The eminent marketing historian, Robert Bartels, in discussing the beginnings of marketing thought, points out that the Midwest had the most pronounced influence upon the early development of this field, and that Northwestern University was a major contributor to this effort. Walter Dill Scott, director of the psychological laboratory and later president of the university, wrote The Theory of Advertising, in 1903. This book was one of the earliest applications of psychology to this area of business. In 1922, Fred E. Clark wrote Principles of Marketing, which established him as a pioneer in the fundamental literature of marketing. Professor Clark was one of the founders of the National Association of Teachers of Marketing and was elected the first president of the American Marketing Association. His reputation extended beyond academic circles into business and government, and his last assignment was as a staff economist to the United States Senate Subcommittee on Trade Policies.

Several other faculty members gained national recognition before 1950: Delbert J. Duncan and Ira D. Anderson in retailing, Lyndon O. Brown in business marketing research, Lloyd D. Herrold in advertising, and James R. Hawkinson in sales management. They worked toward the derivation of principles of useful generalization in their respective fields, going beyond the all too common descriptive treatments of marketing that characterized the early years.

The department's strength in the area of channels of distribution started in the early 1950s with work by Professor Richard M. Clewett (1911-2006). He was a pioneer in the study of marketing channels through his books, essays, and painstaking attention to students who wrote PhD dissertations under his direction. Among these students were Louis P. Bucklin, who developed a theory of channel structure rooted in economic theory; Louis W. Stern, who based his theory in both economic and behavioral principles and applied them to designing and managing channels of distribution; Stanley F. Stasch, who put channels into a systems analysis context; and Frederick D. Sturdivant, who developed new concepts and raised questions concerning channel effectiveness and efficiency from the social point of view.

Later in the decade, the thrust turned to the role of marketing in the firm and how to manage marketing effectively. The "Marketing Concept" became a touchstone and the focus of the department's case efforts. Harper W. Boyd, Richard M. Clewett and Ralph L. Westfall developed and published the widely used texts, Cases in Marketing Strategy and Cases in Marketing Management. Westfall and Boyd, later with Stasch, also brought new insights to business marketing research in their text, Marketing Research: Text and Cases, which is in its seventh edition and still widely used.

Dissatisfied with existing tools and concepts, marketing scholars increasingly looked to other disciplines for help. The behavioral and social sciences as well as management science were explored, and faculty with a variety of academic backgrounds was added to the staff. Among these were Stuart Henderson Britt, Sidney J. Levy, Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman. Britt was a major leader in the field of consumer behavior and long-term editor of the Journal of Marketing. Levy's work on brand imagery, symbolism, and qualitative research stirred new directions in the behavioral area. "Broadening the Concept of Marketing" by Levy and Kotler has had a remarkable impact on the role of marketing in the last 30 years. Kotler's premier texts and writings on the nature of marketing established him as the world's foremost professor of marketing. Kotler and Zaltman innovated in the area of social marketing.

From the mid-1960s until the late 1970s, with Dick Clewett as chairman and Sidney Levy as coordinator of the PhD program, the department grew in a steady and increasingly visible fashion. Bright new PhD students from non-marketing but related areas who expressed interest in applying their knowledge and experience to marketing problems, were given the opportunity to contribute to the field. Thus, between 1970 and 1976, the department was able to attract Bobby Calder and Andris Zoltners. Louis W. Stern joined the faculty after holding business, government, and academic positions elsewhere. Brian Sternthal, who has worked with Stern at Ohio State University, also joined the faculty about the same time. Alice M. Tybout, an outstanding graduate of the department, brought her skills in experimental design to the group.

Stern focused on inter-organizational behavior while Calder, Sternthal and Tybout, who had done extensive graduate study in psychology in addition to work in marketing, began to develop a sustained body of research in the field of information processing, with special relevance to consumer behavior. The work of Andris Zoltners contributed to the analysis of marketing systems, especially in the application of sales force management.

In the early 1980s, the faculty continued to grow in its size and diversity. Faculty additions included Lakshman Krishnamurthi who has a background in econometrics and statistics and an interest in price sensitivity and choice models; James Anderson, a psychologist specializing in the study of business marketing relationships and structural equation modeling; Anne Coughlan with a background in economics interested in distribution channels; and John Sherry, an anthropologist by training with strong interest in ethnographic research. In the latter part of the 1980s, the department added Dipak Jain, a statistician who examines stochastic models of brand choice behavior. In the early 1990s, Greg Carpenter and Robert Blattberg joined the Department. Greg Carpenter specializes in marketing strategy, and Robert Blattberg is an authority in the area of retailing and data base marketing. In the last five years, the department has added several faculty: Mohanbir Sawhney in the quantitative area, Angela Lee and Alex Chernev in the behavioral area.

The faculty has contributed substantially to the field of marketing. The marketing department has been rated at the top in all the national ranking surveys over the past decade. An informal survey indicated that the top business and management schools in the country have more marketing faculty trained at the Kellogg School than from any other school.  The marketing department has produced dominant text books in three key areas of marketing—marketing management, channels of distribution, and sales promotions. The marketing faculty have been editors at leading academic journals, including Journal of Consumer Research and Management Science. Our faculty also include three former Presidents of the Association of Consumer Research, which is a leading academic group for behavioral research. Three members of the faculty have won the prestigious marketing educator of the year award from the American Marketing Association.  In 2015, Phil Kotler, Lou Stern and Sydney Levy were inducted as inaugural fellows, in honor of their contributions to the research, theory and practice of marketing, and to the service and activities of the AMA.   The marketing doctoral students from the Kellogg School have won more American Marketing Association awards for first place and honorable mentions in its dissertation competition than any other school.