6 Stages of Development of Digital Marketers

Are You a Unicorn? The 6 Stages of Skill Development in Digital Marketing

Everyone starts as a digital marketer in the same place.

They don’t know anything about marketing, other than it’s a thing that companies do to get people to buy products.

As new marketers, we don’t realize:

→ How much time, effort, and resources get put into offers, products, and services. 

→ The number of research hours that have led to proven copywriting formulas.

→ That a marketer’s day-to-day revolves around lots (and lots) of spreadsheets.

We come into this field curious—with our eyes on unicorn status. If we can become unicorn marketers, not only will we create financial security for ourselves and our family, but we’ll be able to take any product (or idea) and turn it into a well-known name in its niche.

Digital marketers all pass through 6 development stages, from the curious cat to the untouchable unicorn. 

Where are you in your digital marketing journey?

Stage 1: The Curious Cat

We all start as curious cats. We start reverse engineering bus ads, Super Bowl commercials, and our Instagram sponsored posts. We wonder why a company decided to use a certain word, color, or image—and think about ways that we’d improve the ad. 

As a curious cat, you’re not necessarily looking to become a digital marketer yet (that you’ve realized). You’re dabbling with an interest in advertising, keen to know more about how this largely invisible world works. We’re seeing ads all day long, but what does the behind-the-scenes of these ads look like?

Is it really like Mad Men? Suddenly on your YouTube recommended feed are videos about content marketing, facebook ads, and copywriting. You’re listening to podcasts, like The DigitalMarketer Podcast, to learn more about this world…

And you’re only getting more and more curious about what’s inside.

Stage 2: The Willing Intern

Eventually curiosity catches the cat and you decide to give marketing a go. No, this doesn’t mean you incorporate a business, launch a product, and hire 7 full-time employees. You might try writing a newsletter, post an Instagram caption, or reply to your favorite marketer on Twitter. You’re dipping your toe in the marketing world.

The willing intern is becoming a student of marketing. Every ad that you see becomes something to study and your social media feeds are filling up with lessons from brilliant marketers. You’re reading articles, like this one!, to figure out what becoming a marketer would look like.

And you’re willing to give it a shot. At this stage, you’re applying for internships or you’re creating one for yourself. You’re testing out marketing strategies with your personal brand or dabbling with marketing inside of the company you work for.

You’ll say yes to any task that lets you create something (emails, social media, ads, etc.) that leads to results (traffic, engagement, subscriptions, conversions). 

Stage 3: The Foundational Novice

Your time as an intern (whether officially or through your own trial and error) will eventually come to an end when you realize…you kinda know what you’re doing. Are you the greatest marketer on the planet? Not yet. But, do you understand the Customer Value Journey, the importance of filling out the Customer Avatar Worksheet, and how customer optimization works?

Yep, and you’re integrating it into the work you do for your personal brand, clients, or company. You might not be getting paid the big bucks yet, but you’re building a reserve of results that will one day lead to getting high paying clients. This is a special time in your digital marketing development. Chances are you want this learning curve to move faster, but enjoy the experience.

This is the foundation of your digital marketing career—and the moment you’re choosing your speciality. Marketers need to be T-shaped, meaning they have one speciality (example, email marketing), but they still understand the other marketing strategies that tie into the funnel (content, paid ads, SEO, data and analytics). There’s one part of marketing that’s really standing out to you…

And with more practice you’ll become an expert at this strategy.

Stage 4: The “I Get It” Amateur

As you get more familiar with your favorite part of digital marketing (example, email marketing), you’ll dive in further. You’ll realize email campaigns are more than onboarding sequences and weekly newsletters. They’re launch, abandoned cart, and entry-point offer sequences. Whatever strategy you’re learning the most about in marketing, you’re starting to see it’s finer details.

And this is really exciting. It means you’re implementing more than the foundational parts. You’re not going into the nitty gritty tried and true parts of your strategy that create results. Chances are you’re no longer just marketing on the side—you’re bringing in 4 or 5 figures from your personal brand, your company is asking you to focus more on marketing, or you’re starting to work with marketing clients.

As the “I Get It” Amateaur, your next step is becoming an expert. This is the ideal time to start networking with other marketers and business owners (like attending Traffic and Conversion Summit) and expanding your marketing knowledge through memberships like DigitalMarketer Lab. Watch Workshops and Insider Trainings on SEO, organic content, paid ads, funnels, customer optimization, email marketing, and more—while getting step-by-step easy to implement Playbooks.

Your marketing knowledge is skyrocketing…and there’s only one place to go from here.

Stage 5: The Proven Expert

Have you raised your rates yet? Because if you haven’t—the time is now. As a proven expert, businesses aren’t hiring you and hoping it works out. They’re hiring you and knowing you come with an ROI. And that means you can charge more for your expertise. Your personal brand has momentum, you can ask for a raise based on the revenue you’ve brought in, or you can tell your marketing clients that you’re raising your rates based on their great results.

And nobody is going to be mad about it. The best part of being a marketer is that your impact on the business is directly tied to profits. If you’re creating 2x profits for a business, you can figure out how to equate that to a reasonable rate or salary for yourself. Some marketers will base their income on salary or rate, but you can also choose a profit-share model by asking for a percentage of revenue.

As a proven expert, you can start reaching out to podcasts to talk about your marketing expertise and even asking to speak on stages (if you’re interested). You’re an expert and can help other people with their marketing (a.k.a everybody still in Stages 1-4). Make sure to use your marketing knowledge to pitch these opportunities, sharing what the value-add is for them and sending testimonials from clients, employees, or other speaking opportunities. 

Life is good as a proven expert and you can choose to stay here, or you can take it one step further.

Stage 6: The Untouchable Unicorn

An untouchable marketing unicorn is someone like Seth Godin. He’s paved a path for himself and built a career in marketing that most likely allows him to make at least $100,000 per keynote (this is just an estimate!). When you’re an untouchable unicorn, companies can hire you to run their marketing…but chances are those companies are on the Fortune 500 list.

Your rate is high, and for good reason. You’ve proven that you don’t just get results—you take products to the moon. You know what you’re doing so well, that you can create a predictable ROI. And, you’re most likely only working in a profit-share model. You get paid a base rate per project or salary and make money based on the results you get for the company. 

As an untouchable unicorn, companies are sending your fruit baskets hoping they can be the next to work with you. Your DMs are filled with people asking to pick your brain. And your inbox is always ding!-ing  with new interview requests. We’ll even bet you have a best-selling book.

Life as an untouchable unicorn is good.

Which Digital Marketing Development Stage Are You In?

We all start in stage one, where our curiosity has peaked just enough that we can no longer look away. Every bus ad leaves us intrigued and we wonder what it’s like to be on the other side. With time, we make our way through each stage until we either reach Stage 5 or Stage 6 (if you want to go there)—which means you’re somewhere along this journey.

What stage of digital marketing development are you in?

Stage 1: The Curious Cat

Stage 2: The Willing Intern

Stage 3: The Foundational Novice

Stage 4: The “I Get It” Amateur

Stage 5: The Proven Expert

Stage 6: The Untouchable Unicorn

There’s one thing these stages all have in common, and that’s expanding subject matter knowledge. If you’re a curious cat, you need to learn the foundations of marketing. And if you’re an untouchable unicorn, you have to stay up-to-date on the latest trends, tactics, and technology available to marketers. 

That’s why we created DigitalMarketer Lab. As a Lab member, you’ll get instant access to the checklists, templates, trainings, and community you need to get marketing done. Here’s what’s inside:

  • A library of 36 marketing playbooks (and growing every month)
  • Timely and tactical one-day workshops that you can attend live or watch in your own time
  • A supportive community of 10,000+ marketers to answer any and all of your questions
  • PLUS, exclusive discounts and deals on the tools you’re likely already using (this one benefit should literally pay for itself)

Marketing is complicated, and Lab makes it easy. Become a DigitalMarketer Lab member today, and take yourself to the next stage of your digital marketing career.



The lovely content team here at DigitalMarketer works hard to make sure you have the best blog posts to read. But some posts require a group effort, and we decided to stop the rock-paper-scissors tournaments that decided the byline so that we had more time to write. Besides, we all graduated from kindergarten: we can share.

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