Monday, November 21, 2011

IMC Hereos: The Geniuses (and Ninjas) Who Inspire Us

In less than three weeks, my IMC classmates and I will don a cap, gown, and purple tassel and receive our hard-earned masters degrees. In our time at Northwestern, we’ve developed interests and passions in areas we couldn’t have imagined 18 months ago when we first arrived in Evanston. We’ve also been exposed to a number of amazing people in the field, whose work inspires us to think harder and be better marketers. Learning about these people has made our hard work, long nights, and hefty tuition dollars worthwhile.

Following are three people who have transformed the way I think:

Avinash Kaushik
When the syllabus for my Media Economics class landed in my inbox, I noticed a book called Web Metrics 2.0: The Art of Online Accountability by Avinash Kaushik. This resulted in my making some sort of horrible groaning sound, as I wondered how a book on web metrics could be anything less than mind-numbingly painful.

How wrong I was! Avinash’s approach to web metrics analysis is to synthesize them in such a way that tells a story about how customers and potential customers use a website. Through his lens, one can identify strong and weak elements of a website, and what content is so interesting that people spend many minutes reading a single page. Indeed, web metrics are one of the greatest sources of customer insights in the digital age. And Avinash’s wit and good nature (not to mention philanthropy), which clearly shine through in his love for “analysis ninjas,” prove that a subject like web metrics can be fascinating and accessible to all.

Edward Tufte
We’ve been told and re-told many times over the course of graduate school: there is a sh*tload (for lack of a better word) of data available today, and it is growing exponentially. Of course, there’s a need to display the data; often, companies pay large sums of money to obtain it. However, as I’ve learned in my Marketing Measurement class, quickly slapping an Excel graph onto a PowerPoint does not a visual make. Today, we look to infographics as a way to use data to tell story about customers, a process, or a range of other topics in a way that is easily understood. But making data easy to swallow is hard to do!

Nobody understands this better than Edward Tufte, whose book “The Visual Display of Quantitative Information” is truly a seminal work. Tufte sets the gold standard for anybody who touches information design and data visualization. So before I hastily throw together an Excel graph, I am sure to think critically about what information is pertinent and how to best display it in order to tell a story.

Parisian train schedule by E.J Marey, featured by Tufte

Susan Fournier
Pop quiz: How do you get to know your customers?   
Shocking answer: Spend time with them

Although this sounds intuitive, Fournier’s work illustrates the necessity of understanding consumers and their relationships with brands. Not one of my classmates or I will ever forget Vicki, Jean, or Karen. Fournier used ethnographic research to analyze brand relationships among these three women, which involved going into their homes and learning about their lives. Fournier’s research elucidates how these women chose brands that facilitated their identity and supported their aspirations to be a certain type of person (i.e.. cute and flirty, a good homemaker, etc.). The practice of ethnography is essential to gaining an in-depth understanding of how customers perceive brands and their motivations for purchasing them. Fournier’s case study is a must-read for any marketer.

Which marketers/analysts/ academics inspire you? Please leave a comment below.

Kate Hellman is a graduate student at Northwestern University in the Integrated Marketing Communications program.
She can be reached at and @hellk

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