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What did you learn in school?

Did you learn about Facebook algorithms? The power of a good SEM campaign? Actually… Were you even taught what SEM stands for? How about the various psychology studies that can be leveraged to drive growth?

If you graduated any time before 2013, it’s likely that the answer is no. But that’s nothing to be ashamed of. Most of us are in the same boat. The best marketers however recognized that the school system was broken for the industry they were going to be a part of and had to do a little bit of self-education.

Careers in digital marketing, content marketing, and digital analytics are quickly growing, because no matter what the industry (whether you’re a SaaS brand, an e-commerce store, or a law firm), there’s no denying that digital marketing can help with lead generation. But universities are failing. I’ve had far too many conversations with agency owners, startup founders and executives on the lack of digital training new graduates are receiving while in school.

There is a massive gap between the skills marketing students are graduating with and the skills sought after in the marketplace.

We need to fill the gap between graduates and the market.

While I’ll save the rant on how we can close this gap for a later post, I want to talk about some of the skills our marketing programs need to start teaching students. I want to talk about some of the things I wish I were taught five years ago while I was a scrappy undergrad and the theories and studies that are still not being covered in Universities across the continent.

Here are five topics that should be added to the marketing curriculum:

1. Content Marketing

Content marketing is still considered a relatively new specialty within the industry. The perfect content marketer possesses a mix of skills, including being a strong writer, is strategic, and can effectively manage projects. In addition, there is a fair amount of technical skill that needs to be considered, as content marketing requires the use of various software and digital tools.

The content marketing space is an interesting one because it’s a combination of analytics and creativity that differentiates the best from the rest. Content marketing requires the ability to analyze a situation, understand goals, uncover trends and develop content that resonates with an audience emotionally or rationally.

The current curriculum being taught to marketing students is void of any training in these areas – at least not enough to produce career-ready content marketing specialists. Here are a few great resources that will help you build the skills you need to become a better content strategist:

2. Digital Analytics

Analytics Software

It blows my mind that marketers can graduate from university and college with a marketing degree without having taken a single class on analytics, yet most of our work in digital is accepted and embraced because of them. Whether it’s through software like KISSmetrics, HEAP Analytics or Google Analytics itself; students need to know the basics of goals, events, pageviews, etc…

Understanding how users are interacting with your content on the web is a fundamental skill that all marketers need to have. Furthermore, marketers need to be prepared to test, measure and optimize that content using insights and data that come from sites like Unbounce or Optimizely.

In today’s world, the best marketing decisions are based on data. Data allows our entire industry to deliver better results when used appropriately. As marketing continues to shift from instinct to data, marketing professionals need deep knowledge of how to track and measure customer behavior and make decisions based on data instead of assumptions.

3. Search Engine Marketing

Google launched in September 1998.

In 1998 I was playing with a blue Gameboy that allowed me to control a little man who owned an alien named Pikachu and Charizard. Since you started reading this post, there have been more than 300,000 searches on Google. Every second, there are 40,000 queries on Google, which translates to over 3.5 billion searches a day. Yet, thousands of universities around the world are still not covering the power of search engines and what they mean for business.

Give. Me. A. Break.

Unfortunately, many professors still lecture about traditional methods for advertising, such as billboards and TV spots and ignore the fact that most audiences are not starting their product search in front of a television; they’re online doing a Google search.

Search engine marketing (SEM) is the act of targeting advertising to users when they search using specific keywords looking for a product. Essentially, SEM promotes a companies website by improving it’s visibility in search engine results. The other important element for search marketing is the act of search engine optimization (SEO), which is when brands earn traffic unpaid through high-quality content, backlinks HTML formatting, design, and content distribution.

The world of SEO and SEM are complex. Entire courses could and should be dedicated to these subjects separately, with opportunities and niches in Google, Yahoo, and even Amazon PPC. If you’re looking to learn more about these topics, you should definitely check out websites like, and

4. Community Building

Relationships are at the core of all business, no matter the size, industry or gross revenue it earns each quarter. At the center of it all are people connecting with other people.

At no other time in history has this been more important than right now in this highly-connected, plugged in, social media dependant society that we all live, work, and play. Many companies see the value of being a part of a community and many are building their own communities and are cashing in huge.

In a recent post from Gregory Ciotti (another brilliant digital mind you should follow), he talks about the traits brands should look for in a great content marketer. When he talked about the most important traits, or what he calls his content marketing trifecta it looked like this:

He goes on to give a great description of why these traits are important.. If you’re interested in learning about those, check out his entire post on hiring a good content person. The idea of building “networking skills” is very much aligned with the idea of building a community.

Companies need to have a deep understanding of their audience, customers, influencers and invest in building relationships. An example of a company that has done this is really well is BeardBrand.

Donning quite an impressive beard himself, Eric Bandholz turned his beard community into a thriving business by building it around a lifestyle with the needs of the community members at the very core of the operation.

Starting out as a blog written by a beard enthusiast for beard enthusiasts, Bandholz was able to unite like-minded people around a shared passion and lifestyle.

In an interview with Shopify, Brandholz discussed his vision for his brand:

With Beardbrand we developed the term ‘urban beardsman’ which describes a man with a beard who cares about their style, their grooming habits, and who has a plan and a vision with their personal life. Traditionally beardsmen were thought of as hippies, bikers, outdoorsmen, or homeless folks. We wanted to unite people who didn’t feel like they fit those labels.”

Bandholz also created the right mix of digital assets to help their unique customers connect with the brand in a meaningful way.

Marketing is more than getting the right messages out to the right people and selling stuff. It’s about creating an experience that connects a brand to its audience in a real way, and inspires that audience to take action because they believe in the brand, not because they are sold on the brand.

“Your brand isn’t just your logo. It’s the feeling you leave people with after they interact with you. How you treat your customers is a choice you make that affects how your customers see you, and that makes it part of your brand. This goes back to building a company around a lifestyle idea. If your community of people wouldn’t like to see something happen, then your business probably shouldn’t do it.”

Beardbrand’s strategy is not so much about sales, discounts and promotions, and big bang advertising; it’s about building relationships with men who are proud of their beards. And that’s how you build a community.

5. Email Marketing

Email is one of the most powerful channels for marketing. It’s underrated, overlooked and often mistaken as something that is no longer relevant. Email marketing is STILL an effective way to convert prospects into customers and customers into advocates.

Similar to SEO & SEM, you could create an entire class solely on email marketing and how it can help you grow your business. Whether you’re diving into the specifics surrounding drip campaigns or just talking about traditional newsletters; the topics and strategies to discuss are plentiful.

It’s time for universities to take the time to create classes that focus on the art of crafting a captivating headline. It’s time for universities to share knowledge on the power of A/B testing. It’s time for the curriculum to include case studies on winning subject lines, obvious value propositions, intuitive form fields, and how to craft compelling introductions.

Similar to creating a content strategy; email marketing is an art and a science. It’s a combination of understanding human psychology and how they interact with their inbox with a layer of testing, optimizing and measuring. These are core basics that companies look for in an email-marketing expert and the foundation that any digital marketing executive would die for in a young hire.


Like Hilary Duff once said:


I’m sorry to bring up a pop track from 2007 but if universities are going to be stuck in the past, I’m going to relive some of it.

It’s time for universities to grow their curriculum to include courses focused on relevant and modern marketing practices. We need to embrace some of the traditional theory like the 4P’s and AIDA but we need to go DIGITAL.

Content marketing, email marketing, community building, search engine marketing and digital analytics are all must-have skills that companies expect from modern marketers. If you’re not learning it in school, you need to be learning on your own time. If not, you’ll find yourself struggling to find employment and struggling to accelerate your career.

Wondering where to start? Start with the articles above. It’s free to read. It’s free to learn. 

But believe me, these aren’t the only topics new grads should be studying. New grads should be learning about Bitcoin, eCommerce, Crowdfunding, Automated Cars, The Internet Of Things and more. In fact, we all should be. Education shouldn’t end when you receive your diploma, education should be an ongoing endeavour.

Think of yourself like the laptop, tablet or phone you’re reading this post on.

The same way these devices need to be upgraded, so does your brain.

UPDATE: The folks at St. Clair College in Windsor, Ontario (Go Canada!) have a great program that covers most of the topics I’m suggesting that schools start to teach. Check them out!

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Ross Simmonds

Ross Simmonds is a digital marketing strategist who has worked with everything from Fortune 500 companies to startups to drive results using digital marketing and technology.

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[…] post Five Topics Universities Should Start Teaching Marketing Students appeared first on Ross […]

lol beans
1 year ago

Yes, agree, students must be taught for sure.

Kyle Racki
8 years ago

Great article Ross. It is amazing what is considered a marketing degree these days! Design schools have the same problem, they are stuck in the old ways of doing things because best practices evolve too quickly the instructors can’t keep up.

In a way it kind of weeds out the good from the great. The great ones read blogs and keep their knowledge up-to-date, leaving their classmates in the dust when it comes time to compete for a job at an agency.

Ross Simmonds
8 years ago
Reply to  Kyle Racki

I’m with you 100%! The best are most certainly those willing to put in the time to learn more than their classmates. As soon as universities and colleges start innovating with their curriculum, students will be better equipped for the real world. There’s no question that instructors have a hard time staying up with the trends but that should be their job to stay on the pulse.

Anita Kirkbride
8 years ago

It’s scary that the pros I graduated with haven’t kept up with this new “trend” (insert sarcastic smilie) of digital marketing, but even scarier that the marketing and PR programs aren’t doing anything about it. I’ve hired a couple of marketing grads locally who had no idea about social media, SEO, etc. How to build, manage and measure a social media “campaign” is equally important as how to write a media release, a crisis communications plan (which could quite possibly be caused by social media) or edit a video. You’re absolutely right, they are missing the boat and doing their… Read more »

Ross Simmonds
8 years ago

You’re spot on. The profs aren’t embracing technology and as a result the students will suffer. Appreciate your insights as always!

Adam Purcell
Adam Purcell
8 years ago

You continue to bring value to all of us dude, keep on spreading the love. 🙂 #CaringCounts

Ross Simmonds
8 years ago
Reply to  Adam Purcell

Thanks man – Appreciate it! #NachosInTheNewYear

Adam Purcell
Adam Purcell
8 years ago
Reply to  Ross Simmonds

Absolutely! Have a great holiday season man!

Len Olszewski
Len Olszewski
8 years ago

The Advertising and Marketing Communications Program at St. Clair College in Windsor offers courses in these topics, and many more; e-mail marketing, social media marketing, web analytics, content creation, SEO, mobile marketing, web media planning, salee promotion in a digital world, consumer insight in a digital world, and public relations in a digital worlds, and web design. We started offering this curriculum three years ago and surprisingly no other college or university we are aware of jumped into the fray. All of these course are three credits and are rigorous in their content. If anyone ever needs a position requiring… Read more »

Ross Simmonds
8 years ago
Reply to  Len Olszewski

Len – Thanks for the comment. I’ve been looking closer at the St. Clair College marketing program and it looks like this is EXACTLY what more schools need to be adopting. I love the approach here and I’m surprised I’m just learning about it now. How have the St. Clair College students found the program? Are the profs in the industry still? I’d love to hear more – Looks like an awesome response to what the industry & workforce of the future needs.

St Clair Advertising Program
Reply to  Ross Simmonds

Hi Ross, Thanks for amending the article to feature the St. Clair College Advertising program! The plug was very much appreciated!! Just a small point of clarification (as there is also a Marketing program at the school) – It is actually the Advertising & Marketing Communications program at St. Clair College that features these classes! You can see more about the program as well as the full curriculum at Thanks again!

5 years ago

I do believe, these 5 components must be a part of curriculum in the universities. In-fact we at do make sure the candidates we hire have these points fully revised.
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