Industry Insider: OU Marketing Chair offers field insight, encouragement to students

This installment of Industry Insider focuses on marketing.

Lauren Reid

This installment of Industry Insider focuses on marketing.

Dr. Janell Townsend isn’t just a professor of marketing and business. The Oakland University educator is challenging her students to identify their passions and swing for them head on.

After graduating from Wayne State with a degree in finance, Townsend worked as an analyst with a real estate investment company. She realized, however, that she wasn’t enjoying her work in the way she had hoped.

After becoming a mother, she switched gears to pursue a Ph.D. in marketing and international business from Michigan State University. 

“I’ve always loved business and I’ve always been a natural marketer,” said Townsend. “When I was in junior high, I used to make crafts and sell them. I think it’s really important for people to figure out how to put the pieces together of the skillsets you need in order to pursue your passions.”

Photo courtesy of Townsend

In 2005 Dr. Townsend accepted a position with the OU Department of Management and Marketing, of which she is now chair. The Oakland Post sat down with the expert in global marketing strategy to discuss her perspective on the marketing field at large.

Q: Describe the overarching culture of the marketing field.

A: It’s a dynamic space that’s constantly evolving. The culture of marketing is creative; it’s fast-moving. There’s a lot of change – it’s knowing who your customers are and what their needs are.

Q: What has surprised you about working in marketing?

A: You really need to have a strong analytical skill set. Marketing isn’t easy – marketing looks like it’s easy when it’s done well. 

If you don’t understand your marketing strategy and execute well on that, you’re not going to survive. The biggest surprise is that realization – that epiphany – that if you’re not [strategizing] well, then eventually everything else will crumble.

Q: What’s your favorite part of working in marketing? 

A: To be able to connect with people. It almost goes back to this idea that [marketing is] facilitating transactions in a way that builds relationships with people. 

A lot of times it’s about helping people build their dreams. You’re helping to make people’s lives better.

Q: What is your least favorite part of the marketing field?

A: There’s this impression people have that somehow marketing is nefarious. And sure, in any area there’s always that potential, but that’s not what marketing is. 

Marketing isn’t about getting people to buy things they don’t really want or need. Marketing is about creating value.

Q: What insights do you wish you had been given at the beginning of your career?

A: Explore as many different things as possible. Think about what you want your life to look like. 

Look for people who are doing jobs that you want to have. Who are the people you look at and go, ‘wow, that’s really cool’? Go talk to them. When you’re a student, people will be willing to help you out. 

Getting involved in student organizations is one of the most important things you can do, no matter your field. Those are the students that I see who get the best jobs, who have the best careers moving forward and then also give back to students. 

Q: How do you see your field evolving in the present day? 

A: It’s the technology and the digital transformation. The velocity of change in so many fields has picked up because of advances in technology. 

With that has come a lot more opportunities, but there’s also a lot more challenges that come into play. For example, managing your brand. Right now, with social media, your brand can be absconded with very quickly.

Q: What direction do you see marketing headed in the future?

A: A bigger focus on customer experiences. I think there’s a constant evolution with business in general, so as long as we have a free-market system, it’s just keeping on top of that evolution.