Marketing MBA: The Graduate Degree for Ambitious Marketers
January 13, 2022
If you're eyeing the CMO's chair, you need to look into MBA in Marketing degree programs. This concentration is tailor-made for marketers who want to transition out of the art department and into executive roles.
Once upon a time, marketing was considered an art form; today, however, businesses treat it as a science. They track measurable marketing metrics driven by Big Data and analytics. Chief marketing officers and other executives increasingly care more about boosting the bottom line than raising brand awareness.
Unlike its quaint, artsy ancestors, modern marketing isn't solely focused on external communication, enticing images, and catchy jingles. It drives audience cultivation, product development, product line, and much more.
As Aadrika Sharma puts it in a Quora thread about the advantages of getting an MBA in Marketing: "The scope of marketing includes identifying customer-need gaps, developing the right product to plug the gap and bridge the need, product development to lifecycle, consumer insights, acquisition, retention, experience, creating competitive advantage through operational excellence and overall cost leadership, communicating values and benefits across media platforms… and ensuring the availability of the right product at the right place at the right time."
Some marketing master's degree programs teach professionals to create campaigns that help companies meet sales and revenue goals. The marketing MBA, on the other hand, teaches marketers how to create those goals and then manage the processes that go into achieving them. Students in MBA in Marketing programs take classes in:
- Advanced advertising strategies
- Advanced business strategies
- Advanced brand management
- Corporate management
- Human resources
- Advanced promotion development
- Sales strategies
If you want to become a marketing manager, director, vice president, or even CMO, an MBA in Marketing will probably do more to help you achieve your dreams than any other graduate degree. In this article, we answer the question what is a marketing MBA? and cover the following:
- How do marketing MBA programs differ from MS in Marketing Management programs?
- Who is most likely to pursue an MBA in Marketing?
- What prerequisites should students in marketing MBA programs meet?
- What do students in marketing MBA programs study?
- Where can I find the highest-ranking marketing MBA programs?
- What should I look for in a marketing MBA program?
- What skills will I gain in an MBA in Marketing program?
- What can I do with a marketing MBA?
- How much will I earn after graduating with an MBA in Marketing?
How do marketing MBA programs differ from MS in Marketing Management programs?
Marketers considering graduate school often gravitate toward the Master of Marketing, Master of Science in Marketing (MSM), or the Master of Science in Marketing Management—three degree pathways designed for people who want to continue working on the creative side of marketing. Business schools sometimes administer these marketing graduate programs, but they're not business degrees. Whereas most MBA programs require applicants to have five or more years of professional management experience, many marketing master's programs admit recent undergrads.
Full-time and part-time marketing MBA programs in the United States cover the same ground as MSM programs, but the curriculum often includes more business courses than marketing courses. The most significant difference is where graduates end up. Marketing MBA students usually find jobs in marketing management (e.g., brand manager or marketing director), while Master of Marketing graduates often start in non-management positions like marketing coordinator and marketing analyst.
Who is most likely to pursue an MBA in Marketing?
The name of this MBA concentration can be deceptive. Students in marketing MBA programs typically aren't creatives—or if they are, they are pursuing this degree because they want to transition out of the art room and into the c-suite. They're less interested in advanced marketing techniques than they are in the role marketing plays in business success. They're in grad school because they want to know more about the theories and systems that drive comprehensive marketing strategies.
What prerequisites should students in marketing MBA programs meet?
You'll need a bachelor's degree with a solid GPA and competitive GMAT scores to apply to most marketing MBA programs, but these aren't the critical qualifications applicants bring to the table. As noted above, MBA programs are often designed for students who have already established careers. Some marketing MBA programs—especially those at prestigious business schools—only accept seasoned professionals with years of work experience with time spent in management roles. Students applying to the two-year MBA in Marketing program offered by Southern Methodist University's Edwin L. Cox School of Business, for example, must have a minimum of two years of full-time work experience (though, according to the SMU website, most of those admitted have between three and six years of full-time professional experience that includes management).
What do students in marketing MBA programs study?
Most marketing MBA programs pair a traditional Master of Business Administration curriculum with marketing-focused electives. Students in full-time MBA programs may take core courses covering business analytics, finance, management, consulting, and operations management in year one before moving onto topics like consumer behavior and brand management in year two.
At SMU, for instance, MBA students who choose the marketing concentration take general business courses along with core classes related to this specialization, including:
- Advanced Marketing Communications Management
- Advanced Pricing Management
- Advanced Product and Brand Management
- Consumer Behavior
- Customer Insights and Market Intelligence
- Digital and Social Media Marketing
- Global Marketing Management
- Managerial Accounting
- Managerial Decision Making
- Marketing Management
- Marketing Mix Implementation
- Marketing Research
- Multichannel Marketing Management
- Retailer Behavior and Sales Promotion
Be aware, however, that colleges and universities approach this degree in various ways. While some colleges and universities set a fixed curriculum for the marketing concentration, others let students choose from a menu of electives related to this MBA specialization. Schools with accelerated one-year marketing MBA programs often skip over core business concepts and look more like MS in Marketing Management programs than MBAs. Some colleges and universities don't offer official MBA concentrations but allow students to create a de facto marketing specialization through their selection of electives. Other schools have established dual-degree MBA/MSM programs.
Where can I find the highest-ranking marketing MBA programs?
Unsurprisingly, the top marketing MBA programs are at the top schools for MBAs. Some of the best MBA in marketing programs can be found at:
- Carnegie Mellon University Tepper School of Business
- Columbia University Columbia Business School
- Duke University Fuqua School of Business
- Harvard University Harvard Business School
- Indiana University - Bloomington Kelley School of Business
- New York University Stern School of Business
- Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management
- Southern Methodist University's Edwin L. Cox School of Business
- Stanford University Graduate School of Business
- University of Iowa' s Tippie College of Business
- The University of Michigan - Ann Arbor Stephen M. Ross School of Business
- University of California - Los Angeles Anderson School of Management
- University of Chicago Booth School of Business
- University of Pennsylvania The Wharton School
What should I look for in a marketing MBA program?
The best MBA in Marketing program will support your professional goals, full stop. That means it will have coursework that interests you, plenty of real-world learning opportunities, and internship opportunities designed to help you advance. Schools with strong marketing MBA programs usually have relationships with high-profile companies that regularly give presentations on campus, co-host networking events, and recruit students before and after graduation. Their alumni networks are robust and discipline-specific, so MBA students who major in marketing can connect with graduates in the field.
In other words, what sets top programs apart is the level of pre- and post-graduation support students receive. A good marketing MBA program will help you get a promotion after you graduate. A great one can be a source of new opportunities for your entire career.
What skills will I gain in an MBA in Marketing program?
Marketing MBA programs train students in management and advanced marketing theories, and outreach strategies to help companies meet business objectives and sales goals. The skills students gain include:
- Analytical skills
- Communication skills
- Decision-making skills
- Entrepreneurship skills
- Leadership skills
- Quantitative skills
- Strategic thinking skills
If you're thinking those are the exact same skills students pick up in traditional MBA programs, you're right. MBA in Marketing programs are designed to train up managers, not marketers. Don't assume, however, that you won't get to flex your creative muscles in a marketing MBA program. Just make sure that you look for programs that include hands-on project work if you want to sharpen your campaign creation skills.
What can I do with a marketing MBA?
Industries as diverse as entertainment and pharmaceutical manufacturing rely on effective marketing management to stay profitable, and so there is a wealth of opportunity for marketing MBA graduates in different fields. Some students who choose this specialization become entrepreneurs or independent marketing consultants, but most step into roles like:
- Advertising manager
- Brand manager
- Chief marketing officer
- Digital marketing manager
- Director of customer management
- Director of strategic marketing
- Global marketing manager/international marketing manager
- Market research manager
- Marketing communications director
- Marketing consultant
- Marketing director
- Marketing manager
- Media planning director
- Public relations director
- President of marketing
- Product marketing manager
- Promotion manager
- Vice president of marketing
How much will I earn after graduating with an MBA in Marketing?
MBA graduates earn more than their colleagues with bachelor's degrees, but be aware that earning a marketing MBA may or may not result in a salary boost. Your title and the length of your marketing career may have a bigger impact on your earning potential than the degree on your resume. The average marketing director salary is just over $100,000. The average marketing manager salary is about $136,000. CMO salaries are about $250,000 with an annual bonus approaching $50,000.
Attending a highly ranked program may boost your odds of landing a higher-paying position in marketing, but again, not because you have Harvard or NYU on your resume. In one Quora thread about pursuing an MBA in Marketing, marketer J.J. Olsen explained the long-term value of this degree this way: "While I was in business school, I would have told you that a marketing MBA teaches you how to work in the various capacities of marketing. Many big companies only hire MBAs for jobs like product manager or category manager. Now, I look back and realize that the most important part of an MBA is the networking… your specialization will help you get the job you want right out of school, but it's important to use the time you have in business school to make friends and build relationships with other students, faculty, and business leaders."
In other words, chances are you'll earn more after graduating with a marketing MBA from a prestigious school because your program offers rich networking opportunities and post-graduation career support. If earning a top-tier degree from one of the best business schools isn't in the cards, however, you can still build those career-boosting relationships yourself while in a less prestigious program. You'll just have to work a little harder to do it.
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