World’s Best B-School Professors: Kevin Lane Keller

Kevin Lane Keller
Tuck School of Business

Age: 55

Claim to Fame: Marketing and branding guru


Duke University, PhD, Marketing
Carnegie-Mellon University, MBA, Marketing
Cornell University, AB, Economics and Mathematics

At Tuck Since: 1998

Before Tuck: Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Fun Fact: In my so-called spare time, I help to manage and market, as well as serve as executive producer, for one of Australia’s great rock and roll treasures, The Church, as well as American power-pop legends Tommy Keene and Dwight Twilley. 

If I wasn’t teaching, my dream job would be: Running a music label or club

Best part of the job: The duality of research and teaching. They are very different activities in many ways.  With research, you spend hundreds of hours by yourself, or perhaps with a colleague or two, thinking about a problem and possible solution, crafting a study, writing a paper, etc. With teaching, you have very immediate interactions with a wide variety of students inside and outside the classroom and try to teach – as well as learn from them – as best as you can. Yet, as different as they are, the two activities are also inextricably intertwined too:  Research informs teaching, and teaching guides research.

Worst part of the job: Besides trying to find a parking space? And of course, grading? The toughest part of the job for me is figuring out how to manage my time. It always seems like there is never enough time and you can end up feeling bad at times that you didn’t spend enough time on your research, your teaching, or your family. Striking the right balance can be difficult.

Some of the world’s most recognized brands have been entrusted to the hands of Professor Kevin Lane Keller. American Express, Starbucks, Disney, Ford, and Procter & Gamble have picked the professor’s brain at one time or another seeking his advice on how to make their brands more enjoyable for consumers. That’s because Keller’s expertise and insights have made him the go-to guy on this somewhat intangible business strategy.

He is the author of Strategic Brand Management, a textbook that clinched the title as all-time best-selling introductory text for marketing when its 12th edition was published. The flagship textbook—soon to be on its 15th edition—is used by top business schools and organizations, and has been nicknamed the “bible of branding.”

Despite his reputation and textbook success, Professor Keller says he mostly tries to keep a low profile. Looking back on his days as a senior Mathematics major at Cornell University, Keller says he had no idea what he wanted to with his life. To end up teaching at a top business school, the professor says, “I’m just thankful. It’s a really great life.”

Keller didn’t just happen to become a business professor. He was somewhat coerced by his father. “He planted a bug in my ear to consider business school after I finished undergrad. Then once I finished my MBA, others encouraged me to keep going and pursue the PhD to teach.” And so he did. Afterward, moving on to teach at leading B-schools including Stanford, Berkeley, and now the Tuck School.

When he’s not teaching MBAs and executives, doing consulting work, doing research, or working on the next edition of his best-selling textbook, Keller is a Rock’n Roll enthusiast. So much so that he volunteers his time and expertise as brand manager and roadie with the Australian rock band The Church, plus two other U.S. based artists. While others donate their time and treasures to the opera and the symphony, this professor says his heart belongs to Rock’n Roll.

Students Say

“I had the great opportunity to both take Professor Keller’s class and work with him as a research assistant in my second year at Tuck. Both provided me with the chance to learn from Professor Keller’s own research and his firsthand experience working with the top global marketing companies. Professor Keller has an incredible ability to make intangible marketing concepts tangible, and his teaching style perfectly balances academic theory with “real-life” examples.  For someone who will be pursuing brand management after school, having the chance to learn from Professor Keller was a professional dream come true – and one of the highlights of my time at Tuck, both academic and otherwise.” — Katie Dougherty T’11

“Dr. Keller’s scholarship record speaks for itself – but he’s actually a better teacher and than he is scholar. His interpersonal skills are superior, which allows him to connect with students to a deeper depth than other comparably brilliant academics working from the same bundle of content. He’s also a terrific guy that happens to be a professor, and not the other way around.” — Jeffrey Davidson T’11