Yesterday, around five years after graduating from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen (RUG) in The Netherlands, I had the privilege to hold the guest lecture during the “Customer Management” course for master students. This lecture was taught by renowned professor Peter Verhoef, head of the marketing department of RUG, author of many prominent journal articles and just recently author of the book “Creating Value with Big Data Analytics”. In my lecture I spoke about loyalty programmes, several measurements of revenue results of marketing activities and effective direct marketing. This opportunity was given to me because the topics I cover in practice overlap very close with the curriculum of master students in Groningen. The whole time I spoke, I kept thinking following: the students listening to the lecture are lucky to study the master programme I also had chance to finish because I can say now with full confidence: what I learned in Groningen was very practical for my professional life so far.
Students at the lecture of Customer Management course
Looking back on the 5 years since I graduated in Marketing from the Rijksuniversiteit Groningen, I think it is time for me to reflect and say to members of the marketing department: Thank you! The education I received was essential ingredient to start my own business, Pricewise, together with partners. The department of marketing at RUG is very strong in quantitative marketing and that is exactly what I and our company do now. It is marketing with measurable results, but measured reliably. And I am quantitative marketer. So here are the key factors why the master in Groningen has proven so useful to me – the 10 key ingredients which made my university education very valuable:
- Practice-oriented projects – I had to work on many projects during the master studies, both individually and in a team. Here is one notable example: For two semesters I worked on analysing the data from the direct campaigns sent to the alumni of the RUG. The goal of these campaigns (letters, emails) is to raise money for crucial development projects of the University. During this project I understood the mechanics and solid measurement of direct marketing and had a chance to presents the results to the president of the University. Because of this project, I later on had a courage to design the direct marketing of Loyalty Programme GOPASS and created analytical team at Pricewise which helps to manage direct campaigns of our clients, which is the topic of my focus which I like, because it connects creativity and big data. The work on direct marketing of GOPASS won the best CRM award at the Loyalty awards in London this year. Has it not been for my project on direct marketing at RUG, I would have never started the actual work on Direct Marketing and analysis in Pricewise and we would probably never have won the “Best CRM award”.
- Use of (statistical) software – when I founded Pricewise together with partners, we had the company for several months before we received the payment for first invoice. The first invoice of Pricewise was the delivery of pricing market research using the conjoint methodology. And any entrepreneur can confirm that being paid for the first time is one of the most important payments a company ever receives. During the master in Groningen I learned all about the conjoint method and how to use in practice the software that can process this method smoothly. Conjoint is a method that allows researcher to test product variations in a smart way and determine price sensitivity of different customer segments. It helps to design good product and determine the right price. When the time came in Pricewise, I was ready within weeks to deliver the conjoint results that were valid and much better in quality than what the big market research houses delivered at the time in central Europe. Having the chance to use the cutting edge software in Groningen allowed me to support a pricing redesign of a banking product. This pricing research then helped us to get more projects.
- Master thesis that matters both in theory and in practice – During the master studies I was encouraged to select a topic which would be relevant from academic standpoint as well as help a specific business. I studied loyalty and price sensitivity of large Slovak bookstore Martinus.sk (Thanks also to CEO of Martinus, Michal Meško for the support). The thesis allowed me to dive deep into how to structure the marketing problems, develop solid hypothesis, find my way out of “the dark alleys of statistics”, find solid foundation in literature and most importantly, determine what is the natural level of loyalty of Martinus.sk customer, which simply means: How loyal are the customers of the store brand, even without having any loyalty programme and what would happen if the market situation changes and there are new competitors. It was my real bridge between the theory and practice. When I am doing analytical projects now, it is because of the Thesis that I know how deep to dive in data and when to stop analysing, report the results and give recommendations.
- Use of (marketing) models – I am not mathematician at all, but what I love is how to apply marketing models to practice and how to find ways to measure the results of marketing. Having the proper training in Groningen on how to use marketing models, allows me now to structure the thinking of my colleagues with deep knowledge of mathematics and statistics and they appreciate that I can give their technical work practical meaning. So when we predict when the next guest comes to restaurant, what is the post promotion effect of price discount or when the customer is most likely to open next email campaign, we go very deep and we use solid models in real business setting. The second benefit of seeing and understanding marketing models in Groningen was the structure of thinking. We were taught to think multidimensionally, but at the same keeping things simple. It is just this balance in thinking that helps me now to go deep, but not to overcomplicate the problems at the same time.
- Solid theory as base for future thinking – as students we were pushed to read many articles from the top academic journals in the area of quantitative marketing (Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, etc.). I still regularly come back to the journals in practice. Just recently I had to think about consequences of organising individual price promotions for large restaurant chain. The moment it was decided to do the price promotion and communicate it directly to thousands of customers I realised that it is time to come back to the journal articles which investigate the so-called “post promotion dip” – a situation when there is a decrease in revenue after a temporary decrease in price. Having the ability to understand this mechanic allowed us to design the direct campaigns promoting the lower price correctly. The journal articles we had to read in Groningen serve for me as fixed anchors in my decisions. They are the pillars of my opinions.Prof. dr. P.C. (Peter) Verhoef introducing the guest lecture
- Practice-oriented teaching – whether it was Advanced Market Research course, Marketing Model Building course, Brand Management course or various others, we always had a theoretical lecture, matched with team project using real data, using the software and presenting the results. Such approach allowed us the explore one topic from different angles and keep highly theoretical concepts practical at the same time. It was just this mix that motivated us to go deep and discuss the different matter for hours. Because we saw how to use the theory in practice.
- Positive motivation – keeping students “above water” – it can happen often at universities that the student is not considered a partner in discussion and not knowing the right answer feels like shame. My experience from Groningen was completely different. Anytime I did not know the answer I could consult member of the department. Such openness to question ensured ongoing motivation to ask and explore further. Moreover the climate of perfect organisation and friendliness at the same ensured progress and relaxed atmosphere.
- Team work – In real business world, it is all about teams. The projects we did in the master studies were so heavy in load that we were pushed to create effective team, divide work and create good collaborating culture. I was lucky that my student colleagues were excellent people both professionally and also as persons. It was an excellent training and pushed me and the others to find an effective role of each individual within the team – an invaluable lesson.
- Paying for education – Paying for anything means that you value it. If you value something you expect more from yourself and the lecturers. This means you are interested in what you are receiving for the cash. Education in The Netherlands is not very expensive, but it is a very wise choice that there is a modest tuition fee.
- Role models – Last, but not least. It is probably the most important ingredient. The professors and lecturers and the Marketing department of the RUG were true authorities in the field and not just in Europe, but worldwide. Whether it was Peter Verhoef, publishing papers in best journals with the best people in the marketing academia worldwide, Peter Leeflang, author of base marketing literature on which lot of retail analysis is now developed, or all other great lecturers in the marketing department, it was always very valuable to hear their opinion. That respect pushed us to achieve better results. So Peters, Janny, Erjen, Liane, Sonja, Tammo, Jaap, Jenny, Wander, Karl Jan, Hans, 5 years on I say: Thank you!
In the above I do not claim that it is a universal answer to what the good ingredients of university education are or that it is valid for every field outside of marketing. It is just my experience that worked for me in the specific context.