Pursuing a Marketing Career? Think in Quadrants (2024)

A Kellogg professor and industry expert suggests exercises for would-be marketers to uncover their passions and discern potential future career paths.

Pursuing a Marketing Career? Think in Quadrants (1)

Marketers today must combine the art of advertising with the science of digital tools and analytics, says professor Jim Lecinski. ”It’s really ‘whole-brain’ marketing now, with math, science and creativity.”

By Sachin Waikar and LeeAnn Shelton

Welcome to the first installment of a new series, “The Industry Ahead,” in which our faculty share the latest trends in hiring across a variety of career fields. First up, we’re chatting all things marketing with clinical professor Jim Lecinski, past winner of the Lavengood Outstanding Professor of the Year Award, the school’s highest honor for teaching.

What’s the best marketing career path for me?

That’s a question Professor Lecinski gets often — and it’s a question he can relate to. A former VP at Google and senior level leader at renowned agencies DDB Worldwide and Young & Rubicam, he has charted his own unique journey through the industry.

His answer to students is always the same: “It depends” — on what the person’s passions are and what skills they want to gain. In this post, Lecinski shares his views on how to think about a rewarding marketing career, and how Kellogg resources can position aspiring marketers for success.

Think in Quadrants

Lecinski encourages MBAs and other early-career professionals to take a framework-based approach to their marketing career vision. Specifically, he suggests using a 2x2 structure with generalist-versus-specialist as one axis and in-house-versus-external as the other. Here’s how he breaks down those distinctions:

In-house vs. external

  • In house: You work as a marketer for a startup or an established brand, like Coca-Cola, Apple, Google, etc. “The buck stops with you,” he says, and you go deep on a specific product or line.
  • External: Your role is at an advertising agency, within the marketing practice of a consulting firm like McKinsey or Bain, or a specialist brand-strategy agency like Prophet. You’re working within the constraints of your client’s budget, and you may get exposure to a wider range of projects across sectors.

Generalist vs. specialist

  • Generalist: You’re responsible for the totality of marketing. For example, a brand manager for Tide laundry detergent at Procter & Gamble may manage all of sales, marketing and customer service and look after all four P’s: product, price, promotion, and place. Students who aim for eventual senior leadership — CEO, CMO, general manager, etc. — often rise up through the generalist space.
  • Specialist: You’re instead focused on a narrow vertical of the function, like for example director of social media at Coca-Cola.

Sector

  • Implicit in those job examples above is a third axis: sector.
  • Beyond thinking about breadth and employer, current and aspiring marketers should consider what sector they find most appealing: packaged goods, food and beverage, automotive, or others.
Pursuing a Marketing Career? Think in Quadrants (2)

Find the right intersection—and industry

When it comes to choosing a specific space of focus, Lecinski counsels, “Look for the intersection of what the world needs, what you’re passionate about, and what you’re good at. Don’t just chase what’s hot and buzzy. You have to like it.”

The process needs to start with self-reflection and, potentially, self-assessments such as the Meyers-Briggs Trait Inventory and others—many of which the Kellogg Career Management Center offers. “Know thyself first,” Lecinski says.

So, where’s the right opportunity, industry-wise? It may not be where most people think. Factors like fears of an economic recession, supply chain challenges and the tech bust have challenged many sectors, Lecinski says. “But people still buy potato chips and toilet paper,” he notes. In 2024, that means brand management in traditional consumer-focused sectors like food and beverage can be a lower-risk, viable path, one supported by multiple Kellogg offerings. “What’s old is new again,” Lecinski says.

Gain the right skills

As the marketing industry continues to grow and adapt, in-demand skills increasingly include data analytics, digital marketing, ecommerce marketing and sustainability and ethical marketing. Knowing how to use AI-enabled tools, whether predictive AI or large language models like GPT-4, makes established or aspiring marketers even more attractive to employers. That’s a skillset rising professionals might more quickly gain, he says.

The Kellogg Career Management Center has seen the marketing function expand across industries, no longer limited to just consumer facing product companies and brand management roles. Recently, Kellogg students have seen success landing roles such as product marketing managers, digital analytics manager, strategic initiatives and partnerships manager and go-to-market program manager, at companies like Google, Adobe and Hims&Hers.

Students wanting to enter this field should plan to acquire a firm grasp of both qualitative and quantitative aspects of marketing — left and right brain skills.

Whatever their path, rising marketers will have to become capable and conversant with data and technology, including AI. “For decades, marketing was viewed as a right-brain-led career — creativity, imagination, big ideas, Super Bowl ads, a place for people who didn’t like numbers,” Lecinski says. “But then along came direct marketing, which is database-driven, then digital marketing with optimizing Facebook and Google ads. So, it’s really “whole-brain” marketing now, with math, science and creativity.”

Pursuing a Marketing Career? Think in Quadrants (3)

The Kellogg advantage

Kellogg is the birthplace of the modern field of marketing and remains a top destination for MBA students wanting to specialize in this space. Our broad and deep resources for aspiring marketers, both inside and outside the classroom, include:

  • Academic rigor and a variety of course topics. “We’ve got a lot of vertical courses like marketing in healthcare, tech, luxury goods,” Lecinski says. “It’s a nice combination of left- and right-brain courses, like Customer Analytics and AI and Ethnographic Customer Insights.” The latter is among Kellogg’s highest-rated courses among students. Research centers like the new Ad-Tech Research Lab (AdTLab) keep Kellogg faculty at the forefront of business knowledge and thought leadership in marketing as the field becomes more technical and data-driven. Marketing, data science and strategy leaders from the top tech companies consult with AdTLab faculty to share what they are seeing in the industry, including cutting-edge approaches to advertising research and areas of opportunity for emerging leaders.
  • A dedicated marketing major consisting of four credits taken from a variety of courses and topics. This in-depth specializationteaches students how to deliver superior customer experiences that strengthen competitive advantage and drive sustainable growth.
  • Experiential marketing courses. “Students work on a computer simulation or live project with an actual client to solve an actual problem,” Lecinski says. “This moves beyond reading an article or just discussing a case. Doing it is important.” His Marketing Strategy course, for example, includes a 10-week simulation.
  • Student clubs and extracurricular events, including Kellogg Marketing Clubs for Full-Timeand students. In these groups, students help one another to prepare for successful marketing careers. These groups connect with corporate partners, prepare classmates for job and internship interviews, and host dozens of events per year, including the renowned Super Bowl Ad Review. A rewarding annual event, the Kellogg Marketing Competition, gives first-year students an opportunity to put their marketing skills to the test and design marketing campaigns for sponsoring companies. The competition culminates in a special pitch competition to current brand managers of CPG companies, marketing professors, and KMC executive committee members.
  • A deep and broad alumni network that invests in you.Many Kellogg alumni work in marketing, advertising and market research roles, with the highest concentrations located in Chicago, Los Angeles and San Francisco and New York. Common job titles of Kellogg graduates include brand manager, product marketing manager, senior analyst and more. Alumni are accessible and eager to help support current students by serving as CMC Industry Advisors, contributing to the Kellogg Alumni Edge initiative [which provides excusive Q&As and insights from alumni from the top of their field] and working with the CMC Employer Relations team to recruit Kellogg talent.
  • Career guidance tailored for you. Our Career Management Centerat Kellogg offers unlimited one-on-one coaching to students, a dedicated research specialist to help you chart your professional path, and resources that extend even after graduation. We also have a well-rounded suite of opportunities to educate students on careers in marketing through panels with alumni, interviewing workshops specific to marketing roles, and over 15 marketing-focused CMC Industry Advisors to offer guidance. Yearly CMC-led treks in Chicago, New York, and other locations give students the opportunity to connect live with alumni in marketing roles at companies like McDonalds, Uber, Molson Coors, Estee Lauder and others.

Read next

Curious about what an MBA in marketing at Kellogg can do for you? Follow the links here to read about students and alumni in marketing and discover the latest research from our marketing faculty. Or, explore our degree programsto find the right fit for you.

Pursuing a Marketing Career? Think in Quadrants (2024)
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