If you really want your marketing to rock, the last thing you should do is get a degree in marketing from a university.
Yes, what I just wrote may lead to vitriolic hate mail and comments from university admissions offices around the world. But, based on my real-world experience, I stand by my comments.
A degree in marketing as a graduate or undergraduate is better than nothing, but let me pose a question: will it help you maximize the return on your marketing investment?
I will argue: no.
A marketing degree is no education
To prove this, let’s visit the website of a business school many consider to be among the best on the planet: The Duke University Fuqua School of Business in beautiful Durham, North Carolina. U.S. News and Report Ranks Fuqua #14 in the nation.
As a direct response copywriter I’ve written copy persuading potential students to become actual students. I think the copy on Duke’s website is tepid. It provides a textbook example of boring “corporate speak” that rarely persuades anyone to buy anything.
From the marketing page:
“All Duke Daytime MBA students graduate well-equipped in the skills and theory of all the major functional areas of business. They also are prepared to manage and succeed in a global business environment.”
Is the copy above likely to persuade a potential student to spend $55,300 per year in tuition and expenses? And, to boot, the layout of their home page is so difficult to read, I would call it shoddy.
Now let’s take a look at the actual marketing coursework. Marketing Course 807 is called Marketing Strategy and the instructor is Christine Moorman. From the course description:
“…the customer focus of the course means that capabilities are evaluated relative to their contribution to customer value and not as inherently valuable.”
What does the copy say? I have no idea and I write advertising copy every day.
Ms. Moorman, author of the book, Strategy from the Outside In: Profiting from Customer Value, is a lifetime academic. She’s published a TON about marketing but, based on her resume, has never actually had a full-time job in marketing or sales.
Her colleague, Carl F. Mela, spent 5 years in corporate marketing departments, according to his resume. That was back in the 1980s.
Accomplished academics, for sure, but what do these professors really know about the daily, get-smacked-in-the-teeth, we must generate money this week, grind of everyday marketing and sales? Perhaps they will enlighten me.
Duke’s marketing page provides an example of how not to produce a marketing page. Rule #1 in my marketing world is you NEVER put white type on a black background because it decreases readership by 30%. And with a lower readership, you sell less.
Hands up, class, if you see a call to action anywhere on this page. Extra credit if you see reasons to fork over $55,300 per year in tuition and expenses.
And in case you think I’m picking on Duke’s highly ranked business school, let’s fly to the west coast, specifically to Stanford, currently ranked #2.
Professors Jennifer Aaker and Baba Shiv, while they are accomplished academics and writers, list no actual working experience on their resumes. I’m not certain they’ve spent much time deep in the muddy and often hellish trenches of real-world marketing.
I have proved my point, perhaps with some excess venom, that you’re unlikely to get a ton of truly practical marketing advice from academia. And if you actually get something of real value, it’s going to cost you two years of your life PLUS tens of thousands of dollars.
Fortunately, there’s a better way
Academics who specialize in marketing think at the “ethereal” and “strategic” level. And that may be fine for some. But you rarely find serious direct marketers in academia. Direct marketing is marketing that persuades people to buy products and services through tactics you actually measure.
Here’s why you don’t find direct marketers in the halls of business schools: direct marketers are too busy generating cash.
Ron Popeil started a company called Ronco. The company has generated over $2 billion in sales through direct response marketing. Is there are university professor who has achieved this remarkable result?
Popeil provides textbook examples of how to sell products using perfectly executed direct response techniques. So…am I going to follow a university professor who hasn’t sold a thing or am I going to pay close attention to Ron Popeil?
In 2011, I attended the Dan Kennedy information marketing conference in Atlanta. About 1,000 people attended and I estimate the event generated at least $5 million in “back of the room” sales. At one point, people were literally running to the “store” to buy a $500 iPad loaded with everything Dan has ever written.
If you really want to understand real life marketing and you really want to maximize your results, then emulate the world’s most successful direct marketers. Fortunately, many of these marketing rock stars have made their wisdom freely available.
And when I say “freely” that’s exactly what I mean … it’s FREE. You’ll find globs of extremely valuable direct marketing advice from experts like Dan Kennedy—available for no charge. Here’s proof from Dan Kennedy’s website.
Your Stanford MBA will cost $59,550 per year in tuition and expenses or you can download money-making information from an accomplished marketer—for free.
If you’re going to follow marketing advice, make sure it comes from people who have generated massive results.
My copy generated over $10 million in sales for my clients in the last 24 months. I have not published academic papers. Nor do I teach marketing or marketing writing at a business school.
No … like my fellow direct response copywriters, I’m busy persuading people to pull a credit card out of their wallet and hit the “buy now” button. Many other direct response copywriters have achieved similar results.
I have a comparative literature degree from a university, but I learned the art and science of direct response copywriting two ways.
First, I wrote copy and measured the results. I quickly discovered what works and what fails. And like every copywriter, I’m still learning.
Second, I have invested close to $10,000 in my own marketing and copywriting education. I have attended seminars, bought manuals, and taken one-on-one coaching from the top direct response copywriters. And while $10,000 is a decent chunk of cash, it’s less than 10% of the cost of a marketing MBA from a private university.
But perhaps the ultimate value comes from reading the books written by the giants of direct response advertising and marketing.
Must-read books of direct response advertising and marketing
Both lists include Scientific Advertising by Claude Hopkins. Published in 1920, the book is available for free on hundreds of websites. Still salient today, Scientific Advertising demands advertisers measure results… then shows you how.
The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Direct Marketing by Bob Bly. I’ve never been a fan of a series that automatically insults the intelligence of the reader… but… this book provides a tremendous introduction to direct marketing from an extremely experienced marketer and writer.
The Ultimate Sales Letter by Dan Kennedy. The book simplifies the art of writing copy that sells. I use the headline templates from this book almost every day. Kennedy used the principles in this book to generate hundreds of millions in revenue.
Cunningly Clever Marketing by Andrew Wood. Another great introduction to direct response marketing. Andrew beautifully breaks down marketing myths.
Breakthrough Advertising by Eugene Schwartz. A more complex book but one to digest after you’ve read the others.
Tested Advertising Methods by John Caples. An excellent introduction to the power and importance of testing.
2,239 Tested Secrets for Direct Marketing Success by Denny Hatch and Don Jackson.
Bop around the Internet and you’ll find marketing webinars online, plus you can attend seminars and listen to MP3s. When assessing the potential value of the content, simply look at the credentials of the author.
Are they an academic with a lot of published pieces in magazines and journals published by, and for, other academics?
Or is the author someone who is, or has been, right in the middle of the real action, winning some victories but also getting beaten up and failing from time to time? Has the author actually sold anything in person?
You’ll see a lot of bizarre definitions of marketing on business school websites. Here’s mine: the goal of marketing is to sell as much stuff as possible while spending as little as possible.
Here’s the definition from Harvard.
“Marketing is critical for organic growth of a business and its central role is in creating, communicating, capturing and sustaining value for an organization.”
My mentor in this crazy but beautiful business, Andrew Wood, doesn’t have an MBA. Andrew began his remarkable—and highly profitable—marketing career when he owned a karate school in Southern California. He had no students. So he went to the library and took out every book they had about direct marketing.
In a few years, in his early 20s, he owned a chain of over 200 karate schools.
If you have a passion for generating revenue, then educate yourself every day… relying on the work of marketers like Andrew who have actually sold products and services in the real world.
Catch other Crazy Egg articles by Scott Martin here.