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Spiegel Digital and Database Center Focuses on Purchase Behavior

Medill to celebrate official launch of its first research center Jan. 29

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Northwestern University has created a new research center -- the first ever at the Medill School of Journalism, Media, Integrated Marketing Communications -- that will mine data to better understand the link between consumer digital engagement and purchase behavior. A celebration of its official launch takes place Jan. 29.

The Medill IMC Spiegel Digital & Database Research Center is named in honor of the late Ted Spiegel, longtime Medill professor and grandson of direct marketing innovator and Spiegel catalog founder Joseph Spiegel. Spiegel was instrumental in creating Medill’s graduate direct marketing program -- the first in the nation -- and expanding direct marketing as a discipline of study.

The official launch of the research center will be celebrated at 2 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 29, at the McCormick Tribune Center, 1870 Campus Drive, Evanston campus. The free and public event will be streamed live at spiegel.medill.northwestern.edu. Hashtag during the event is #IMCSpiegel; Twitter account is @SpiegelResearch.

In an age in which it is possible to analyze vast amounts of information across digital platforms, the center is committed to conducting evidence-based data analysis that sheds light on the relationship between customer engagement, particularly through social and mobile media, and purchase behavior. 

“We look at potential customers’ social and mobile engagement whether or not they are buying something,” said Tom Collinger, the Medill professor who directs the Spiegel Center. “We then marry that data to look at patterns that occur, not just once, but over time.”

For decades, marketers broadcast messages to passive consumers intending for them to notice, pay attention and then take an action. In today’s changed marketing environment, consumers can actively participate and engage with a brand through social media such as Facebook and Twitter and across platforms such as smartphones and mobile applications.

“We want to move marketing practice from faith to facts,” Collinger said. “It’s not enough simply to trust that certain marketing practices lead to purchase behavior. Our applied research -- for use by academics and practitioners -- is focused on understanding what it means to be engaged with the brand and demonstrating which practices work best.”

By providing an endowment for the center, Spiegel hoped to change the way academic marketing research is done and more closely tie it to the marketing industry. With Edward Malthouse, a nationally known expert in applied statistics, as its research director, the center does just that.

Center researchers work closely with companies willing to provide their proprietary data for analysis in exchange for insights and practical information that will boost sales.

“There’s nothing new about mining big data,” Collinger said. “But when Google or Amazon do it, it’s to optimize their own business. In contrast, the center will share its research findings with marketing practitioners and academics. Ted’s vision and our goal are not to get rich but to have wide impact.”

The center already has produced four research studies. They include one on the role of social media contests in driving purchase behavior, another on the effects of online negative word of mouth on consumer buying and two on the impact of mobile usage.

Their findings are not entirely obvious. One, for example, demonstrated that negative posts written about a company may actually correlate with increased purchasing behavior. This supports the finding that deep involvement with a brand is often the most important indicator of purchase behavior.

“Advertising and communications research has overwhelmingly been about self-reported behaviors and not about actual, evidence-based behavior,” Collinger said. “We expect the opportunity to analyze real-world company data and to test findings in the field will lead to more effective marketing practice.”

Highlights of recent center research will be presented at the Jan. 29 event. Summaries of the research will be available following the event at the IMC Spiegel Research Center.

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