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How Education Helps Shape Top B2C Marketers at Successful VC-backed U.S. Companies

20 April 2021

And the implications for finding and hiring your next marketing leader

This is the second article in our six-part series analyzing over 100 Elite B2C Marketing Executives at high-growth, consumer-focused U.S. tech companies to better understand the skills, experience, attributes, and backgrounds that separate them from the rest. We dispel myths, share interesting findings, discuss key takeaways, and explore if predictive indicators exist to identify who will be the most successful marketers. (Our methodology can be found at the end of this article.)

Our first article sharing high-level findings can be found here.


Since 2010, the percentage of people in the US who earned a bachelor’s degree jumped from 30% to 36%.  Those majoring in key quantitative studies increased from 12% to 14%.  And the percentage of people in the U.S. aged 25-29 with a master’s degree increased from roughly 5.5% to 9.5%.  

Most people would agree that higher education is increasingly important for finding a job, along with working in your select field.  But can a person’s unique educational background indicate their likelihood to succeed as a top marketing executive at a high-growth consumer startup, or even predict their success? 

We turn to the data and our analyses of over 100 elite B2C marketing executives and dig deeper into the formal education of top marketers to examine how education correlates with the careers of elite marketing leaders at high-growth tech startups.  We examined several key factors such as types of universities attended, earning an MBA, types of degrees, and even how the educational experience of elite marketers may be changing over time.  We share our findings below.

 1. Graduating from a top university or having an MBA are not required to be a successful marketer

As part of our first article in this series, we noted that the top 28 universities in the U.S. produced 49% of the Elite Marketers in our study.  That is a lot considering they are only 28 schools among thousands.  But, 51% of our top marketers did not attend a top university, clarifying that a top school is not required to be an elite marketer.

The data also suggests that an MBA is not required to be an elite marketer at a fast-growing tech company – only 38% of them have an MBA.  While some of the most evolved tech companies still target marketers with a prestigious university on their resume, or that desired additional business degree, the data speaks for itself.  From a talent acquisition perspective, for fast-growing tech companies looking for their next marketing leader, a top school and an MBA, is not something that should be required for success.

2. Top Marketers with a Quantitative Degree are More Likely to Be ‘Performance’ Marketers, and Less Likely to Work at an Agency or in CPG

Of the Top Marketers in our study whose professional careers focused on Performance Marketing, 67% had a quantitative degree (e.g. Mathematics, Economics, Finance, Statistics, or Computer Science).  Of our top marketers who are Brand/Communication specialists or general marketers, only 26% had one of these quantitative degrees.  Whether a quantitative degree provides the knowledge for a performance and data-driven approach, or marketers with a quantitative degree were already predisposed to turn to the data in their marketing career, we cannot say.  But it doesn’t come as a surprise that having strong quant skills (from your degree or other experiences) appears to be a critical factor in setting yourself up for success in a performance marketing role.

Our data also suggests that a quantitative degree may predict where a future top marketer starts their career.  Top marketers with a quant degree are 3.5x more likely to get a job in consulting, but less than ½ as likely to take a position at a marketing agency or CPG brand.

Note that 33% of top performance marketers in our study did not have a quantitative degree, thus this degree should not be required when hiring a performance-driven marketing leader.

3. Elite Marketers Who Graduated from a Top 28 University Are More Likely to Have Majored in Quantitative Studies and More Likely to Earn an MBA

Of the elite B2C marketers in our study who graduated from one of the country’s top universities, 57% of them went on to earn an MBA – well over half. Of those who did not attend a top university, only 19% went on to earn an MBA – not even a quarter.  Perhaps marketers from a top university believe more strongly in the power of an MBA.  Or, perhaps peer influence plays a role — with so many peers getting (or planning on getting) an MBA, it seems the logical course of action for them to get one as well.

There’s a marked difference in our top university graduates for quantitative degrees as well.  A substantial 45% of top marketers who went to a top school earned a quantitative degree (e.g. Mathematics, Economics, Finance, Statistics or Computer Science).  Of those top marketers who did not attend a top 28 university, only 28% of them chose a quantitative field.  This further implies that our top university graduates are clearly making different choices.

Our first finding reveals having an MBA is not required to be a successful marketer.  Similarly, since only 37% of our top marketers have a quantitative degree, that’s not required to be a successful marketer either.  But, for those employers who still lean towards these two things as “requirements,” they will be more likely to find both in marketers from a top university.

4. Top Marketers with a Quantitative Degree are More Likely to be Men

Men make up 63% of the top marketers with a quantitative degree, while women only account for 37%. You have likely encountered the recent movement encouraging more women to study and work in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) where they are underrepresented.  The data reflects this same underrepresentation in our elite marketers from an educational standpoint. 

However, women make up 56% of the Elite Marketers in our study, so while women may skew away from quantitative fields today, it clearly does not impede their ability to ‘represent’ when it comes to leading marketing for high-growth, consumer startups. 

5. Top Marketers with an MBA are Less likely to Move Jobs Frequently

Among our MBA grads, 59% have been at 3 or fewer companies in the last 10 years. Of our top marketers without an MBA, 42% have been at 3 or fewer companies in the last 10 years.  When earning your MBA as a professional, the company you work for sometimes sponsors your degree in exchange for a commitment, and perhaps this promotes longer tenures.  Or perhaps it is as simple as those without an MBA are more inclined to move companies in an effort to further their careers vs investing in an advanced degree.

Regardless, for fast-growing companies looking for their next marketing leader to stick around, they should first look at each candidate’s employment history directly for red flags like multiple short stints under 18 months.  But all things being equal, the data suggests that top marketers with an MBA will usually be less likely to leave quickly.

6. Fewer Elite Marketers are coming from Top Schools or Earning Their MBAs, but More are Graduating with a Quantitative Degree

Among the top marketers in our study with over 26 years experience (the oldest generation among our elite marketers), an overwhelming 65% of them attended one of the top 28 schools in the country.  Of our remaining top marketers with 6 to 25 years experience, only 45% are graduates from top universities, including 46% within our youngest cohort – 6 to 10 years experience.  The data suggests that a top university education is becoming less common in top marketers at fast-growing tech companies than it once was.   

Our data also shows that only 27% of top marketers with 6-10 years of experience have an MBA and only 29% of those with 11-15 years.  Compare that to 43% of those with 16 years or more experience, and you’ll notice there is clearly a difference between generations.  Is it possible that the younger generation just hasn’t yet earned an MBA but still plans on it?  We think not.  Most MBA students fall between 5-9 years of professional experience6, so if they haven’t already gotten an MBA by the time they hit 11 years experience, they probably won’t.

Lastly, 37% of all of the elite marketers in our study had a quantitative degree, while a staggering  55% of all elite marketers with under 11 years of experience have one. As a leading executive search firm for some of the fastest-growing tech companies in the country, we are seeing more and more companies turn to Performance and Growth Marketers to lead their marketing efforts, leaning more heavily into the science of marketing, since marketing channels are increasingly more measurable. 

Considering the upcoming generation of marketing leaders are increasingly quantitative, coming from universities without top names, and less inclined to earn an MBA, hiring managers and recruiters should be sure their hiring tactics are reflecting the times.


As the educational diversity of our top marketers suggests, there is no single academic path that will predict success in elite marketers at high-growth, consumer-focused tech companies.  However, every role requires its own unique set of skills and experience, which hiring managers and recruiters need to meticulously define.  

Perhaps certain educational indicators above may assist in finding the perfect match for any given role, or even help the young and aspiring marketing leaders of tomorrow, develop their own academic roadmaps today.  Education alone however cannot identify or predict a successful marketing leader.  In upcoming articles, we explore more areas including career experience, functional expertise, and even gender for implications into how fast-growing tech companies can find and hire their next great marketing leader. 

Our Full Article Series Includes:

  1. Key High Level Findings
  2. The Formal Education of Top Marketers
  3. Career Experiences of Top Marketers
  4. How Do Top Marketers Develop as Specialists or Generalists?
  5. Women vs. Men as Top Marketers
  6. Series Wrap Up Including Highlights and Implications

If you are interested in our next articles in this series, please follow RevelOne on LinkedIn.


Methodology

We identified the most senior marketing leaders at over 100 of the highest growth tech companies in the US.

How we determined the companies: The fastest-growing tech startups included in our study had to meet several key requirements.  Companies had to be funded by a top tier VC (see list below), be a consumer-focused business, have an employee count between 100 and 5000, and have been identified as a “unicorn” ($1 billion or greater valuation) or be a “successful, high growth company” in one of the following publications: CB Insights and Fast Company 50 Future Unicorns, CNBC Disruptor 50 Companies, Forbes 25: Next Billion-Dollar Startups, Forbes Midas List, or raised $50 million or more in funding within the last 3 years per Crunchbase.

How we identified the marketing leader: The most senior marketing leader within each company was identified based on title. They had to be in a marketing role, must be located in the US, and must have a CMO, VP, SVP, EVP, Head of, Sr Director, or Director title.

How we conducted the analysis: Crunchbased was utilized for public company status, funding VCs and funding amounts.  Company and marketers’ linkedin profiles were analyzed to determine company employee count, consumer focus, most senior marketers in an organization, location, titles, education, gender, work experience, years of experience, current role details, and career focus.  

List of Top Tier VCs: Accel, Andreessen Horowitz, Benchmark, Index Ventures, Sequoia Capital, Bessemer V Partners, Founders Fund, GGV Capital, Institutional Venture Partners, Greylock Partners, Battery Ventures, Union Square Ventures, Founders Fund, General Catalyst, Khosla Ventures, New Enterprise Associates, Norwest Venture Partners, Menlo Ventures, Redpoint Ventures, Spark Capital, Lightspeed Venture partners

List of Top 28 Universities: Princeton, Harvard, Yale, Columbia, Stanford, University of Chicago, MIT, Duke, UPenn, Wharton, Brown, UC Berkeley, Georgetown, Carnegie Mellon, Northwestern, Cornell, Cal Tech, Johns Hopkins, UVA, Dartmouth, NYU, Amherst, Williams, Middlebury, Swarthmore, Vanderbilt, Wash University, Michigan.  


References

  1. https://educationdata.org/education-attainment-statistics/
  2. https://educationdata.org/education-attainment-statistics/#masters-degree-and-higher
  3. https://nces.ed.gov/programs/digest/d19/tables/dt19_322.10.asp
  4. https://withmydegree.org/welcome-real-world/
  5. https://www.vinciaprep.com/en/blog/average-age-mba-applicants-us
  6. https://nces.ed.gov/fastfacts/display.asp?id=84

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