Taking Marketing Digital to Harvard Business School

It’s been more than 10 years since I am working in the Communication field, from which, the last 5 were dedicated to the digital area. It was not because I chose so but because back in 2007 my boss announced me that I will be in charge of the digital department of the advertising agency that I was working for. My answer came straight ahead: “But I don’t know anything about the internet!”

The learning process started with a blog development for a telecom company. I remember that back then the focus was on web development or banner creation and finding ways of making them more effective. Today we mix a lot more “digital ingredients” for a plus of efficiency, reaching every day a higher degree of complexity. One of my latest projects, a CSR campaign for responsible drinking, was deployed on iPhone, iPad, web, youtube, facebook, online and offline media with incredible results.

I always tried to provide highly creative solutions based on results and on the every day technological advances. But even-though, I feel like there is so much to learn… every single day. The digital marketing is about creativity, technology, fast responses, permanent presence, security, software development, intuition… and so many others. But more than this, it is about how we communicate today and it is taking a more important role in the marketing mix. It is the business tool of the 21st century.

In my job, I’m searching every day for new solutions and ways to implement them in the most efficient way, for new recipes that will provide the ultimate experience, shortly, for knowledge and ideas. And for more than 100 years now, there is a place for this: Harvard Business School- an elitist and exclusivist institution where ideas and knowledge born from business case studies and the participants’ own experience.

I spent a week to HBS’s campus, attending Taking Marketing Digital class together with executives from  25 countries.

We shared our experience with the world’s most qualified professors and professionals, discussing, questioning or arguing on different matters without ever to impose a verdict. Because at Harvard, the professors don’t make statements but mainly ask questions and they prefer to use the term “instructor” when describing their role.

The instructor sets the path of discussion, but the class has control too. There is an agenda, but the class decides whether it gets followed or not.

Most case discussions end with the instructor delivering a wrap-up for two to ten minutes. It reviews the highlights of the discussion, presents a summary of key ideas, and generalizes to other situations.

The instructor’s job is not principally to “teach” the case, to tell you the right answer or to show you how you should have analyzed it. Why not? Because such heavy-handedness would discourage the class from playing the game to the very best of its ability. Solving cases is a performance skill. It is learnt by doing, not just by watching.

Business schools teach many things: facts, techniques, attitudes, habits and even philosophies. Case instruction is the method used at Harvard. A case is a statement of conditions, attitudes, and practices at a particular time in a firm’s history. It usually describes challenging problems that the company is wrestling with, and symptoms that it is experiencing. Some of the problems may be self-evident, but more often one has to dig for them.

A case gives you some, though rarely all, of the facts that were known to the players in the situation under analysis. It is deliberately written so that you must rearrange facts and interpret them. It also gives you attitudes and feelings. Sometimes it tells you exactly what the players feel or want to do, and at other times you must infer opinions and intentions. Much of this material is relevant to the solution, but some is not. This arrangement of the material aims to simulate the disorder of experience.

Cases work best when the task is to acquire a talent for diagnosis and prescription. They give practice at isolating problems so that the tools and techniques of the discipline can be brought to bear on them. Cases teach habits and attitudes so basic that must not merely be learnt, but must become second nature by frequent and varied application.

Readings, lectures and so forth teach “hard” knowledge. Cases teach the more elusive skills needed to frame and define management challenges, analyze them, and cultivate a taste for action.

During the class, the opening speaker should present a statement of the problem, defend it, and present a quick overview of a solution. Then give up the floor, to hear your colleagues’ response to your argument.

There is etiquette to group discussion. Follow the flow of the discussion and try to tailor your contribution to the needs of the moment. Sometimes the previous remark needs to be challenged or probed more deeply. Sometimes, when a topic has been sufficiently aired, we need a summarizing observation or a bridging comment, which moves us forward. There is a time for data and a time for opinion: a time for analysis and a time for decision.

One of the most important concepts that shaped from the majority of the case studies was about “co-creation” – the way brands should build in the digital age, together with the consumer. Before, the brands’ communication was unilateral. Today, they can and should listen and answer to the consumers’ perceptions, needs, or requests and genuinely apply them to their marketing strategies. Today’s consumers have advantages that no previous generation has ever had. In the digital environment the constraints of the physical store disappeared and the selection process is supported by rich amounts of information.

We reviewed the strategy, results and future approaches of brands like Dove, United Airlines, Schibsted, TripAdvisor, Radihead, Baseball American League, Facebook’s platforms, Zynga, Porsche, Groupon, eBay. We also received valuable insights form companies like comScore (the first research company to provide insight into the audience size, composition, behavior and brand engagement of consumers reached by brands on Facebook).

Professor John Deighton (  the Dean of the course) provided as a conclusion more questions, meant to serve as a guide when developing a digital marketing strategy: it’s all about context, customers, company, competitors and collaborators (or the 5 C).

An other valuable idea worth mentioning is that it is not enough to think and do. You have also to influence.

But the most important is to understand that the brain is not a bucket. It is a muscle and in order to keep it exercised, during the 1900s you had to write a book, during the 2000s you had to write a blog and starting 2010, to write a Tweet. Any guess for 2020?

Andreea Guidea graduated the University of Bucharest with a specialization on Administrative Sciences, has a SNSPA Masters on International relations and European Integration, an MBA from Ecole Superieure de Commerce de Paris (ESCP), London Campus. She also completed the courses of the National Defense College of Romania and The Romanian Diplomatic Institute. She published different studies on national defense, critical infrastructure and crisis management in Romania and abroad.


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4 Responses to Taking Marketing Digital to Harvard Business School

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