental break. Almost four years after what was supposed to be a brief respite, I’m the Director of Marketing at a digital analytics consultancy.

This might not seem like a natural career move. What does the humanities have to do with web and mobile app analytics? At first the transition felt a bit awkward. I had never taken a business class, let alone looked at a Google Analytics dashboard. But what I’ve learned in the past 12 months is that historians and growth marketers have a lot to learn from one another.

Here are three things I think historians can teach marketers who make data-driven decisions:

1. Be humble.

A historian requires a posture of curiosity, an open mindset, and also a strong sense of humility. You have to arrive at the text without all the answers. The sources can—and almost always will—challenge your assumptions.

Is this not true for data? All too often we see data as a capital T truth—hard numbers, fact, science. But even data is meaningless without interpretation, and because so much depends on that interpretation, data analysis demands the same integrity required of an historian. If you think you know all the answers when you approach the data, it’s likely you’ll confirm your bias. (This is a very human thing to do, by the way.)

When asked about truth, data, and analysis, Historian John Fea suggested that, “Data means Why Study History Covernothing until it becomes part of the story that the analyst wants to tell. This does not mean that the facts are not important. If the story that the analyst tells is not based on evidence, it will be a bad story and irresponsible analysis.”

A growth marketer must first acknowledge his or her position and then meet the data appropriately—fully aware of the bias that is just part of being human. It’s trite, but true: knowledge is power. And just knowing your subjectivity can (and should) come to bear on the interpretation of data.

It’s easy to choose pride over humility, especially as a marketer prized for your acumen and industry expertise. But pride and relying on your instinct can have negative implications for your users’ experience. One way to combat this and ensure you’re creating a good (and high-converting) online experience, is to create a culture of testing. Testing not only allows you to optimize a user’s experience, it can substantiate and challenge your assumptions. When you trust the data—and not just your gut—you can pivot and respond to the needs of your audience, creating a cost savings or generating more revenue. In other words, humility is good business.

2. Empathy is everything.

One of the greatest lessons I learned as a historian was the importance of empathy. The Dictionary defines empathy as “the psychological identification with or vicarious experiencing of the feelings, thoughts, or attitudes of another.” Studying the past was essentially a proving ground for how to relate to everyone around me, not just historical actors.

One of the difficult tasks of the historian, according to Fea, is to get rid of his or her “contemporary understanding of the world and [try] to see the world from another perspective—the perspective of someone living in what many historians refer to as the ‘foreign country’ of the past. Historians empathize with dead people and in the process we learn how to empathize in our contemporary lives as well.”

Empathy must also inform the way in which we interpret data. In its simplest form, the goal of empathy is understanding. And understanding a client—their challenges, their objectives, their business—is essential to any engagement.

Read her entire post here.

It is very rewarding to see the themes of Why Study History? find their way into the business world.  My goal is to make Why Study History? required reading in all college and university marketing classes!  🙂

Thanks, Cali.

So What CAN You Do With a History Major?–Part 52

Lewis.jpg

Jonathan Lewis

Work as a supply chain engineer for a major US baking company.   

Jonathan Lewis graduated from Stony Brook University (my Ph.D alma mater) in 2011 with a major in history. Over at the blog of the American Historical Association, Lewis describes how he uses his degree in his current work as an engineer.  He writes, “The skills I developed in four years as a history major ended up being useful in both getting hired and performing my current job.”  
 
Here is a taste of his post:
 
…Chances are if you have purchased bagged bread, cakes, or bagels at a grocery store, I, or one of my colleagues, determined exactly how that product traveled from the production line to your hand. I majored in history with a concentration in European and American foreign relations. Going into a math-heavy career like logistics may seem like a pretty big shift from humanities, but my history degree armed me with a variety of skills that prepared me well for it. Logisticians spend a lot of time pouring over maps and negotiating with labor representatives. My love of geography and political intrigue is what motivated me to pursue a history degree in the first place, and I found an outlet for both at my job….Proving that my history degree had equipped me for a career in logistics involved a lot of hard work and some creativity…
 
Selling a Degree in History on Job Applications 
 
I approached my applications as I would a paper for class. My thesis statement was, conveniently, always the same: “I am the best candidate for this job.” My prompts? The job postings, each of which detailed exactly what the position entailed. My sources? A stack of papers, presentations, and extra-curricular projects I had completed during the course of my undergrad career. For instance, if a job posting listed Excel skills as a requirement, my body paragraph might say, “Utilizing over 20 Excel charts and graphs, I successfully defended my senior thesis on population growth of Icelandic urban centers in the 19th century.” If requirements included “works well with others” I could mention my time working as a writing tutor for ESL students. Or, if the employer sought a candidate who could “handle sensitive information,” I could point to my experience entering final grades into our university’s student portal, a sensitive task usually reserved for the tenured professors. Depending on your area of focus, a history degree can involve developing familiarity with a wide variety of disciplines, and is limited only by your imagination. Politics, economics, statistics, and even meteorological data played big roles in my own studies. I found it useful to spend a day digging through my papers and listing on my resume specific skills I had developed while completing my assignments. When applying for my current job, one of the requirements listed was “able to manipulate data and provide graphical representation of sales trends.” In one class, I had compared the unemployment rates of weak and strong Eurozone economies, including a before and after chart to demonstrate the effect of the global recession in 2008. I brought a copy of this chart to my interview to show that I had the skills necessary to complete my work tasks. (As a supply-chain engineer, the trend graph is the most effective tool I have when proving that changes must be made to the supply chain. A sales area that shows consistent growth over a decade will need to have truck routes added to meet demand and keep drivers from being overworked.) Coming to the interview prepared and organized showed that I had the motivation and talent to learn specific job skills, and that my attitude would be a boon to the department. 
 
History Skills on the Job 
 
A major is not meant to lock you into a specific career path, even if this does sometimes feel like the conventional wisdom. My liberal arts degree ultimately allowed me to approach problems with a different perspective than my colleagues who were hired from sales or delivery positions. 
 
Many of my history skills have been useful at work. All the late hours I spent on research papers pays off every time I am asked to review presentations for my colleagues, usually with a focus on editing their written slides. The baking business is also one that has much reverence for tradition. Every bakery my company owns displays prominently in the lobby an exhibit on the origins of the brand, and the transition that brand made from local delicacy to national prominence. This culture has occasionally caused negotiations with drivers and local management to stall. On one of my first projects, a major concern about the changes I had made to a supply chain was “this is not how we’ve been doing it for the last 75 years.” I learned that certain runs were passed from father to son for three or more generations. Because I had some experience conducting oral history interviews during my undergraduate career, I was able to establish a personal connection with the driving team, which helped smooth the process of labor negotiation better than any set of sales numbers could….
 
Read the entire piece here.
 
Are you doing something interesting with your history degree?  If so, we would love to talk to you about our So What CAN You Do With a History Major? series at The Way of Improvement Leads Home.  Contact us!

Loren Collins on How To Enter the Job Market with a B.A. in History

Great stuff at the AHA blog from Loren Collins, a career counselor at Humboldt State University with a B.A. in history.  

I have been preaching this stuff for several years through my series “So What CAN You Do With a History Major” and my Why Study History?, but Collins does it a lot better.

Here is a taste:

History degrees are versatile, viable, and valuable, but so often they are not understood or marketed on these terms. You may have chosen history because you had visions of devouring stacks of ancient primary source documents in a glorious repository in an ancient European metropolis. Or maybe you dreamt of standing in front of a high school class much like your own high school history class, waking the heart of a high school student a lot like you once were. Or, like many of us, you simply chose the major because you liked it and you knew you’d have to figure out a job down the road. Whatever your motivation, the first thing you need to learn is how to market your degree

History is dynamic, and you should be a bright, capable, and thorough thinker, writer, communicator, and researcher because of your time as an undergraduate. The problem is that no one will know it until you tell them! People make assumptions about various majors all the time, and in the news they often recite and rehash false stories about college education that go unchallenged. On your resume, in your cover letter, and during interviews and networking scenarios you need to quantify your experience in terms employers can understand and change the common perceptions out there. Your ability to do this can make all the difference. According to the National Association of Colleges and Employers, employers cite the following as the top skills employers look for in college graduates:

Here is the takeaway:

1.  Learn how to market your degree
2.  Explore the job field.  (“Where do you want to work?)
3.  Start targeting employers before they put out their job ads

Why Should You Hire a History Major? Here are 30 Good Reasons

Here is a taste of a post from a website called Shaunanagins.com:

When my co-op advisor asked how my current job relates to my History degree, I didn’t know what to tell her. Not because the job doesn’t relate to my studies–it does. Almost everything does, if you ask me. On the transferable skill side, there is just so, so much.

As I sit at the tail end of my History and Communications double major, resume full of business-friendly internships and experiences, I can’t help but notice how underrated the History half of my education seems to be. It has helped me thrive in so many work worlds–from the public service, to high tech marketing, to education and tourism. It’s time we stopped overlooking the History degree.

Here are some of my favorites on the websites list of “30 Reasons It’s Smart to Hire a History Student”:
  • History students are experts at tracking trends. They know how people, strategies, and time-stamped statistics work (or don’t work)
  • When presented with a whole bunch of information, History students are trained to be able to quickly judge what is relevant, and why it is relevant.
  • History students need to pick up on the jargon, locations, and terms associated with different historical periods and disciplines.  If there’s unique lingo, acronyms, or language that your team/organization uses, they will be quick to understand and adopt it.
  • These kids know how to write.
  • Oh, and they know how to summarize. Throw them a hodgepodge of random information, and they’ll turn it into a concise, focused, and coherent package (hey, maybe they’ll even make you a list! Eh? Eh?)
  • They can recognize long term effects.…which means they can help develop long term solutions.
  • And they’re aware that the world changes constantly, so those solutions (and their attitudes) will likely stay flexible.
  • They know how to back up their points, and are champions of logical argumentation
  • Chances are they have an awareness of international relations and the history/culture of different countries. With our increasingly global economy, this shouldn’t be underestimated.
  • They know how to confirm data, to critically evaluate sources, and to filter out irrelevant information.
  • These are critically thinking storytellers. They can make almost anything look and feel interesting.
  • They are trained on how to observe human behavior. Like, say, a client or customer’s behavior.
Read the rest here.