The Best MBA Programs In Marketing

Kellogg School of Management's new global hub now under construction

Kellogg School of Management’s new global hub now under construction

“Marketing has changed.”

There’s an understatement. A decade ago, marketing and sales were divided like church and state. And marketing departments themselves were often organized by function. Each area had its own data – but never the whole picture of the customer.

As the digital revolution has accelerated, silos have become dangerous.  Customers have grown much more powerful too, says Greg Carpenter, a professor of marketing strategy at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management. They have access to unlimited info – and to each other too.


And this has become a blessing and a curse. With countless touch points, marketers can collect, segment, and connect more data – and react faster to market forces – than ever before. But these changes have also required marketers to change their philosophy (and operational structure).

“The traditional way to be organized around functions is too slow to respond to customers and too expensive, says Carpenter. “So organizations are taking a customer perspective and infusing it throughout the organization. So marketing has gone from being a core function to a core function plus that requires a general management perspective.”

And these shifts reflect the foundation of Kellogg’s MBA marketing program, which is the top-ranked program of its kind according to U.S. News & World Report. Carpenter says that Kellogg has responded to the challenge by designing its program to address the three biggest career challenges for prospective marketers.

Greg Carpenter

Greg Carpenter

First, Carpenter points out, marketing has increasingly become a global undertaking, which requires greater planning and awareness. Second, marketers are evolving from functional experts to change drivers, who are also tasked with general management functions like profit-and-loss. Finally, the proliferation of data has turned marketing into a true science. “We can use this data not only to understand customers and what they are doing but also to make predictions,” Carpenter says. “It has transformed the field from looking in the rearview mirror to being more predictive and analytical.”


Kellogg applies a number of strategies to achieve this end. First, the school is continuously updating its curriculum to integrate global markets, general management, and data science.  And this applies to the entire Kellogg curriculum, not just marketing-related courses. A global perspective is just one example. “We used to have courses that go into global marketing and global distribution,” says Eric Anderson, chair of Kellogg’s marketing department. “We’ve eliminated those courses and infused global into our DNA. It’s now part of every course at Kellogg.”

The data component is just one extension of Kellogg’s core tenet of gaining a deep understanding of consumers, says Anderson.  “We develop unique insights through things like data analytics, and use that to drive marketing strategy. We train students to develop frameworks and ways of thinking about markets so they can connect the dots between what’s happening between consumers and business.” One example is Florian Zettelmeyer’s popular Customer Analytics course, which examines how data-derived insights are used to drive growth. “The combination of strategy and analytics,” Anderson claims, “will shape the leaders of tomorrow.”

Another course that reflects Kellogg’s integrative, real world approach is its Digital Marketing and eCommerce elective. Here, Kellogg has partnered with Google, IBM, and Target to develop an online platform. Over five weeks, student teams build commercial-grade websites to sell real products to real shoppers. In fact, the teams even compete with each other. “We’re the only school to do this,” Anderson points out. “Students take on functional roles like chief executive, merchandising, advertising, and placement. In a short time, they must turn around and make the same tradeoffs that they’d make in the real world as they develop their business.”

Kellogg marketing professors Derek Rucker (left) and Tim Calkins at last year's Super Bowl Advertising Review

Kellogg marketing professors Derek Rucker (left) and Tim Calkins at last year’s Super Bowl Advertising Review

And Kellogg’s customer-centric approach is epitomized by its Advertising prerequisite. While the course examines various advertising mediums, it does so with an underlying purpose. “It is deeply rooted in our academic research with a deep understanding of psychology of consumers; and also grounded in how you translate that into business strategy,” Anderson says. “It really highlights our strengths and what we’ve really been good at for decades.”


And some of the program’s biggest strengths lie in its selectivity, speed, size, and relevance.

For starters, the school is very judicious in what it includes in its curriculum, says Anderson. “We’ve been very thoughtful in how we respond to marketplace change. If you talk to any company right now, they’d tell you that the pace of change in marketing is unlike any other area of the company…And one risk here is that you can quickly start chasing shiny objects. If I told you today that we had a course on QR codes, you might chuckle. [As a result], we’ve tried to be fairly strategic in how we organize the curriculum.”

But don’t mistake being selective for being slow at Kellogg. One way the school absorbs rapid change into this program is through its “At the Forefront” series. Here, faculty launches courses and seminars on late-breaking marketplace developments. In doing so, they produce new content and introduce it into the curriculum. “An example of that was social media,” says Anderson. “If you look for a social media class at Kellogg, you won’t find it. That’s because it is talked about in all of the classes. It’s a different philosophy. We infuse topics like social media into our consumer insights and marketing strategy classes and into our core curriculum. Similar to global, it’s part of our DNA.”

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