MBA Programs in Marketing

Can business school give marketing specialists an edge in an ever-changing field?

You don't have to be a marketing whiz to notice that marketing is changing. Just spend five minutes on Facebook or YouTube, and you'll probably get the idea - brands communicate with consumers much differently than they did even five years ago. The growing importance of technology and social networks is also visible in politics. Just ask Barack Obama, named the 2008 "Marketer of the Year" by Advertising Age.

Actually, marketing is constantly changing, just as industries, technology, and consumer habits change. Can getting an MBA help marketing specialists stay afloat in a sea of constant change?

Just about every MBA program requires some kind of marketing class. But for students who want to focus on it during their one or two years in business school, there are a few dozen business schools worldwide that are particularly strong in the field.

How strong an MBA program is in marketing depends a lot on the size and caliber of its specialized faculty. Most top-ranked programs have faculties deeply engaged in research and publication. When these researchers are also good teachers, so much the better.

Of course, having a famous marketing guru on the faculty doesn't hurt either. When a professor publishes groundbreaking work, his or her school's reputation can benefit for years.

"The school affiliation of the 'pioneer professor' plays a role," says Dominique Hanssens, who chairs the marketing faculty at UCLA Anderson. Hanssens cites the example of Philip Kotler at Northwestern Kellogg.

"He has written some very important marketing books at a critical time in marketing's history as a discipline, and is widely recognized for that," says Hanssens. "A lot of the MBA students from 20 or more years ago have read these books, and many of them are now in senior managerial positions. That established a reputation, a long-term effect that Kellogg is able to capitalize on." 

So, where will the next Phil Kotlers come from? Leading marketing programs, like those at Kellogg, Columbia, Duke Fuqua, Wharton, IESE, and HEC Paris will certainly continue to produce influential work, but Hanssens says there's a good chance that the next big thing might hail from innovation hubs like California.

"Major changes in marketing strategy and the marketing paradigm itself are related to the information age. So, guess what: the California schools are doing very well, in part because this is where Apple, Google, Yahoo!, eBay, Facebook, Adobe, and other trend-setting companies are located."

Changing pitch

"Marketing is changing in the sense that the word marketing is more and more associated with the word innovation," says Paola Cillo, who teaches marketing at SDA Bocconi in Milan. "We are trying to explore how to take an innovative approach to marketing - a new way of communicating with consumers and collaborating with consumers."

"But I have to say that the basic approach to marketing - how companies actually consider marketing - hasn't changed that much," adds Cillo. "What is actually changing are the opportunities that they have to put this general approach into practice."

While the professors might be hard at work digesting trends, how much are MBA students actually connected to the evolution of marketing? How much innovation do they really learn in their courses?

According to Simon Pervan, a lecturer at the University of Bath School of Management, a strong marketing MBA program should always be "cutting-edge."

"An MBA program should not just reinforce existing knowledge," says Pervan, "but give new knowledge that students can apply to the various contexts that they bring to the classroom."

Even the core, first-term marketing courses required of all MBA students ought to cover current and future trends. The deeper students go into marketing electives, the more they will learn about the evolution of marketing research, strategy, pricing, product development, communication, and brand management.

Ideally, MBA grads who have focused on marketing will be well-equipped to deal with the twists and turns of change, regardless of whether they go to work for a start-up, an industry leader, or the future president.

Photo: Pedro Szekely / Creative Commons

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