Marketing Techniques You Won’t Learn in College (But Must Know For the Real World)

Have you ever heard people complain that they didn’t learn much from college, but they learned a ton from their first job?

There’s a reason people complain about school. Part of the problem, of course, has to do with the students themselves. (Partying has marginal educational benefits.)

Education itself has built-in disadvantages. I’m not here to disparage education. Education is essential. But education can’t prepare you for some of the most critical aspects of marketing that you will face in the real world.

Here are some of the most valuable marketing techniques that you’ll probably hear nothing about in your marketing classes.

1. Customer psychology

Customer psychology is the science of why people buy. Customer psychology is at the root of every purchase decision.

Apart from a perfunctory Psych 101, few students ever dive into the why and how of buying behavior.

The result is that most companies just guess at consumer behavior. Doing “market research” doesn’t substitute for the intuitive understanding of human cognition that lies at the root of search-click-buy activity online.

Customer psychology unearths valuable information that completely changes the way you approach all of marketing.

  • What are the subconscious activities that predispose a customer to purchase?
  • What conditions lead to a customer’s position in the buy cycle?
  • How do pain and happiness affect a user’s behavior on a website?
  • How do cognitive biases affect purchase behavior?

To benefit from this fascinating field, you’ll have to do the digging on your own.

2. Personal branding.

Apart from a passing reference in “Introduction to Entrepreneurship” you may not even be familiar with the term “personal branding.”

However, building your personal brand is an essential part of marketing in today’s environment.

A personal brand is not about narcissism. It’s about marketing, plain and simple. To sell anything, especially personal or consulting services, you must have a platform. If no one knows you exist, how can they be convinced to buy from you.

The advantage of a personal platform can’t be overstated. The larger and more successful your personal brand, the better you can start businesses, market products, and grow your business.

3. Analytics

Any business student will have his baptism by fire in college math class. Most businesses students may also wrangle with freshman accounting or some other nefarious bugaboo.

But analytics? Scarcely a mention.

Analytics is “the systematic computational analysis of data or statistics.” Sounds boring, but it’s crucial. Why? Because it’s the only way to know what’s going on with your business.

From analytics, you can discover the following:

  • How many website visitors you received over a certain period.
  • How many mobile users converted during the month of April
  • Which headline — version A or version B — caused the most people to buy your product.
  • How 18-25-year-olds interact with your site.
  • Where people are leaving your checkout process

Analytics is like a business genie in a SaaS bottle. How do you get the genie out? You learn analytics. There is a variety of analytics platforms, such as Google Analytics and other systems that help to interpret data in actionable ways. There are also platforms with more detailed types of analytics, such as SEO performance.

4. Mobile

Mobile. Just one word.

But a world of potential.

Mobile and desktop Internet usage is now approximately equal. If you go through school without learning about mobile trends and marketing actions, then you have some catching up to do.

You’ll need to learn about some of the latest and most influential trends in mobile:

  • Mobile marketing in general
  • Mobile social media usage
  • Mobile search engine optimization
  • Mobile app development
  • Responsive design
  • Tap to call marketing
  • SMS marketing
  • Mobile gamification
  • Marketing with wearable technology
  • Mobile checkout
  • Mobile customer behavior monitoring
  • Mobile research
  • Mobile usage trends
  • Mobile marketing statistics and analytics

Mobile is one of the most significant trends in the modern marketing era.

5. Content marketing

The web is driven by content. You’ve heard the phrase, now cliche, “content is king.” As worn-out as it is, the statement is no less true.

Content is what attracts search engines, gains user attention, compels customer conversions, and makes you money.

To not be aware of content marketing is to overlook something that will comprise your most useful and potentially lucrative forms of marketing. I’ve used content marketing to build several businesses. I can assure you that its profitable.

For one of my businesses, Kissmetrics, I spend 99% of the marketing budget on content marketing and email marketing. That’s a lot of money. But there’s a lot of ROI.

6. Search marketing

How do search engines work?  It’s an important issue, because search is what makes the online world go around.

Without a basic understanding of search engine optimization, few companies would be successful with their marketing. Digital marketing starts with an understanding of SEO, keyword optimization, technical optimization, and then developing a plan that attracts and converts the right kind of traffic.

7. Social media

Most college students know how to use social media. But marketing on social media is much different than stalking your crush, looking at pics, and posting status updates.

Social media marketing gets into the thick of promoted posts, engagement levels, ROI, and audience growth. It takes a level of commitment and sophistication to get at Facebook from a totally different angle.

8. Conversion optimization

Conversion rate optimization or CRO is a mix of psychology, art, and science, that gives you a major ROI. Defined precisely, CRO is a systematic approach to improving a user’s website experience so that they are more likely to convert, or take a preferred action.

Conversion optimization starts with understanding your users (refer to customer psychology on this one) and knowing exactly who they are and what they want. From there, conversion optimizers shape a website structure and content so that it is most likely to gain the attention and action of the users.

But that’s only the start.

The real action in conversion optimization is the testing. Conversion optimizers use a practice called a/b testing (or split testing) to know for certain which variations of a website convert more users.

Few universities have courses on split testing, even though it’s an important part of marketing. To get at this, you’ll have to do research and get practice.


I understand why schools don’t offer courses in all of these things. It’s hard to teach a course in an area that is constantly changing.

Marketing is an industry that is in constant flux. The best practices of a few months ago are outdated almost as quickly as they are adopted.

That’s why it’s up to us to try to keep pace, self-education, research relentlessly, and apply what we know.

What marketing lessons do you wish you learned in college?

Jessica Corry

Jessica is a marketing consultant specializing in social media trends, business, and entrepreneurship.

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