What an MBA can offer marketers

MBA students want to be able to leverage data to better engage consumers
Business schools are adapting to the industry’s needs, but the course isn’t for everyone
AN MBA can open doors in any profession. But the rise of mobile technology has transformed the marketing landscape in recent years, and the skills taught on MBA courses can put graduates in a better position to help brands embrace big data, develop more sophisticated segmentations, and use analytics to tailor messaging to a consumer’s personal tastes.
“There’s been a real push towards digital marketing, and a shift towards analytics,” says David Morris, head of corporate sectors at London Business School’s career centre. “Now, students both from big corporates and entrepreneurial backgrounds want to understand data.” The use of mobile phones, smartphones, laptops and tablets is increasing sharply among Britons, and those who can harness data, and help brands to target consumers with products and services specific to their needs, will reap the rewards.
Business schools are adapting their MBA courses to meet these demands. Cambridge Judge has incorporated marketing into the core teaching of its MBA course, and runs electives around digital marketing, consumer behaviour, and managing big data analysis.
The generalist skills taught on an MBA course are useful for marketers too. “Along with the insights the course will provide into marketing itself, the more general leadership skills will be invaluable,” says Oli Templeton, manager for marketing recruitment at Robert Walters. Deft management has become a real priority in marketing, and talented leaders are increasingly necessary to demolish the barriers between media buying, content strategy and social media within agencies, and foster cooperation.
Spreading influence is also crucial in the marketing industry, and an MBA is a good opportunity to build connections with like-minded students, agency networks and brands. Companies like WPP and Google maintain strong ties with leading schools, hosting events, giving speeches, and courting aspiring executives.
Many in the industry say the qualification is not crucial to progression, however, and most MBA graduates do not subsequently enter marketing roles. Only 8 per cent of Insead’s 2014 cohort took a job in marketing or sales after graduation, for example, compared to 43 per cent who went into consulting. But some think this is changing. “Although holding an MBA is not atypical in the marketing sphere, their prominence is growing,” says Cecile Gani, business development lead in MBA careers at Cambridge Judge. “Marketing professionals are increasingly expected to understand all business functions in their organisation, as well as integrating into top level decision making.”
But the course content around marketing is becoming increasingly technical at a number of respected institutions. London Business School, for example, offers the opportunity for students to get to grips with tools and platforms like Google AdWords, encouraging them to think how they can boost sales. The University of Oxford’s Saïd Business School already offers an elective exploring ways to harness the potential of social media platforms – useful channels for turning consumers into advocates of a brand, product or service. London Business School will launch a similar course in the new year.
In addition, Oxford runs a digital marketing strategy elective, taught in New York, which looks at the tools used by successful corporations to develop digital marketing and web branding strategies, and the techniques and frameworks from them. “We also offer an elective in retailing,” says Raquel Lison, associate director of MBA recruitment. “Although not directly focused on marketing, it provides a detailed understanding and critical awareness of the retail industry within a buyer driven value chain which many marketers find invaluable.”
But the decision to do an MBA should not be taken lightly, not least given the cost. “For more junior professionals such as marketing executives, it would have limited value,” says Robert Walters’s Templeton. “In these types of roles a more specific vocational qualification from the Chartered Institute of Marketing would be more useful.”

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