‘Fail fast’ is part of the curriculum for this marketing course
Published: November 23, 2021 / Author: Melissa Jackson
When his students’ digital marketing campaigns started outperforming those of a professional ad agency, teaching professor Tim Bohling, was elated.
But had the real-time targeted marketing campaigns his students deployed for the College’s graduate business programs failed, Bohling, the chief marketing and graduate enrollment officer at the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business, would have counted it as a win, as well.
“I call it a learning laboratory: You’re testing a number of variables simultaneously,” said Bohling, a global marketing executive-turned-academic who also is a teaching professor in Mendoza’s Marketing Department. “‘Fail fast’ is exactly the mantra, because then you stop doing what’s not working and do something that is working.”
Applied Digital Marketing blends marketing theory with the practical demands of designing, executing, analyzing and adjusting targeted digital marketing campaigns. The innovative course, first offered by the College in spring 2020, is more than hands-on; it’s “put your money where your ideas are.” For classwork, student teams are given a $15,000 budget to apply to a paid media campaign that they themselves develop, with the goal of elevating the brand equity of their assigned graduate program or small business.
“It’s just incredible every time we do this how effective and productive the students are,” said Bohling. “As an example, the MBA class last year ran the most successful Chicago EMBA program paid media ad we’ve ever run.”
Back in spring 2018, Bohling was an incredibly proud Notre Dame parent. His son was about to graduate from Mendoza, one of the top-ranked undergraduate b-schools in the country. Bohling built his career leading business transformations in the private sector at firms, including IBM, HCL Technologies and Stratasys, before taking a higher education post in Georgia.
His visit to Notre Dame for commencement coincided with the Marketing Department’s plans to roll out a digital marketing specialized track for marketing majors and a digital marketing minor for non-business students at Notre Dame. Conversations about these curriculum changes for the marketing major, which U.S. News & World Report had ranked 12th in the nation, led to an invitation to Bohling to join the faculty.
In January 2019, he began teaching digital marketing sections at the undergraduate and MBA levels. At that time, he also agreed to serve in an administrative position as the College’s first-ever chief marketing officer. This dual role gave Bohling a real-world digital marketing lab to develop the Applied Digital Marketing course, which launched in spring 2020. Bohling has received two Procter & Gamble higher education grants that are awarded for programs that better prepare students for business success through experiential learning, innovation and cross functional collaboration providing curriculum at the cutting edge of relevance and effectiveness.
The art and science of marketing have always fascinated Bohling. “And that’s what digital marketing is; it’s very much the creative and science together,” he said. Early in his career, he worked in database marketing, which was a precursor to digital marketing at IBM, and the growth of the internet and its implications for marketers shaped his professional journey.
From experience, Bohling knows that the digital marketing playing field will continue to expand and shift. His approach to teaching digital marketing doesn’t focus on a particular tool or platform. Rather, he emphasizes the strategic know-how required in order to find success — regardless of how the tools of the trade change.
“What I’m teaching students is structured frameworks and concepts that are industry agnostic,” Bohling explained. “The tenets of the playbook are essentially the same that I’ve had the pleasure of running domestically, internationally and globally across multiple industries. It consistently works … because it’s all about learning and applying said learnings with speed and purpose.”
For that reason, understanding and strategically responding to real-time analytics is a key part of the learning process in his course. After launching a campaign, students can make adjustments while their campaigns are in-market. “It’s learn, apply, learn,” Bohling said.
He believes experiential learning is critical for business students, a view echoed in the new College brand identity that carries the imperative, Grow the Good in Business.
“We speak theoretically in marketing all the time about the importance of figuring out what your customers’ needs are,” said Alex Arroyo, one of Bohling’s prior students. “But actually implementing it and having to go do it was an entirely different process that gave me a fuller understanding of what this marketing major is really all about.”
Bohling is continuously innovating and looking to further optimize the course going forward and would very much like to open up his courses to more students. “It’s just been incredibly well received from a student standpoint.”