Advertising is about connecting with audiences in a meaningful way. To do that, brands have to meet their customers where they are. Once, that meant blanketing cities with mailers, buying full-page ads in print publications, and investing in pricey television spots. Today, audience focus has shifted mainly from magazines and TV screens to the smartphones in their pockets.
Marketing has evolved accordingly. Digital marketing is now a multi-billion dollar industry driven by massive volumes of sales data, easy access to customers via email and social media, and technologies like machine learning. While the point of advertising hasn’t changed—creating meaningful connections is still the goal—the strategies brands use to attract customers and build loyalty have.
Increasingly, digital marketing and marketing are one and the same. Traditional advertising has its advantages, but it can’t give customers the personalized, interactive experiences they’ve come to expect from marketing in the digital age. Additionally, digital marketing is less expensive than traditional advertising, highly customizable, and relatively simple to track down to a very granular level. Digital marketing ROI is measurable because customer/campaign interactions are logged in real-time.
Given all that, earning a digital marketing master’s degree might seem like a no-brainer. Digital ad spending has grown at double-digit rates for more than a decade, after all. While the Covid-19 pandemic has slowed that growth, chances are that the digital advertising market will overtake the traditional advertising market in the next few years.
This is a relatively new degree, however, meaning the value of a digital marketing master’s isn’t yet firmly established. A Master of Science in Digital Marketing from a highly ranked business school will almost certainly help you excel in this space. However, that’s true for just about any degree from a highly ranked business school. Whether you’ll get as much out of a digital marketing program at a less prestigious school isn’t as straightforward.
In this article about the best digital marketing master’s programs, we cover:
Those who enroll in a digital marketing master’s degree program rather than a more traditional master’s in marketing program tend to be enthralled by the as-yet untapped potential of digital marketing channels. They’re hugely passionate about inbound search engine marketing, content development, social media management and community building, and analytics. They also recognize that many executives and leaders still don’t know much about how online marketing works or how digital marketing campaigns can drive sales and build revenue.
Many who pursue digital marketing master’s degrees are evangelical about the power of online advertising to market in ways that look and feel nothing like advertising. After earning their degrees, they’re ready to go out into the world and convince hiring managers, CMOs, and other executives that digital marketing channels have become the most useful channels.
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Because digital marketing is a relatively new academic discipline, there is still a lot of variation among programs when it comes to both naming conventions and curricula. Degree names in this space vary significantly. It’s worth noting that the name of a degree won’t necessarily give you clues into a program’s content. For example, a program that confers an MS in Digital Marketing at one school might be almost identical in terms of coursework and focus to programs at other schools that grant any of the following degrees:
Any of these degree programs might focus more on the creative side of digital marketing or the technical side of digital marketing. Some digital marketing master’s programs are exceptionally business-focused, sharing more in common with MBA programs than with traditional marketing degree programs.
In the future, when this discipline is well-defined and standardized, the programs offered by different colleges and universities may be less varied. For now, there’s simply no way to know what a given digital marketing master’s degree program looks like without reading the program guides colleges and universities publish on their websites.
Other topics covered in master’s in digital marketing programs include:
Many online marketing degree programs culminate in a capstone project or thesis. The best programs often have students work with real-world companies on their final projects, allowing them to make valuable professional connections in the process.
The MS in Digital Marketing isn’t an especially common master’s degree, which is why our list of the best digital marketing master’s programs is short. Some of the top programs can be found at:
There are also highly ranked colleges and universities that don’t officially offer a digital marketing degree but do give students in their marketing master’s programs opportunities to customize their degrees. You may be able to create a de facto digital marketing concentration via your choices of electives or even to declare an official custom concentration in digital marketing. Some aspiring digital marketing managers go a different route and enroll in marketing analytics or data science programs. Digital marketing is increasingly data-driven, and technical skills related to online advertising may be worth a lot more in a competitive job market than soft skills like copywriting.
There are high-ranking colleges and universities that offer digital marketing master’s degree programs online, but again the list of top schools is relatively short. There are online master’s in digital marketing programs at:
In some fields, a master’s degree opens a lot of doors. Unfortunately, marketing isn’t one of them. Hiring managers are often less interested in how many diplomas job candidates have than they are in what they’ve done and what they can do. In fact, some marketers call digital marketing degrees a waste of time and money when it comes to building relevant skills. They argue that everything from marketing analytics to link building can be learned in a bachelor’s degree program or even studied online—often for free.
However, the best digital marketing master’s programs give students not just skills, but also access to a professional network that would take years to build outside of school. These programs have multiple industry leaders on the faculty and robust connections to companies in the digital marketing space. Students participate in high-value internships and immersion experiences as part of the curriculum. If graduates aren’t recruited immediately after graduation, it doesn’t matter because they have the kinds of connections and portfolios that lead to good jobs.
The answer to this question is anything but clear, making it hard to gauge the ROI of the best digital marketing master’s programs. The unpleasant reality is that salaries in online marketing tend to be low relative to the amount of education professionals are expected to have. The highest-paid digital marketing managers earn about $78,000, while the lowest-paid earn less than $60,000. The average salary associated with earning an MS in Digital Marketing is about $64,000, according to PayScale. While some digital marketers earn a lot more, it’s actually relatively rare for digital marketing jobs to hit six figures. It won’t matter where you got your degree if employers aren’t willing to invest in their digital marketing staff.
The issue may be that even the top digital marketing master’s programs prepare students to enter a field that is not yet well-defined. Some digital marketing professionals use data science and machine learning to segment customers into micro audiences and predict their online and offline activities. They are probably among the top earners in this space. Others spend their days developing email marketing campaigns and acting as the voice of their employer on social media. Chances are, they earn a lot less.
The bottom line is that your alma mater may not matter as much as the specialization you choose—especially given that you can advance in digital marketing without an advanced degree. Maximizing the ROI of a digital marketing master’s degree may mean choosing a more technical or business-focused program like an MS in Marketing Analytics or a Master of Business Administration in Digital Marketing that teaches skills relevant outside of online advertising. You’ll have to hustle to build your own professional network before graduation if enrolling in a top program isn’t feasible, and you may need to find internships and immersion opportunities on your own, but it can be done.
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