“So, what do you do?” You’ll run into the oft-repeated cold-opener at networking events, business meetings, and extended family reunions. Typically, people reply in one of two ways.
1. They literally talk about what they do. They explain the role they play in their organization, going in-depth into the goals, challenges, and responsibilities they’re held accountable for.
2. They give their job title, and leave it at that.
Here’s the thing: Job titles can be deceiving. The authority and responsibility associated with any given title will inevitably vary company by company, business by business, and agency by agency. The size, structure, and type of organization will determine how certain job titles play out in the workplace.
So, with so much diversity in definition, does a title really matter?
Job Titles In the Eyes of Your Company vs. Your Clients
Go ahead—try to compare a Marketing Manager at one agency to a Marketing Manager at another. They may seem identical based on job title alone, but when it comes to what they actually do, you’re dealing with apples and oranges.
Job titles mean different things for different purposes. The internal role of job titles is to delineate departmental roles, responsibilities, and functions. Externally, job titles are used for a very different purpose.
For an individual, a job title may be closely tied to ego, seniority, and salary. A new title can be something to aspire to and provide recognition for achievements. In addition, within an organization, a title defines what an individual is responsible and accountable for, where on the seniority track they reside, and to whom they report.
Externally, titles may be used for a very different purpose. To the outside world, the agency roster paints a picture of the capabilities and expertise their team brings to the table. Titles are published to the website, on LinkedIn, on business cards, etc., and they’re associated less with the individual than they are the company as a whole.
For prospects or clients, job titles make a strong initial impression. For example, using “Junior” in the title, such as Junior Editor, connotes that they report to a senior team member, lack the expertise of more senior editors, and may not work autonomously.
Some job titles, while used ubiquitously, vary agency by agency. For example, the title Marketing Manager can mean that they manage other team members, or it can mean that they manage client accounts—two extremely different roles that can each be associated with a Marketing Manager title. On the other hand, an Account Manager and a Marketing Manager may have very similar responsibilities.
One of the more subjective job titles in marketing and tech is the elusive Web Designer. In one agency, the Web Designer is the person who designs the look and feel of a website. In another, the Web Designer actually writes code.
So, we return to our initial question. Do job titles matter?
Spoiler Alert: It’s a resounding YES.
Why Job Titles Matter Internally
Internally, it should matter to the individual who holds the title. I’m not suggesting that everyone associates their job title with their ego—for some people, their title isn’t closely tied to ego, and for others, it is, and that’s okay.
Unless you represent a huge organization that can afford to have people sit in the same chair for years on end, always strive to upskill and move the people you’ve invested in to a role with more responsibility and seniority. In other words, as they grow, their titles should change.
It’s important that all employees understand what titles mean within their organization. They need to understand what it means in terms of accountability and responsibilities, as well as to whom they report.
Team members should keep their eye on the big picture. Every employee needs to understand the hierarchy of roles and titles within the organization so that they can see a clear path from where they are today, to the role—and therefore, the job title—they aspire to tomorrow.
To foster the best company culture for your team, facilitate your employees’ rise to the next role in the organizational hierarchy. That means you'll have employees who have become more skilled and competent, as well as responsible for more critical aspects of the operation.
At Hudson Fusion, this means that every team member has a set of specific, definable goals that are meant to move them “up the ladder.” These goals are measured and discussed weekly and line managers are there to facilitate achieving these goals. Fostering the career growth of our employees is critical to our culture of growth and learning.
Why Job Titles Matter Externally
Speaking from an agency owner’s perspective, I can confidently say that Hudson Fusion’s job titles matter for both our team and the business as a whole.
One of the most visited pages of our website is our “Who We Are” page, which shows our entire team roster—not unlike most marketing agencies. Prospects want to get a sense of who you are, what you’re capabilities are, and if you’re a good potential fit before they contact you. They like to check out the individuals that make up your team and see what their roles are.
From the team page alone, they can get a sense of how large or small your organization is, what skillsets your team offers, what level of expertise you bring to the table, and, let’s be honest, they’re free to make some base-level subjective assumptions. The job titles assigned to your team members will play a huge role in how potential customers will perceive your business.
Here—let’s try something. Use your imagination for a second. We’re going to picture a couple different scenarios to see whether or not job titles really matter.
Exercise: Are Titles Vital?
Scenario 1: Your website contains ZERO job titles. In fact, you don’t talk about your team at all.
In this case, a visitor to your site can assume you don’t have a team. You’re most likely a solopreneur, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. For example, if you’re a marketing consultant, the assumption is that I’m hiring you.
However, if you position yourself as an agency, then a prospect is going to assume that you outsource most of the work that comes your way. They have no idea whether or not you do any of the work yourself, or if you rely solely on vendors.
Not showing or talking about your team can also lead prospects to assume that the people behind the product aren’t important in making a decision to purchase.
Scenario 2: Your website contains only SENIOR job titles. You’re the President of an entire team of Vice Presidents.
Some websites will intentionally highlight their senior team and only refer to the lower-level employees briefly. If it looks like your team is entirely made up of executive-level employees, prospects will likely assume that you’re a small agency that offers every client senior-level team members.
Once again, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! It may be exactly how you differentiate your agency from other larger agencies. The point is that the titles associated with all of your team members create an impression without you having to verbalize it.
Scenario 3: Your Team page contains an even mix of senior and junior job titles.
This is what you’d typically see at small- to medium-sized agencies, aka “boutique” firms. They want to showcase the extensive in-house expertise they have and the hierarchy of specialized talent they offer.
Boutique agencies are in the sweet spot: There aren’t too many team members to list like you’d find in a large agency, and they want to be clear that they’re absolutely not a single person operation. They have the talent to support the services they offer, and they’re happy to introduce you to every member of their team.
A Word About Those Made-Up Job Titles (You Know the Ones)
At times, you’ll find some titles that you’ve never heard before: Paranoid-in-Chief (aka Yahoo’s CISO) or Galactic Viceroy of Research Excellence (oh yes, that’s a real thing…Microsoft’s James Mickens is also referred to as the Lebron James of Computer Science). While these creative titles can make you stand out or communicate company culture, personally, I don’t think it’s helpful to the individual who holds them or to the company that uses them.
For the company…
It’s already difficult to ascertain what the actual role is when using traditional titles because of how different they are from organization to organization. I’m a fan of clear communication and these “made up” titles don’t help the cause. I also think it’s important to be taken seriously, and these kinds of titles make that difficult.
For the individual…
For the individual, these made up titles are just unfair. Unless a person is already at the top of their career ladder, individuals see their title as a stepping stone to the next rung. A silly title that doesn’t mean anything anywhere other than at your organization is not going to be seen as having a logical next step.
From the external perspective, a title brings with it an immediate connotation of expertise. When your team meets with clients or prospects, their title can give them instant credibility, or, in the case of a silly title, may cause an unintended impression.
For example the title “Marketing Maven” can conjure up an impression of being less than professional or having “homegrown” expertise, whereas Marketing Strategist describes exactly what the person’s area of expertise is.
Here’s the bottom line: job titles matter. They matter to the individual that holds the title, to the employer that determines the course of the employee’s career path, and to the prospects that may or may not become clients based on their perception of a team.
The best approach is to develop the titles that outline the roles and their logical next steps up in your organization. These roles and titles may change as your organization changes both in size or service offerings, but having clear job titles with a clear path forward helps your employees thrive. Having job titles that represent your team accurately will help your prospects and clients feel confident in their understanding of who they are, or will be, working with.
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