By: Sarah Tarrant
When first establishing the Queen’s Marketing Association (QMA) in 1986, Distinguished Professor at the Smith School of Business Kenneth Wong pondered the question ‘how career-ready are marketing students when they graduate?’ He recognized that because universities are places of science, classroom content tends to focus on concepts and practices that first have been subjected to rigorous research and therefore may not reflect what is trending in the current business world. The QMA was designed to bridge the gap between students and the marketing industry. Following the exciting rebrand of The QMA, we had the pleasure of speaking with Professor Wong about the history of marketing and The QMA, current trends students need to know, and where he envisions the industry going.
Sarah Tarrant: When The Queen’s Marketing Association was originally founded, what did students primarily want to learn about?
Ken Wong: It wasn’t so much that there were specific skills or topics that students wanted to learn about – as students, they couldn’t know what they needed to know. Part of QMA’s job was to demonstrate the connections between what students were learning in the classroom, show the relevance of those concepts to current marketing challenges, and help them apply these ideas in a real-world setting. So we identified some broadly defined competencies we thought were needed and designed specific programs to help gain that knowledge: to enable students to stay current with the industry, we brought in guest speakers; to help them build their professional networks, we created the conference; to allow them to practice these marketing skills, we held the case competition.
ST: How have the changes in marketing trends affected marketing education?
KW: Marketing education is very different than it used to be. Courses used to be a collection of concepts that professors were obligated to teach, whereas today, they are a story to be told. If you want to be effective as a professor, there has to be a distinctive perspective you’re giving on the use of these marketing concepts rather than presenting frameworks without context or connection to other marketing tools. For example, education used to focus on common questions such as “how do you set a marketing budget?” or “what margins should I set with my suppliers?” While these are still important questions that marketers answer everyday, there is a greater understanding of the need to develop a critical thinking process and approach to follow in seeking out answers to these questions. In a sense, we want students to understand how marketers think before they can apply the concepts they learn in school in the real world.
“If you want to be effective as a professor, there has to be a distinctive perspective you’re giving on the use of these marketing concepts rather than presenting frameworks without context or connection to other marketing tools.”
ST: What would you tell marketing students today who are aspiring to be leaders in the industry?
KW: My biggest piece of advice for aspiring leaders is to not be afraid of the word “leadership.” Leadership isn’t something that is given; it’s something you have to take. Throughout history, it has become clear that if you want true innovation in practice, we need people who aren’t conformed to society to provide a vision for the rest. Don’t be afraid to do things that make you distinct even if they are different from the norm. While there is still a need to present a relevant skillset, we must also acknowledge that many people will have those same skills. The ultimate competitive advantage you have is to be the best you.
“Leadership isn’t something that is given; it’s something you have to take.”
ST: Do you have any ‘pet peeves’ about marketing students today?
KW: Firstly, you can’t go into marketing just because you don’t like numbers. Especially in today’s world, marketers have to be able to make the business case for every problem that they are trying to solve. Secondly, you shouldn’t go into marketing if you don’t want to be in the spotlight. You have to want to be there and you should know when to take the stage. Lastly, many students forget to apply marketing principles to their own brand. What is your point of differentiation? What target market are you trying to appeal to? These are all important considerations in developing ‘Brand You’.
ST: What is a current marketing trend that you envision changing the industry? What is a current trend that you see as just a fad?
KW: Personally, I don’t really think any marketing trend is a fad. A fad is something without underlying substance. All of these marketing trends exist because they speak about something that is happening today, so even if they don’t last forever, they still strive to solve a current marketing problem in a more unique or efficient way. The greatest problems in marketing will never truly be solved, which is why we are constantly developing new models and theories. Trends such as content marketing and big data have changed the marketing industry because they are the new ways of approaching traditional marketing challenges.
“The greatest problems in marketing will never truly be solved, which is why we are constantly developing new models and theories.”
ST: Where do you see marketing education going in the future?
KW: In my opinion, marketing education is going to shift more towards what we should have been doing from the start; training people for their roles in the workforce by developing the competencies they need to be successful. In addition, professors are still learning how to incorporate the Internet into education. Why not use the power of technology to Skype a professor from UBC into one of our lectures to get both the West coast and central view of political marketing? Why not take the notion of case studies a step further by using a smartphone to record and analyze your own consumer research? These are both ways of embracing the rise of technology in modern education.
ST: What is the biggest piece of advice you have for students making the transition from school to work for their marketing internships this summer?
KW: There are three pieces of advice I would like to offer. Firstly, remember that you are entitled to nothing. You should work endlessly to accomplish a number of things in your role, but you won’t be entitled to praise or reward just because you worked hard or achieved a good result. Praise and reward come from doing something relevant to someone important; someone with influence. Start by asking yourself who that person is and what do they value (i.e. who is your target market?). Secondly, your first two weeks on the job are the most important. Employers notice who works the hardest or who contributes the excellent ideas, so make sure you showcase the personal brand you want to present. And finally, I advise you to have a game plan. Set reasonable deadlines for yourself to achieve your goals and make sure you go after what you want. Don’t be afraid to change the plan or the timeline; there is a fine line between following your plan carefully and being too stubborn to see a great opportunity when it presents itself.
ST: Thank you so much for your time and for answering these questions today. Do you have any final thoughts that you would like to share with students?
KW: Especially for students in fourth year, don’t believe that your career only starts after you graduate – treat school as the start of your career so you can make your mistakes now and learn from them in the future.
“Don’t believe that your career only starts after you graduate – treat school as the start of your career so you can make your mistakes now and learn from them in the future.”
Sarah Tarrant is a 2nd year marketing student at the Smith School of Business in Kingston, Ontario. As a former competitive dancer, she enjoys expressing her creative side through choreography, dance, and writing in her free time. You’ll never find Sarah without a cup of coffee in hand!