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Interviews

Marketing in Today’s World

Wharton Professor David Bell on the Intro to Marketing MOOC

Marketing is changing rapidly, along with modern consumer behavior. This is the topic of the University of Pennsylvania Wharton School’s Introduction to Marketing MOOC is one of the most popular MOOCs available, with over 125K participants registered for its first session last year via the Coursera platform. The next offering of the course starts this week and lasts nine weeks, and is taught by a team of Wharton professors, each with a different area of specialty:

Class Central’s Charlie Chung sat down for a chat with Prof. David Bell to learn more about marketing trends and the MOOC.

The Focus of the MOOC

The Introduction to Marketing MOOC is part of the Wharton Foundation Series, which covers basic areas of business (finance, marketing, accounting, and operations). The course includes about 14 hours of video lecture content, about the same as an in-person MBA class, but the content is more thematic, covering several leading-edge areas thoroughly, as well as covering the basics of marketing. Thus, it appropriate both as an introduction to marketing, as well as a refresher course which covers some of the latest trends. In terms of the basics, the course will cover the three major frameworks found in most marketing courses:

    • The Five C’s framework: company, competitors, customers, collaborators, context
    • The Four P’s framework: product, price, place, promotion
    • The STP framework: segmentation, targeting, and positioning

Thus, you will definitely learn your Kotler (the author of the book considered the marketing bible). But the course is also suited towards entrepreneurs. Prof. Bell says:

The course is pretty heavily geared towards entrepreneurs. If you’re someone who is thinking about starting a business, the three most important questions are:

  1.  Who are the customers that I am going after and how do I value them?
  2.  What is the narrative of my brand, the points of parity and points of difference vis-à-vis other options?
  3.  How am I actually going to execute, particularly if I don’t have a lot of resources.

The course is pretty heavily geared towards entrepreneurs 

These three things are covered pretty extensively in the MOOC. Besides being a source of content, the course also has active discussion forums where students communicate with each other about various issues throughout the course, and it can be used as a channel by entrepreneurs to get feedback on their ideas from their peers all over the world.

The Three Themes Prof. Bell Covers in his MOOC Module

Marketing Evolution: from Slogans to Stories

Prof. Bell describes the major recent changes affecting marketing as the combination of two forces: the emergence of new business models and the speed with which new models gain traction. This is due to four specific market trends:

    1. Value chain disruption (e.g. Amazon.com)
    2. Democratization of access to things (e.g. decentralized social media channels)
    3. Supply & demand matching (e.g. the long tail)
    4. Collaborative consumption (e.g. AirBnb, car-sharing services)

With these changes, the importance of the narrative about the product has increased drastically, something that hits students in his classes as a big ‘A-ha’ moment for them. Prof. Bell says “So much of what is going on in marketing now is about being in media, it’s about having a dialog.”

One example is Warby Parker, an online prescription eyewear manufacturer that sells directly to customers. And besides cutting out the middleman, they also have a large social mission component to their identity, giving one pair of (new) glasses away to a person in need in the developing world. Thus we see that Warby Parker capitalizes on all four trends mentioned above: it sells direct to consumer (1), relies heavily on social media (2), served initial niche markets with limited styles (3), and developed a social impact story that drew people into a shared cause (4—okay, so that might be a stretch). This illustrates that a product is not just an item for sale, and a marketing message is not just a slogan. You need a story behind your product, and that story has to be told in an engaging, interactive way, like a ‘script’, Prof. Bell says:

“If you’ve got a script then your story is always interesting, if you’ve just got a slogan, then it gets tired and boring.” 

How Marketers will Change

So how will these changes affect what marketers will need to do? How will marketers of the future differ from marketers of today? There are there three important areas marketers will probably need to change:

  1. Marketers will need to engage in more customer dialog. Companies are no longer simply faceless corporate behemoths, but are active participants in consumers streams of consciousness via social media.
  2. Marketers will need to meet customer demands for greater authenticity. Consumers don’t just want to know about the product, they want to look behind the curtain and know who is making the product, see where it is coming from.
  3. Marketers will need to figure out the right tools they need to use from the growing number that are emerging to analyze the growing amounts of data

An example of a company which has embodied these areas is Quidsi, a startup founded by Wharton alums, which launched diapers.com, with a single-minded focus on maximizing convenience and providing low costs for parents. Quidsi used the trust it had built up with more than 1 million parents to branch out into to product areas (in fact, its customers prodded it into offering other items with the same service and convenience Quidsi provided). So the company acquired soap.com and other sites, applying its same philosophy to all of them. In 2011, just 6 years after it was started, Quidsi was acquired by Amazon.com for $545M.

There is continuing research on how current trends are affecting marketing in the future. Prof. Bell suggested three channels of information that marketers can use to keep up with the latest research:

  • Business school based blogs or newsletters, such as Wharton’s own Knowledge@Wharton
  • Business management journals, with the big three being: Harvard Business Review, Sloan MIT Management Review, and California Management Review
  • An online portal for marketing professionals, MarketingProfs, which has >600K members interested in marketing practice

Reflections on MOOCs

Prof. Bell also shared his thoughts on teaching this MOOC. The first thing to note is the gargantuan scale. Of the 125,000 students who signed up for the first MOOC, many dropped out or disengaged as the course went on. But tens of thousands of students around the world completed the course and around 10,000 paid $50 to take the Signature track. In fact, Prof. Bell recently mused that just the number of people who filled out the course evaluations for their first MOOC was greater than the total number of students he had taught in his whole career up to that point! Prof. Bell and his co-instructors find this incredibly rewarding as a way to disseminate marketing knowledge.

Around 10,000 students paid $50 to take the Signature track 

Another benefit is the opportunity to collaborate in this effort with colleagues, each having separate focus areas. It is unlikely in a business school that an introductory marketing class would be co-taught by multiple faculty, it is too resource-intensive. But when you are producing something for hundreds of thousands of people, a new level of investment is warranted (the three professors have just completed a full production schedule in a studio). Where are things headed with Wharton’s MOOC initiative? Prof. Bell isn’t sure: “We’re dipping our toe in the water. We don’t know where this is going, but it seems like an exciting thing to be involved in”. Indeed, this can be expected, as many of the trends driving changes in marketing are also driving the MOOC phenomenon.

If you would like to learn more about marketing, either for the first time, or as a refresher, you can still sign up for the Wharton Intro to Finance MOOC which is starting this week.

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