Considering A Career in Marketing? Read This First

12/20/2016 03:28 pm ET Updated Dec 21, 2017

We've all been there. Stuck in senior year of college, surrounded by swarms of our parents' friends at dinner parties, asking that dreaded question:

"What are you going to do with your life?"

In these moments, we'd do just about anything for a career plan, so we come up with the typical answers:

Law school... Med school... Marketing...

Sound familiar?

Such was the case with my client Jessica, whose goal was to work in marketing for a top tech company. When I asked her what sort of marketing she wanted to do, she froze.

"There are different types?"

"Of course. Just because you like pie doesn't mean you like all pies, right?" I asked.

Jessica's question sent me on a mission to chat with the experts at IBM about the many options that the field encompasses. After all, the marketing world -- or any career niche -- truly covers a wide spectrum of choices.

Google Hangout with IBM on the different marketing career paths.

If you're considering marketing, it's time for you to get clear on which type best suits you.

Below are various niches in the marketing space, each of which provides a completely unique career experience:

1. Promotions

Promotion marketing uses an incentive like a contest or sweepstakes to engage a specific audience with a brand or organization (and it works like a charm). For example, the genius ATOM Marketing campaign offering exclusive content and prizes based around the Minions movie by way of placing promotional stickers on Minions' favorite food: Chiquita bananas.

Yes, you heard that right. This could actually be your job.

You'll likely spend a lot of your time strategizing on contest-focused campaigns. This type of marketing has changed considerably over the past few decades, and is likely to continue to do so - which means it's a really interesting time to be working in promotions marketing!

2. Public Relations

Public relations often involves positioning a person or product's image in a positive and appealing light. But be warned: Working in PR is no easy feat. You'll be tasked with establishing relationships with your client's target demographic, and creating a unique image that ultimately influences the public's perception of the person or product that you're representing. Long hours are typical, especially if you're working in entertainment or crisis PR - but it's pretty juicy stuff. At the end of the day, your clients rely on you to help make (and keep) them relevant in their individual spaces.

If you're a people-person, and ready to take on that responsibility, a career in PR might be just the job for you.

3. Brand Management

Brand management marketing is the analysis of how brands are perceived by their target audience. Depending on who your client is, this could include anything from helping a brand change their current demographic to doing a deep dive analysis into how the brand is currently positioned. This means researching their competition, understanding various branding strategies, and advising them on how to stand out.

Basically, you've got the face of big name companies in your hands.

... No pressure!

The ultimate goal of brand management is to strengthen the brand's relationship with its target market. Strategies for this include high-level research, price-setting, packaging, and crisis management--to name a few. This niche definitely comes with obstacles to overcome (particularly if you're working with a brand that has a negative image associated with it). Not to mention, managing the brand's online image -- where opinions are shared freely and instantly - can be pretty fascinating. If you enjoy this particular challenge and have the savvy analyst skills to match, brand management could be your jam.

4. Advertising

Advertising is all about getting your target audience to buy the goods. Humans have actually been at this for centuries, with the first newspaper ad dating back to 1729. Advertisers spend much of their days conceptualizing ideas for print, TV and online media ads - so if the idea of bouncing ideas around for the duration of your work day sounds appealing, this may be the right marketing fit for you. Moreover, the advertising market is shifting to a focus on digital advertising, so know that tech lovers will be praised.

While an estimated $180 billion in ad dollars are forecasted to be spent on campaigns this year alone, this field is truly about climbing the ladder and putting the hours in.

It's important to understand the different types of marketing so that the world can make way for you.

Once my client Jessica worked with me to get clear on the options available in the marketing space, it was easier for her clarify her best options. In fact, we decided that a career in sales--not marketing-- would best suit her.

Fast-forward three years, and she's launched her own training company that teaches Fortune 500 sales teams how to significantly improve their results. Her unique brilliance for selling products is unmatched, and it would have been a loss to put her in the wrong niche.

That's the power of understanding where you're going.

While having a sparkly job sounds great in cocktail party conversations, it's about knowing who you are, and finding a career that meets you in your authenticity.