It’s Not Your Father’s Marketing: The Problem with Marketing Education Today

It’s no secret: business schools are doing a less than stellar job of preparing marketing students for careers in the current marketing environment. Marketing professors are not in tune with the rapidly changing marketing environment and the curriculum at both the undergraduate and graduate level is antiquated.

Business schools, in general, are so far behind the curve that the majority of our curriculum is designed based on the assumptions of, and using examples of, the production era (see The Evolution of Marketing). At best, the functional silos (accounting, finance, management, management information systems, marketing and operations management) are remnants of the marketing department era. At worst, the department structure in business schools serves a living museum to an era gone by.

Credibility Gap

When did we lose our credibility? It started with our failure to acknowledge and to adequately prepare students for the service-based economy (see Tipping Point). As we move into the knowledge-based economy, the gap between what is being taught in business schools and what is needed in the business world continues to widen. The width of the gap is sufficient that today’s marketing students need to take charge of their own marketing education by supplementing the theories of the past with the realities of the present.

Honestly, my initial and somewhat visceral reaction to finding the website MarketingProfs was to question their credentials and their motives for daring to enter into my arena. In 15 minutes or less, my attitude changed dramatically. MarketingProfs serves as a leading-edge resource for today’s marketing environment. They are, in fact, better marketing professors than am I (or at least they’re somewhat more relevant). Likewise, six months ago HubSpot was not on my radar screen. Today, I can’t live without them and am completing the coursework for the Inbound Marketing University certification.

How Business School Marketing Departments Can Become Relevant Again

So how do the marketing departments in business schools become relevant again? We need to learn more about and catch up with the current marketing environment. Marketing, after all, isn’t stagnant. It is a living process that morphs and changes over time. The shift from traditional outbound marketing to inbound marketing went unnoticed in business schools. More interaction with those on the forefront of today’s marketing practices is needed. Joint research projects, marketing professors serving short-term internships in industry and partnering in curriculum design are three of the low-hanging fruit to consider.

Another source of change not utilized is the knowledge of marketing practitioners who serve as part-time lecturers in business schools. A quick review of the Top Marketing Professors on Twitter serves to support the contention that those in industry are more in tune with the current marketing environment than are many tenured or tenure-track marketing professors: four out of the top five listed and 23 out of the 64 included in the list are part-time lecturers. If you’ve earned your masters degree and are a marketing practitioner with skills in inbound marketing or social media marketing, please consider teaching part-time at a college or university near you.

Suggested Additional Coursework for Current Marketing Students

Although the game has changed, we haven’t significantly updated the business school or marketing curriculum in decades. In addition to supplementing their current marketing coursework through external resources, there are some skills that students can add to their marketing tool belts through their selection of elective coursework. Current marketing students may want to consider taking courses in the following topics as part of their undergraduate degree program:

Basic Web Programming (CSS, HTML, JavaScript, PHP, XHTML/XML)

English Composition (beyond English 101 and 102)

Graphic and Digital Photography Editing and Design

Interpersonal and Public Communication

Journalism

Video Production and Editing

Web Page Editing and Design

Am I missing anything? If so, please feel free to suggest additions to the list by leaving comments at the bottom of this post.

Summary

Given the snail’s pace at which things change in the university environment, marketing students need to take charge of their own education. The curriculum in business schools is likely to remain out of touch with the business environment for the foreseeable future. Some of us will try to change the institution from within but we need your assistance in requesting and demonstrating the need for change. Me? I’m looking forward to the first department meeting in September when I somehow work the phrase “stimulating link juice” into the conversation. I wonder what the reaction will be?

Share

8 thoughts on “It’s Not Your Father’s Marketing: The Problem with Marketing Education Today”

  1. Thanks for writing this interesting post on the irrelevance of marketing as taught in business schools today. To a large extent, I agree with you. Marketing faculty need to get out of their offices and learn new things. They need to rub elbows with practitioners. But, I also think many practitioners need to revisit (or learn) traditional marketing, such as target marketing (and segmentation), market research, strategy, and analytics. I’m not sure that its our core content that’s old fashioned as much as our tactics (traditional advertising, push marketing). A bigger problem is we’re not teaching enough depth and how-to. We seem too complacent with students repeating definitions on multiple choice exams and don’t make them THINK enough.

  2. Steven, this is a well pointed post. I agree with Angela that there is a two-way issue here. It brings to mind two concerns I have about the field of marketing:

    The first is I see business students coming to live marketing environments with full tracks in marketing and no idea what a creative brief is. This is just an example, but I do think the practicalities of a live marketing environment are important for students to be prepared for, and part of that is a survey of the skills you point to. When studying music arrangement in university, students learn the strengths, challenges, and ranges of each instrument in order to best create a composite whole. I see no reason why marketing students shouldn’t have a similar understanding of the toolkit they are expected to use.

    The second concern I have is that of a balance between pragmatism and sophisticated marketing know-how. I am concerned that the field of marketing is becoming deskilled by the very proliferation of technical skills required to be a marketer. I see more marketing jobs out there to update websites and cobble together campaigns than I see for what I think of when I think of a marketing professional. I worry that organisations, and subsequently the field of marketing, are losing a grasp on the core purpose of marketing. Marketing departments in small organisations are losing their ability to contribute strategically as advocates for market insights, focus on value creation, and brand alignment. So, while I agree that marketing education is lacking with regards to the practicalities of marketing, I also note the number of professionals who work in marketing that do not carry with them a marketing mindset or any of the sophisticated tools of marketing that should just keep getting better with all these new opportunities. Is that because organisational designers aren’t sold on the value that marketing can bring, or is it that marketing in these organisations hasn’t delivered value along those lines and so the roles are adjusting? I don’t know, to be honest.

    This deskilling is obviously not true across the board (and could be completely anecdotal as well.) There are great things happening in the field. I simply worry that the perception that anyone with a keyboard can be a marketer is proliferated by focusing on photography and web-page updates, and that we may end up with a sub-class of marketers stuck in those tasks while more significant value-adds take place in specialised firms conducting semiotic analysis and building advanced behavioural models. I almost want to see marketers taking psychology, sociology, and anthropology as electives rather than photography, programming, and video-skills (I could never disagree on writing and journalism, of course.)

    Ultimately I think you are spot on, despite my concerns. I also agree that enterprise and academe need more interplay to address this situation. There is a gap between the two worlds that holds so much potential value if it could be addressed.

    By the way, I am going to take your advice and look for part-time teaching opportunities nearby. No better time to start addressing this issue than now, eh?

  3. Hi Angela – thank you for your thoughtful comments. I agree that students need additional depth in the “classic” marketing courses. A solid foundation is prerequisite for proficiency. Too often, students graduate without demonstrable practical skills in marketing research, segmentation, targeting and positioning (STP) and analytics.

    A need exists to shake up the status-quo: thus the purpose of this blog post. If we can entice business schools to consider revising their curriculum to reflect the reality of our service-based economy (rather than teaching from a manufacturing and production perspective as almost all AACSB-accredited business schools do currently), it will be a victory for our students. We are fortunate to be in a position to address some of the disconnect in our own courses – and I believe that the marketing industry is willing to assist.

    If you get a chance, please read Benjamin’s comments below. You two are on the same page. Thank you for being one of the consistent readers of this blog and for posting comments! Appreciatively, Steve

  4. Hi Benjamin – thank you for your in-depth and insightful comments. You and Angela are consistent: the need exists for marketing students (and marketers) to receive more depth in classical marketing theory and applications.

    I like your example of music arrangement. It makes perfect sense and illustrates your points well. The deskilling of marketing is a concern. The solution is, as both you and Angela suggest, our providing marketing students with a stronger foundation on which to build the requisite contemporary, applied skills.

    It’s interesting that you mention psychology, sociology and anthropology. As you know, in the beginning marketing borrowed heavily from the social sciences to provide the foundation on which to build the discipline. Providing marketing students with more exposure to the social sciences and humanities is a great suggestion, especially for those interested in careers in advertising and marketing research.

    I’ll concede that photography may not be needed, but knowing how to edit and reformat photographs and graphics using, for instance, the open-source package Gimp is an important tool to add to one’s marketing tool belt. Another skill that I forgot to mention is the need to build and use relational databases. Perhaps students can learn these on their own time. This will free them up for more electives in the social sciences and humanities.

    Thank you for your comments. And please keep us posted on your teaching endeavors – you’ll make an excellent marketing professor! Appreciatively, Steve

  5. Benjamin, love what you say about deskilling. Over the years, I have had several marketing interns from the local university, and rarely do they have any skills. What students, and colleges, don’t realize is that when a fresh graduate arrives at a new job, they have to do something. They’re not there to think and theorize. Most college graduates are woefully unprepared to do something that requires a skill. A diploma does not generate income.

    So Stephen, I would add that I would like to see universities encourage and direct students to develop a skill set to go with their knowledge.

  6. Hi Jay – no harm, no foul. The important thing is that you took the time to stop by and comment.

    And, in my opinion, your comments were highly accurate. We don’t use enough active learning in the college environment and rely too much on memorizing theory.

    Hence, graduates don’t really learn marketing until after they get their first job (or internship) and have to put into practice the theory that they’ve learned.

    Appreciatively, Steve

  7. Hi Steven,

    I find this post very interesting, as it comes from a marketing educator.

    I just started teaching web marketing technologies to IT students last sem, and my experience is similar but perhaps coming from the other side of the fence.

    The objectives I set for the course were that they learn:
    * How the web is being used by different businesses to market or sell their products or services
    * Designing websites based on web marketing strategy
    * How search engines work and what this means for web marketing
    * How paid advertising is done in the web
    * Reading and using web analytics to measure the effectiveness of websites
    * Using testing and web analytics to optimize websites
    * Presenting web marketing strategy

    My (technically inclined) students had no difficulty at all building websites, learning Google Adwords (given the time they had), Google Analytics and other tools we used.

    However, they struggled with the communications part: copywriting, graphic design, branding.

    The ideal class would have been 1/2 marketing/business students and 1/2 IT students, but that seems impossible with how the university is organized. I’ll try a work-around next sem (I’m teaching management students, but will try to get some of my IT students to work with them).

    The Marketing / IT silo in education seems to be just a reflection of the silos in corporations. The best thinker I’ve found tackling this is this guy: http://www.chiefmartec.com/ Following his thrust (in a nutshell: technology has become so important to marketing, that marketing strategy requires understanding of technology) and applying it to education, it would probably mean either giving IT education to marketers or marketing education to IT folks (like Benjamin says above, it would be good for them to know [at the very least] what a creative brief is).

    Congrats on getting the IMU certification. I’ll work on mine as I use it to teach next sem =) You might also be interested in http://www.marketmotive.com/

    Cheers,
    Kahlil

Leave a Reply