Psychologist and UCLA Anderson Professor of Marketing and Behavioral Decision Making Hal Hershfield studies how thinking about time transforms the emotions and alters the judgments and decisions people make. When he teaches UCLA Anderson’s core course in marketing, Hershfield tries to connect basic marketing insights with current marketing campaigns relevant to MBA students’ worlds. “One of the big lessons we talk about in marketing is that there are different segments of society, and you have to position yourself to best reach the segment that you’re targeting.”
Q: What is the core marketing course all about?
This is a course that has benefited from multiple faculty members’ input over the years. At its simplest, it’s an introduction to marketing as a discipline and as a practice. It’s for an MBA student who has no background in marketing and no desire to go into marketing, but it’s also for the students who are hardcore into marketing as their passion. One of the biggest points of the class is to get the students to recognize that marketing is not a siloed discipline, but rather something that has its reach in all aspects of a company’s workings. If they leave business school not recognizing that, they’re going to be at a disadvantage.
Let me put it in a more positive way: Recognizing that marketing cuts across all areas of business is something that will put them at an advantage when they get out of business school. Marketing is, to me, the one business school discipline that explicitly takes the perspective of the consumer. It’s not just about the business. It’s not just about profits. It’s not just about strategy. It’s about who the consumer is, what they want, how we can figure that out and how we can essentially make a better match between what we have to offer as a firm and what a consumer might want.
Q: How is this class different now than it was 10 years ago? What’s new, particularly in light of the greater access that marketers have to consumer data?
I’ll tell you first what hasn’t changed. We haven’t gotten rid of the basics. In order to fully understand marketing, you do have to know the same things that we taught 10 years ago. You have to understand who the company is, who the customer is, who the competition is — sort of the basic three Cs. You need to understand something about segments and who to target and how to position all these things.
The rules haven’t changed, but the tools have changed. What that means, functionally, is that we’re not going to drop some of the core, classic aspects of marketing just because big data and AI and metrics and all these buzzwords are on the rise. If we only taught the new buzzwords, then in three to five years, when something newer comes along, the students won’t be well equipped to think in a big-picture way.
Now, that being said, what’s cutting-edge from my perspective is that we try to make a marriage between the classic marketing framework and the 21st-century way of looking at marketing. One of my favorite cases that we’ve been studying lately is Harley Davidson. We had as a guest lecturer the global chief creative officer of Droga5, which is one of the leading marketing agencies in the world, talking about the campaign that they just did for Harley and the insights they were able to glean from the brand identity and from talking to consumers. This is a brand that is aging, and its core consumer is aging. How does the company flip and become more cutting-edge? How do they talk to a newer outreach segment and maybe even shed some of the negative identity they’ve had before?
Q: Do you get into the “creative” side of marketing?
It’s funny that you bring that up, because I feel like the Mad Men style and super-creative side of things are, of course, part of it. One of the things that we say on Day One is that marketing is a blend of art and science and that there are deeply quantitative aspects of marketing: understanding how new products will diffuse and take off and what that will look like, and understanding how to assess a customer’s lifetime value. These are quantitative and they can get complicated and complex. But if all you have is the quantitative aspect of things, you’ll miss the forest for the trees. On the flip side, if all you have is the creative side of things then there’s not really much of a rigorous framework, and I think you’re going to miss the trees for the forest.
Q: What are the assignments like? What are your expectations for the students in terms of the work that they’re required to do?
In the big picture, the course is about learning and understanding a rigorous framework to create better connections between the things that firms can offer and the things that consumers want, and then to really forge that connection.
Over the course of the quarter, the students have two group assignments and two individual cases that they write up. These can range from analyzing the distribution channels of an organic yogurt company to better understanding how Jay-Z should launch his book to a group of consumers who might not have otherwise wanted to buy a book from a music mogul like him. All this leads to a final project, which, in 2021, is figuring out a marketing plan for a business that would launch either in Venice Beach or Santa Monica, in the context of either a pre-COVID or COVID-19 world. These areas are only two miles apart but are radically different when it comes to the segments that they might attract.
Q: How do you persuade finance students or future consultants why they should understand what a firm’s marketing group is doing?
Let’s say you’re an operations junkie or you’re a finance person or want to go for accounting. My argument is that you will have a competitive advantage not only in the job market, but actually out there in the real world if you understand the ins and outs of the whole business, and so much of that includes marketing.
Marketing isn’t just one aspect of the company. It touches on finance. You have to understand what sort of research is needed to run different campaigns. It touches on and derives greatly from strategy because you have to understand where you think the company is going. And it very much touches on consumer insights.
Having a better understanding of the different ways that marketing interacts with the whole company will let anybody, be it a finance major, an accounting major, an operations major, do their job better.