Digital marketing is slowly but surely replacing traditional marketing, which is why colleges and universities are rolling out programs designed for marketers more likely to send email than direct mail. New doesn't always mean better, though. Join us as we explore whether these new digital marketing degrees are worth the investment.
Brands are now spending more on digital advertising than on traditional marketing, and for good reason. Digital marketing lets companies deliver ultra-personalized messaging directly to potential customers’ personal devices for a fraction of what it costs to create and broadcast a 20-second commercial or blanket a city in fliers.
In the past, marketers could identify only a relative handful of audience segments potentially receptive to their efforts. Today, they can track customers’ online activities easily and use data science and predictive analytics to isolate increasingly specific customer profiles (e.g., women, ages 30 to 35, with two or more cats, who drive hybrid vehicles and are passionate about environmental concerns). They can then use that information to figure out which customers are on the verge of making big life decisions.
Marketing master’s degree programs have scrambled to keep up with a rapidly changing marketing landscape evolving in parallel with new developments in computing. Some colleges and universities have launched digital marketing master’s degree programs in a bid to attract students who aspire to be not just marketers, but marketers on the forefront of technology. If you’re fascinated by the changing tools and techniques digital marketers use to reach their audiences, these programs can look like a great fit. Don’t start sending out applications just yet, though, because online marketing, digital marketing, e-marketing, and internet marketing master’s degree programs aren’t necessarily keeping up.
In this article about whether a master’s in digital marketing is worth it, we’ll cover:
Because these programs are so new, master’s degrees in digital marketing come in a lot of different flavors, with a lot of variation among programs. That can make choosing a program—or even just researching programs while finishing up a bachelor’s degree—tough. Digital marketing degrees go by many names, including:
You’ll notice that some appear to be more broad in their focus, while others seem to be more concentrated on specific areas of digital marketing, such as social media or analytics. Sometimes the name of the degree will give you a clue to the topics covered in the curriculum. For instance, an MA program may focus more on the creative side of digital marketing and include courses in digital design. MS programs may be more technical and include more courses focused on data analytics and coding. MBA programs will usually dive deeper into the business side of marketing. Not always, though! The only way to know what you’ll actually study in any given master’s in digital marketing program (whether you’re looking into online master’s degrees or on-campus programs) is to read the program description and course list.
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Quite a few colleges and universities have launched digital marketing master’s degree programs, but most haven’t been around long enough to rank conclusively. Making your own list of available digital marketing programs can be worthwhile, however, because it will give you a better idea of how schools are presenting these degrees and who they’re designed for. To get started, check out these programs:
Students in digital marketing master’s degree programs study a lot of the same concepts taught in traditional marketing master’s degree programs, like consumer psychology and sales research. They also take courses in topics like:
Having a master’s degree in digital marketing is absolutely worth it when employers value it. The biggest advantage of having a digital marketing master’s degree right now may simply lie in the fact that many hiring managers still don’t know much about how digital marketing works. All they know is that the CEO or CMO said they should be doing it, and that may make your master’s degree in digital marketing more impressive than another job seeker’s traditional MS in Marketing. One LinkedIn survey found that the skills employers want most in applicants are all related to digital technology. If you round out your digital marketing degree with self-taught coding or a data analytics certification, you may find yourself fielding multiple job offers.
Your choice to get a master’s degree in digital marketing may be driven by your curiosity, not your career aspirations, and that’s okay, too. In digital marketing master’s degree programs, you’ll have the opportunity to learn about the latest innovations and technologies in marketing, marketing research, business intelligence, data science, and AI while also acquiring the skills and knowledge necessary to become a marketing manager, market research analyst, brand manager, or promotion manager.
You’ll also be able to put theory into practice in most master’s programs in digital marketing. Whether through internships, externships, group projects, or cohort projects, the best digital marketing degree programs will put you in a position to gain hands-on experience in real marketing campaigns.
Considering that you don’t necessarily need an advanced degree to work in, or even to advance in, marketing, the investment required to earn a digital marketing master’s degree is an obvious downside. A quick search is all it takes to find marketers calling this degree a waste of both time and money. In one Quora thread, commenter Mehdi Zare said as much outright, adding, “As a person with over 10 years of experience and a managerial position in this field, I should tell you that I never look for someone with a university degree in ‘digital marketing.’ Instead, a master in marketing, MBA, management, software programming or statistics would be something I care about.”
There are other disadvantages to getting this degree—like the fact that some of what you learn will likely be out-of-date by the time you graduate—but the biggest is that employers who really get digital marketing might not see this degree as an asset.
Provided you’re sure you want to stay in marketing for your entire career, the best alternative is probably the classic MS in Marketing. You’ll learn all the marketing management fundamentals in school, and you can take online courses in digital marketing tools and techniques on Coursera and EdX for free in your spare time.
On the other hand, if your goal is to transition into digital marketing from traditional marketing and then boost your earning potential as quickly and as cheaply as possible, you should look into free digital marketing courses and explore professional digital marketing certifications. You’ll learn the most up-to-date strategies, skills, and best practices in search engine optimization (SEO), pay-per-click (PPC), content marketing, social marketing, and other facets of digital marketing in just a few months. Plus, you’ll walk away with a respected credential that’s proof of your expertise in specific techniques and channels. Most professional certificates take just one to six months to earn (compared to the two to four years it can take to get a master’s degree).
It’s clear that digital marketing isn’t going anywhere, which suggests that earning a master’s in digital marketing is worthwhile. Compared to traditional advertising, digital marketing is cheaper, easier to time and track, more engaging, easier to tweak, and highly measurable. Proving ROI is a lot easier when brands invest in digital marketing. For all these reasons, companies today focus their marketing efforts on SEO, social marketing, email marketing, PPC, and companies’ efforts to go viral. Print, broadcast, and other traditional channels are becoming afterthoughts or the domain of small businesses catering to niche audiences.
That said, there’s no telling what digital marketing will look like in ten or even five years. By the time you complete a two-year master’s degree in digital marketing, everything you learned could be out-of-date. It sounds hyperbolic, but rapid changes in technology are driving equally rapid changes in marketing, and colleges and universities typically can’t update their programs that quickly. In a Reddit thread exploring the same question we’ve asked here, user Bluehairdave writes: “As someone who has been in this field successfully for over 11 years, I’m not even sure how a digital marketing degree would be relevant. I literally have a complete sea change in my business model at least once a year.”
Your best bet is probably to think carefully about whether you’re more drawn to the techy elements of digital marketing or the human side. If it’s the former, look at master’s degree programs in web development, data analytics, marketing analytics, and digital innovation, or MBA programs that offer a digital marketing concentration.
If it’s the latter, traditional master’s in marketing programs can still teach you a lot about the psychology of advertising and how and why people respond to marketing. And if you’re not sure, there’s one other path you can pursue—one that doesn’t involve getting a master’s degree at all. Getting a job in digital marketing and racking up a few years of experience can help you figure out where your interests truly lie. Once you know that, whatever degree you choose will be worth it.
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