In Conversation with the Experts in Consumer Analytics

Consumers in a shopping mall

The digital revolution has led to an unprecedented volume of information about consumers. Organisations worldwide are eager to understand and utilise this consumer data, and there is increasing demand for graduates with the right skills to do this.

The University of Leeds has become a major centre for this type of 'big data' analysis in the UK and is home to LIDA, the Leeds Institute for Data Analytics.

We met with the academic team leading our MSc Consumer Analytics and Marketing Strategy to find out more about the development of this pioneering course, and the emergence of this fast-paced area of business.

Dr Yeyi Liu is Lecturer in Marketing and Prof. Matthew Robson is Professor in Marketing, both based in Leeds University Business School. Dr Andy Newing is Lecturer in Retail Geography based in the School of Geography.

Dr Yeyi Liu
Professor Matthew Robson pictured in the Marks and Spencer archive
Dr Andy Newing
Tell us about MSc Consumer Analytics and Marketing Strategy, and why the course has been developed?

Dr Yeyi Liu: “We are entering an era of big data. It brings challenges and opportunities for almost every organisation and changes the way of thinking.”

Prof. Matthew Robson: “Companies in all sectors are interested in building their capability in the big data space. Retailers, through their loyalty programmes, are at the forefront of consumer analytics. However, companies involved in technology, manufacturing and business services all have big data related marketing strategies (e.g. Google, Unilever, IBM and PwC).”

Dr Andy Newing: “Quantitative and spatial big data analytics can inform marketing strategies, integrated customer communications and the evaluation of store networks. Yet to grasp these opportunities, organisations need to invest in developing teams with the cutting-edge analytical skills to manage such big data.”

Dr Yeyi Liu: “There is an increasing need for people with strong analytical skills to manage the data and to support strategic decision making. This course aims to fill the gap, providing graduates with sufficient knowledge of marketing management and strong analytical skills, who are capable of championing strategic decisions.”

Prof. Matthew Robson: “The unprecedented levels of technological change brought on by the digital revolution mean the skills and approaches that elevated marketing executives to senior roles, even a few years ago, are no longer sufficient to propel them further. Consumer analytics is set to become an increasingly important part of marketing education.”

What makes this course significant and distinctive?

Prof. Matthew Robson: “There are no other postgraduate programmes currently combining consumer science with marketing strategy. Our new MSc is fresh and exciting in its combination of consumer analytics content (largely provided by the School of Geography), with marketing strategy knowledge (provided by the Marketing Division of the Business School).”

Dr Andy Newing: “This course is distinctive in combining quantitative and spatial ‘data science’ with the strategic thinking and communication skills required to influence marketing decisions.

It is also aligned with the world-class research of the Consumer Data Research Centre (CDRC), part of the Leeds Institute of Data Analytics (LIDA). The centre offers state-of-the-art facilities for data analytics and works with major consumer organisations, including UK retailers, consultancies, consumer survey companies, utility companies, travel providers and financial services.”

Dr Yeyi Liu: “These links provide students with valuable opportunities to work on projects with real data from our sponsors and partners.”

What skills and knowledge can students expect to gain and how will this help their career?

Dr Yeyi Liu: “Students can expect to gain relevant marketing knowledge including understanding consumer behaviour, developing marketing strategy and designing integrated marketing communications. They will gain important analytical skills, including customer data analysis, predictive analysis and effective decision making.”

Dr Andy Newing: “Students will be able to visualise and summarise consumer data to glean real-time insights and inform decision making. They’ll also understand how to use this insight to build computational modules, which can predict purchasing behaviours, and apply these models to business decisions. Students will use powerful geodemographic insights to understand the characteristics of consumers, to evaluate market penetration within small geographic areas, and to develop integrated marketing communications.”

Prof. Matthew Robson: “Students can expect to accrue marketing knowledge and develop skills in using high-level analytical tools and techniques, which are needed to effectively analyse the business environment, and to set marketing objectives and strategies. In the digital era, marketing strategies are increasingly influenced by analytics. With these skills, graduates will be ideally positioned for a career in data analytics, marketing and/or management”.

What opportunities does the course provide to gain experience in working with companies?

Dr Andy Newing: “We firmly believe that it is important for our students to gain ‘hands on’ experience. They will work with examples of real consumer data and realistic business scenarios throughout the course. In Semester 2 we offer a taught module, Marketing Research Consultancy Project, which gives students the opportunity to work in small groups on a live project or problem set by our partner firms. Students can also opt to complete their summer research project (dissertation) as a consultancy project working with an external company, using skills from the course to address a practical problem for that organisation. This could include developing a marketing strategy, identifying opportunities for a company to expand its store network, or evaluating potential new markets in which to launch a new product or store.”

What are your own personal interests in the subject area, and what you are most looking forward to sharing with students as part of the course?

Dr Yeyi Liu: “I am interested in how retailers can use big data to understand consumers’ purchase and consumption behaviour and to further gain customer loyalty in the long term. Also, how companies could better use their data by combining information from various sources. Another area is how big data can help governments to perform more efficiently.”

Prof. Matthew Robson: “My personal interests are in marketing strategy, which is about how marketing can future proof an organisation and become core to the organisation’s future.  But while marketing should drive management decisions, I appreciate that in the digital era consumer analytics can drive marketing (and through it, management). Consumer analytics helps marketing become more beneficial to corporate strategy makers. As a marketing professor, I am personally interested in helping students investigate and understand this more influential, strategic role of marketing.”

What has made the biggest impact on consumer analytics and marketing strategy in recent years, and what will be the key shifts in the future?

Dr Yeyi Liu: “I think the biggest impact comes from the changes in the nature of data. It is changing significantly, from systematic data to complex and “big” data, from single source to multiple sources. Everyone is generating a huge amount of data daily, with the rapid development of smartphones and internet, including social media. These changes challenge the way we used to process information and treat data. We need to revisit these methods and techniques, and develop them accordingly, so that the big consumer data can benefit everyone.”

Prof. Matthew Robson: “Without a doubt it is digitalisation of business. Marketing has received a tremendous boost from internet-driven automation over the past ten years or so. Browsing, shopping and receiving customer service on the web have provided huge control to customers, and also created a flood of big data. The big data era is here to stay. Firms have more data than they know how to use and Masters programmes, like the MSc Consumer Analytics and Marketing Strategy, are needed to furnish firms with graduates who can find new data applications that can give them the edge in the marketplace.”