Every two years, we ask for input from MSI member company Trustees and academic thought leaders to help set priorities for the research we fund and the conferences we organize in the two years that follow.
We invite academic researchers to submit proposals for research projects on these priority topics. We also invite the submission of completed papers on these topics for publication in the MSI working papers series. Beyond directing the generation and dissemination of knowledge, these research priorities guide MSI as we undertake special research initiatives and competitions, sponsor workshops and conferences, and develop publications.
Below we describe the marketing topics considered by MSI to be in greatest need of study for 2012-14. We have written these priorities to make clear what new and different topics we hope to fund over the next few years. We expect to continue to fund research on more mature topics, but in this document, we draw attention to the knowledge areas that will be favored at the margin.
The criteria used to select the priorities included:
These criteria led to the identification of seven priority topics described in the following pages. In addition, in the balloting process, members offered thoughtful input that enriched our understanding of the meaning and importance of the emerging priorities. With our thanks to those who participated in this important process, we highlight a selection of their comments throughout the text.
Contact Research Director Ross Rizley with questions about research priorities and programs.
We call for research in any of these three distinct sub-topics: new methods, new data sources, and new theories. Many MSI members are questioning traditional methods of insight generation such as surveys and focus groups, and traditional frameworks for thinking about consumption. Long-form surveys are hard to reconcile with today’s modes of communication. The climate is ripe for innovation in the gathering and construction of insights into why people buy and use products and services.
With respect to methods, our members want to see evidence of the validity of the application of advanced technologies to generate consumer insights, such as mobile devices used for geo-polling, social media monitoring, online or in-store tracking of behavior, and technologies as yet unexplored (for example, augmented reality).
With respect to data sources, we are particularly interested to see research on rapid generation of consumer and business insights from large, relatively unstructured data.
With respect to theory, we would like to see applications to consumption, at scale and with evidence of validity, of frontier theories in the social sciences, for example, those from psychology, sociology, and anthropology, but also from less-frequently applied disciplines such as linguistics and neuroscience. However, we caution researchers to avoid fragmentary laboratory results, unless there is reason to think that the insights will hold up in the marketplace.
Priority 2: Rethinking the Journey to Purchase and Beyond, Whether Conceptualized as a Funnel or a More Iterative Process
This topic is many decades old, so it might be asked why it is on the current priority list. The answer is that rich behavior tracking data are now so abundant that we believe that the time is ripe for research that tests afresh models of the processes that precede and follow transactions and that measures the marketing actions and contextual factors that drive them.
We would like to see research proposals that reconceptualize the journey to purchase and beyond in a manner that creates segments or media/message decision rules that managers can act upon.
We call for research that maps how the actions of firms influence buyer states. MSI members are well aware that a single message used across multiple stages in the journey to purchase is inefficient, because benefits sought by consumers evolve as the journey progresses, and online and offline marketing actions must be tuned to key journey points. Some members doubt that existing media mix models are capable of handling these complexities.
The existence or absence of synergy effects at different stages of the process is a key concern. If the effects exist, or can be brought into being, what are their implications for the media mix and for media staging?
Priority 3: Designing Experiences, Not Products. What Accounts for Experiences That Are Remembered, Interesting, Repeated, and Valued?
This topic is not new to marketing, so again it is fair to ask why we now make it a particular priority for funding. The answer is that we want to move the focus in MSI-funded experience research to products, which have been neglected relative to services (where there has been a long tradition of this kind of research).
The success in recent years of retailers from Starbucks to Disney to American Girl in the design of the consumption environment has inspired curiosity from the kind of manufacturer who does not control channel or consumption setting. They are asking whether generalizations from the mature practice of retail and service experience design can be stretched to apply to all industries. Some members point to the success of Apple products as another source of generalizations that govern the design of a user experience.
Therefore, we are calling for proposals for research on experience with products, not merely services or retail environments, while we also encourage the transfer of concepts from the latter domain to the former. At least three sub-topics can be identified. First, what framing interventions account for a positive summary evaluation of experience with a product? Second, how do salience, sentiment, and recollection fluctuate in moment-by-moment encounters with the product? Third, are there distinctive management and organizational structures, cultures, or practices in firms that are successful at designing positive product experiences?
Priority 4: Mobile Platforms and Their Impact on How People Live Their Lives and the Operation of Markets
Mobile devices absorb a small part of marketing spending today, yet there is a widespread expectation among member companies that they have “game-changing” implications for marketing in the near future. We invite research proposals on two specific areas while welcoming other ideas.
The first is a call for business-to-business applications. We are interested in studies of their use in firm-client relationships, and in sales force management, both for communication and for transaction. Will mobile platforms make value chains more efficient, and will elements within the value chain be disintermediated?
The second line of research that we seek to fund is research that uses the self-documenting and interrogative capacities of the mobile platform to gather consumer behavior data and cross-competitor data to test media mix and multi-channel effects on sales.
Priority 5: Trust Between People and Their Institutions and in Social Networks
Members express concern about the corrosive effects on their ability to do business of recent actions that betray trust by, among others, financial and government institutions, politicians, and custodians of personal data generated by search and social media. They are calling for both stronger theory on the processes of trust building and erosion and stronger empirical research, both experimental and field-based, to link trust-building actions to marketplace outcomes.
We are calling for research that explores who are people’s trusted advisors and how such judgments are formed. We invite research on how people judge whether the actions of firms are exploitative or not. Corporate decision makers want more empirical research into the process of building and rebuilding trust, for example, by the design of field studies in industries within which there are firms with high and low levels of trust.
Priority 6: Big Data
The explosive growth in the sources and quantity of data available to firms is leading them to employ new methods of analysis and reporting, such as machine learning and data visualization. Unless the skill sets of professional marketers evolve, it is likely that some of the activities historically associated with marketing and customer service will migrate to other functional areas of the organization such as information technology or engineering. Academic work too, in its assumptions, approaches, theories, models, and methodologies, will increasingly be found inadequate to deal with this change.
MSI’s research funding decisions will therefore give priority to research that equips traditional areas of responsibility within marketing to adapt to new realities. Rethinking the capabilities required of marketing in the era of “big data” will point to the need for new skills, training, and organization, and we thus call for research on these topics, drawing on adjacent disciplines such as organizational behavior, systems engineering and user interface design, information technology, machine learning, data mining, artificial intelligence, and operations research. Existing academic approaches to all of the traditional marketing topics will need to be revised to work in this environment.
We need new, faster/better ways to conduct marketing research, forecast demand, manage channels, and develop, test, and manage products/services. We need faster, better, more realistic models/ approaches to competition, market evolution, market structure, and competitor analyses – models/ approaches that will work in an environment where technology advances will change markets, competitors, products, and competitive strategies in shorter time cycles. We need new ways of thinking and managing brands and the firm's communications and advertising activities in a world where the proliferation of information is near instantaneous and the firm’s ability to control it is much reduced.
We need to expand marketing’s academic boundaries to leverage artificial intelligence, data mining, machine learning, and visualization techniques to develop better, real-time intelligent systems and decision support systems. We need new thinking about the management of customer relationships in this environment.
MSI will give priority to research proposals that work with scholars in other disciplines because, for many of the problems of the big data era, the foundational theories and methods will have to be imported from other disciplines.
Priority 7: Marketing Organizations and Capabilities
Traditional approaches to training marketers and organizing the marketing function are no longer adequate to keep up with the disruptive effects of technology-empowered customers, the proliferation of media, channel, and customer contact points, and the possibilities for micro-segmentation and product/service personalization.
Marketers are being called upon to interpret massive quantities of unstructured data and to turn them into actionable insights. Known for their abilities as data gatherers and interpreters, marketers are now being challenged to act as leaders who can drive their learnings deep into their firms. What skill sets will marketers require to deal with this increasingly complex competitive environment?
MSI members are asking for new thinking and new approaches to help close the widening gap between the accelerating complexity of markets and the ability of organizations to respond. We are especially interested in research that draws on adjacent disciplines such as organizational psychology and human resources management.
Research is also needed to better understand how organizational structure and marketing capabilities influence business performance. What are effective strategies for firms that need to transition from more traditional brand, product line, or technology structures to more competitive and nimble ways of doing business?