Vanderbilt Business

New Dynamic

The marketing revolution at Owen

by Rob Simbeck | Fall 2009, Photo Essay | Comments | Print Print |

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Like information and technology, marketing is undergoing a continuing revolution. The needs and interests of consumers and corporations are evolving, and the means of informing them about products and services are changing dramatically.

Owen has met this revolution with one of its own. The school’s marketing department is essentially a new entity, bridging the gap between the quantitative and behavioral, presenting a cutting-edge synthesis to a new generation of students. As those students apply classroom lessons, and as alumni meet the business world’s present-day challenges, this energized Owen team is helping to reinvent marketing in a digital age and bolster the school’s reputation on the national and international scene.

Guiding Text

Dawn Iacobucci

Dawn Iacobucci

If one person could be said to embody the transition from the foundational strengths of 20th century marketing to the new realities of the 21st, it would be Dawn Iacobucci, E. Bronson Ingram Professor in Marketing. Highly awarded for her work at Kellogg and then Wharton, she is a widely regarded expert on networks and quantitative psychological research who has published in the top journals and worked alongside marketing luminaries Philip Kotler and Gil Churchill.

If there is a guiding text for Owen’s marketing revolution, it may well be her new book, MM: Marketing Management. Practical, colorful and highly accessible, it is an introduction that brings nuance and application to the basics, swapping the stodgy for the downright sexy. It is—in layout, design, writing style, even price—the perfect example of what modern marketing can and must be. In taking for granted global business and the digital age, the book is as cutting-edge as her work and as the department’s faculty and direction—both of which she leads with what Dean Bradford calls “a commitment to a shared vision of elevating our standard in the eyes of the university, the academy and the business community.”

Iacobucci says, “Our faculty is comprised of extremely talented marketing people who genuinely care about the student experience. We are devoted to building Owen and taking care of the students. We’re looking to get the word out that, with the people and programs we have in place, our marketing MBA students are among the best anywhere.”

Consumer Behavior

From left, Steve Posavac, Jennifer Escalas and Steve Hoeffler

From left, Steve Posavac, Jennifer Escalas and Steve Hoeffler

One of the clearest proofs of Owen’s ability to draw top talent and foster in it both vision and cohesion lies in the behavioral side of its marketing department. The teamwork is epitomized in the Consumer Behavior class taught by Jennifer Escalas, Steve Hoeffler and Steve Posavac, along with Dawn Iacobucci.

“Consumer behavior is the foundation for managerial judgment in marketing,” Posavac says. “Each of us carved out a quarter of the class in line with our unique specialties.”

Escalas, Associate Professor in Marketing, who runs a company with her husband making and marketing customized swimsuits, is an expert on brands, identification and culture. Hoeffler, Associate Professor in Marketing, has a background in consulting for P&G and IBM, and research interests that include consumer behavior and radically new products. Posavac, E. Bronson Ingram Associate Professor in Marketing, who previously taught and served as Associate Dean at the University of Rochester, cites a long-term interest in “how managers use what we know about people to make better decisions.”

The application of their varied research interests to their individual classroom work gives students a broad knowledge of technique and application. Their investment in the Owen community does the rest.

“We get to know students on a one-to-one basis,” says Hoeffler, “so we can work from what they’re interested in and where they’re going.”

As for the bottom line, Escalas says, “Hire the best faculty members you can, teach both the basics and the cutting-edge aspects of the field, give students some immersion in the real world, and you’ll do well.”

Quantitative Approach

From left, Mark Ratchford and Jeff Dotson

From left, Mark Ratchford and Jeff Dotson

Jeff Dotson and Mark Ratchford, both Assistant Professors of Marketing, are the department’s young guns on the quantitative side. Dotson says he was drawn by the fact that Owen has an environment where people enjoy working together and get along. Ratchford heard good things about Owen from Steve Posavac, whom he had met while at the University of Rochester.

Dotson’s work employs statistical techniques in marketing. “Companies are drowning in data but starving for knowledge,” he says. “Being able to take information and turn it into actionable insights is a huge challenge, and anyone who does analytical marketing is really in demand now.”

Ratchford’s work “has to do with how people relate to one another with social networks, with the interactions among companies and people,” particularly the way companies form coalitions and achieve synergy in developing products. He is teaching courses on new products and marketing strategy this year.

Both are pleased with the department’s approach and their roles within it.

“This is an amazing group in the sense that everyone is new,” Dotson says. “It’s really unusual for a marketing department.”

Ratchford adds, “I think even among the quantitative types, the kind of work Jeff and I are doing is a bit unique. My work uses cooperative game theory, which nobody in marketing does. I kind of knew that only places with more of a cutting-edge vision would be interested in me.”

Iacobucci agrees on both counts. She describes both as “nice guys who are super-smart,” adding, “Since we’re a small group, it would have been safer just to go traditional, but that would be boring, no?”

Resume Building

From left, Shashi Shanbhag, Cara Tragseiler, Patrick Phillippi, Phoebe Zhang and  Allison Earnhart

From left, Shashi Shanbhag, Cara Tragseiler, Patrick Phillippi, Phoebe Zhang and Allison Earnhart

Five Owen marketing students took their classroom knowledge into the business world last semester in a pilot program that brought the immersion concept to the department. Phoebe Zhang, Cara Tragseiler, Shashi Shanbhag, Patrick Phillippi and Allison Earnhart, all MBA candidates for 2010, spent 11 weeks together under Yvonne Martin-Kidd, Executive Director of Marketing & Communications and Adjunct Professor of Marketing. Together they served as a consulting team on a rebranding and marketing project for a worldwide telecommunications software firm.

“I probably learned more about marketing and brand management from that one project than from any single class I’ll take,” Phillippi says.

The Brand Group met weekly with Martin-Kidd, who Zhang says, “gave us the tools and great advice, drawing on her marketing background, and then she let us run with it.”

Phillippi adds, “The great thing about Owen, is that it’s a small school so you know everyone, but people have worked in all kinds of industries.”

Following interviews with senior management, employees and customers, the team made recommendations for everything from logo redesign to improved product bundling. “We couldn’t have asked for a better demonstration of the strength of Owen students,” Shanbhag says, “or our ability to do the job of high-priced consultants.”

All are excited about the future of such ventures. “This pilot program was a great addition to the marketing curriculum,” Tragseiler says. “I was excited to see they’re planning to expand the Brand Group into a Capstone project and to add a Brand Week between mods 1 and 2.”

Earnhart, who, with her colleagues, represents the face of the department’s continuing revolution, adds, “The marketing curriculum is definitely taking huge steps forward.”

Investment Opportunities

From left, Gil Fuqua, BA’73, MBA’75, Dru Anderson, BA’80, EMBA’89, and Pat Watson, EMBA’83

From left, Gil Fuqua, BA’73, MBA’75, Dru Anderson, BA’80, EMBA’89, and Pat Watson, EMBA’83

It may specialize in investor relations, but as a firm in the business of presenting other companies, Corporate Communications Inc. is a hub of strategic marketing. In producing, among other things, quarterly and annual reports for a variety of small- and mid-cap publicly held companies, it makes financial data useful to investors, analysts, the press and public. Doing so draws heavily on what Gil Fuqua calls the cross-training he and fellow Senior Vice Presidents Dru Anderson and Pat Watson received at Owen.

“We are in the communications business,” Fuqua says, “but what we do is largely based on a thorough and relatable understanding of a company’s financial picture. Our Owen training in finance and accounting provided the right base of knowledge.”

“We always say we are marketing companies as investment opportunities to a Wall Street audience,” Anderson says.

As in so many firms, theirs is a mixture of business basics and ever-changing technology. “The information we deliver to the market is the same as it was 25 years ago,” Watson says. “The real difference is that instead of faxing or mailing it to a couple of hundred people, you’re posting it online to countless people, and it’s almost instantaneous.”

All have kept a close watch on Owen’s continuing transformation. “I’m very positive about the changes Owen has made in its marketing department,” Fuqua says. “What has too often been left out and what Owen is addressing is that once you’ve got the information, how you communicate it is just as important. Owen students learn both skills.”

Patients’ Needs

Jill Austin, mba ’88

Jill Austin, MBA’88

The marketing challenges Jill Austin, the Chief Marketing Officer at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and her team faced with the $64 million rollout of Vanderbilt Health at One Hundred Oaks were both sweeping and intricate. They had to (1) reassure neighbors, (2) form alliances with physicians, the city and merchants, (3) inform the media, and (4) bring patients to 22 planned clinics and additional offices.

Their playbook contained everything from community meetings to Twitter, reflecting the desire of the VUMC marketing team “to communicate with people in all the ways they want to be communicated with,” Austin says.

The marketing process has been as much about listening as speaking. “One of my favorite quotes was from a focus group on our Web site: ‘Please make this more about us than about you,’ which is so great,” she says. “That became a philosophy that pervades our work.”

Cyril Stewart, the Senior Director of Facility Resource Strategy and Management at VUMC, says, “I think that Jill’s careful crafting of the One Hundred Oaks focus group sessions is what turned the tide on the project.” Austin, however, is quick to share the credit, saying, “We couldn’t do what we do in marketing if it weren’t for our colleagues in other areas, including news and public affairs, community outreach and physician liaison service. We are all part of the communications channel.”

And for Austin, the end is clear. “It’s not about selling us,” she says. “It’s about understanding the needs of our patients, families and neighbors, and then working to best serve those needs.”

photo credit: Daniel Dubois, John Russell, Steve Green

Comments »

  1. As a recent grad, I can speak to the impact of the incredible change that has gone on in the Owen MBA Marketing track. In fact, a very big part of my decision to attend Owen was the appointment of some of the incredible new professors like Dawn Iacobucci.

    Long story short is that from Professor Iacobucci, to the consumer purchase insights of Steve Posavac, to the dogged statistical training of Jennifer Escalas and even the ever-quirky Steve Hoeffler’s new product adoption theories, the Owen MBA Marketing Department is laser-like focused on the tools MBAs need to shine in this new environment for marketers.

    The reason I wanted to share this comment is because, thanks to them, I am doing exactly what I said I wanted to do, in the exact field I wanted to be in after emerging from business school. To them, as well as the entire hands-on Owen marketing team including Yvonne, Suzanne, Carlos and Jeff – I am incredibly appreciative.

    Jared Degnan

    Owen MBA 2009
    Corporate Project Manager
    New Media Strategies
    Washington, DC

  2. Awesome, thanks for the info. Love this post.

  3. I hope that school will teach us financial literacy. So that after we graduate we can face any financial problem.

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