NIU Digital Marketing Day

Thanks for listening to my presentation today!  Since you took the extra step to follow-up and learn more about the topics we talked about, I’m going to provide you with some extra tips and resources on Marketing careers and Data Mining knowledge.

10 Areas of Marketing | Analytical Resources | 6 Big Picture Interview Q’s To Ask | 5 on-the Job Success Tips

How Do I Remember All of This?

One of the most important things that I have learned outside of school is how to actually learn.  That’s not to say I learned nothing while in school.  On the contrary, my undergrad and graduate experiences have been the most formative years in my understanding of really cool topics – psychology, marketing, database design, data mining, etc.

An online course (Coursera) and book (Amazon) on Learning How to Learn showed me that we can’t just expect to read or even “study” a topic one time and retain it.  Instead, we should be using Recall and “Spaced Repetition” – self-quizzing and delayed quizzes over days, weeks, and even months – to help retain that information.

The noble flashcard has gone digital and algorithmic.  Anki is one of the best, and free, digital flashcard and spaced repetition systems out there.  I strongly encourage you, as you read through these resources, you create an Anki deck to help you remember everything you learn.


10 Areas of Marketing You Could Pursue

NIU is a quality education, but there’s only so much you can learn in a semester.  Learning is a life-long habit and it actually accelerates once you get out of school.  In this section, I’m going to point out some additional resources for each of the 10 areas of marketing we discussed in class.

10 Pieces to MarketingPricing

The 1% Windfall (Amazon): Straightforward discussion on how to set prices for a given scenario (just entering the market?  Warding off new competition?  Do you own the market?)

Blue Ocean Strategy (Amazon): Amazing book on how to identify new markets that are the intersection of other industries – such as Circ du Soleil is theater and a circus combined which allows them to offer higher prices than a traditional circus.


 The Design of Every Day Things (Amazon): Leans toward industrial and product design, but many of the concepts can be applied to how you design marketing messages.

Universal Principles of Design (Amazon): Great visual guide to different ways of presenting your creative pieces.  Definitely a reference and not a how-to book.

Copywriter’s Handbook (Amazon): My favorite reference on how to write to sell.



I haven’t been able to find many “Merchandising” specific resources.  Deciding what products to sell (and why) is unique to every company.  The main piece of advice is to get to know your customers and sell a product that fits a need or that creates a need.

Merchandising Forensics (Amazon): Kevin Hillstrom is a consultant and an old-school catalog marketing guru.  His eBook dives in to how product selection affects the results of your marketing.

Direct Marketing

Successful Direct Marketing Methods (Amazon): This is a MUST-BUY.  It’s a comprehensive resource on direct marketing, database marketing, creative design for marketing, and even an overview of online marketing.

Libey and Pickering on RFM and Beyond (Amazon): Excellent book by two old-school marketing experts.  Explores RFM modelling in-depth.

A Modern Approach to RFM Segmentation (PDF): Neat eBook / PDF on a new way of calculating RFM.


Email marketing is an incredibly powerful tool that gets less attention than it deserves (just like direct marketing).  There are loads of books / best practice guides on the internet but it can be boiled down to a simple setup: Ask for permission to start a dialogue.  Email customers only information that will interest / benefit them.  Adapt to their changing interests and situations.

Permission Marketing (Amazon): An old, old, OLD book (1999) that was way ahead of its time.  Seth Godin has gone on to write dozens of other books and blogs daily (Typepad).  You should absolutely subscribe to him.

Online Ads

 Essential AdWords Courses (Page): Google AdWords is the biggest platform to advertise on.  It offers search engine marketing, display advertising, Product-Listing Ads, Remarketing, and even more.

Google Analytics Training (Page): Google Analytics is the de facto standard in Web Analytics tracking.  Knowing the in’s and out’s of Google Analytics gives you an edge over the average applicant.

Landing Page Optimization (Amazon): Tool-agnostics resource on how to tune your website / landing pages to improve conversion rates.

Web Analytics 2.0 (Amazon): Definitive guide on measuring your website’s performance.  You should also check out the author’s blog (Occam’s Razor)


Managing processes, getting the mail (or email) out the door, and keeping everyone on track are skills that everyone will be involved with – even if you’re just the analyst running queries, the production team needs that data by 10 o’clock!!

Making Things Happen (Amazon): Having project management skills (which differ from just balancing homework, a social life, and being vice president of your local ping-pong club)  is crucial in production teams and your business career.

Work The System (Amazon): One of my favorite books on developing processes / automation.  If an event occurs more than twice a year (e.g. a marketing campaign, a keyword expansion project, or a bi-annual planning meeting), the production team needs to make the process as automatic as possible.

Data Management

Data Management Can Cross Many Technologies

Managing data is similar to production teams.  Make sure you’ve read the above resources as well as the ones below.  Thinking big picture and being able to do “reality checks” on your data is one of the key skills to have.  Unfortunately it’s not one that can be easily linked to or written about in a book.  It comes with time and experience.  So, since you’re an undergrad looking to get a job, lets focus on technical skills that you can put on paper and actually know.

Sam’s SQL in 10 Minutes (Amazon): SQL is the #1 skill to have in data management and reporting.  This book gives a very nice overview as well as notices on differences among database management systems.  For a free alternative try W3Schools.

Data Warehouse Toolkit (Amazon): A data warehouse is a different way of organizing your data for analysis purposes rather than quick access (like purchases, i.e. OLTP not OLAP).  This book provides an overview and examples for different applications.  See also my quick definition of data warehousing (LBM).

Website Management

Website usability, front-end web engineering and web analytics are skills that every person on a web team should be familiar with.  It really all comes back to the web team knowing what the customer wants and how they go about getting it.

Website Usability Research (Nielsen-Norman Group): The best research on usability out there.  Subscribe to this feed now!

Don’t Make Me Think (Amazon): Easy to read guide on usability testing.

High Performance Websites (O’Reilly): For those of you going in to a website optimization / business analyst position, knowing a little about front-end web development can go a long way.

Complete Web Monitoring (O’Reilly): Huge book on website monitoring.  Read this after you’ve read the above books / links.

Reporting / Analysis

Reporting and analysis have a lot to do with being able to pull data, getting to the real question, and then communicate effectively.  The #1 piece of advice I can give you is to always ask questions and try to anticipate the questions you’ll receive after you turn in your report(s).

Sam’s SQL in 10 Minutes (Amazon): SQL is the #1 skill to have in data management and reporting.  This book gives a very nice overview as well as notices on differences among database management systems.  For a free alternative try W3Schools.

On Writing Well (Amazon): Again, being able to make your point in writing is a distinguishing factor for analysts and for your career.  Parts 1 and 2 are essential.

Show Me the Numbers (Amazon): One of the few data visualization books I would recommend to every analyst.  Focused on conveying information and not on any tool or how to make your report look cool.  Simple advice for making reports have an impact.


Learning New Technologies for Analytics

Analytics Players - SAS, Hadoop, and R

Marketers and Technology Buffs are becoming more and more intertwined.  Your job, as a student looking to get their first job or even second job, is to at least get a basic understanding of some technologies.  Your employer wants to train you on how to work in their business, not how to use a bunch of tools.

Take a look at my Data Science Reading List for a set of books that cover a wide range of topics.  In the mean time, here are the highlights.  You can also check out my tutorials on Regression, Naive Bayes, and K-Means clustering.

Data Science for Business (O’Reilly): A great starting point for anyone interested in learning about data mining.  Not a how-to guide but exposes you to many different concepts.

Data Mining Techniques (Amazon): Another non how-to book but very practical guide to get an overview of what is being done by some more analytical companies.

Machine Learning with R (O’Reilly): Favorite book / resource for how to use R (open source scripting language) to do data mining tasks.  Explains both what an algorithm does and how to run it in R.  If you need a simple intro to R, check out the R Programming course on Coursera.

John Hopkin’s Data Science Certificate (Coursera): If I weren’t pursuing a Masters in Predictive Analytics, this is where I would be spending my time.  I don’t know how employers feel about Coursera certificates yet, but it would still be worth taking the courses for free.  Goes from basics of R to Regression and machine learning.

You might notice that Hadoop is absent from this list.  Hadoop is the focal point of the “Big Data Revolution”.  However, there is some evidence (WSJ) of it being overblown.  Focus on learning SQL and R.  That gets you 60% of the way to being a technically-strong analyst.  Then try learning Python – it will do you more good in the long run.


Analytical Questions to Ask Your Interviewer

Inevitably, when you go in to an interview, your interviewer (the manager, director, or VP) is going to ask “Do you have any questions for me?”.  This is an opportunity for you to learn more about the position as well as the company.  At the same time, the interviewer will be judging you based on those questions.  Asking a simple question such as “What does this company do?” will land you in the “no call-back pile”.

The first questions you ask should be related to your concerns or genuine curiosities.  The following questions are what I would ask if I wanted to know more about a company.  Your results may vary, but if an applicant asked me these questions, I’d be pretty impressed with their high-level thinking.

Are you a top-line or bottom-line focused company? How has that impacted marketing decisions?

Top-line means they want to grow sales and that profit will take care of itself.  Bottom-line means they want to improve profit and not necessarily grow (top-line) sales.

Is marketing focused on new customers or on existing customers?  Why focus there?

Focusing on new customers may mean the company is building market share or maybe their retention of customers is weak. Focusing on existing customers may mean they want to build more profitable customers but also can indicate they’ve given up on getting a bigger share of the market.

How often are new products / services introduced? How does that impact existing customers?

Companies that rest on their laurels (i.e. don’t offer anything new for years at a time) are often at risk of being usurped by competitors.

How are marketing decisions made?  Is there a ‘testing culture’?

Testing marketing ideas helps to build more profitable messages. However, many companies are incredibly successful without testing since they “know” their market very well.

How silo-ed off is each department?  Is customer/marketing information readily shared with other groups?

Core of the question – will you only talk to marketing people or will you work with people across departments? Secondly, do people share information or is it closely guarded. Avoid companies that keep things “secret” from other departments or from groups within a department. Depending on the size of the company marketing might be just you or you’ll be in a department of 100 people.

Do you measure lifetime value of a customer? If so how do you take that in to account when marketing to prospective and existing customers?

Knowing how much value a customer will provide over a set of years is important if the company has a long-term view (you want the company you work for to be focused on the long term).


Success  After Getting Hired

There’s a huge difference between having the skill to get a job and being successful in that job.  Based on my observations, here are the five things you can do to help yourself along the way.

Learn the Business and the Customers

There is no substitute for having expert knowledge on who your customers are and why they purchase.  Starting out, that’s impossible (unless you’re moving from a front-line job to a corporate marketing job).  In your first year, try to talk to as many customer facing people as you can.  If at all possible, go talk to customers!  The more you know, the more decisions you can help make, and the more valuable your advice will be to others.

Develop (and Reinvent) a Niche

You are hired for a specific reason.  The business needs someone to help manage a growing online advertising portfolio.  You have the right skills or have a good enough attitude that you can be taught those skills.  If you’re comfortable with this setup then great!  If you want more, you need to build yourself a niche.

In online advertising, you can be the “remarketing gal” or the “PLA guy” – you can develop deep knowledge about a particular advertising medium.  In reporting and analysis, you can be the “data guy” – you know every database and table.  In production and data management, you could be the “automator” – you build processes that save hours of effort each week.

However, you cannot be satisfied with your niche for long.  The world changes and so should you.  It’s important to seek new opportunities.  I can’t tell you what your niche should or shouldn’t be.  Focus on what is missing or the pain points in your department.

Stay Positive

Probably one of the most underrated pieces of job advice.  Keeping a positive attitude no matter what will distinguish you from the majority of your college peers.  Keeping positive has a few meanings.

  • Take constructive criticism well.
  • Try to keep talking about your “miserable day” to a minimum (if someone asks just keep it short: “I blew a tire today but I fortunately made it here safe”).
  • Avoid being rude but don’t let people walk over you.
  • Keep a beginner’s mind – everyone has had a different experience than you and you can learn something new from anyone.
  • Avoid office gossip like the plague.  Being ignorant is better than helping to spread it.

Unless you’re gifted at what you do, nobody likes to give more responsibility to people who bring everyone else down.

Help Others (But Prioritize Your Work)

In my experience, helping others has been a distinguishing factor.  Because I am willing to help anyone that asks, I’m seen as a resource.  Having others ask you for help gets your name out there more often (“Joe Schmo helped me pull this data”) and it keeps you in the know on what other people or departments are working on.

How you help others and who you help is up to you but you cannot let it affect your work.  You’re developing a niche and so you need to be the expert in that niche and you need to provide high quality work.  If you’re spending 3 out of your 8 hours a day helping others, you’re going to have troubles keeping up on your work.

Write Well and Often (In That Order)

Lastly, the most important advice, learn how to write well.  In every business, being able to communicate through emails and memos is a valuable skill.  Ask your manager who they think is the best writer in the company and find their reports and memos.  Copy their style.  If it’s really that good, it should be formulaic.

A few thoughts on how to go about writing your reports.

  • Make sure you understand the question you’re supposed to be answering.
  • Ask questions, answer those questions, and then ask what other questions might come up from the results.
  • Think about the audience – Do they know everything you know?  How much time will they devote to reading your report (probably not a lot)?
  • Write like a journalist – use an inverted pyramid (Wikipedia) where the most important information is on top.
  • Always put your work aside for at least half an hour and then revisit it.  Same with any queries or data.
  • Do a reality check.  Do your numbers or conclusion make sense?  Try to run a query to check or run it by a peer for an an outside opinion.


Thank you for reading through all of this!  I’m hoping all of the marketing students at NIU are successful (and especially those of you who made it this far!)  If you’re interested in more data mining and analytics, please take a look at the full-site of Learn By Marketing.  Predictive Analytics is a fast growing field that has applications across business, especially in Marketing.  With some effort and deliberate practice, you can break in to the world of data science and data mining.

Best of luck with your last years of school and your job search!

-Will Johnson