Written on 01 Feb 2022.
Etienne Denis is program director of EDHEC Business School’s MSc in Marketing Analytics. He shares with us his vision of marketing, data, consumer psychology, and the program he heads.
I was the quiet one.
Curiosity, I think, is the most important thing a teacher should arouse in his students. You will always have students who do not share your interest in the course you teach, but if you can make them curious about it, then you can make them curious about everything. To me, curiosity is the door to knowledge.
I teach two classes on data analysis, a course on brand management, and one on negotiation and sales, the latter being a good opportunity to introduce students to consumer psychology.
I have always been amazed about how irrational we can be in our daily decisions. Understanding why, even in part, is for me a never-ending but highly insightful process.
I would rather quote Oscar Wilde here: “Be yourself, everyone else is already taken.”
First, my belief is that if you do not believe in what you teach, students won’t either. This is what I try to do. If I don’t believe in what I say, I know that it’s time to make some changes. Second, my motto is: never dodge a question. Questions are what challenge us. Whether it’s an opinion, a suggestion, or even skepticism, it can only help to improve what we do.
“If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start.” Charles Bukowski.
I remember Models of Bounded Rationality, Herbert Simon’s book on limited rationality, making a great impression on me when I read it back in the day. I have a vast appetite for books on all topics actually. A must-read? Not really, to be honest. I just think that reading is proof of curiosity, which is a very good sign if you want to join this MSc.
I always liked the idea of putting the knowledge we have of consumer psychology to use in what we could call ‘a good cause’. Also, while they are getting better, non-profit organisations have lacked a businesslike approach when it comes to their fundraising activities. I think that here, social sciences can help a lot, to optimise fundraising campaigns, recruit donors or volunteers, or to raise awareness.
The digitalisation we are currently facing has increased the data at our disposal significantly. Consumers share data all the time, sometimes without even knowing it, hence the data protection regulations that have come in recently. When used in a smart (and ethical) way, these data are a huge opportunity for companies to make safe and sound decisions based on empirical findings, but also to engage in a personalised dialogue with consumers.
To this end, being able to handle data is not enough, however. Good knowledge of how consumers’ minds work is key. What we really want to achieve with this program is to train people to combine both aspects. On the one hand, our students will get to learn about consumer psychology, so that they can immerse themselves in the consumer mindset. On the other, they will learn to deal with the data that these consumers share, so that they can perfectly interpret their behaviour.
The curious ones! Of course, this MSc is quantitative by its very nature, so I would have to say that a liking for working with numbers is key. In the same vein, a strong interest in consumer psychology is a plus, as students will get to ‘dissect’ consumer brains, to know why people are ultimately so irrational when it comes to purchasing decisions. Other than that, everyone’s welcome!
Often, what you see has various underlying (and sometimes opposing) interpretations. This is exactly what happens with consumers and purchasing decisions. People often think that their choice is data-driven, when really it is mostly emotional. When you ignore the psychology and focus solely on the data you have available, you often come to fuzzy conclusions about how people ended up making certain decisions. Many unexpected product failures (and successes) can be explained in this way. People are not logical; that’s what makes the study of consumers interesting.
From the students of this MSc, I think what we really expect is that they learn to see through this by challenging field data with the underlying psychological mechanisms that drive decision-making. We do not aim to turn them into hard-core coders or software programmers; we aim to turn them into marketing analysts who are aware of their own interpretation bias and use the data at their disposal to deal with it and make the best decision for their company, brand, and society.
Data are the future. When we look at the money made by data brokers these days, we can see just one example of how data have become a company’s main asset. Customer manager, customer analyst, digital traffic manager, digital media analyst, market research consultant, behavioural and digital insight analyst … these are just a few examples of the range of opportunities open to them. Quantitative specialists in marketing have never been so highly prized!