If you don't have an MBA, you're not completely out of luck. Some companies promote members of other departments into brand management. Insiders at one top packaged foods company say young employees -- even some in customer service -- considered to have high potential are recruited into the marketing function. At another top food company, a source reports that "there was another woman who went from recipe development straight into marketing." However, says that contact, the marketing department still "requires an MBA, or at least proof that you're working on one." Non-MBAs have a better chance trying to crack into small to mid-size firms.
But at even the most prestigious marketing companies, college graduates can wend their way into management-track marketing positions (although companies often require that these employees eventually get MBAs to advance). Undergraduates may also have an easier time breaking into the field through advertising, public relations, or market research, all of which supply part of the marketing tool kit needed to move on to a career in brand management. However, brand management -- when it comes down to it -- is a bottom-line business, and whatever function you start in, you better feel comfortable with finance and accounting issues.
There is no classic academic background that leads to a career in marketing. Although many schools offer undergraduate degrees in marketing or communications, it is not necessary to major in these disciplines to get started. (It does, however, make a lot of sense to take a few courses in these fields to show that you have an interest.) Since marketing is brand or consumer understanding, and making business decisions based on a consumer's needs, a candidate with a focus in psychology, sociology, or business could be just as qualified. The important thing is that you show a passion for understanding how consumers think and behave.
Most brand managers have MBAs. Companies hiring in these fields are looking for both an analytic mind and broad business exposure -- talents MBAs possess in abundance. Students at top business schools can expect to be inundated by a flood of free munchies, soap bars, toys, and other goodies that companies hope will entice them to become marketers for their particular munchies, soap bars, and toys. On the other hand, many companies that hire marketers only recruit at certain schools and may only hire a certain number of new hires a year.