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What Makes MBAs Stand Out?

Today I deviate a bit from standard protocol and write about MBA teaching. That’s because I just saw a great ft.com interview featuring the Ross School’s Dean Alison Davis-Blake. She had an important message:

Business schools must change their tactics for MBAs to get jobs.

As Dean Davis-Blake usefully points out, “employers are looking at what it costs to hire an MBA and are saying to themselves, am I better off hiring this very expensive MBA talent…or hiring a much less expensive undergraduate talent and training them over time?” 

This raises the question of what is going to give MBAs the competitive skill-based advantage in the future. Here, Dean Davis-Blake gave a really powerful answer as well:

"Design thinking."

And this brings us to Customer Experience Design.

This course, which I recently developed and taught for the first time last fall, is unique on many levels. By “offering an integrated framework for designing customer experiences and for creating successful experientially based marketing strategies," it conveys a set of strategic skills that, as Dean Davis argues, “are not easy to teach” and therefore highly desired by companies.

Design thinking in our course also addresses the “critical thinking” skills Dean Davis mentions. My course is not a regurgitation of experiential marketing, the importance of touch, sense, and feel or retail spectacles. Rather it transforms MBA students into 360-degree customer experience designers who know how to combine emotional, identity, material, and political resources in ways that create experiences  truly greater than the sum of their parts.

But on the note of design thinking, the course goes even further than this.

I was able to design the course to operate as a business school within a business school. It is its own marketing department, its own media and marketing department, and its own industry and career relations department. 

First, there is research. I work at a school where research is the absolute priority. And that’s because cutting-edge scholarship is a precondition to training cutting-edge MBAs.

Almost all of Customer Experience Design's case studies, strategies, and tools are therefore rooted in my own published or even pre-published scholarly research as well as the applied research I’ve been doing over the last ten years.

In addition, to develop the course, I spent my entire summer of 2013 traveling around the world to speak with managers at companies such as Tesla, Apple, Unilever, Nest, McKinsey, and many others. And they said it loud and clear: we desperately need smart marketing design thinkers and doers. Now these and other companies can (and do) hire them straight out of my classroom.

On the media level, industry leader Marketing Magazine came onboard early on to contribute with their incredible knowledge and network. In fact, Marketing Magazine’s editor-in-chief David Thomas was so impressed with the course and my students that he featured an entire series of customer experience design insights produced by my students themselves called MBA Lab.

Now isn’t this course more work to teach? On the contrary, because longstanding boundaries between stakeholders in research, teaching, industry, and media are removed, the course becomes a powerful engine for cross-pollination, tremendously benefiting each group of stakeholders - and most importantly our MBA students.

In general, the MBA landscape is a tough market and competition among schools is fierce. But when it comes to re-imagining the MBA, we’re in this together. And while Customer Experience Design is just one example, perhaps one day the Financial Times will no longer rank schools but individual courses.

Markus Giesler

York University, 4700 Keele Street, Toronto, Canada

Markus Giesler draws on concepts from economics, technology studies, and sociology to inform his research in marketing. He determines how ideas and things (products, services, experiences, technological innovations, intellectual property, brands, etc.) are made valuable over time, with research focused on improving marketing strategy through an understanding of markets as evolving social systems. Giesler's research has been supported by the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (SSHRC) and the European Research Council (ERC) and published in top-tier academic journals such as the Journal of Consumer Research and the Journal of Marketing. Giesler has an extensive entertainment industry background. He founded his own record label at age 17 and has worked in various production and marketing responsibilities for over a decade. He lives in Toronto, Canada.