Marketing Group Zurich was founded by René Algesheimer, Martin Natter and Florian von Wangenheim. In a discussion with Susanna Flühmann, manager of the University Research Priority Program (URPP) Social Networks, the three Marketing professors talk about the idea behind Marketing Group Zurich, give insights into their work with industry partners as well as their favorite research and teaching projects and talk about their plans to further intensify their cooperation. At the University of Zurich (UZH) and the ETH Zurich (ETH), they have found excellent working conditions and are now putting their effort into further improving the international position of Marketing research at both universities.
Susanna Flühmann (SF): With this website, Marketing Group Zurich is presenting itself to the public for the first time. Who is the target audience of that website?
René Algesheimer (RA): This website is a communication channel to the outside world. It is addressed to all of our industry partners, and should further keep the public and media informed about our latest projects in research and teaching.
SF: What is the difference between the three chairs and what do they mainly focus on?
Martin Natter (MN): At the UZH, we have many Marketing students in all stages, so we can build specializations. My chair focuses on classic Marketing. We are interested in how consumers make decisions and how they are influenced by price and advertising. Real world application is of great importance to us. Everything we teach is relevant to business management in practice, but also equally relevant for research.
RA: The focus of my chair is on quantitative market research. We work with large data sets and investigate interactions in relationships between consumers, companies and society. This is also the topic of the URPP Social Networks that we manage since 2013. Our teaching is largely dedicated to digital marketing and social media.
Florian von Wangenheim (FvW): The biggest difference between the UZH and the ETH is that our students have a technological background. They look at Marketing – which for us means Technology Marketing – with a little skepticism at first. However, after a while, they recognize that the problems at hand are not that unfamiliar to them. Considering the students’ background and their interest in relationships between businesses, our focus is more on B2B problems.
SF: What are your research focuses and which research questions are particularly important for you?
FvW: We ask how new technologies change the interaction between people and businesses: How do customers react when robots answer their questions sent to a helpdesk? Are they willing to communicate with bots?
RA: We are interested in the mechanisms in social networks. How does structure influence behavior and vice versa? Who are the influencers in a network and who influences whom? How do trends diffuse on a network? Another important project investigates how values are developing and changing over time.
MN: In our experiments, we apply theoretical findings to a specific setting. This enables us to analyze how useful the theory is. It is a good way of checking price decisions. We also test the validity of advertising decisions.
SF: Do you collect your own data or do you get it from firms?
FvW: Both, although it’s obviously best when you can conduct experiments in collaboration with firms. We get data from companies and test in the laboratory what questions might be important to consider.
SF: How does the collaboration with industry partners usually work?
MN: There is the ant strategy and the elephant strategy. You can either enter into a lot of collaborations or concentrate on a few, but representative businesses. The latter is what we have been doing.
FvW: We do not give any quick, operational answers to questions from businesses, but deal with questions thoroughly and find answers that are effective in the long run. We have just taken over a research lab at ETH, where we will address application-oriented questions during the next four years.
RA: We always start with a relevant question, either formulated by us or by an industry partner. We discuss this question in the group and try to find answers using our research repertoire. Those questions/problems also influence our teaching in a way that we want to enable students to recognize relevant questions and find possible solutions. We have come full circle when we are able to present measurable results to an industry partner that are also relevant for research and moves both, businesses and research, forward.
SF: Let us talk about teaching. What do the students learn in your classes?
RA: Our content is extremely hands-on, which means it always relates to problems and questions from practical experience. We cooperate with various businesses, including small non-profit organizations. For example, in our Social Media Seminar, students can design (digital) campaigns for six agencies with their according customers and present their results to them at the end of the course. In addition to social media topics, we will be offering a series on the topic of “Personal Branding” in the future. This should motivate students to put their ideas into practice at work, making good use of all available channels and social media. Besides that, we teach the foundations of Marketing Analytics and offer introductory courses in programming.
FvW: Engineers, technical experts and scientists are prejudiced towards Marketing. A predominant opinion is that we only do qualitative research and that our statements are not well-founded enough. Thus, some students do not come to my courses entirely voluntarily, but are even more pleased when they see how analytically we work. Real-life experts are also involved in our classes, for example, the CEO of a larger Swiss firm. Students should be able to acquire a toolbox that they can fall back on in their subsequent professional lives.
MN: New perspectives and technologies are important. However, to us, thorough, solid training matters equally. We are working on integrating new phenomena, without neglecting the basics.
SF: Do you collaborate on projects?
MN: UZH and ETH should become more open for students of the other institution. Our three chairs want to collaborate even more and we also coordinate our activities in teaching. We try to complement each other and agree on priorities so that we can offer the most extensive range of courses possible in Marketing.
RA: We already have an important joint project, “THE PIIK”. We organize conferences and high-level workshops under this brand. THE PIIK is also a message, namely our ambition to create an effect, to do excellent work and to involve businesses in research and teaching. That is why, when it comes to businesses, we do not just think about big companies and multinational groups, but just as often about small and medium-sized companies, service providers and non-profit organizations. This autumn, we start a new discussion series, “THE PIIK Gipfelblick”, to which we invite Swiss CEOs to discuss their professional experiences and current business challenges.
FvW: We want to establish an executive club, a kind of circle of excellence, to better support our outstanding and dedicated students. It will give them the opportunity to conduct case studies, together with businesses, and to take part in exclusive workshops.
SF: In which direction will UZH and ETH develop and what resources do you require to keep giving your best in research and teaching?
FvW: You can always wish for one thing or another, but I am very satisfied with my working conditions at ETH.
RA: I can only agree. At the UZH, we have a lot of freedom and flexibility. To me, this is unique worldwide. We have access to resources that we can use to develop further. Also, we receive great support from our rector.
MN: Everything is here. We just have to do something with it ourselves. Marketing Group Zurich would not exist without this background. If we manage to position Marketing research done at the Universities in Zurich internationally, UZH and ETH will also benefit.