Feature Stories


Putting Digital Marketing in Context

Digital technology is transforming the field of marketing, with brands now able to connect and interact with customers via social media. The question, though, is how wide and lasting will this revolution be.

With digital technology now making it possible to communicate and inform in a faster and more customer-specific way, Professor AV Muthukrishnan, Head of the Department of Marketing at the HKUST Business School, believes it is important to assess its significance and potential impact.

“The major function of marketing is to inform and persuade customers,” he says, adding that developments in virtual reality and live streaming are taking things to a whole new level. He notes though, that despite these advances and the new channels now available, the fundamentals of the process and the workings of human psychology remain the same.

His department colleague and Associate Dean (Undergraduate Studies) of the School, Professor Anirban Mukhopadhyay, also suggests that the basic goals of marketing remain largely unchanged.

For instance, introductory classes on marketing still focus on the Four Ps: Product, Price, Place and Promotion. But the products may be digital, possibly bought and promoted online, and even the currencies used to buy them.

“When that is the case, the qualifier ‘digital’ really doesn’t mean very much,” says Mukhopadhyay, adding that marketing has to be seen as the interface between the individual and a business. In essence, it is how businesses find out what people want and need - and how potential consumers ascertain what is on offer.

“For companies, sometimes it’s best to make that offer online and sometimes offline. It’s totally dependent on the context.”

Certain campaigns have successfully integrated the online and offline elements. For example, in Australia, an international sportswear company helped women to organize group runs after dark. In India, the company behind a cooking oil, which was potentially fattening, got involved in sharing healthy recipes online.

“Ultimately, it has always been about relating your real self with something the brand is giving you,” Mukhopadhyay says.

In terms of academic research, he views digital as one domain among many. And, traditionally, the department has been more concerned with what can be applied across domains.

“Our main business is theoretical research for knowledge advancement, well grounded in economics, psychology, mathematics and statistics,” Muthukrishnan says. “Technological advances have made the gathering of information so easy we now have vast amounts of data on customer preferences and other areas. However, we need the right talent to interpret this data effectively and accurately.”

Raw data must be processed and transformed to make it “knowledge”, and the next step is to turn that knowledge into insights. However, it is still possible to get more insight from talking in depth to five people than from looking at data from five million.

“People are talking about big data, but nobody’s talking about big insight, and that’s what you need,” Mukhopadhyay says.

This shortage is something the department is constantly seeking to address. There are, though, some experts on digital marketing whose research themes include data analysis in online marketing, and viral marketing.

“We hope to advance knowledge in this area, in terms of theory and real-world applications,” Muthukrishnan says.

For instance, analysis of big data makes it easier to identify key opinion leaders who can then be enlisted in marketing campaigns.

Other research work, based on psychology, is focusing more on consumer behavior or on economics-based quantitative modelling. Work in both these areas has ramifications for digital marketing.

HKUST Marketing Faculty

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Source: UT Dallas Top 100 School Research Ranking (in terms of publications in top journals 2007-2017)