Why Digital Marketing MBAs Are Becoming Increasingly Important

Why Digital Marketing MBAs Are Becoming Increasingly Important main image

In the 1960s-set American drama series “Mad Men”, the marketing dons of Madison Avenue in New York City made the function famous, relying on psychology, creativity and charm to create powerful narratives that tapped into consumers’ aspirations.

These days, marketeers must combine the creative side with data and technology; using video, digital engineering and analytics to deliver content seamlessly across a myriad of platforms, from laptops to smartphones.

Time changes everything

Marketing’s digital revolution has completely transformed the types of jobs on offer and the work today, prompting business schools to change the way they teach marketing as a function.

Sophie Drouard, career and development manager at HEC Paris business school in France says, “The luxury sector, like many other sectors, is experiencing the digital transformation.

“As today’s consumers are rapidly turning to e-commerce, it has become an ongoing challenge for companies to ensure the best online market experience for customers.

“As a consequence, they’re specifically chasing qualified and motivated talent to succeed in this rapidly changing area.”

Endless possibilities

Today MBA students can explore a wide range of careers in the field, including roles that focus on defining and communicating brands, acquiring new customers to use products and services, retaining them, and gaining business insights using data and analytics.

Drouard says, “There’s a clear increase in demand for omni channel marketers. Data science is also becoming the new Eldorado, with high competition between companies to attract this talent.”

Andrew Stephen, associate dean of research and L’Oréal professor of marketing at the Saïd Business School, adds, “There’s a skills gap that needs to be filled.

“Often what students learn in MBA courses is appropriate at a higher level, because we’re preparing them to be good decision makers and effective leaders.

“But in the digital marketing space, there’s a lot of important, lower-level and tactical things that they need to understand to be able to manage teams effectively.”

Staying relevant

In keeping with the fast-changing nature of marketing, business schools must frequently update the curriculum to keep abreast with recent changes.

Three years ago the UK’s Saïd overhauled its MBA marketing curriculum: a lot more emphasis is now placed on digital, technology, and data-driven and analytics-based approaches.

Marc Vanhuele, marketing professor at HEC Paris says, “Marketing is a field that evolves constantly (unlike, for instance, accounting) and we therefore adapt the content of our core courses.

“Marketing is digital now and a marketing core course that does not integrate this reality would be irrelevant.”

In fact, the two topics of social media and data analytics are so important to marketeers, that HEC created dedicated courses on the subjects.

But Vanhuele says that the school is not training ‘digital marketers’ per-se, “The term ‘digital marketing’ refers to specialized and rather technical functions.

“We train our students to become good business developers who know how to use digital tools and how know how to stay connected with customers and prospects through digital channels.”

Using your skills wisely

MBAs who have experience with a major tech firm or a track record in digital transformation in a related field such as FMCG would be a strong asset to luxury companies.

But, HEC’s Drouard says, “It’s not always easy to enter the luxury universe coming from another industry. Students should demonstrate a keen eye for quality and detail, and a desire to understand the customer’s continually evolving needs.”

One of the biggest changes to the business school marketing curriculum in recent years is an increased focus on ethics. High-profile scandals have focused attention on the – often unchecked – power wielded by digital platforms over our lives;  like the Facebook/Cambridge Analytica scandal which found that social media users’ data was used to build manipulative political advertising campaigns.

Saïd’s Stephen says, “We feel strongly that marketers must collect, store, process, and use customer data appropriately, lawfully, and ethically.

“We discuss these kinds of issues extensively throughout all courses, and there are very much ‘ripped from the headlines’ topics that come up all the time.”

He believes there’s much misunderstanding about how consumer data is stored and used in digital advertising.

Stephen says, “I find that once our students understand how things like programmatic advertising and precision ad targeting work - and what is and isn’t possible - they’re more capable to understand and debate the ethical issues.”

But he rejects suggestions that marketing is inherently unethical. “Marketing should be a force for good in business and society, and most marketing practice is very responsible.”

Whether good or bad, one thing is certain: the Mad Men days of marketing are surely over.

Seb Murray
Written by Seb Murray

Seb is a journalist and consulting editor who has developed a successful track record writing about business, education and technology for the international press.

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