Friday, August 31, 2012

Marketing? You Wanna Talk About Marketing? You Kiddin' Me? Marketing?

If you ask a room full of ambitious, eager, MBA students how many want to be entrepreneurs, just over half the hands will go up.  Ask how many might want to work for start-ups, early-stage VCs, early-stage PE, early stage anything, and maybe close to 90 percent of the group will nod in the affirmative.  That's what's cool, that's what's sexy, and that's where folks want to go.

But of course.

Now ask that same group how many are interested in "Sales" and almost every hand will drop faster than the post-IPO Facebook shares that left Mark Zuckerberg wishing he had listened to that little voice in his head saying, "Don't do it, man."

Here's the trouble with that:  Starting a business is all about selling 'something.'  Whether it's an actual widget, dishwasher, or mainframe, or if it's just the oh-so-special expertise you bring to others, you have to sell it.  Without a buyer, there's no transaction, and your hopes for 'fortune and glory' (h/t to the Himalayan kid in the second Indiana Jones movie) are dashed.  You may think selling is dirty, you may think it's for guys wearing cheap suits and too much cologne, or you may just generally think it's for 'someone else' without a clear concept of who that 'someone else' might be.

So in addition to the *Core* of heavy-duty Stats, Accounting, Econ, and some other doozies, there's one solitary first-semester elective open to Sloanies.  Here are the four choices:  Operations, Finance, Strategy, and Marketing?

Any guesses as to which ones are the most subscribed to?  Well, it's not even close:  Finance is far and away the top dog...partly because Andrew Lo teaches it, but way more, IMHO, because Finance is sexy.  Finance is about the real jobs, finance is about running the dough, and finance is the perfect thing to do at an institution that considers Calculus-based Econ a "Humanities" class because it only involves first derivatives and basic integration.  Seriously.

Strategy is also cool.  It conjures up all the chin-scratching, eyebrow-raising thought you'd expect from, well, managers.

Operations is close to Strategy in popularity (both of which are nowhere near Finance).

And what comes in at the end of the pack?  Marketing.  That dirty, dirty word that could make all the difference between profit and not-so-much.  That reason why some companies in monopolistically competitive industries flourish, while others flounder, despite the uncanny product similarity.

I've got three more semesters to scoop up whatever I can in terms of Ops, Strategy, and Finance.  I know they're important.  I know that I'm basically equally ignorant in each realm, business-wise.

But this semester, I'm rounding out my *Core* experience with Marketing, the sometimes-maligned but mainly just plain overlooked child who might have the biggest impact on whether anyone in the house actually gets to eat.   


kad barma said...

Just be careful--generally, academics know even less about "marketing" than even the idiots with "marketing" titles who cause all that corporate floundering.

Lee Iacocca was an engineer before he became CEO, yet it was his marketing brilliance that made history with minivans and K-cars, and this rarely gets adequately examined or explained. I have certainly never found a "marketing" course that gets it. (Or another American car executive who gets it either--though you can read about VW CEO Martin Winterkorn's encounter with Hyundai's i30's adjustable steering wheel at last year's Frankfurt Auto Show for more on why VW is doing so well here these days).

At my company, the "marketing" rage these days is "social media", yet none of these blathering (tweeting?) idiots has the first understanding of it, or the necessity for message clarity, or the reality that roomful of people talking all at once will never be understood. Yet B School curricula everywhere are crammed full of hopeful courses trying to "explain" the phenomenon, and instruct people in the art of applying it. (Harvard BS has dozens of blogs...)

You tell me, who "gets" social media/marketing? If Zuckerberg isn't teaching the course, I'm not interesting in auditing it. Make fun of his IPO all you want, but the guy is miles ahead of the next clown, and those next clowns are the ones trying to tell the rest of us how to do it despite all reasonable evidence of their qualification to the contrary.

C R Krieger said...

I figure part of marketing is personality and part is acquired techniques.  My Brother-in-Law is very good at sales.  He is a pharmacist, who made it as a detail man (his firm had him in Southern California and the Carib), then he switched to medical devices, where his inherent mechanical skills payed off and he retired early.

Regards  —  Cliff

The New Englander said...

...Never hurts to know your customer...preferences, habits, buying patterns, etc. All that sounds mighty useful to me, no matter the industry.