Professor Profiles: Georgetown McDonough’s Simon Blanchard
Having the opportunity to learn from the best and brightest minds in business is one of the top motivators for many applicants considering an MBA degree at an elite business school. The professors and lecturers you’ll encounter have worked in the trenches, and bring an incredible wealth of real-world experiences into the classroom setting.
In our limited series of professor interviews on the SBC blog, readers will get to know a bit more about these brilliant academics, what fields most excite them, the trends they foresee, what they enjoy most about teaching at their respective universities, and how it all comes together with their students.
Meet Simon Blanchard, Associate Professor of Marketing and Keith Barket Faculty Fellow at Georgetown University; Interim Director of the Certificate in Consumer Analytics and Insights
Education: Pennsylvania State University, Ph.D. (Marketing) 2006 – 2011
Courses Taught: Analytical Problem Solving and Digital Advertising
What triggered your interest in your subject matter?
An area of specific interest to me is helping consumers manage their money better. One of the issues consumers have is that it is easy to spend and easy to rack up debt. Being able to use large amounts of data from credit cards or banks to identify the way that consumers spend and misspend is something that I find interesting.
Sometimes managing money is complicated. We spend a lot of time in marketing thinking about how to get people to spend on things that we would like. We should also be able to think about how to help consumers manage that complexity. I enjoy working on problems related to that.
What has changed since you entered the field?
One of the biggest changes is that you see people use statistical models or tools, which are normally reserved for quantitative studies, to analyze behaviors. Things that you would normally analyze from a focus group, you can now analyze from text, product feedback, and videos and images, rather than just relying on people’s descriptions of their own behaviors.
How do you leverage technology in your classroom?
We designed the MBA Certificate in Consumer Analytics and Insights so that students can choose a combination of courses from operations and statistics and from marketing depending on their interests. Some of the courses, especially the foundation courses such as Marketing Analytics, typically use Excel.
Where that seems kind of old school, we’re trying to maintain skills in Excel, or open source tools that are easily accessible, so that students can go straight to their internships or jobs and be successful right away without having to convince their employers to buy an expensive license in new software.
However, most electives have some kind of other hands-on, tool-based component, whether it is learning to gather primary data using platforms like Qualtrics, or whether it is learning and understanding how to utilize Adwords (including taking the Adwords Fundamental Exam that Google administers).
Further, we have been collaborating with the student-led HoyAlytics organization, which provides additional workshops in a variety of data analytics tools and competitions to engage students further. We can address a wide range of topics in the classroom and HoyAlytics can provide greater practical experiences.
What can you do in the classroom to best prepare students for the real world?
There many different applications for identifying a consumer and the kind of analysis one can do depending on their industries. The course Data and Society puts a high emphasis on bringing in guest speakers that could be relevant for students, getting them to understand for instance that marketing for nonprofits is going to be a bit different than marketing for a for-profit fast, casual restaurant company. Guests present their challenges with data and understanding insights depending on their focus, whether that is policy or government oriented, corporate, or consumer focus.
Can you speak to interesting trends in your field?
One of the trends that has been happening over the last few years involves companies running more experiments in the field to assess the effectiveness of their marketing strategies. More specifically, they are looking at the incremental impact of these campaigns.
For example, most people think of experiments in the form of an A/B test. These experiments may tell you A is better than B, but they do not tell you whether A or B is better than doing nothing at all. This new focus is incrementality. When thinking about effectiveness, you only want to pay for the clients, traffic, or sales that are incremental to what would have been achieved if you had done no marketing at all.
Part of this trend is managerial. It is not just that the data model needs to be able to identify it, but one has to take the decision to and be able to collect data the right away.
What role, if any, does ethics play in your curriculum, and how has that evolved over time?
Focus on ethics and responsibility is a big component of our MBA program at Georgetown McDonough. We emphasize the proper management of data in the projects we do. There is also a discussion in my Digital Advertising class concerning how people are tracked (and misconceptions about how people are tracked) and what happens to the data.
We have built ethical discussions into the certificate program, most specifically in the course Data and Society. This course brings in the perspective of consumers, companies, and society as a whole, reminding students that these interests are often in conflict. By bringing in practitioners from a variety of organizations, we can consider ethical issues.
For example, companies often want to have as much data as they can, but that creates risks that society needs to understand. Consumers too may not be aware companies are keeping that data. Others, like the European Union, are changing the rules on data, making it important that we become aware of the changes and the issues we need to deal with in global marketing.
What are you most excited about in your classroom?
What is interesting especially is the many different backgrounds of students that participate. We have had statisticians and bankers. We have also had people who are completely creative by training and have barely any idea of how to run any analysis, and both of them can get something out of the certificate. For those that are interested in pushing their quantitative skills forward, we can help them with that.
For the students that just want exposure so they can speak to the people that deal with the data, we can also help them with that. Trying to make both types of student happy with the material is the part that is challenging and interesting. While certain aspects of consumer analytics can be complicated, there are intuitive and logical aspects that you do not need incredibly high math skills to understand. The fun part is making data analytics accessible.
Best advice for an aspiring business mogul?
First, I would say it is important to make sure that you get data. At minimum, start thinking about the data that you would need and identify the scenarios where you might gather that data.
The second thing is to have the reflex for looking for alternative explanations. It is easy to find relationship between variables or any point of data that supports a conclusion. For example, if one is arguing that X causes Y, perhaps it is not because of those to two things but it is something else that explains both. Looking for alternative explanations is really a managerial decision.
Many of the MBAs that are taking the certificate may do some analysis for their own companies, but we are not training them to be data scientists. We are training them to deal with people who are data scientists and to be comfortable with the tools scientists use so they can ask the right questions.
Part of that is asking what else could have caused the outcome I am exploring. That may or may not be in the data. There is a danger, when you have large amounts of data, to stop considering what is outside of the data.
What’s the impact you want to leave on your students?
With the MBA Certificate in Consumer Analytics and Insights, our aim is to make sure that students feel comfortable with various types of data sources that they may encounter in their companies or that their competitors may be using.
When someone brings to them the results of a big data project, they are going to know and understand the terms that people using, be able to ask the relevant questions, and to identify if the analysis was done correctly.
They should not be afraid of data. They should be embracing the amount of uncertainty that having a ton of data can bring and the different types of tools that people are using to analyze that data. That is the biggest impact. They are not going to be scared of all of the data and analytics.
What do you like about teaching at the Georgetown McDonough School of Business?
We have access to many constituents, not only internationally but also even locally, such as companies that study the way that consumers make decisions and to policymakers that deal with consumer welfare, which is important. We have numerous large hotel chains such as Hilton, Marriott, and Choice Hotels that are located right here. Nestle is across the bridge. We have several analytics companies and marketing companies for nonprofits – all of that is right here.
If you are interested in any of these areas, there is no better place. Many of these companies have hired from campus over the years; and we, of course, have a fair amount of consulting companies that work for clients in the area. We are also recruiting companies/clients for the capstone project for the certificate.
There also is an emphasis at McDonough in understanding how to do things the right way – in a principled way. I think that is reflected in the way students think and act, and in the way that we teach.
Thank you so much Professor Blanchard for sharing your insights and experiences with our readers!
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