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From Student to Marketer – Bridging the Gap

“Ladies and Gentlemen of the class of 2010, understand profitability.  If I could offer you only one tip for the future profitability would be it”

……but more from Baz Luhrmann later…….
As a marketing lecturer, the second most common question I get asked (next to, “what is coming up on the exam”?) is “how am I ever going to get a job in marketing?”. Worse than this, in the students where the glass seems perpetually half empty, the statement “I am never going to get a job in marketing” reverberates every year as the academic term is coming to a close.  Now, what is interesting is that this sentiment appears to transcend gender, age and academic achievements, and was heard as loudly during the “Celtic Tiger” era as it is now in our economic recession.  Essentially, no marketing student seems to think they are going to get a job in marketing.  For a marketing lecturer who has spent years working with these students this is a disheartening sentiment to constantly hear, but more than that, it is a frustrating one.  Why is it that these bright, intelligent, articulate students, these Generation Y students who are constantly being told that they are the chosen ones, the future, the ones who are connected; why is it that these students think they won’t get a job in marketing? 

The wired generation

How can this disconnect exist? How can these students not realise that they are “it”.  They are the future marketers.  They are the wired generation, the avid consumers, they understand brands, they are constantly ‘plugged in’ and they know more about social media usage in Ireland than most Irish companies do.  In fact, recent research has shown that there is a significant gap between Irish consumers and Irish enterprises in terms of social media usage, with companies struggling to catch up with consumers.  The research identified that this gap exists more so due to a lack of knowledge on the part of the companies rather than a lack of desire to use digital media.

These marketing students have that knowledge that companies need; they just don’t seem to realize this.  Perhaps it is our fault, perhaps as lecturers, we are too concerned with theory delivery and ensuring that our students get good results, rather than focusing on the practical knowledge and skills they require to make the transition from student to marketer.  Perhaps we need to move away from the old guard of Kotler and company and instead teach marketing from the perspective of Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg.  And while there might be merit in this argument, I am not so convinced that this alone is the answer. I believe the students have the skills and the knowledge to make the transition from student to marketer; they just need to leverage and improve on those skills to find their way in a constantly changing global landscape. We need to merge the old with the new.

The rules have changed

So just how do we do that?  How is marketing changing and what do students need to know and have to do to “get that job” in marketing.  Well marketing now exists in a network era, where all the rules have changed and all the company stakeholders are talking to each other and to the company in ways unimaginable only a few years ago.  We have moved from a time of monologue to constant dialogue.  We are moving into a new world where there is increased recognition of marketing’s role and position at the boardroom table. Marketing intelligence must be gathered continuously through ongoing data collection and research activities to provide insights for company decision making.   The rapid pace of change in globalization, computerization, management hierarchies, corporate responsibility etc.  have created a situation where high-quality marketing intelligence is essential for long and short term decision making.   Such market knowledge gives an organization the opportunity to lead the direction of industry development and compete for market position and market share. 

Marketing therefore is no longer only about 4P strategies, communications programmes and action plans; it is no longer a silo activity but rather it is becoming the core of the company that is brand and innovation driven.  Marketing should focus not only on “what is” the existing solution(s) to customers’ problems, but also on “what isn’t” – those new ideas, products, processes and methods which provide innovative breakthroughs to satisfy needs.  These conditions require our marketers to have finely tuned creative and conceptual skills as well as the ability to process information and make informed judgments. 

Customers needs

Innovation succeeds in so far as customers’ needs are satisfied, and who understands and is closest to the customer better than the marketer?  Where once we taught students to identify customers’ needs so as to develop marketing strategies, we now need to show students how understanding those customers’ needs and gaining such customer insight drives innovation in a company.  That innovation drives business growth and profitability, positioning marketing firmly at the board room table. Students have the skills required to identify and understand customers’ needs, they now need to leverage that ability to take those customer insights and turn them into the drivers of business growth and profitability.  Students need to be confident about the future of marketing.  They need to develop a vision about the organization’s markets and the possible future direction of change.  They need to understand how they can “get that job” by thinking about marketing in a “visionary” way, by leveraging their technology skills and becoming better communicators. 

A recent Oftcom report (18th August 2010) found that adults aged between 16 and 24 spend six hours and 35 minutes a day on the phone, laptop, radio or television. But by multitasking – effectively using two or more devices at once – the survey found that young adults were able to squeeze the equivalent of nine hours 32 minutes worth of consumption into that time.  Students – you may not realize it, but all that time spent “plugged in” is doing more for you than increasing your online profile; it is equipping you with the technology and communication skills that many companies so badly need. 

Getting to grips with the web

Your proliferation in collaborative writing, web logs, video content sharing, consumer opinion platforms and podcasting might be just what that company needs to link with customers.  While some companies are only getting to grips with Web 2.0 you are probably already speculating about what ‘Web 3.0’ and beyond holds for internet users.  This begs the question of how these new applications will affect those that are currently in vogue, and ultimately how it will shape and reshape online media.  The dynamism of web innovation is perhaps beyond prediction; however, it continues to be driven by social interaction between networks of individuals of which you are an important player. 

So back to Baz Luhrmann, and while he might have been advocating for sunscreen, I am advocating for profitability.  Understand profitability.  Marketing student groans are loudly heard in the classroom when anything remotely related to figures and profitability comes up; it is almost as if figures are solely for the accountants and not for the marketers.  Big mistake. As a marketer you will only succeed if you understand what drives profitability, if you understand how marketing drives business growth and if you understand the business impact of your marketing decisions. 

For marketing to be the core of the company, marketing must drive the company, it must have the ideas to grow the company and it must remain competitive in a world of hyper competition.  Students, you need to view customers as assets that impact on shareholder value and you need to line internal systems up with customer value imperatives.  You must move beyond looking at customers as needs to be satisfied and move to regarding them as central to company success and profitability.  You must consider the impact of every decision that you make in the knowledge that the company is driven by those decisions. 

So yes, “Enjoy the power and beauty of your youth, but trust me on the profitabililty”.