Bridging the Gap: How to Prepare Business Students for the Convergence of Marketing and Technology

May 24, 2013

The Review

By Michele L. Cunningham, Lecturer, University of Denver Daniels College of Business

Spring is in the air and soon-to-be college grads everywhere have one thing in common: employment anxiety.  While a handful of students have summer excursions to Europe on the agenda and dream jobs lined up for fall, many dread graduation for lack of full employment.  Energetic marketing students seek out faculty hoping for an angle or connection that will jumpstart their marketing careers. What they really need is a background in technology.

The unemployment rate for recent college graduates is nearly 9%, but there is good news for business students and marketing majors in particular.  According to a 2012 Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce report, the unemployment rate among recent graduates holding business degrees is among the lowest at 7.4% with marketing majors registering slightly lower.  Advertising and marketing industry managers often prefer to hire marketing majors, but are now looking for students who are also adept in technology.

By all accounts hiring in digital and social media sectors is rising.  Experience with digital and internet marketing is in demand by employers.  In a recent blog post for Forbes, Steve Eleveld, CEO of digital marketing software provider, Optify, predicts a doubling in the number of digital marketing agencies within the next 3-5 years due to the explosion of content marketing and the need for data analytics.  In fact, the Content Marketing Institute (CMI) reports that 25% of B2B marketing budgets are dedicated to content marketing and half of marketers will increase those budgets in 2013.

That’s good news for marketing grads.  Why?  The same CMI study notes that content creation is the biggest challenge posed by content marketing.  Organizations need creative marketing minds to develop rich, relevant, and consistent content.  But they also need technicians who understand how to leverage and optimize content via SEO, multiple mediums and social networks.  Throw mobile marketing, linking, and cross promotional strategies into the mix and companies have a need for employees with marketing and technical skill sets.

Consider the application question posed by a boutique advertising firm seeking a summer intern:  “Using social media, creatively convince us that you are creative.”  The marketing student came up with a clever idea:  she created a text message describing her personal value statement replacing key words with emoji but then she hit a wall.  She lacked the technical skills to transfer that idea across platforms and insert it into the on-line job application.  The student came up with a work-around and has landed an interview, but struggled to leverage the necessary technology to share her idea.  This is one of the missing links for many marketing students and practitioners.

Marketing educators have long extolled the virtues of Integrated Marketing Communications (IMC), but today’s marketing leaders are grappling with integrating digital and social media across multiple channels and technology platforms.  How can higher education meet the needs of employers?   Preparing business students for the demands of the digital marketing world starts with coursework but requires experience and a new way of thinking. The three C’s for helping students bridge the gap and prepare for the convergence of marketing and technology are:

1 – Curriculum integration.  Many schools offer stand-alone digital marketing courses, both on-line and classroom.  Others, like the University of Michigan offer undergraduate degrees in Digital Marketing.  Locally, the Daniels College of Business at the University of Denver provides undergraduate and graduate courses as well as a Digital Marketing Certificate program.  Digital marketing programs should be comprehensive and must include traditional marketing, information systems management, social, local and mobile marketing.  Ultimately, the demands of “doing business digitally” require the cross-functional cooperation of business units throughout the organization – not just IT and marketing. 

The Daniels College of Business has launched an innovative approach to curriculum integration through its Foundations of Business and Management class.  In ten weeks each student must create, develop, and execute an on-line application that considers the strategic objectives as well as the human, financial and IT resources of the organization.  Ideally, the undergraduate business curriculum anticipates the trends and needs of businesses and enables students to understand and solve complex business problems.  Students who master coursework that reflects the need for marketing, management and technical expertise will be more prepared to ride the convergence wave.

2 – Corporate outreach and experience.  Because it is an evolving discipline, there are more industry professionals than PhDs in the digital marketing arena.  Therefore, marketing educators must extend their reach to corporations bringing expertise to their students.  The University of South Florida recognized this need and partnered with local businesses to create free workshops in SEO, analytics and social media.  Guest lecturers, subject matter experts, clinical professors and executive education are also avenues for addressing ever-evolving marketing trends and technologies.

The conundrum for many students continues to be employers’ desire for relevant digital marketing experience and the students’ lack of it.  Gone are the days when marketing departments would hire anyone under the age of 25 assuming the casual use of social media was sufficient experience for a digital marketing position.  Closing the convergence gap means addressing the experience gap as well. Business schools like Daniels that promote and facilitate internship programs encompassing digital marketing opportunities place their students ahead of the curve and reduce the experience gap. 

3 – Changing mindsets.  Ask a marketing student what she wants to do when she graduates and the typical answer is, “I don’t know”.  My stock answer has always been, “That’s ok, I do. Sales,” since the majority of college grads wind up in a customer-facing position upon graduation.  This response is typically met with a hearty degree of skepticism and disappointment.  Many marketing students envision themselves doing “something creative or innovative”.  There’s good news and bad news here.  The good news is that the hiring landscape is shifting and marketing students have another option – one that is potentially much more creative than sales – digital marketing.  The bad news is that the creativity comes with a catch.  Students must not simply embrace technology, but must understand its language, relationship to marketing, capabilities and limitations.

Businesses are racing to meet the digital consumption habits of consumers and organizational buyers while business schools are scrambling to graduate students with the knowledge and skill sets to lead organizations in the digital era.  By working together to (1) design relevant curriculum which integrates both the marketing and IT disciplines, (2) provide real world opportunities and learning, and (3) inspire students to shift their thinking, educators and business leaders will begin to close the gap between technology and marketing.

Michele Cunningham is a Lecturer at the University of Denver Daniels College of Business. She is also Chair of the Marketing Roundtable that features noted marketers from across the United States relating their marketing successes. To reach Michele, email her at Michele.lutz@du.edu. For information on the Marketing Roundtable, go online to daniels.du.edu/marketingroundtable.