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The Internet offers marketing professionals a virtual education – an online source of knowledge that I often compare to receiving an advanced degree from the world’s largest university. Resources include search engines, newsletters, webinars, virtual trade shows, and, most recently, social media.

LinkedIn now comprises over 1.2 million different groups of professionals anxious to share their knowledge.  Among the largest groups are “Social Media Marketing” (300,000 members), “Digital Marketing” (162,000), and the all-encompassing “Innovative Marketing, PR, Sales, Word-of-Mouth & Buzz Innovators Innovation Network” (230,000). Let’s put that last one on a membership t-shirt!

In addition to the “credentials” that can be earned online, many professionals seek a brick-and-mortar education. Despite increasing tuition, about 270,000 graduate students were enrolled in the 482 accredited business schools in the U.S. in 2012, with a new emphasis on non-degree executive education programs (

Curious to see how the classroom experience compared to my informal online education, I enrolled this summer at the  Sheldon B. Lubar School of Business, at the University of Wisconsin – Milwaukee.  With a degree in Journalism and many years of marketing experience, I thought I could benefit from a basic course in marketing theory. What lessons did I learn in the undergraduate “Principals of Marketing” eight-week session?

My “theoretical” encounter with marketing confirmed that successful companies are marketing-driven – all departments working together to meet well-planned objectives to create product value determined by customer needs. Unfortunately, in some manufacturing companies the engineering or sales departments drive product development, and those products must then be promoted and sold, without having first determined customer need. The result is a product in search of a market.

That backward approach often determines pricing as well. Markup pricing – determining cost and adding a standard mark-up – is more challenging with global competition, and it ignores what the customer might be willing to pay, leaving profits on the table.  Value pricing empowers marketing to determine new product value in appropriate markets and establish a selling price based on customer input. The company can then determine if that product can be designed and produced at a cost that provides acceptable profit.

What else did I learn? I still love learning and I quickly regained good study habits. And, who knew that attending class with thirty-five 21-year-olds could be a “fountain-of-youth”! Although college grades are somewhat meaningless at this stage of my career, I surprised myself by earning a 95% grade, top in the class.

What’s next on the college agenda? Maybe astronomy. No real value for a marketer (I don’t think?), but I would love to learn more about the stars and planets, black holes, and the evolution of galaxies.

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