When leaving business school and entering marketing as professionals, it is common for students to encounter a different reality than expected. After spending years acquiring the relevant knowledge and learning about theories and concepts, students suddenly find themselves in a market dynamic based on experience and intuition, and which incorporates only a few academic concepts in day-to-day work. Although marketing is an academic discipline that is valued in the business environment, practitioners value specific skill-sets that do not necessarily require in-depth academic knowledge, but rather require expertise in solving problems specific to the work at hand. Furthermore, when academic research and expertise is required to improve performance, marketers engage business consultants rather than academic experts. These behaviors and methods have led to a gap between academia and the industry, wherein a blame-game ensues about the quality of students graduating, as well as the utility of academic expertise in the industry.
General Knowledge Versus Case-Specific Knowledge
On the academic end, the objective is to establish various theories relating to the industry – first explaining the occurrence of a phenomenon and then systemising and organising knowledge about the phenomenon. Students are taught to deduce what will happen and guide the method of happening in order to achieve the objective of a marketing function. However, in an ideal environment, theoretical knowledge only informs the execution of functions and prepares students to cope with cases where generalised challenges are faced. The fact that academia does not really consider the specific challenges marketers face poses a barrier in understanding a changing marketing landscape and the nature of the difficulties faced as new technology and methods are increasingly used to fulfil marketing functions. Academia, therefore, must maintain a strong link with industry practitioners in order to keep in touch with latest practices and inform students about the diverse methods they need to use to address new barriers to marketing functions. At the same time, industry practitioners must develop white papers and case studies to provide insights to academic institutions about how solutions were arrived at.
Being the Curriculum Watchdogs
Industry practitioners often complain about the inability of students to pick up marketing functions while on the job, leading them to question the quality of the education imparted. However, many of them fail to realise that the pace at which academic frameworks are updated does not match the pace of changing market dynamics. It is the responsibility of senior industry practitioners to make sure that the academic curriculum is updated regularly. One of the best ways to do this is to include members of academia within the associations and regulatory bodies that operate to improve industry practices. It is extremely important that course instructors are exposed to industrial practices with first-hand experience so that they can represent the real market environment at the academic side. Instructors who have experienced industry operations must update their experience when quoting examples in the classroom. Course instructors should also expose students to learning opportunities that transcend the walls of campus. Taking up self-learning courses provided by Coursera, Facebook, Google, Udemy and other learning platforms should be encouraged and points allocated to the students who do so. This allows for latest knowledge to be relayed by academic institutions via platforms that enhance the skills and abilities of students within the marketing scope.
Involve Academia in the Marketing Process
Companies usually reach out to research agencies and not to academics for their research-based help. However, the business environment could possibly save on consultancy costs if it engages researchers from within academic institutions – giving academia a closer look into marketing operations, while getting the job done effectively. Yet, many marketers argue that academics know little about what marketing managers do and what companies need and are therefore not qualified to provide relevant advice. In their view, consultants are better suited to the task, as they have better experience and fully understand the complexity of the problem. However, the fact of the matter is that these consultants emerge from the same academic systems they choose not to involve. This is where an opportunity exists – it is important that industry practitioners provide opportunities to academics to apply their expertise in research and analysis with theoretical context to better inform decision-making at the industry level.
Complement, Don’t Compete
Although there are differences in practical and theoretical approaches to marketing functions, they should be complementary rather than competitive. To bridge this gap, efforts are required at both ends of the spectrum. Academic findings should add value to business challenges, while businesses should create environments that offer academics better insight into day-to-day realities. Such an approach between academics and practitioners has the potential to increase awareness about the importance of knowledge, skills and creativity on the performance of business, while maintaining the relevance of academics in the industry.
Muhammad Ali Khan is Associate Director Creative & Strategy, Spectrum VMLY&R. He also teaches in the Masters of Advertising Programme at SZABIST-Karachi.