A digital marketing master’s degree program generally requires between 30 and 36 credits and is designed to teach the latest best practices across a range of digital fields including design, communications, advertising, and analytics.
Any good marketing professional needs to know where their customers are, and how to engage with them. As more and more of our daily lives move into the online world, so too does the messaging from marketing teams. This brings about both opportunities and threats to the modern marketer, most notably the competitive advantage of being tech-savvy and well-skilled in garnering an audience via digital distribution channels.
Which is where a graduate degree program in digital marketing comes in. There are tons of tools to learn and leverage, ranging from social media and content marketing to search engine optimization (SEO) and analytics. As data gets bigger and more complex, tools like machine learning and AI also enter the fray. The challenge for traditional marketing professionals is acquiring the right skills to capitalize on these changes in the marketplace.
A good starting point is to consider the new and emerging roles in digital marketing, with an eye to identify how existing knowledge and experience can be built upon to fulfill future professional demands. Start with simple questions. What marketing skills do you already have? Are you a strong writer? Consider being a copywriter. How about image and graphic generation? A great fit for you is graphic design. Are you a master of numbers and statistics? Digital analytics is a great career choice with plenty of demand.
While a master’s degree in digital marketing will touch upon each of these skills, the primary selling point is more strategic. The main goal is career advancement through attaining a bird’s-eye view of the future of marketing. Executive-level marketing professionals are tasked with building out a digital marketing plan from start to finish, contemplating which tools to use, channels to leverage, and data to analyze. These marketing masterminds need a strong grasp of the broader digital landscape, including how the different roles, functions, and tools can combine to produce a competitive advantage for their clients and companies.
If that sounds right up your alley, the next step is outlining how to get started and what to expect from the curriculum. Let’s take a look.
Getting a Master’s in Digital Marketing
Digital marketing occupies an interesting compromise between technology and business, typically combining the business school with the software engineers and analysts in the school of technology. Some programs will define this as a master of science (M.Sc.), while others will describe it as a master of business (MBA or MBI).
It’s worth taking some time to explore different programs at local universities, and identify if the expertise and coursework you’re looking for is available. There are alternative options, such as digital marketing bootcamps, if your goal is just to dip your toe in the water and see what it’s all about. However, this guide is focused on official and comprehensive graduate degree programs, which offer stronger qualifications and require more investment from the students. This investment starts with the application process.
The Application Process
The first step in pursuit of a graduate-level degree is an undergraduate degree which fulfills all of the core prerequisites for graduate study. This is typically some mix of business coursework in marketing, as well as basic computer science capabilities. The university will likely request an official transcript from your undergraduate program, so don’t forget to request one from the registrar! They usually mail these out free of charge.
Typical graduate degree programs also expect GMAT or GRE test scores, as well as proof of English fluency (for foreign students). Letters of recommendation are standard procedure as well, either from colleagues or previous professors from your undergraduate, and a written essay describing your interest in the program. This is a good time to contemplate where you plan to specialize, and how the program you are applying to can help you get there. The essay is as much to clarify your own objectives and intentions as it is to convince the admissions department to accept your enrollment. Which begs the question, what types of concentrations are available to digital marketers?
A useful way to frame digital marketing is in three parts: strategy, creation, and measurement. Digital marketing professionals need to be able to build out a comprehensive executive-level digital strategy, populate campaigns with appealing and effective assets (copy, graphics, video, and websites), and measure the efficacy of using these campaigns and assets to achieve strategic objectives. Let’s take a closer look at what coursework will look like:
- Strategy: Courses in strategy is the executive-level content, and is typically the most relevant to graduate students looking to attain higher level positions within a company. Marketing leaders must map out customer journeys through a digital pipeline, identifying opportunities and weaknesses throughout the customer experience. Studying strategy usually involves plenty of real-life case studies, where difficult decisions had to be made. The goal is to improve one’s decision-making capacity, and build comprehensive long-term business plans geared towards achievable objectives.
- Creation: Courses in creation can vary widely, from copywriting to graphic design to web development to filmography. Digital marketing students who aspire to functional mastery of a given creative field will want to put most of their chips in this category, and typically benefit from specializing as much as possible within their chosen domain. A graduate degree will help update the creative vision for modern messaging distribution, and position graduates for roles in creative leadership.
- Measurement: The final set of key skills in the digital marketing curriculum revolve around leveraging machine learning, big data, digital marketing analytics, and statistics to derive useful learnings from each campaign (and even each interaction). Understanding objectives conversion ratios, and postulating how different strategic decisions impact customer conversion, is central to this element of the curriculum. A bit of coding know-how wouldn’t be amiss! Specialists in analytics often work closely with business intelligence teams to iterate and refine existing campaigns.
It’s worth mentioning briefly that coursework in digital marketing is often project-driven. This means emulating what the real workplace is like (or even working with companies partnered with the university). This is a great experience, as it will expose students to real production pipelines in the digital world. Have you ever built look-alike audiences for social media campaigns? Designed user experiences through a digital purchasing pipeline? Conducted A/B tests to determine the best creative assets to use in a large-scale campaign? The best digital marketing programs will offer projects that give exposure to these learning experiences.
Speaking of hands-on projects work, what types of companies hire digital marketers? What value will your degree bring to a prospective employer? Let’s take a tour of the digital marketing world.
Why Hire a Digital Marketer?
Organizations hire digital marketing teams consisting of specialists in a variety of functional fields, all within the broader digital marketing discipline. Strategists and project managers come in from an organizational angle, mapping both the customer journey and the internal resources required to improve that journey. Creatives fill the role of producing the aesthetic of that experience, while analysts measure outcomes and iterate towards improvement.
Let’s cook up a fictitious example to lay out the general process. A company produces adorable pet toys, and is just about to release a brand new product line. The marketing executive delegates the following tasks:
- Measure interest
- Design a social media campaign
- Build a landing page and digital storefront for the new products
- Suggest improvements based upon analytics
- Iterate towards maximum purchasing behavior
These five tasks are all digital marketing tasks within a single project process. First, the digital marketing team can use social media analytics to identify target market groups and test interest in the new product line using a small sample. This allows the team to understand the customer, and predict the possible market potential and key performance indicators (KPIs).
They can then design a social media campaign that will reach these target markets, attracting interest to the new website they’ve built and delivering a whole range of analytics regarding engagement and click-through rates. Analysts and designers can collaborate from here to test different user experiences, copy, and aesthetic design to maximize customer engagement and purchasing behavior.
Finally, the organization can use the learnings from this digital marketing campaign to consider broader organizational messaging, such as how this campaign may (or may not) align with the broader brand identity and marketing strategy. This means there is typically a seat at the executive table for a digital marketing strategist capable of managing the entire team. A brand is just as powerful in the digital marketing world as it is in the traditional one, and maintaining brand equity is a key strategic concern for the upper-level digital marketers.
Which brings us to the final consideration for any aspiring graduate student: will this help you advance my career? Let’s explore some common roles for master’s of digital marketing.
The Digital Marketing Professional
While there are many lower-level roles in digital marketing, particularly in content generation, we’ll focus more on the senior-level roles. After all, getting a graduate degree is all about converting knowledge and experience into senior positions within an organization. Senior level roles almost always include some degree of team management, which is why graduate degrees in digital marketing are often found under a university’s MBA programs. Let’s list out a few of the more common senior-level roles:
- Digital Marketing Manager: Digital marketing generalists with graduate degrees and a knack for herding cats (i.e. managing creatives) are perfect for this position. A digital marketing manager is going to focus on understanding the executive-level branding vision, translating that into an actionable strategy for the broader digital marketing team. Annual salary comes in at $72,000/year.
- Creative Director: One of the primary challenges with a complex creative endeavor such as a digital marketing campaign is maintaining consistency of vision. This means planning, delegating, and leading a team towards a consistent and coherent brand vision through the production of copy, imagery, video, and user experience. Creative directors and/or creative leads are tasked with this job, and can expect an annual salary around $108,000/year.
- User Experience Architect: The user experience is central to the digital marketing pipeline. Simpler is almost always better when it comes to designing the user experience, which means someone on the team needs to know the whole process from start to finish. This is the user experience architect, who links technical/coding capabilities with marketing know-how and a creative flare. As this is a high-level role in UX/UI, it commands a salary around $120,000/year.
- VP of Digital Marketing: Many companies operate primarily (or even entirely) online, meaning that the VP of marketing is going to be synonymous with the VP of digital marketing. A graduate-level digital marketer with plenty of proven experience in a given industry is a likely candidate for this role, and is tasked with the challenging job of maintaining brand equity while delegating comprehensive strategies to the digital marketing managers. As this is a high responsibility role, salary clocks in around $160,000/year.
When contemplating your own future in digital marketing, it’s worthwhile to consider which of the three main perspectives is most consistent with your own skills, interests, and experience. Are you a tactical analyst, capable of number-crunching your way to strategic conclusions? Are you a creative who thrives in an environment where you can craft endless streams of awesome assets and clever one-liners? Perhaps you’re more of a leader and strategist, who prefers working with functional experts and aligning their productivity towards a shared vision?
Understanding your own aspirations and abilities prior to investing the time and capital into a graduate degree is the first and most important step on your journey. Undergraduate degrees are often quite flexible and general, allowing room for students to shift their focus and expertise as they learn more about the broader professional world. Graduate degrees are more concentrated on specific outcomes, informed by some amount of professional experience and exposure. Digital marketing is no exception, so make sure you sell yourself on the future you want before you start selling customers their (digitally-sourced) desires!