Why MFA’s Are Better Marketers Than MBA’s

Geoffrey ColonJanuary 12, 20177964 min

Apple never invested heavily in marketing, preferring to build great products and save money on fixed costs. Then something strange happened: Samsung phones, which feature a different operating system (the open-source and Google-owned Android) and a bigger screen, began to pick up market share in 2013. Soon, as Samsung was seeing major adoption across various markets, Apple moved toward television commercials in an attempt to differentiate its products from the competition. One ad, at the end of 2014, showed the iPhone not simply as a phone but instead as a mobile creative tool featuring a user who was an artist. Shortly after this ad aired, Apple reported that iPhone sales boomed, while Samsung reported at sales or marginal growth.

Creativity in the new economy isn’t simply about selling; it’s also about how you can stand out. How does a brand survive in a world filled with copycats, reverse-engineered products, and free intellectual property and still be relevant? Much of this answer is going to come from a new way of thinking that involves art, science, math, psychology, and media. It doesn’t align with the resounding corporate or higher education culture that says MBAs are the best qualified to occupy marketing roles.

Richard Florida explains what the creative economy means from a commodity-meets-people perspective:

“Creativity is multidimensional and comes in many mutually reinforcing forms. It is a mistake to think, as many do, that creativity can be reduced to the creation of new blockbuster inventions, new products and new firms. In today’s economy, creativity is pervasive and ongoing: We constantly revise and enhance every product, process and activity imaginable, and t them together in new ways. Moreover, technological and economic creativity are nurtured by and interact with artistic and cultural creativity. This kind of interplay is evident in the rise of whole new industries from computer graphics to digital music and animation. Creativity also requires a social and economic environment that can nurture its many forms. Max Weber said long ago that the Protestant ethic provided the underlying spirit of thrift, hard work and efficiency that motivated the rise of early capitalism. In similar fashion, the shared commitment to the creative spirit in its many, varied manifestations underpins the new creative ethos that powers our age.”

The majority of advanced marketing positions are always advertised with the phrase “MBA preferred.” While this made sense for much of the knowledge economy, it makes less sense in the creative economy. Once upon a time, the MBA was the shining beacon of the corporate hierarchy.

Today, more and more that beacon is lit by the creative types who come from graphic design, copywriting, video production, and photography. Alas, the MBA is a dated badge of honor, while the creative types (many of whom hold another kind of master’s degree, an MFA) are the darlings of the workplace.

What caused this shift? For one thing, MBAs are no longer different from other people in the work environment. They might not all have coding or data experience, and they might not know how to design. Many might not even know how to manipulate media to their advantage. Some aspire to strategic roles, but they don’t want to execute.

Laura Stack, author of Execution Is the Strategy, explains that when MBAs want only to strategize, both the organization and the individual fail. Stack says that “pie in the sky” strategies created by people with no boots on the ground won’t succeed as often as strategies created by those who can execute for desirable results from end to end.

The disruptive marketer isn’t just a 50/50 analytical/creative hybrid; he or she is also a strategy/execution/analyst expert who can do it all. And creativity is an essential skill for these roles. That’s why an MFA can be more powerful than an MBA, especially if that MFA learns code!

The exciting new world of the creative economy is just the tip of a very large economic opportunity. Creatives possess new skills. And businesses want more of them because creativity isn’t just a nice discipline to add to a team; it’s a matter of economic life or death.

Complex, challenging creative work is difficult to automate or outsource cheaply. Indeed, creativity is what transforms utilitarian, indistinctive products like Windows 10 into devices that people actually need, love, and use creatively. Those who can transform creativity into actual disruptive execution have the potential to be the future leaders of this new world. More than ever, those with imagination are outpacing those with process.

Technology is driving this boom. Smartphones, cheap sensors, and cloud computing have enabled a raft of new Internet-connected services that are infiltrating the most tech-averse industries: Uber is roiling the taxi universe; Airbnb is disrupting the hotels industry; Spotify has upended the music MP3 model after Napster upended the compact disc model.

In commerce, disruption is the norm and conventional brand marketing approaches won’t work anymore. A business that will upend a legacy titan in the next five years probably hasn’t even been born yet. But when it is, it will come from the mind of a new creative, possibly an outsider to marketing—maybe a musician or an artist who dabbles in building iOS apps.

It won’t be someone armed strictly with an MBA.

Learn how to keep your brand relevant in the 21st Century in my new book Disruptive Marketing.

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