Wilbur O. and Ann Powers College of Business

Clemson’s first digital brand communications cohort moves into their second and final year


This is what they’ve covered so far and what they’re excited to tackle next.

In the fall of 2022, Clemson University partnered with the Erwin Center for Brand Communications to launch an MBA with an emphasis in digital brand communications (DBC). The well-received program is built around traditional analytics, focusing on the creative skillset of marketing and branding — preparing students for a market where consumer connections and data reign supreme.

“This program resonated with students and became so popular because it is so unique,” explains Academic Program Director Jane Layton, Ph.D. “MBA programs traditionally are designed for a broad range of students, but this concentration appeals to creative minds who want to implement data for more compelling branding.”

The two-year part-time hybrid program is designed for working professionals, many of which are already in marketing roles looking to further enhance their brand communications. Classes are taught in a way that allows students to immediately implement what they learn in their careers, addressing real-time work challenges and exploring new tools.

“We selected professors for the program because of their direct corporate marketing and branding experience alongside their academic qualifications,” Layton continues. “Additionally, we coordinate speakers on the cutting edge of industry tools and trends to enhance the coursework. It really sets this program apart from others out there because it is so adaptable to the quickly evolving world of branding and communications.”

Classes covered in year one

DBC concentration year one coursework centered around marketing and branding strategies and the appropriate tools and platforms for effective delivery. “These classes gave them the tools to better understand branding, how consumers interact with brands, how to reach the right audience and how to tell that story in an engaging way,” adds Layton. Designed as a cohort-style schedule, students from various professional backgrounds attend the same classes together throughout the program. This format builds networking, peer-to-peer learning opportunities and a strong bond among classmates.

Brand insights and digital trends covered how brand strategy fits into a cohesive marketing plan. Course content included brand strategy development, design, program implementation and equity measure in the digital era.

Digital content strategy

Ankita Bakre, Ph. D., has over 20 years of corporate brand-building experience.

Taught by Professor Ankita Bakre, digital content strategy looked at how brands build audiences through digital channels and how to evaluate effectiveness with company goals. “The most challenging and enjoyable part of the first year was creating the course, keeping in mind the learning needs of marketers with varying lengths of professional experience and diverse industry backgrounds,” Bakre explains. “The strategic focus was on organic learning through a robust suite of curated resources and case studies, incisive discussion forums, virtual meet-ups, hands-on projects and industry-leading insights with guest speakers from varied industries, such as fast food, social media tech, global communications and international consulting. The goal was to help these professionals connect with the value of long-term content strategy in brand building and its alignment with business ambitions in an increasingly digital world while also focusing on the emerging industry outlook and trends to help build a strategic viewpoint that would help boost their careers. The experience of teaching the course to the first cohort of DBC was simply unparalleled with the energy, engagement and sheer brilliance of our insight-driven discussions.”

What Clemson MBA students are saying

While the DBC concentration is rigorous, students completing their first year relish in the experience and look forward to their second and final year of coursework. Here’s what they have to say.

“The friendships we’re building and the skills we are sharing to collaborate and elevate each other are invaluable.” —  Jenny Nichols

“It is such a pleasure experiencing this journey with the first cohort of the digital brand communications concentration. These individuals come from various backgrounds and bring invaluable insights to our current marketing courses. Beyond their wealth of knowledge, they are incredibly creative and fun.” — Victoria Roth

“I have really enjoyed the time spent with my Clemson MBA cohort. The digital brand communications focus has been a great fit, and I am already looking forward to learning from Brian Stearns this summer!” — Daniel Austin

“It hasn’t been easy thus far, and we sure have many more hills to climb, but I wouldn’t want to climb them with any other group of superstars!” — Bubba Britton

Classes anticipated for year two

While year one focused on the foundations to become an innovative marketer and brand strategist, year two will use tools and data to explain the strategy behind the creative assets. “These courses will empower students to make strategic decisions as leaders in their field,” explains Layton. “We introduce analytics and digital strategy into this concentration because we believe this holistic approach will give them the cross-functional strategy necessary to work across teams.”

Digital media planning

Brian Stearns, a Clemson MBA graduate in 2017, returns to teach digital media planning.

Digital media planning is a summer course taught by Brian Stearns, a Clemson MBA graduate and owner of RingoFire, a Greenville-based marketing agency. This course will take an experiential approach to media buying and planning amid constant shifts in the media landscape. “How we approach media is changing every five to 10 weeks now,” explains Stearns. “So rather than laying out a blueprint, we’ll be engaging in discussions with media planners, influencers and other guest speakers to examine the human connection that’s at the root of these virtual platforms. Rather than celebrities, billboards and mascots, we — the audience — are becoming the spokespersons for brands. We’ll examine how to unlock the power of user-generated content as its importance grows.” As a former Clemson student, the opportunity to teach in the MBA program is a full-circle moment for Stearns. “My business concept started in a Clemson classroom seven years ago,” says Stearns. “Now, I’m returning to that same classroom to teach. It simply couldn’t get sweeter than that. I’m beyond excited to contribute to the program that was the launching pad for everything I’ve built today. Without Clemson, it wouldn’t have happened.”

Data visualization

Data visualization is a course found in other Clemson MBA concentrations. This coursework teaches students how to use data to inform branding and justify marketing decisions.

E-commerce platforms

E-commerce platforms will focus on how industries can stay relevant in changing e-commerce platforms to drive growth. The coursework will cover e-commerce tools, direct-to-consumer platforms, enterprise resource planning and customer service and conversion strategies.

Digital strategy capstone

Finally, two years of coursework will come together in a real-life application through the digital strategy capstone. For this capstone, students split into groups and work together to identify and solve an active problem in their career through an effective communication plan. Students share cross-industry learning and utilize their expanded experience to deliver a real-world solution they can enact in their current roles.

The first cohort looks to what’s next

As the first digital brand communications cohort enters its second year, students will continue to perfect their understanding of the art and science of brand building. After graduating with their degrees, they will have strategic insight to leverage creative content within digital branding to advance their professional development. “We’re excited to see the full program come together,” says Layton. “Watching the DBC family grow over first-year residency weekends and online chats has been amazing. In this second year of coursework, we’ll see the skills they’ve learned come together through real-life digital marketing strategies to solve current problems in their industries, setting the stage for their next career moves. Upon graduation, we are excited to see this group stay connected and engaged while continuing to give back to future DBC cohorts!”

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