Katie Mercurio teaches the first class online students take in Chico State’s Online MBA program, Seminar in Strategic Marketing, and she hopes it’ll be a welcome surprise.
“From the time you're born, you’ve been exposed to marketing, so it's something that every single person can wrap their head around right off the bat,” Mercurio said. “Even the people who work in marketing, they walk in thinking this is going to be a cake walk, easy. And then they go, I can't believe I learned this much.”
The Online MBA program at Chico State is designed to give students the knowledge and leadership skills to set them on a stronger career path, so Mercurio is excited to set the expectations with their first course of the program.
The Seminar in Strategic Marketing course focuses on the background of consumer psychology, the impact of research-based strategy, and the role marketing plays within a company as the department that interacts the most with consumers.
When she was developing the online classwork for this program last fall, she asked her “offline” students for their help (well before the Online MBA was officially approved by the university) to see what parts of the program resonated with them.
“I'm trying to make it similar but slightly different for the online students, but I want it to be equitable. I wanted it to have the same meaning for the offline as I do for the online,” Mercurio said.
Mercurio uses Harvard Business Review case studies in her on-campus and online courses. This allows her to keep its content flexible and relevant to students. While many of HBR’s cases dating back 30 years ago still offer valuable insights for today, others published in the past couple years allow for class discussion and the key takeaways that can slowly evolve or drastically change in a matter of months.
One of the case studies Mercurio discussed last fall compares the long-term outlook for Amazon, Apple, Facebook and Google. After the unprecedented events of this year though, Mercurio knows the coursework will be impacted: “I'm excited to teach this case. I think it's going to have a very different meaning in 2020 than when I taught it in 2019.”
Mercurio hopes that another case study about the survival of Best Buy in the face of Amazon will lead to interesting debate. Before the pandemic students tried to find ways for brick and mortar stores to adapt to online buying, but now Mercurio hopes they’ll be talking about whether this issue will be flipped and consumers will be excited about visiting stores in person after the pandemic.
Her goal for the course is to prepare students to look past their immediate present because it can change so quickly.
“We try to teach principles and strategy that will last far beyond TikTok, Twitter, or Instagram,” Mercurio said. “They get to understand why they're seeing what they see. They start to understand: This is why I buy this product versus this one or this is why I've paid attention to this ad. It's kind of fun at the same time, and the fact is that they're learning a lot.”
Research Faculty in Action
Mercurio’s career in marketing started through undergraduate summer internships at Nestlé USA in California. Given the opportunity to work across a number of its departments, including infant nutrition as well as confections and snacks, she wanted to understand the mechanics behind how decisions were being made and why consumers behave in certain ways.
She continued to study consumer behavior in graduate school and in her doctoral program. In addition to better understanding branding and strategic marketing on the business side, she had the opportunity to work alongside psychology researchers who have and continue to revolutionize their fields.
“With my research, you really see this marriage between branding, social identity, and memory,” Mercurio said.
While at Chico State, Mercurio has researched national brands and their supposed political leanings as well as the relationship between airline mileage clubs and their members. She’s also recently partnered with other Chico State faculty to better understand their move to online learning during the pandemic.
Often her graduate students are able to participate in her work outside the classroom, but to Mercurio, the value of having research faculty is that it offers students something more.
“We're at the forefront of where the research is going. We go to conferences around the country, though now it's virtual, and we get to hear people present their research that nobody else has seen yet. It's not even in a journal yet,” said Mercurio, who usually shares what she’s learned with her students.
“It's not like a textbook, which is usually 10 years late, because by the time you get a textbook, the information’s been out there for a really long time.”
Start With a Strong Foundation
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