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Big Data Calls for Big Changes: PLU Introduces the Master of Science in Marketing Research


Master of Science in Marketing Research faculty & staff: Sven Tuzovic, Program Director Mari Peterson, Susan Harmon, and Mark Mulder outside Morken Center For Learning and Technology. (Photo: John Froschauer/PLU)

In response to the high demand for marketing analytics professionals, the Pacific Lutheran University School of Business is launching its Master of Science in Marketing Research (MSMR) program in Fall 2015.

In the age of 90-inch television screens and 30-ounce lattes, the 21st century could be branded with the motto “Go big or go home.” With the increase in information collected through digital transactions, there is exponential growth in the availability of consumer data. This new ability to acquire, process and sort vast quantities of consumer data has been coined “Big Data.”

In the past, data volume posed storage issues. Now, decreased storage costs and increased ability to screen consumer behavior allow companies to collect copious amounts of data. Companies can track every purchase made in a grocery store, every pair of jeans bought at Nordstrom and every product that is “liked” on Facebook. According to The Wall Street Journal, “big data” refers to the idea that a company “can mine all the data it collects right across its operations to unlock golden nuggets of business intelligence.”

With big data comes a big need for data scientists – marketing professionals who have the education and skills to manage the constant flood of information. Data scientists look for patterns, drawing out critical insights and taking appropriate action.

“It is one of the [most] sought-after positions,” said Rob Bearden, CEO of Hortonworks. “The desire on the enterprise side to find truly qualified data scientists has resulted in almost open headcount. It’s probably the biggest imbalance of supply and demand I’ve ever seen in my career. The talent pool is, at best, probably 20 percent of the demand.”

The shortage of candidates with skills in marketing research on the West Coast is one of the many factors that led to the Pacific Lutheran University School of Business MSMR program.

Despite clear industry demand for employees with strong marketing research and analytic skills, there is a serious lack of industry-relevant MSMR programs in the western half of the United States. The closest program is at Nebraska-Lincoln, nearly 1,700 miles from Seattle.

PLU is well-qualified to fill the need for an MSMR program on the West Coast. Its marketing and management faculty have expertise in research and methodology and are equipped to deliver the course work necessary for an intensive, qualitatively rich, rigorous program meant to expand students’ critical thinking skills.

Associate Professor of Marketing at PLU Dr. Susan Harmon strongly believes in the value of teaching students to look critically at data and bring meaning to them.

“Individuals with expertise implementing marketing data are highly sought after on the West Coast,” Harmon said. “Companies will see the most value in individuals who have the ability to utilize data to make decisions that benefit both customers and employers in the long-term.”

Companies envision using big-data analysis for cost and time efficiency, smart business decision-making and optimized product development and offerings.

The MSMR faculty at PLU has been working to develop a curriculum through inputs from several critical sources, including the Core Body of Knowledge from the Marketing Research Association and standards of the American Marketing Association.

The MSMR program runs 10 months, full-time, allowing students to complete their degrees and quickly transition into careers in marketing. The degree will equip graduates with skills for a diverse array of careers and prepare them for doctoral work in a variety of fields. After finishing the program, students will have the tools and insight to pursue careers as marketing research analysts; big-data analysts; brand managers; account executives; and as marketing scientists at advertising agencies, marketing research firms, corporations, nonprofits and governmental agencies.

In addition to teaching students to analyze vast quantities of data, PLU’s MSMR program is built on a strong foundation of ethics.

“Our program will be unique in the way that it not only provides students with strong quantitative and qualitative skills, but firmly embeds ethics and morality within a marketing analytics context as well,” Harmon said. “We want to ensure that ethics is a critical part of how we teach data collection, analysis and decision-making.”

It seems that the Generation of Big is here to stay. With big amounts of information and big demand for data scientists, PLU’s MSMR program will provide students with a venue to learn how to harness new data and combine it with analytics in order to change the world of marketing.