Leading the Charge
Major Luke High, MBA ’16, is part of a trailblazing effort to transform the practice of marketing within the U.S. Army as the Director of Marketing Strategy and Analytics at the United States Military Academy West Point.
By: Eliana Chow
A Competitive Edge
In 2019, the U.S. Army began recruiting for its newly created career field, Marketing and Behavioral Economics, which is geared toward officers with MBAs and backgrounds in marketing and data analytics. After a comprehensive application and interview process, High was selected along with approximately 30 other officers—not a minor accomplishment given the 5% acceptance rate, but he maintains a posture of humility. “The notion of marketing in the Army didn’t exist prior to the creation of its marketing career field,” he says. “We’ve been entrusted by the Army to do right by the Army. I’m honored to be one of the few people who get to serve in this capacity.”
High credits a good portion of his success to the knowledge and skill base he developed throughout the Jenkins MBA program at NC State’s Poole College of Management. His expertise in data analytics and consumer behavior, in particular, has afforded him a competitive advantage in the early stages of his career and ushered him into the halls of influence to advise more senior Army officers on marketing strategy.
“Most of my peers are Ivy League graduates, but I feel like I’m on a level playing field with an MBA from NC State,” he said. “Everything I’ve learned is rooted in NC State’s excellent marketing curriculum.”
Engaging America’s Youth
High embraces both the rewards and the challenges of his role as a director of marketing strategy and analytics at West Point. As he adopts an entrepreneurial mindset to pioneer new ways of engaging prospective recruits, he leans heavily on his gift for unraveling the complex layers of human behavior. “I’ve always enjoyed getting to know people and developing a deep understanding of how they see the world,” he shares.
High and his colleagues in the new marketing career field bring tremendous value to the U.S. Army in light of the record-low willingness of young people to serve. This downward trend, combined with a strong economy and fierce national competition for prospective students, underscores the need for the Army and schools like West Point to reimagine their marketing and talent acquisition strategies by addressing misconceptions and increasing awareness about opportunities that exist through service.
For High, the key to successfully marketing West Point is to learn about the value system of market segments—in this case, sub-groups of Generation Zers. “I can’t expect my values to perfectly align with what younger generations believe is meaningful,” he acknowledges. “Instead, I have to start with what matters to them and adapt accordingly.”
Leading In and Out of the Classroom
High points to co-op roles, a study-abroad research trip in London and forming deep connections with fellow students as critical building ingredients for growth after graduation. When he taught business management and marketing courses at West Point for two years after completing his MBA, High drew upon everything he had just learned to motivate his students and encourage them to actively engage in the classroom.
“Those student interactions taught me how to be a better marketer on a relational level,” he reflects. “Having an eager-to-learn mindset is a crucial part of the Army profession. Confidence, knowledge and technical skills are all required of our officers to raise up the leaders of tomorrow. Thankfully, NC State provided a solid foundation.”