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Behind the scenes with Nikki Brown, business and marketing instructor

Nikki Brown, Oregon State University business and marketing instructor, smiles at the camera. She has long brown hair and wears a grey shirt, a light scarf and hoop earrings.

Nikki Brown, an instructor in OSU’s College of Business, constantly thinks about how business can improve lives. “I come up with a new business concept almost every day. I’m not saying they are all good ideas, but I’m always thinking of ways to solve problems, and there are so many problems still to be solved,” she says.

In hindsight, there should have been no doubt that Nikki Brown’s career would revolve around business. Her childhood, after all, was marked by one clever business venture after another. From lemonade stands to selling lottery tickets (seriously), she was a one-kid start-up machine, long before start-up was a popular term for a new business. Now she is an expert on marketing and consumer behavior who teaches courses online for Oregon State Ecampus on those very topics.

Nikki has worked as a marketing research consultant to companies such as Hewlett-Packard, Nissan and Harley-Davidson. Lately, she has been dabbling in local politics, working behind the scenes on marketing and communication efforts for candidates and local issues. She earned her bachelor’s degree in anthropology from Linfield College and a master’s from Oregon State in applied anthropology with an emphasis on marketing and consumer behavior. 

By Tyler Hansen
Feb. 6, 2018

Tell us about your role as an Ecampus instructor.

“I teach a few different Ecampus courses (MarketingFundamentals of Market Research, and Consumer Behavior) and in addition to my own courses, I’ve been able to work in partnership with other professors to assist in the development of their online courses. It’s been a wonderful and supportive process working with both Ecampus and our marketing program professors.”

How did you first become interested in marketing?

“I have long been fascinated by people and humanity’s diversity of cultural expression and behavior. I am curious about why people do things the way they do and the symbolic nature of our world. Why do we call a cow a cow when it’s alive but call it beef when we consume it? What does that linguistic detail say about us as a society? Studying consumer behavior is a window into many of the questions that I have about our own culture.

“I learned there was an opportunity to merge my interest in culture with the field of marketing when I was first looking into graduate school. It just seemed to make sense, but at the time I had absolutely no business experience. When I took my first marketing class, I felt like I was in a foreign land.”

You have conducted a lot of research on consumer behavior. What’s one trend you expect to emerge in the coming years?

“This might be more hopeful than anything, but I expect that the next generations of consumers will be different not just with their use of technology but also in what they value and expect from businesses. Millennials in particular seem to really value integrity, authenticity and sustainability when it comes to the businesses with which they form relationships. I think in the future, more and more businesses will be attuned to this. Academics in marketing are noticing this trend too.”

“I’m taking a year-long series of professional development courses. … Not only do I get to learn about current thinking in digital marketing, but I’m also experiencing what it’s like to be an online student, which should enrich my own teaching efforts.”

How is this trend being explored within OSU’s College of Business?

“In our own marketing program, our faculty are exploring the role of marketing in consumer experiences and well-being. Our faculty are studying topics that address consumer well-being from a number of perspectives such as philanthropic giving, regulating consumption/compulsive consumption, consumption of eldercare and childcare services, consumer credit and debt, and ethical consumption. This research is grounded in the idea that the relationship between consumers and businesses is much more than transactional.”

What type of business would 13-year-old Nikki Brown have wanted to start?

“Oh, you have no idea the can of worms that you just opened with this question. I was a child entrepreneur! As a kid, I was always creating new business schemes. Besides the traditional lemonade stand, I made and sold my own lottery tickets to the neighborhood (not exactly legal, but a great learning opportunity), I curated a museum in my garage and sold tickets for entry, put on puppet shows and sold concessions… The list goes on and on.”

The business world seems to change constantly. How do you ensure your Ecampus classes cover the most relevant topics?

“Right now, I’m taking a year-long series of professional development courses through PACE (OSU Professional and Continuing Education) in the area of digital marketing. I’m in the role of student which is great! Not only do I get to learn about current thinking in digital marketing, but I’m also experiencing what it’s like to be an online student, which should enrich my own teaching efforts.

“To stay current in the field of marketing, I occasionally attend conferences (virtual and in-person), participate in webinars, volunteer for nonprofits, and I participate in professional marketing associations like the American Marketing Association.”

What’s one habit you wish you could rid yourself of as a consumer?

“I am a very conscientious consumer. I read food labels. I calculate the price per unit before making a purchase, but one thing I wish I did better was to think ahead of time about the disposal of the product. What’s going to happen to this item once I no longer use it? Can it be recycled? Can it be resold or given away? Or is it going to end up in the landfill? Making purchase decisions that include consideration of disposal are important to being good stewards of our resources. For me, it’s still a work in progress.”

“In teaching online classes, I’m starting to expand my methods and am moving back to more active-learning strategies. Ecampus has been a great support in encouraging me to try new tools and learning resources.”

How do you develop enriching connections with students you’ll likely never meet in person?

“I try to give personal feedback to everyone at least a couple of times during the term. It might be an individual comment in the gradebook about an assignment or a discussion post replying to a student’s post. I’ve also incorporated group projects into many of my classes, which allows me to give more direct feedback to smaller groups of students and those connections feel more personal.”

How have you evolved as an educator since you began teaching classes online with Ecampus?

“Many, many years ago I taught high school social studies. With my high school students, I tried to make the classes more interesting by assigning fun projects that were hands-on (e.g. give a speech to the class as a historical figure – extra credit for dressing the part).

“When I began teaching to college students, I thought I had to be more serious and more focused on the traditional learning methods of lecture and readings. In teaching online classes, I’m starting to expand my methods and am moving back to more active-learning strategies. Ecampus has been a great support in encouraging me to try new tools and learning resources.”

What are your favorite activities away from teaching?

“With three young children, my activities are mostly limited to kid-friendly things like skate night or bingo night at the schools. When I get the chance to slip out of the house on my own, I like to run, hike or bike and listen to podcasts.”

Name a song of album you think is severely underappreciated.

“The Cranberries have been my favorite band since I was in high school. The lead singer recently passed away, so I’ve been listening to all of my old CDs. (That’s right, my music collection is on CD.) I love all of their music, but I’ve really been enjoying ‘Electric Blue’ from their album ‘To The Faithful Departed.’ ”

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