More and more employers and recruiters are bucking the degree requirement, and valuing an applicant's skillset instead. IBM's CEO Ginni Rometty recently heralded; "getting a job at today's IBM does not always require a college degree." LinkedIn's CEO, Jeff Weiner, agreed; "what matters most is relevant skills." So what does this skills-over-degree trend mean for the quickly evolving marketing industry?
The Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) sites marketing employment as a secure career-path and projects that management-level marketing positions will grow 13% by 2022 (from 2012). A cursory search of available marketing positions will show that required skills often list 'marketing degree or relevant experience.' Meaning you can have a marketing degree, or an unrelated bachelor's degree with skills acquired via IRL experience. Then why even get a degree at all?
There is significant time, effort, and logistics involved with creating and approving an average university course. Rutgers University says program development time for courses can take anywhere from six months to a year, and the process is involved and requires approval on multiple levels. This leads to university marketing courses becoming archaic and behind the times, and not evolving tangential to marketing itself. Let's dive in to 4 examples of marketing evolution that higher education cannot keep up with...
1) Social Media
Social Media has developed at lightning speed the past few years, even the most senior-level marketers work diligently to keep with the times. So while social media is a popular marketing topic taught at universities- in the course of one semester's time the social world can be completely new.
Let's take for example the dawn or Live Video and Stories. Facebook launched live videos in 2016, as did Instagram. This was a game-changing moment for social advertising, marketers could now simultaneously broadcast to their world wide audience with nothing but a solid wifi connection and a mobile device. Then the birth of stories enters the scene, originated on the SnapChat platform, but quickly adopted by Instagram in late 2016. While Snapchat was there first, in just one year, Instagram stories reached 250 million daily users, and slowed SnapChat's growth rate from 17% down to 5%.
An even more aggressive example is the SnapChat update debacle of February 2018. When the platform came out with an unpopular update to their UI, not only did 1.2 million SnapChat users sign a petition to dump it, but vocal celebrity influencers took SnapChat's stock on a crazy roller coaster ride. The rapid change of landscape for social media over the past two years is difficult for in-practice marketers to keep on top of, let alone university courses.
2) Influencer Marketing
Influencer marketing is certainly not a new concept, and therefore is covered in marketing courses. However current-day influencer marketing is constantly changing, and really requires a mixed bag of skills to attack correctly. Nina Ojeda, the CEO and founder of Prȇte, explains; "millennials increasingly look past brand-curated content in search of third-party reviews online. Only 3% of today's millennials consult traditional forms of media (television, newspapers, and magazines) when making purchasing decisions." Not only is it important to the bottom line, but influencer marketing requires carefully crafting relationships/connections, creative salesmanship, as well as having a finger on the pulse of your industry. This is not an ability you can teach in a lecture hall.
3) Optimizing for Mobile Users and Voice Search
Based on a SimilarWeb study of 77 million websites, 56% of traffic is mobile over desktop. On top of that 1 in 5 mobile searches are voice searches ('Hey Siri- find me X...') Also throw in to the mix the recent influx of voice assistants such Alexa and Google Home. This all equates to the need for marketers to focus on optimization for both mobile and voice search. It's a whole new playing field than what is being taught in college-level marketing courses. Managing director of One & Zero digital marketing agency, Justin Shaw, acutely points out; "for brands to get their message across they need to think about their customer experience, both in how their audience engages with content, but also the ways in which their products can integrate with AI from a technological standpoint."
There are indeed university courses dedicated to SEO, however this is such a complex and ever-evolving area, they too fall behind. University SEO courses teach broad strokes, but rarely get as in-depth as needed. SEO is also a long game, that isn't ideal to be taught in the short-term classroom setting. Learning google analytics basics in a classroom is quite different than in practice. Courses really need to get into the nitty-gritty- A/B testing for instance. Even Facebook has two analytics tools; insights & ad manager, which behave individually and require very different aptitudes. Dan Palmer, a startup co-founder who received a marketing degree (and later regretted it), argues; 'It's akin to a medical course spending its entire time teaching you about how hospitals work, without teaching you how to identify medical issues or how to treat them."
Further, the spectrum of white, gray, or black hat SEO practices is in constant metamorphosis. With all the bureaucracy that goes into the creation and approval processes for university courses, you can hardly expect them to be updated every time Google releases an update to their webmaster guidelines.
Is this changing anytime soon?
In our current fast-paced digital world, university courses can become outdated in a blink of an eye. Does this mean higher education for marketing will soon be obsolete? Hard to say- but millenials and Gen-X marketers are turning to alternative ways of honing skills, such as self-guided online learning platforms like Udemy, or engaging with other members of the community via meetups or co-working spaces. Some universities are attempting to keep pace with offering digital marketing certifications programs, that are less expensive than traditional courses and can be more easily adapted to keep with marketing practices. However as marketing evolves the best way to keep current is real life practice.