For marketing practitioners, what good is an MBA?
Q: Our company regularly sends our Marketing and Sales executives to your Salt & Light public seminars. Two years ago, our HRD offered us two options for executive development. One was for us to take up an evening MBA with 50 percent company tuition fee support. Two, was to attend at most six of your more than a dozen marketing seminars all on company account. That’s six each year for two years. We chose this latter option.
We never regretted the choice. But in almost all of your seminars (at least the ones we’ve attended), you always mention that it is in your MBA class where you hold a workshop. You also often say that the real learning of what you teach is via the workshops.
Because we want that “real learning,” we all now think that we should have chosen the MBA option. But we have this question for you. For us who are marketing practitioners in executive education, how much more will we learn about marketing from an MBA than from seminars like the ones you offer and those we’ve attended?
A: Our experience in executive education and development began almost 40 years ago in 1976. Over those years, we ourselves, as managers of the executive learning process, have come to learn a whole lot of things. With specific reference to your question, we’d like to share our more important learnings.
First, marketing is now both a science and an art. It’s from “good” seminars and a “good” MBA that you’ll learn the marketing “science.” Practice and more practice are your professors of the marketing “art.”
We qualified our reference to seminars and MBA with the word “good.” Because the rate of change in the science and art of marketing has been unprecedented over the past two decades in magnitude, speed and continuity, good seminars and a good MBA relate to content more than anything else. A seminar and an MBA are good to the extent that each has the latest and “proven” marketing concepts, models and practice.
For example, consider brand management and brand equity. In the ’80s, brand management was the way to do marketing. In 1981, Unilab engaged the senior MRx-er’s mentoring services for their top executives to learn and put in place product and brand management. This was in both its ethical divisions and consumer health divisions. Then in 1991, David Aaker extended brand management to include the concept of brand equity when he published his best-selling book “Managing Brand Equity.” The senior MRx-er’s brand management mentoring engagement at Unilab was renewed to then include brand equity management.
In 2000, suddenly brand management gave way to market and customer management while the concept of customer equity challenged the primacy of brand equity. It was the inventor of brand equity who also invented market management.
David Aaker published another best-selling book, “Strategic Market Management,” to in effect say that product management is “outmoded” and is no longer enough for attaining and sustaining market leadership success without market management. But the real challenge to brand equity came from the distinguished university professor of University of Maryland, the youthful Roland Rust whose many research and best-selling book, “Driving Customer Equity,” basically denied that “brand is forever.” According to Professor Rust and his research colleagues, brand success can only be sustained if it continues to resonate the customer’s changing values and priorities. In effect, it’s not brand equity that lasts forever but customer equity.
Marketing in the Philippines is just beginning to awaken to changes in marketing science like market management and customer equity. And there are other just as importance changes. One case in point is our continuing fascination in the linear link of customer satisfaction, retention, loyalty and profitability.
In 1990, the respected Harvard Business Review published the article of Frederick Reichheld and W. Earl Sasser, provocatively entitled “Zero Defection: Quality Comes to Service.” This was an instant hit. The article’s title about “zero defection” implied that 100 percent customer retention is not only possible but attainable. The Senior MR-er who was then helping Meralco with its corporate imaging campaign used this article as the campaign’s framework as well as its research basis.
Then in 1994, again Roland Rust and his research colleagues published the results of their more rigorously conducted studies in another bestseller book, “Return on Quality: Measuring the Financial Impact of Your Company’s Quest for Quality.” Their findings on the size of the retained and loyal customer segment? No more than 5 percent to 10 percent.
What about the link between retention and profitability? The Reichheld and Sasser HBR article claimed that “a 5 percent improvement in retention yields a profit increase of 35 percent to 95 percent.”
Two Columbia University research, Sunil Gupta and Donald Lehmann, tested this claim and in 2005 published their research findings in the book “Managing Customers as Investments: the Strategic Value of Customers in the Long-Run.”
The truth according to the Gupta and Lehmann study? “A 1 percent improvement in retention will raise profit to only 3.5 percent and at most to 5.1 percent!” Yet in conferences after conferences on customer satisfaction, retention, loyalty and profitability, we still hear marketing speakers and even MBA professors still citing the Reichheld-Sasser numbers, completely oblivious of what have come after 1990.
You asked one question but we have several answers. Here’s a summary.
1st. The issue is not only between seminars and the MBA. An MBA is a one-time learning event of 1 to 1.5 to 2 years. Seminars are a continuing and in a sense “lifelong” executive education and development programs. So in concept at least seminars when properly serialized get you updated provided those are “good” seminars, good in the sense we’ve explained and shown.
2nd. The issue is also between seminars and practice, and these two relate to each other. The marketing you should learn from seminars should be the latest and the proven and which you then apply in your practice to continue maturing and sharpening your marketing art.
3rd. You must keep up-to-date with the latest changes in marketing concepts, models and practice. You have the social media for help especially Facebook accounts of marketing “thought leaders,” Amazon.com marketing book reviews, and seminars of local speakers who are in the know about the latest in marketing concepts, models and practice.