Best Schools by Specialty: Marketing

Want to learn how to sell a product or service? Here are the leading programs

Schools With Top Marketing Programs

(In alphabetical order, not ranked)

University of California-Berkeley

Duke University

Harvard University

Indiana University

University of Michigan

University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill

University of Pennsylvania

Northwestern University

University of Texas-Austin

University of Virginia

Also consider: Dartmouth College, New York University, University of Rochester

Source: Recruiter and admissions consultant surveys, BusinessWeek research

Bluffers and Buyers

By Sonal Rupani

Most MBA students might have a hard time imagining their distinguished faculty members as fast-dealing card players settling in for a gritty game of Texas Hold 'em. Marketing professor Robert Blattberg from Northwestern's Kellogg School of Management, however, definitely enjoyed the occasional game of poker in his day—and recognizes that some of the appealing qualities of the game are similar to what draws him to the field of marketing.

"What I liked about poker is that it was statistical, but there was also a human component to it," he recalls. The fact that Blattberg liked to use probability to calculate his odds of winning may seem very, well, college professor-like, but like many mere players he was also attracted to the psychological components of reading people's behavior and trying to pick out the bluffers at the table.

It is this amalgamation of quantitative analysis skills with the "softer" components of being able to understand consumers that will characterize the next batch of successful marketers. With corporations holding their marketing departments increasingly more accountable, proposing a marketing plan is no longer enough—marketers must now also prove that their creative handiwork will be profitable.


It is this recent demand for marketers with a strong background in finance and data analysis that presents the newest challenge for both students and professors. Blattberg thinks not all programs are adequately preparing grads for the quantitative analysis abilities that are increasingly in demand in real-world positions.

He puts equal responsibility on faculty and students, saying part of the problem is that many marketing professors do not have enough of a finance background, while many students enjoy the creative component and tend to avoid subjects that are uncomfortable for them.

"If I was starting out in marketing today I would take courses in accounting, statistics, and marketing research," he says. "I would try to focus on developing my quantitative skills even if it was painful." He reminds MBA students that GPA doesn't really matter in the long run. What does, however, is that they are developing the skills they need to compete in the real world.


A marketing education definitely offers graduates skills that can be applied to a range of positions in the professional world. Gone is the misconception that marketing is synonymous with advertising. MBA students are now arriving more prepared and informed about exactly what the study of marketing entails. Marketing students learn that managing the relationship between the customer and seller is a complex role involving market research, product management, pricing, distribution, and promotion.

But how do B-schools go about teaching all of this? By getting students to actually do it. Case-study analyses and spirited class discussions allow students to add real world context to the marketing theory they learn. In Blattberg's class, students learn how to perform data analyses before translating this information into a concrete basis for making business decisions.

Aaron Rettaliata, a 2006 grad from the Johnson School at Cornell agrees that real-world experiences during B-school made all the difference. "Not only do we study a topic but we also have opportunities to implement the tools and approaches discussed via class projects with real companies and additional projects through the student-run venture fund or consulting arm."

Rettaliata says this has helped him put his education into practice every day at his job. "Whether it is doing financial valuation models, problem-solving a strategy issue, or approaching or working with a person whose background and ideas are different from mine, I've found these skills to be instrumental in making me more successful."

Rupani is an intern for BusinessWeek in New York

Why Major in Marketing?

Mark Frigion has come a long way since his pre-MBA days when he dabbled in entrepreneurship with his own digital photography company. Making a common mistake, Frigion neglected to define his target customer base, instead going the route of trying to serve as many people as he possibly could.

"It was an amazing experience, but looking back, a lot of the challenge that I faced was understanding who my customer was and how to appeal to that customer," he recalls. "I came at it from 'Hey, let's create a bunch of features and try to be the most innovative Web site.'"

In hindsight, using the marketing skills that he has since acquired, Frigion realizes that he designed a Web site ideal for "feature-chasers" who were simply after the hottest new function and would easily switch over to a competitor the moment they were promised a flashier feature, leaving him with a less loyal customer base than other businesses.


In his current product management position for Hewlett-Packard (HPQ), Frigion recognizes how his marketing degree—from Northwestern's Kellogg school—has given him a set of statistical and negotiation skills he has used on the job. Coordinating with vendors has helped him develop micromanagement skills that could serve him well in the future. "I think a marketing major in no way prevents you from pursuing more general management-type roles," Frigion says. "It is a great learning ground for developing into a higher-level executive."

Marketers are becoming more recognized in the corporate world for the balance of skills they can bring to the table, and it shows in the kinds of jobs for which marketing grads are getting picked up. When it comes down to it, marketing skills are ideal not only for traditional marketing jobs such as product management and advertising but are transferable to paths such as general management, consultancy, and entrepreneurship.

Second-year marketing student Stephanie Shields Jacoby says that while marketing is her primary interest, her long-term goal is to work her way up to a general management or executive-level position. She chose to attend because she recognizes that it is important to develop a range of skills for a management position and she liked Stanford's entrepreneurial focus. "Any good business person or general manager has to be a good entrepreneur," she explains. "The best way I've heard brand management described by people is that it is relatively low-risk entrepreneurship."


The well-rounded quantitative "core" skills that most MBAs take their first year really influence future specialized classes. In one of her current marketing classes, Channels Management, Jacoby says she is using economics and strategy methods that she learned in her initial first-year courses to determine how the market is shifting and how to manage channel difficulties.

So while she admits that all grads leave Stanford with a well-rounded MBA, she chose her specialization in marketing because of the balance between the creative and analytical elements. "Having a broader MBA where you've gotten a good dose of both finance and operations, I think that will serve you better in the long term," she says.

Michelle Fuhrman, a 2006 graduate from the Johnson School at Cornell, offers another example of the versatile options open to a marketing graduate. She specialized in marketing and strategy, but the technical and analytical skills she picked up in B-school have been crucial to her success as a consultant.


In addition to using Excel modeling, finance, and statistics, and the best marketing practices, she said the emphasis on teamwork and leadership within the marketing and strategy specializations have helped her adjust to the corporate environment. "You're primed for being thrown into situations where any or all of these skills will be needed," she says. "You are able to add value immediately in your job."

But regardless of career path, all MBA students should have a working foundation in marketing concepts. Wharton marketing professor Dawn Iabucci says, "Students are going to be better skilled at making broader, corporate-level decisions if they're also skilled at marketing." Understanding your customer is important at all levels, and even non-marketing majors should have a basic level of proficiency in the field. "Fine, be a finance guy," Iabucci says, "but be a finance guy with an edge on marketing and be a better finance guy."

Iabucci also stresses the need for students in traditional marketing roles to be well-rounded to cope with the additional demands they face in the workplace. "CEOs nowadays don't want to dabble, they want to see a return on their marketing investment," she says. It's a serious requirement to show that a marketing plan is going to profit the company and marketing graduates should have strong finance and data analysis skills to be able to back up their proposals.


How to Choose a School for Marketing

Many B-schools offer a solid grounding. Keep in mind the following factors when deciding which marketing program is best for you:

•If the school you're interested in has academic departments, then your first stop is the marketing group's Web site. A strong program will do a good job of communicating its philosophy.

•Pore over the electives offered in marketing. If you're unsure of your career path, you'll be better served at a school that offers a wide range of electives.

•Review how often the best electives are offered. Remember, a great elective is only helpful if you can get a seat in the class.

•Ensure that the star faculty members you see listed in brochures actually teach in the MBA program.

•Check to make sure the school offers opportunities to test your marketing skills, either in class or through field projects involving companies that are affiliated with the B-school.

Where Do You Go With a Marketing Concentration?

“Day in the Life” features from MBAs working in marketing, plus career and recruiter interviews

Pushing the Right Buttons

Two Wheel Drive at Specialized

Peaks and Valleys

Stage-Managing the Theater of Sales

Minding Ps & Queues in London

Marketing Moves at the Mouse House

The Hard Truth About "Soft" Courses

Heeding the Call of Duty

Brushing Up on L'Oréal

Taco Bell: Careers to Go

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