Your career – in business and marketing – is analogous to the journey that aspiring Samurai warriors embark upon as they seek personal truth and mastery of their craft. True progress is not easy. It is elusive, which represent the Levels are symbolized by Pyramids (or Temples), which represent the uphill battle required to raise oneself up. Only the most skillful and perseverant digital martial artist ascends to the top and achieves the vaunted Blue Samurai status. Every- thing moves faster in the Digital Age, including the skill levels of ambitious and hard-working Samurais. 7 Pillars breaks everything down into 7 Levels of skill (of the individual) and corresponding difficulty (of the task).
It is very difficult to truly assess skill level. Standardized testing, degrees and certifications don’t tell the whole story. Management reviews can undersell themselves. As a result, managers and marketing teams are often understaffed and ill-prepared for certain levels of work, and the results generally show it.
You should know your true level, for a variety of reasons. Most importantly, it empowers you to be practical about what type of work you are best suited to execute well and allows you to focus on what skills you need to develop.
Level 1: White Belt; Beginner Level, Novice
In general, a newcomer enters the dojo (i.e. the marketing realm) with some core skills (i.e. writing, quantitative, research). However, in marketing terms, he or she is still a pure beginner. The teacher or Sensei’s job, assuming the novice is not being purely self-taught, is to assess these skills and then determine what types of basic building blocks they need to learn in order to complement their transferrable skills. In a marketing department or agency, white belts are typically interns or entry-level trainees, titled Analysts, but not always.
Level 2: Yellow Belt; Intermediate Level 1
Yellow Belts are on the cusp between Beginner and Intermediate levels of knowledge. They’ve learned something and have minimal experience of at least 3-6 months. A fast learner without a long track record but who has a knack for Digital Marketing could make the jump to Yellow Belt very quickly. In smaller companies, this tends to happen as junior level people start taking on tasks or roles that stretch their capabilities.
Level 3: Orange Belt; Intermediate Level 2
Orange Belts are marketers with solid experience, typically having been in “the game” for at least two years. As individuals progress in their marketing journey, what they know goes beyond theoretical and has the taste of practical experience and real knowledge. This is the most crowded Level in the industry, along with Green Belt. Orange Belts, while still in a critical phase of their learning curve, can execute a good deal of the hands-on marketing tasks.
Level 4: Green Belt; Intermediate Level 3
Green Belts are on the verge of being true domain experts, and relative to some, may already be considered as experts. They have enough experience (generally 3-4 years) to manage campaigns independently. At the agency level, Green Belts typically project manage (PM) smaller projects and even do some training for clients or entry level staff (White, Yellow and Orange Belts). There are many freelancers in the market at this level, who have developed confidence through their path and realize that they have a lot to offer, and can charge a good hourly rate for their services.
Level 5: Brown Belt; Advanced Level 1
An individual can become a Brown belt in anywhere from 2-5 years, depending on the level of real experience they get on a track. Brown belts must have authored at least two tangibles ‘successes’ that can be clearly demonstrated and potentially replicated by them. At this Level, strategy, communications and integration across Pillars take on more importance, presenting opportunities to flourish for these skilled Samurais.
Level 6: Black Belt; Advanced Level 2
Black belts are typically sought-after industry experts, who frequent conference circuits and lead agencies, as well as digital marketing departments. Anyone truly at this level is more than qualified for leadership role. Most black belts focus largely on Modes 1-4 (Ideation, ROI, Strategy and People). They know how to build teams, scale marketing programs, pitch and win new business and communicate a project’s vision.
Level 7: Blue Belt; Mastery Level
Blue Samurais are rare beings. These game-changing entrepreneurs and executives are pure geniuses, proven at the highest levels. Think Bruce Lee, Steve Jobs, Michael Jordan – masters of their craft. Blue belts are the creators of the tech and marketing industries, who understand how to navigate and excel in these worlds better than anyone. They reside inside the Temples of Digital Knowledge, where the Pillars represent Truth and Blue Samurais are the Prophets. Blue belts represent the gold standard and the ideal that all marketers aspire to. Only 1% of Samurais attain this status. Nonetheless, we can all learn a great deal from them. They are simply the best at what they do.
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