“A company can make money and make a difference,” said LMU Professor Mitch Hamilton, “they can have a positive impact and make a profit.”
Customer-company relationships and the interplay of brand and consumer identity are the sources of scholarship for Mitch Hamilton, Ph.D., and Julian Saint Clair, Ph.D. The two Loyola Marymount University marketing professors lead the A-LIST program in the LMU College of Business Administration, helping students discover the (under)currents of business and culture.
The A-LIST Pathway – Applied Learning in Societal Transformation – guides students to understand and serve increasingly diverse consumer markets and promote positive societal change. The A-LIST Pathway offers courses that embrace the multi-dimensionality and breadth of modern-day consumers and culture with a focus on “marketing for mission.” Students in the A-LIST Pathway cultivate skills to remain at the forefront of a diverse and changing marketplace.
“We both consider ourselves social psychologists, not necessarily marketers in the traditional sense,” said Hamilton, who earned his Ph.D. in consumer behavior from Syracuse University. “Our students need to understand their audience and the external forces that affect their consumers. So, the first weeks of our courses are more social psychology than marketing, focused on developing the socio-cultural empathy lens before they get into the marketing.”
“A lot of people still think that marketing is about manipulative sales and advertising. They think it’s like ‘Mad Men’,” said Saint Clair. “To be fair, evil marketers like ‘Mad Men’ are still out there, but they’re a dying breed,” he added. “An overwhelming body of evidence shows that consumers prefer brands that are socially and environmentally responsible. So, even if you’re an evil marketer and you care about nothing but profit, surprise, you make the most money when you do good. There’s every reason to do the right thing.”
Saint Clair, who earned his Ph.D. in marketing with a concentration in consumer psychology from the University of Washington, and Hamilton have structured their two core courses, “Rethinking the Marketplace” and “Brand Storytelling,” on the principle of a triple-bottom line: profit, people, and planet. That orientation means that companies have to be more connected to culture to resonate with what may be the most socially and environmentally conscious generation yet.
“We recognized that to really execute a triple-bottom line approach, students needed better education and training in what you might call modern diversity marketing,” said Saint Clair. “This is true even for environmental injustice, since very often those most impacted by things like pollution or climate change come from diverse backgrounds,” he added. “Hamilton and I saw that we could uniquely address that gap given our personal and academic backgrounds.” Saint Clair and Hamilton are two of the under 100 Black male Ph.D.’s in marketing in the world.
Another compelling aspect of the A-LIST program is the industry partners the classes work with. “The LMU Marketing Department is doing things no one else is doing,” said Hamilton, adding that the A-LIST program affords their students opportunities to work with companies on consequential projects.
The first iteration of the A-LIST capstone course featured a partnership with The Honest Company, owned by Jessica Alba, spending the semester developing strategies meant to address the company’s current challenges. Since then, students have worked with re-inc, a socially conscious lifestyle brand whose founders include U.S. Women’s National Soccer teammates Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Tobin Health and Meghan Klingenberg; Snoop Dogg’s Outstanding Foods to create marketing for their line of vegan pork rinds; the NBA Players’ Association; Lithographix; Guayaki Yerba Mate; Impossible Foods; the late Nipsey Hussle’s Vector90; and other high-profile companies.
“The students pitch real marketing plans to real organizations, they create real multimedia content, and they actually run their campaigns for the brands and see the results in real time. It’s an incredible experience,” said Saint Clair.
Hamilton and Saint Clair prepared for the fall 2020 virtual semester by enhancing the flipped classroom method they’ve been increasingly employing. The flipped classroom, having the students view video lectures before each class, then come to class ready to work, “allows the classroom to work more like a lab than a lecture,” Hamilton said. He added that it allows the students to bring experiential learning into a guided class session rather than working through problems at home on their own.