How Educated should your Marketing expert be?

by Jeremy Powers on March 29, 2013

Mark Cuban has a real talent for succinct communication. In an article a friend recently sent me, here is what Cuban had to say about MBAs:

I think an MBA is an absolute waste of money. If you have a hole in your knowledge base, there is a ton of online courses you can take. I don’t give any advantage to someone in hiring because they have an MBA.

This got me thinking. How much formal education in marketing, or even internet marketing, should your expert have? Does formal education help, hinder, or matter at all?

Am I qualified to answer?

If you have an MBA, particularly with a marketing focus, you could argue I am not qualified to make any assessment of your training. My lack of graduate training does leave me with a certain lack of perspective. However, I do have certain qualifications which are worth mentioning:

  • Worked for 3 Fortune 500 companies as a marketing professional
  • Successfully launched products generating tens of millions (hundreds of millions?!) in retail sales
  • Currently act as a Director of Brand Marketing for a large CPG portfolio
  • Helped numerous small and start-up businesses grow by leveraging proper branding and the web

I could keep going, but the point is, yes, I count my experience as more educational than your course work. More specifically, I will gladly compare my business results with your GPA.

How much training should your internet marketer have?

What sort of training should you be looking for in a web marketer? As someone with essentially zero formal web marketing training, it would be hypocritical of me to expect much. Some SEO training or mentoring is a definite plus. The great Sean McGinnis has some good courses over at 312Digital. My goal has always been to be an internet marketing generalist. If you are looking for an expert in a narrow niche of web marketing, you should be checking for more formal training.

When it comes to web marketing expertise, I subscribe to Cuban’s philosophy. I would rather see self-taught and proven performance. Truly self-educated people tend to be too impatient for traditional learning. When it comes to a rapidly evolving field like web marketing, impatience is a virtue.

Is formal education a bad thing?

Formal education is not a bad thing. I do not count a year of graduate school as being of the same value as a year of actual business responsibility. (The adjunct professor teaching the class was probably in my office asking for advice the next day.)

Second, in an age of high unemployment, it is common for the under-employed marketing manager to “go back to school” and “start consulting” while looking for work. If your expert started his graduate degree in the same year he founded his “firm,” you should RUN away.

Third, I cannot think of a single web designer, social media expert, or SEO professional that would recommend formal education over a solid mentor in the field. (I will watch the comments here for contradiction.)

Lastly, I struggle to think of a single university program I would recommend for professionals wanting to get into the field of web marketing. There might be some worthwhile programs out there, but I have not had any established professionals in the industry recommend one to me.

Final thoughts on formal education in web marketing

There is training out there for web marketers. Most of us attend a webex or two a month. Overall, though, our education comes from application. Web marketing is a multiple discipline craft. We research, strategize, design, write, and invest.

As a business leader, you undoubtedly have learned to “go with your gut.” If your interview of a prospective web marketer feels you uneasy, move on to the next potential partner. There are plenty of honest and hardworking web experts out there.


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{ 1 comment }

Sean McGinnis

You raise some interesting questions Jeremy (as always). I’ve been asked more than a few times about whether we plan to make our classes accredited. I’m not certain accreditation is an important thing in this wild west world we work in.

I believe that by the time we built a formal curriculum and got is passed through an accreditation board, the best practices would change enough so as to make the by then approved curriculum seriously out of date and deficient.

In my experience the best way to learn these principles is a combination of up to date instruction and on the job coaching – both of which should be done by experts who operate regularly in the discipline they are teaching.

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