How to get a Digital Marketing Masters

If you want to change the future, be that change

A client once said to me that in Italy most men indulge in one of the three M’s of a mid-life crisis, namely; motorbike, mistress, or a marathon. Not wanting to delve into the world of leathers  – and with knees too dodgy for a marathon – I added a new M to the list.

‘Do a Masters Degree’ was always on my bucket list. I wrote a list of life goals in my early twenties, and this one looked lonely without a tick by its side. So, a couple of years ago I looked at several MSc. programmes and learned that financially you are looking at over ten grand to complete a distance learning post-graduate qualification. Not cheap.

So, I weighed up the pros and cons, decided to go for it and eventually signed-up for the University of Salford and Digital Marketing Institute’s Digital Marketing masters MSc. programme. 

Was it worth it? It was tough. I managed to get a distinction, but it came at a cost. To anyone else thinking of taking on any serious academic distance learning, here are some tips from a 40 something sales and marketing professional, and dad of two, who thought he knew it all and very quickly found out he didn’t!

Do your masters degree for a (good) reason

You need to really want to do this if you are going to get through the long and laborious road ahead. Here were my main reasons for choosing a digital marketing masters degree:

  1. I really wanted to understand what the future digital landscape might mean for my kids. I did not want to be a digital dinosaur, and aspects of social media targeting, and surveillance capitalism, annoyed/terrified me. If you want to change the future, be that change
  2. I was keen to get involved in start-ups and give better support some local community projects I’m involved with, such as Small World Cinema and Music Masters
  3. I became aware that my skill set was getting rusty and I wanted to get ahead of the curve. I was not a digital native, was asking people to do things that I could not do myself, and was therefore driven to upgrade my skills and get a new toolbox

I recommend that you set out your genuine goals for wanting to do this advance.

Apply what you learn

The beauty of studying subjects such as a digital marketing masters is that you can dive into academic subjects such as futures studies, psychology and sociology (all of which I love) and you also get to see the fruits of your labour in a live, practical work environment.

The course is split into two sections:

  1. First up, hours and hours and hours of online lectures and tests on everything you can think of that’s digital marketing, with two long form 5,000+ word assignments on digital marketing research and strategy.
  2. Secondly, several detailed academic case studies, innovation projects and literature reviews, ending with a 15,000+ word thesis on a specialist subject of your choice.

Through listening to the online lectures and immediately implementing what I learned in the work environment, I was quickly able to write advanced digital strategy plans, carry out detailed surveys and market research, launch more effective pay per click (ppc) campaigns, write blogs, create infographics, and make and narrate content marketing videos (all activities that other people had done for me in the past). All this whilst getting up-to-date with all the latest digital marketing strategies, tools and tech.

I MADE myself apply the learning from each module in a real-life scenario, that way you can learn from your mistakes and use analytics to constantly improve upon your work. Listening to lectures and notes is a big chunk of what you need to do. There is an awful lot of course material to get through, so if you think you can skive this part of the course because you know it anyway, well, good luck!

A key piece of advice I would offer at this stage is that you should make sure that your clients or employer will let you experiment, conduct research and/or try out new things in a live environment. I heard some horror stories about students not being able to access data, do research with real clients, download the digital tools etc. that are required in order to properly complete the assignments. Get buy-in from the very beginning.

Talk to people. Pick up the ‘phone

Studying remotely/online is hard as you don’t know your classmates or get to meet your tutors in person. Therefore, get everyone you know involved and tell them what you are doing. Locate your lecturers and get their opinion on work you are undertaking. Use the group forums. Talk to people (the most basic and best piece of advice ever, thanks Bill). I rekindled many past working relationships throughout this period and uncovered many new opportunities and skills along the way. It was ironic that I was talking to more people as a result of doing digital. Many of those people pointed me in the direction of experts in digital marketing with whom I conducted Delphi research for my thesis titled ‘exploring futures studies in digital marketing’. Thanks again to every member of that expert panel.

Don’t be a smart arse

In the past, I’ve been guilty of trying to be a smart arse – finding my own hacks, shortcuts and ways to cut corners to get faster results. At first, I tried to apply this philosophy to my studies but, after a few false starts, I deferred to the experience of the tutors when I rapidly realised that my strategy was not going to work. There are no short cuts, and if you want to do this you really have to commit a lot of time. Sorry! By the time it came to do the thesis I made myself a promise to:

  • never miss a deadline
  • follow the process to the line
  • listen to my tutor and take constructive criticism as an opportunity to improve

And I didn’t break my promise. The tutors on my digital marketing Masters programme were excellent (you do have to bang their door down, as they won’t come to you) and I listened to every word and went back and changed things regularly: my methodology, the thesis topic, the analysis, how it looked, etc. It was painstaking, but by not being a smart arse I knew that I had done the best piece of work that I could. And that was more rewarding than anything else. Handing in my thesis a day early was as thrilling as other bucket list items I’d ticked, such as jumping out of an aeroplane, live theatre and stand-up comedy. Just with cleaner underpants.

More than a few sacrifices

So, what are the sacrifices? Forget about going out. I worked on this outside of work hours most mornings, lunchtimes, weekends and evenings for over two years, with some breaks. Seeing family and friends becomes a rare treat and your life can become really, REALLY boring. I nearly gave up halfway, but a good friend popped over to see me one afternoon as a surprise with a massive piece of steak and a bottle of red wine. I told him that I was thinking of cashing out with a Diploma and he looked at me, sneered, and delivered the classic line “Don’t be a prick, finish the Masters.” Back on track, thanks Gareth.

The toughest part of this study is if you are a parent. Being at home more often than usual is not the same as being present. My daughter was a bit older at 11 and kinda got it, but my son was six when this started and he could not understand why I was not available to play, and why I was increasingly stressed around the deadlines for the frequent assignments that I had to hand in. Honestly, I found the thesis easier than the fast and furious mini assignments. If your life is not in a degree of relative stability then think really hard about this study. If it were not for my awesome wife Rachel I could never have done this. She is studying for an OU degree and put it on ice for me when I had to write the thesis over the last six months of my study. For that (and her many other sacrifices) I will be forever grateful.

Conclusion 

If this is an itch you too want to scratch, then go for it. When it’s all over it really is rewarding, and you have it forever. And who knows, maybe I’ll do a PhD next *dodges plate that Rachel throws at my head*. Do make sure that your company or clients are genuinely on board, and just follow the advice of your tutors. I found distance learning great. It would have been even easier in lockdown, but I handed in my thesis on the 30th March 2020, typical!

To close, here’s some tools and books that I found invaluable for my digital marketing masters. If you want to chat about anything in this blog, DM or email me at noel@nerddigital.co.uk , and I will be glad to help. I could not have achieved this without the generosity, encouragement and support of others.

Thanks for reading, and good luck!

Noel

Tools

Make sure that you get access to a proper library of journals. I didn’t get on with the EBSCO tool and found a hack (sorry, old habits die hard). Finding and getting access to the best journals is one of the most time-consuming, yet important disciplines. Once you’ve cracked this however, it becomes quite addictive.

https://www.citethisforme.com keep this up-to-date as you go along – I cannot begin to tell you how much time it can save you when doing Harvard referencing 

https://www.doodly.com/marketplace/ I made a video for a blog project and found this tool really easy to use, and free

https://piktochart.com great templates for building interesting infographics, charts and tables 

https://trint.com For my thesis I had to transcribe over 80,000 words from my live primary research interviews. I used this AI transcription service and it saved my life! 

The top ten books that I read during my study

Contagious – just a great, great book on the psychology of marketing 

Homo Deus – this provides an excellent history of what might happen tomorrow

Human / Machine – how AI will be your big Butler, big Mother or Big Brother 

Platform strategy – detailed dive into how digital platforms bring buyers and sellers together 

Superforecasting – politicians have seriously got the wrong end of the meaning of this book 

The age of surveillance capitalism – truly scary, use digital for good, as a consumer you have more power than you realise

The future, a very short introduction – an excellent introduction to futures studies, loved this book and the short introduction series in general

Thinking fast, and slow – THE tome on behavioural economics 

Utopia for realists – a more positive view on what the future could hold, with a sobering sting in its tail

Webs of influence – a deep dive into the psychology of online selling, its methods and ethics

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