I just got back from driving cross-country to move my son out for his freshman year of college at SDSU in California. He has decided to follow in his mother’s footsteps and is getting a business degree in marketing. As I sat through orientation and then through the Freshman Convocation, it made me stop and think about how much our industry has changed since my undergrad days and even my MBA days. The next generation of business-to-business marketers needs to learn a very different skill set than what the majority of college-educated marketers in the workforce today learned.
The biggest change in the last five years to corporate marketing is definitely the impact of social media. Many of today’s college students have grown up using Facebook, but there is so much more they need to learn to effectively use social media in the business world. Universities across the country are starting to incorporate social media in their curriculum. Even prestigious schools like MIT, Harvard Business School and Columbia are addressing the corporate demand for social-network-savvy employees. The students need to learn more than how the different social networks work. They need to learn how to do effective listening, how to run effective social media marketing efforts, and most importantly, how to leverage social media for a two-way dialogue with their customers versus a push marketing effort. Classroom learning can also be enhanced through student chapters of organizations like Social Media Club, where students can learn from each other and from real industry leaders.
Another key area where students need to build skills is international marketing. Very few companies today only market their products in the home country of that company. It is important for students to not only learn about the economies, customs and cultures of countries around the globe, but it is also important to understand what marketing methods are most effective in those countries. For example, SMS adverting is perfectly acceptable in many Asian markets, even though it is unwelcome in the US. For events in Australia, it is still important to send a hard copy invitation. In other parts of the world, an email is preferred. Billboards are one of the most effective marketing vehicles in India, but in parts of Europe they are considered offensive.
Business schools also need to teach their students about the changing market dynamics that both globalization and the Internet have brought about. Marketers can no longer rely on just the standard “four Ps” of marketing—product, pricing, promotion and placement, in defining their marketing mix. That may apply to mass marketing, but niche marketing to the long tail of the marketplace and the ability to position your offering for different uses in different markets turns traditional thinking on its head.
Marketing intelligence and real-time analysis of the competition are also key skills the next generation of business marketers will need. Competition comes not only from the usual suspects, but from innovative startups or foreign competitors who can create the same thing for less. The smart marketers of tomorrow will need to learn how to place the right offering directly in front of the right prospects at the right time in the buying cycle more dynamically to win in the marketplace of competitors of all sizes from all corners of the world.
It is a volatile, yet exciting time to enter the field of business-to-business marketing. Those students with passion and flexibility who want to drive new ways of executing marketing will do well. Those who want to focus on book learning and applying only traditional marketing paradigms and approaches will not.