The Definitive Guide to Holiday Conversations About Your Job

Professional Development


It happens every year. After going back to the kitchen for thirds, you return to the dinner table. You top off your glass of wine, and prepare to eat like you haven’t tasted food in a week. The perfect forkful of food is loaded, you open your mouth like it’s the gate to Disneyland, and seconds before you jump on the gravy train, your Aunt Martha asks the question you feared from across the table:

“So honey, what exactly do you do at work all day?”


You shove the fork into your mouth to buy yourself time, spending an awkward 47 seconds chewing and holding up the “one second” signal with your hand. Not only do you need to work through the mini-feast in your mouth, but you’re using every second to figure out the answer to a question that stumps marketers every holiday season: how do I explain my job to people who have no idea what I do?

So, where do I start?

It’s not as easy as it sounds. You want to show off the incredible work you do for your business day-in and day-out, but well-meaning family members are far removed from the marketing industry’s transformation over the last 20 years. Gone are the days when marketing was all billboards, TV commercials, and flyers. But your grandmother can’t begin to fathom what took their place. As marketers, what we do every day is so far removed from the general public’s understanding of “marketing” that many times the disconnect between marketer and non-marketer is vast.

We don’t want Aunt Martha to think you’re just doodling—or worse, only sending email blasts— for a living, so we’re here to help you translate the nuts and bolts of your killer job into language that she can understand, and more importantly, appreciate. Your objective: get the table nodding in approval as you explain your day job in layman’s terms.

Here’s my gift to you: the definitive guide to explaining your job to your family and friends this holiday season.

Misconception #1: “Oh you’re a marketer! Have I seen your commercials?”

Those not educated in web personalization, marketing/sales hand-off strategies, and customer journey analytics will understandably be lost when you start to explain how you’re spending your time. Yesterday’s marketing channels still have their place, but with so many new avenues for us to leverage these days—social media, ad retargeting, sponsorships, influencer marketing—your family probably needs a glossary. We’ll skip that for now to make sure you get invited back next year, but your first task is to politely inform the table that you’re focused on personal, relevant engagements with your audience.

Suggested Response: “The world has changed so much these days that we don’t really focus on commercials as much. My team and I typically try to create relevant content—maybe ads, maybe emails—for people like you every time you open your computer or your phone. We want to make sure we’re getting our {INSERT YOUR PRODUCT HERE} to the people who need it most and making sure they see how it can bring value to their lives.”

Misconception #2: “I get it! You’re the ones who make the ads on Facebook.”

You sorta walked right into this one with your last response, but fear not—we’ll get you out of it. If you’re in paid media, you can probably work with this, but we all know there are so many more functions that marketers can own. It’s time to politely shut Aunt Martha down.

Suggested Response: “That can be part of it, but we’re doing a bunch of other great things for our customers and potential customers too. We have some people focused on making sure our product gets showcased in the best light possible, working with our developers and engineers to figure out the exact need that our product solves. We have some of the brightest minds around promoting best practices in our industry, scouting our competition, and even planning real-life experiences (human-to-human!) that our customers will never forget.”

Misconception #3: “So, you guys make the big bucks for your company?”

Every part of me wants to let you just say “heck yeah!” here, but we both know that the best marketer is only as effective as their sales team. In the spirit of giving, let’s make sure that Aunt Martha knows your job isn’t complete without a strong partnership with the entire organization. It’s what Tiny Tim would want.

Suggested Response: “I’m proud of the value I bring to the table, but marketing is just one piece of a huge effort. We work together with salespeople, customer success, and so many more teams. It definitely makes my job easier to share the load across the company.

Misconception #4: “Well, you marketers have all my information anyways.”

Alright, you’re in the home stretch. Aunt Martha is about to turn all her attention towards pie, so you just need to navigate this last—albeit tricky—question. Data is a hot topic these days, and with the latest regulations making headlines, it’s understandable that non-marketer family members have misconceptions over what can and can’t be done with data. The key here is to remove the dark veil associated with form fills, and remind her that we’re all just people.

Suggested Response: “I know the news makes marketing look iffy sometimes, but I can assure you that we have your best interests in mind when you share a bit of information on your preferences and traits. It helps us do our jobs better, which in turn makes sure you see more information that’s relevant to you, and less useless junk. Plus, we’re extremely regulated and are held to standards of excellence—sharing information with reputable organizations is significantly less risky than it has ever been.”

Holidays: Handled

By this point, you’ve either convinced your family members to start searching for jobs in marketing, or have lost them to the infamous food coma. Either way, you’ve hopefully orchestrated a much more eloquent conversation with Aunt Martha this year that not only shows off what you do more clearly, but reminds you to be proud of the work you put your heart and soul into all year. All the people at your dinner table benefit from the good work that marketers put forth all year, and you are certainly no exception.