I have to admit that prior to working in this industry I had no idea what digital marketing was or that the discipline even existed — even after my 5 years of post-secondary education in health sciences, psychology, commerce, real estate and gemology. Right now, you’re probably wondering what would compel someone to pursue all of these unrelated studies. Well, the answer to that has a lot to do with my father. As a newly-arrived immigrant who made Canada his home, he became very cautious, took little to no risks, looked for stability, and implored me to do the same. The more he preached, the more unconventional my career aspirations became. In 2007 I made the decision to take a break from my studies and took a job at an e-commerce start-up selling diamonds, marking my first run-in with web marketing. At the time, the company was the largest online retailer of fine jewelry, and in any given month I would personally sell $50,000-150,000 worth of jewelry. I had no idea people were spending that kind of money online, and quickly decided to venture out into the world of e-business myself. After launching my own e-commerce site at age 20, I became interested in non-paid sources of traffic. That’s when I was introduced to SEO, and it forever changed my life.
Currently, I’m working for a great web marketing agency in Montreal, and finally decided to take some of my dad’s cautionary advice and enrolled into a great business program. In all truthfulness, I expected it to be boring; what could they possibly teach me that I didn’t already know? I quickly learned that there was A LOT I didn’t know. The experience served me up a huge slice of humble pie, and as I reflect back on those early years, it was something I desperately needed. Despite learning a bunch, I recognized that there was very little course content having to do with the internet and how it pertains to business. Barring the 3 minutes we spent on e-commerce in my operations class, and that half an hour we spent on the internet’s origins, the internet was pretty much absent from all discussion. Given how integral the internet has become to our society, it’s surprising how little is spoken of it in a lecture room of students using their Macbooks to browse Facebook and YouTube. If business school is supposed to prepare students for a career in business, and core courses are designed to give students a taste of all its facets, why is so little time spent discussing the implications of the internet and its effect on business?
Now that you understand a little bit more about me, how I became an internet marketer and ended up in business school, let me get to the 4 things I didn’t learn about the internet while I was there:
1. Most Businesses Need a Website and Local Search Listing
In this digital age, most people use the internet to find what they’re looking for. From businesses looking for ISO 9001 certified partners, to customers wanting to buy a pair of shoes, if your business isn’t online it could be missing out on huge opportunities. E-commerce businesses aren’t the only ones that need a website — brick-and-mortar, local businesses need one too. Don’t get me wrong, businesses can and do make use of other types of marketing techniques like referrals, word-of-mouth, advertising in magazines, newspapers, and on tv or radio. However, in a world where people have become ad-blind and use their mobile phones to access most information, these marketing techniques on their own, or without a website, might not be enough.
People, more than ever, are using Google to find local businesses. Google has responded by serving local business listing results using geolocation. Just the other day I used my mobile phone to locate the nearest Footlocker. I walked 7 blocks and bought a pair of running shoes to go along with my new gym membership. Turns out there was another Footlocker that was actually closer to my original location, in the opposite direction. Unfortunately, they didn’t have a Google local listing and lost my business as a result.
2. Search Engines and Social Media Can Make or Break a Business
Search engines like Google can drive hundreds, thousands, and sometimes millions of users to a company’s website each month. In fact, 64 billion searches were carried out on Google in the last quarter of 2014. Ensuring your business can be found using search is another story, and that’s why optimizing your site for search is imperative.
Social media can also spread awareness of your business, but it can also be a huge PR nightmare. Problems customers experience are now aired publicly, sometimes to thousands of followers in a span of minutes. One tweet can cause a domino effect that can literally ruin your hard-earned reputation. Similarly, negative product reviews that get indexed by search engines can hurt sales. Focusing on quality, customer service, and social responsibility has never been more important.
3. Google Docs Make Collaboration Easier
All of my professors preached collaboration when discussing our group projects. “Exchange phone numbers,” “schedule meetings,” “take minutes,” and “organize yourselves” were some of their favourite sayings. But what about “Google Docs”? I remember the first time I ever brought up Google Docs in one of my classes — my peers looked confused, ignored my suggestion, and insisted we create a Facebook group to which we uploaded multiple, independently edited revisions of the same document. As you can imagine, it was a huge MESS. Professors should introduce their students to online tools that facilitate academic collaboration, as there are many.
4. Digital Marketing is a Thing
PPC, Adwords, Facebook Ads, Google Analytics and SEO are among a few areas and tools a marketer can specialize in online. None of these areas or tools were discussed in any of my marketing classes. It probably took about 10 minutes of explaining to get a classmate, majoring in marketing, to understand that businesses bid on Google paid search listings using Adwords. He still has no idea what I do for a living. I can’t help but wonder how many of my peers will be prepared for their careers without understanding the importance of digital marketing for businesses.
Before School’s Out?…Unlikely
I should mention that I’m one year away from getting my degree, so I may be speaking too soon (is completing 66 credits out of the 90 ‘too soon’?). However, with course names like “Compensation & Benefits Management” and “Industrial Relations & Collective Bargaining,” I’m doubtful. I should also mention that some universities are now offering e-marketing electives. Regardless of how effective they are, internet technologies and digital marketing are, in my opinion, core competencies that should be requisites for all business degrees. So, why doesn’t the internet, or more specifically digital marketing, play a bigger role in what’s taught in business school? Share your thoughts in the comments below!