Biz Tips: Do university marketing degrees teach the skills modern marketers need?

Biz Tips: Do university marketing degrees teach the skills modern marketers need?


Do university marketing degrees teach the skills modern marketers need?

Are graduates equipped with the expertise an increasingly data-driven field requires?

Photo by Charles DeLoye on Unsplash

A recent article in Marketing Week discussed whether universities were properly equipping their graduates for a career in marketing. With marketing producing ever larger amounts of data, combined with a desire to have more certainty when assigning attribution, it certainly seems as though having a range of data analysis and statistical skills would be helpful to any marketer — something that the industry is aware of — but are those skills a priority and a focus for the universities?

How marketing can fill its data skills gap by rethinking its recruitment strategy

I wondered, in these data-driven marketing times, how many universities were teaching these skills as part of their marketing courses and, in particular, how many of them made this a selling point in their online course descriptions.

Looking at the course descriptions

I took at a look at the course overview descriptions for the marketing degrees of the top 25 UK universities for marketing according to the Complete University Guide.

University course webpage design covers quite a spectrum; from single pages that provide a good overview of the course and the modules that make up each year, to single, short pages that tell you the course name, how much it costs and what the entry requirements, with the majority of the curriculum explained elsewhere.

Follow Chris on Twitter.

For the purposes of this brief investigation, I searched Google for {name of university from top 25 list} marketing, and considered the text for the top-ranking page for an undergraduate level degree. In a very small number of cases where the landing page did not feature any real description of the curriculum, I clicked through to the next level of page.

As I was really focussed on how universities sold data and analytics skills as part of the course, I didn’t spend time going looking for it; I wanted to see what the universities considered the most important parts of the curriculum; the learning outcomes that they wanted to showcase.

Having built a dataframe of universities and course description copy, I first wanted a quick overview of the courses: what were they called and what types of degree were being offered:

The most common course name being ‘marketing’ was not particularly surprising, but I did not expect to see that the majority of undergraduate courses would be Bachelor of Science degrees, with BSc degrees outnumbering BA degrees in the top 25 universities.

Looking at top word use in the course descriptions, the top 25 words by count didn’t show anything particularly unexpected, with ‘marketing’, ‘management’ and ‘business’ taking the top three spots. The student and learning focus was also evident, with ‘students’ and ‘skills’ completing the top five. The rest of the top words included text more related to a marketing curriculum, with words such as ‘consumer’, ‘placement’, ‘digital’ and ‘international’ being common:

Looking for the presence of the keywords ‘data’, ‘analytics’ or ‘statistics’, showed that only three of the 25 universities used these terms on their course description pages. Of course, as mentioned previously, more universities may discuss these on additional course curriculum pages, but they didn’t highlight them on the course homepages.

Looking for the presence of these keywords by degree type, all three universities that used these words offered their marketing qualification as a BSc, rather than a BA:

An opportunity for institutions?

Looking at these, albeit general, findings, it certainly seems as though the data and analytics aspects of marketing are not currently a focus for the majority of university marketing courses. Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t more courses that do include these areas in their courses, but, if they do, they don’t yet seem to be considered an important enough selling point to mention on course overview pages.

After mentioning on Twitter that I was going to take a look at how marketing courses were teaching data skills, I received a reply saying that the Institute of Technology, Carlow, had just launched a new course — a BSc in Digital Marketing with Analytics — with the first intake of students due to start in September 2019, so it will be interesting to see how many other universities follow suit.

As marketing continues to become ever more data-driven, I am looking forward to seeing how universities respond to this, as it’s not without its challenges. While there is an increasing use of data, marketing is still about creativity and fundamental business principles.

I’m certainly not suggesting that these are dispensed with in order to teach advanced skills in building and optimising deep learning models, but a course or two in data cleaning and manipulation and a few choice techniques might make all the difference, even if that difference is just an improved ability to communicate with specialist data scientists on the team, in the same way that it wouldn’t hurt for data science courses to teach some basic marketing, HR and finance…

In some ways, I’m not surprised by how few universities discussed data analysis and statistics in their course overviews. The content on these web pages isn’t intended for employers, it’s written for high school students who are looking for courses they might want to apply for. Would giving more attention to analytics and statistics on these pages put off a significant number of potential students?

With senior marketers talking in the industry press about the challenges of recruiting the appropriate skills to fill their analytics gap, this would suggest that there is a market for analytics-trained marketers. With so few universities teaching these skills, or making it clear that they do teach them, there may well be an opportunity for those that make data and analytics a part of their core marketing curriculum, and make a point of putting it front and centre in their course materials.

For further adventures where marketing meets data science, follow Chris on Twitter.

Code used to analyse website text and prepare figures in this article can be found on GitHub.

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