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Kalust Manukyan on failure, navigating the digital realm and the ethics of marketing

Hayat Rachi
Posted by Hayat Rachi on Mar 24, 2021 6:05:30 PM

We spoke to Kalust Manukyan, Head of Marketing at Barnet and Southgate College, to discuss the evolving needs of the marketing sector, staying focused and the long term successes borne out of failure.

 Why did you choose to pursue a role in communications? For example, has it always been your passion or was it pure happenstance?

I can say that I did not end up in marketing by accident. My interest developed gradually during my business studies. I did a few modules in advertising and marketing during my undergraduate degree and I found them really interesting. I followed this interest through to a Master’s in Marketing and a CIM qualification a few years later. At the start of my career, I wanted to make sure that I have the theoretical knowledge backing up my practical experience.

I also remember reading the book ‘The End of Marketing As We Know it’ in my first year at university. It is written by Sergio Zyman - the marketer behind the failed launch of New Coke in the USA in the 80s. It is a fascinating story of how a product launch which on the surface appeared as a colossal failure, actually brought a lot of success for the company in the long-term. The fact that I still remember this book, in particular, makes me think that it really sparked my curiosity in that field. In my mind, this is where things really started – a combination of curiosity, passion and purposeful steps in that direction.

Now, after so many years in the sector, I can say that what makes me still enjoy working in marketing is the mixture of creative and strategic thinking that is required. It gives me a variety, which not many other sectors can offer. I can start my day looking into analytics and data sets, follow it up with a meeting discussing our creative and finish with content planning. It never gets boring.
What personal skills or attributes do you think are most important for a communications role? Why these skills/attributes in particular?

Marketing is a very dynamic sector. Things change so quickly. At the start of my career, Facebook was a hip social media that had not long launched. Fast forward 10/15 years and see where we are now. In terms of skills, the sector’s needs are constantly evolving. Hence, I believe it is the drive to keep learning and developing professionally that are among the most vital attributes. Skills can be acquired, but attitude comes naturally.
The desire to learn and curiosity are definitely two things that help in marketing. Whatever works today, may not work tomorrow. So, a marketing professional cannot be complacent, but rather keep experimenting, trying new things and educating themselves. The good thing is that there is a lot of information available for everyone who wants to learn.

What sort of challenges do you face in your role? Is there a particular challenge that you experienced in the past that stood out?

Marketing is a very broad sector. In one week we may want to analyse our customer data, plan a digital campaign, optimise the UX on the website, improve conversion rate, do competitor benchmarking or even film a new video for the homepage.
On top of that, we need to take a step back and think strategically; are we doing the right thing? What is happening around the organisation?  Should we be on this new hip social media platform? There is so much to do, but time and resources are limited. Staying focused on the important tasks can sometimes be a challenge.
But, hey, this is what attracted me to marketing at first place, so I love it at the same time.
How is the role of communications perceived in your organisation?

As a marketing team we are lucky to work in an organisation which fully comprehends the importance of marketing and communications. It is nice to work in an environment where we are supported to innovate and keep improving things. There is a full understanding of what a strong, customer-focused marketing approach based on customer insight can bring to the organisation.
Just in that last 12 months, we needed to significantly change how we do things – we managed to launch a website working from home, switched to virtual open events and adapted our plans a number of times. All was made possible due to the internal support in the organisation and most of all, because my colleagues from the marketing team have been absolutely brilliant.
What advice would you give to those at the start of their career in communications?

Go try different areas of marketing and communications – market research, UX, digital, social media, advertising, strategic planning, email, creative, content etc. I strongly believe that a good expert should have at least basic awareness of all the fields, which come under marketing and communications. Thus, they will have a holistic understanding of how things work and be ready to add value to any organisations.
I like the idea of the T-shaped marketer - someone who has expertise in around 1-3 main marketing facets yet are also savvy in many other marketing areas. For example, you may start your career in market research and insights but learn about digital, design or event print throughout your career. This creates a well-rounded professional, who has confidence and a good basis to develop further skills and knowledge. You have your core expertise, but also some useful knowledge in other aspects/sectors of marketing.
What do you think the secret of success is when working in communications?

The good marketing professionals who I have met and I admire share one thing in common – passion. Passion for marketing as a whole and for the products, services or causes they work for. This passion links to what I mentioned earlier – the drive to keep learning and acquiring new skills. So, they are always full of energy to come up with something new, innovate or even improve what they are already doing well.
Also, another thing to remember – ethics. As marketing experts, we should not forget what the true purpose of marketing is – to inform people. Whether this is a great new product or an environmental cause, we are here to communicate and reach out to people with something of value. It is crucial not to forget this.
So, for those who start their marketing journey now or plan to go in this direction, I always recommend finding a niche, a product or a cause that they truly believe in. Then it will not feel like a job. That is the reason I work in Education marketing – one way or another,  we help people from all ages take the next step in their personal growth, which benefits the entire society… and if this starts from a click on one of our ads, then we are a part of a great thing, don’t you think so?
We at React & Share live for helping communications teams through understanding website content sentiment and improving it off the back of feedback. How do you and your team approach content improvement?

The digital space is so saturated that attracting the right audience – especially organically – is getting harder and harder. However, the importance of content for SEO and sustainable digital presence cannot be ignored. Yes, it is easy to start a paid campaign and results will come in quickly. Yet, it is the long-term content that truly brings healthy and continuous growth for an organisation.
Our audience is getting savvier and the customer journeys are becoming more and more sophisticated and difficult to predict. Whilst we cannot predict every step our customers will take, we can spend time understanding their needs, wants and how they engage with media and content. Once this is done, we just need to ensure that our channels – website, blogs, videos, social media – appear in their search in the right moment with the right message. In other words, we base our approach on these micro moments, when people search for information and make decisions. With our content we aim to help, inform or inspire them.