Three Things I Learned from Teaching Marketing

May 14, 2013

For several years I taught marketing at a nearby Jesuit university.

Though I’d previously earned my master’s degree in marketing, I discovered that I learned marketing best as I interacted with my brilliant and curious students.

Here are the three most important things I learned (and hopefully taught) about marketing:

1. Good questions trump great answers.

At the beginning of the semester I told my students, “I hope you do not leave my class knowing lots of answers. I want you to leave asking the right questions.”

Good questions to ask when creating a marketing plan are:

  • What are we trying to accomplish?
  • How are our products differentiated?
  • What is the right balance between product benefits, the pricing structure, the distribution and accessibility of what we’re selling and our promotional efforts?
  • How can we best promote our product? Who are we talking with? What do we want to say to them? What are the best media to connect with them?

Those questions will always be relevant. The answers, though, will vary in each situation.

2. Academic theory is worthless unless converted into action.

What is the value of the learning if we cannot do something with what we’ve learned?

We began each 16-week semester focusing on marketing principles and theory. As the course progressed, we began to apply theory to real-life situations.

We got our hands dirty. We learned that planning is always a messy process. Working together in teams, the students often complained about the process. (Welcome to the real world!) Fifty percent of their final grade rested upon developing an actual marketing plan for a local nonprofit organization.

They were pushed beyond the sanitized confines of a university classroom because I wanted them to experience things that would remain etched in their memories for years to come.

3. Strategy should always precede tactics.

Though action is important, we must think before we do. Being busy must never be confused with being strategic.

Before jumping into the what and the how, we should always ask why?

In the marketing arena, it’s always tempting to jump in and begin creating brochures, writing news releases or designing ads. That’s all busy work unless those tactics can be tied to a bigger strategy.

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So, there you have it! Those are the three most important lessons I learned while teaching marketing. For extra credit, though, let me throw out a fourth:

You will never do marketing as you’ve been taught to do it.

As we got deeper into our discussions of marketing theory, I would pause and say, “I’ve never actually done marketing the way I’m teaching you to do it.”

Students often looked confused. They felt betrayed to have an instructor who did not practice what he preached. That cognitive dissonance provided a valuable teaching opportunity.

The reality of marketing education is this:  Academy theory can serve as our guiding star.

We should always strive to reach the ideal. In the real world, though, we never encounter ideal circumstances. Yet we must carry in our minds the compelling picture of how marketing should be done. With that vision, we will be better marketing practitioners.

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Day 26 – Career Benefits

November 6, 2010

Explain to a young person the benefits of pursuing a career in nonprofit marketing.

One of my most satisfying career ventures was teaching at Rockhurst, Kansas City’s well-respected Jesuit university. For several years I taught the class Marketing for Nonprofit Organizations.

Although I’ve earned my master’s degree in marketing, the classroom where I learned the most was the one where I stood at the front as the adjunct professor. I say that not to extol my talents as an educator, but rather to underscore the intrinsic value of explaining something to someone else. As Joseph Joubert said, “To teach is to learn twice.” I certainly understood marketing much better as I taught it to inquisitive college students.

Likewise, one of the best ways to appreciate my chosen career path has been to explain its benefits to a young person considering his or her career options.

Here are several things I would like for a young professional to know about a career in nonprofit marketing:

  1. Marketing is more than a job. It is a career path, a high professional calling.
  2. A marketing career can be a life-long pursuit and not necessarily a springboard to becoming the CEO or something else.
  3. Nonprofit marketing should be a stand-alone profession that is not subjugated to fundraising.
  4. Not everyone can do marketing, even though most people believe they are pretty good marketers.
  5. The best marketers combine their natural talents with formal training. There’s no substitute for a solid education.
  6. Don’t quit learning. Although marketing principles will remain unchanged, the tools and technology you’ll be using in10 years probably haven’t been invented yet.
  7. A good mentor can help you learn and grow. Find one.

By the way, later this month I have the privilege of returning to the university as a guest speaker. The invitation to speak came from the class instructor, whom I’m proud to say, was one of my star students in the very first class I taught.

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