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Award Winner Wedel Advocates Exploring Big Data; Bridging Academic-Practice

As a part of 2019 AMA Marketing Week, Michel Wedel is being honored as the 2019 Robert J. Lavidge Global Marketing Research Award Winner. This honor comes on the heels of Wedel being named recipient of the 2019 AMA-Irwin-McGraw-Hill Distinguished Marketing Educator Award and the 2016 Charles Coolidge Parlin Marketing Research Award. Wedel is the Pepsico Chaired Professor of Consumer Science in the Department of Marketing, Robert H. Smith School of Business, at the University of Maryland. The Irwin Award honors living marketing educators for distinguished service and outstanding contributions to marketing education.

Marketing News spoke with Wedel about his career and the awards he’s won. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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Q: What initially made you curious about marketing? How has that curiosity changed over time?

A: I ventured into marketing because of my boss, Dr. Ockhuizen, at the nutrition research institute in the Netherlands (TNO) where I worked in the 1980s as head of a statistics unit. We did research into the effects of nutrition on health, and he wanted me to do marketing research to determine how people choose the food products that impact their health. A few years and a few publications later he urged me to do a Ph.D., which I completed at the nearby University of Wageningen while continuing to work at TNO. I was struck by the breadth of questions, data and methodologies in marketing, and was initially most excited about developments in marketing research methodology, including the developments in latent class models, multidimensional scaling, conjoint analysis, models of consideration and choice, and later Bayesian hierarchical models. Over time, I became more and more interested in assessing the effectiveness of visual marketing using eye- and face-tracking technology and in the customization and adaptive personalization of marketing effort.

Q: What’s the biggest change you’ve seen in the practice of marketing since you first started studying?

A: No doubt those are the changes in technology, analytics and data. When I became a full professor at the University of Groningen in 1991, there was no internet. Cordless phones were just becoming more common, the 486 computer was at the cutting edge of computing technology and scanner panel data that tracked household purchases over time were a novelty. Now, through online and mobile applications, companies routinely capture digital information on how consumers feel, act and interact around products and services and how they respond to marketing efforts.

Mostly because of the work at business schools, the development of analytical techniques has kept pace and allows such data to be leveraged to build and maintain customer relationships, offer value to customers, enhance their experiences, personalize products, services and the marketing mix and automate marketing processes in real time. New forms of marketing have emerged, including recommendation systems, geo-fencing, search marketing and retargeting. Innovations in technology, including artificial intelligence, robotics, natural user interfaces (NUI), cognitive systems, virtual and augmented reality and the Internet of Things (IoT), are having a major impact on marketing and marketplaces. We are currently in the process of editing a special issue of the Journal of Marketing around these issues.

Q: Does academic work affect marketing practice as much as it should?

A: I think we generally don’t know enough about how academic work affects practice, as it does so in many ways. Moreover, business schools around the world send hundreds of thousands of well-trained students into practice who apply the theories, frameworks, methods and insights that we have developed and taught them. The impact of this on business practice can’t be underestimated.

Second, a majority of the publications in AMA journals such as JMR and JM use data that researchers have obtained from companies. In most cases these academics are working on current problems that companies face and the journals are doing an ever better job in disseminating academic research among companies, policy makers and the public.

Third, there are ample examples of companies that were founded based on academic work and many more companies have close formal ties to universities or individual academics. In some cases, marketing academia focuses on assessing the impact and validity of developments in practice. In other cases, academics are co-investigators and rely on data and problems provided by companies and work with these companies to develop implementable solutions. And in an increasing number of marketing areas academics are leading the development of new concepts and methods. This doesn’t mean that more can’t be done, of course — and we certainly should.

Q: What should smart marketers prepare for now that may help them over the next decade?

A: In the emerging Big Data environment, marketers will be working increasingly at the interface of fields such as statistics, computer science, economics, psychology, management and marketing in a world where one-size-fits-all solutions are neither desirable nor likely to be effective. At the same time, marketing processes and decisions are increasingly becoming automated. The challenge for marketers is to ground these automated processes in substantive knowledge and managerial oversight. In the near future, marketers need to be familiar with developments in technology and analytics, have a skill-set that is both broad and deep and possess people and management skills to oversee and manage teams. Life-long learning will therefore become imperative to keep up and business schools will need to redesign their curricula to tailor to those needs.

Q: What do you think is marketing’s purpose in the world?

A: Marketing facilitates exchange relationships and uses insights into customer needs to make those more efficient, effective and valuable. It is pervasive throughout global economies and aims to create value for companies and welfare for consumers, thereby contributing to economic growth and the well-being of people across the world.