Interview with Marketing Guru Naufel Vilcassim

I finally had the chance to grab a little time with Naufel, whose Marketing course I attended at London Business School, to ask a few questions about how he got where he is, what excites him…and his thoughts on some key marketing issues:

[JJ] Could you please tell us a little about yourself and why you chose the world of Marketing and Academics?

My path to an academic career in Marketing was quite accidental. My undergraduate degree was in Physical Sciences (Physics, Chemistry and Mathematics) and after completing my studies, I joined a diversified corporation in Sri Lanka as a management trainee and that kindled my interest in the study of management. While studying for my MBA degree, I took a liking to Economics and Applied Econometrics in particular, and so chose to do further studies (i.e. Ph. D.) in that subject. However, being in a business school, I chose to apply my training to modeling consumer choice and that led me to the field of Marketing. Not a grand design, but one that happened quite fortuitously and I never looked back. It has been a wonderful experience.

[JJ] What are the most rewarding aspects of your job? What are the top 3 milestones / achievements you are most proud of?

The most rewarding aspects of my job have been both teaching and doing research. The former has been very stimulating, especially when teaching Executive MBA students because of the experience they bring to the class and the intellectual challenges raised in addressing their questions. As for research, at LBS we focus on research that is both rigorous and relevant (to managers) and pursuing that has been truly rewarding.

Among the achievements that I most proud of are 1) when I finished my doctoral studies and got an academic job at one of the premier business schools in the world, although I had very little previous experience in Marketing per se. The next achievement I am very proud of was being able to build a world-class academic group in Marketing at LBS over the past 8 years and the third one is not something specific but happens every time I receive a request from a marketing practitioner asking for one my research papers so that he / she can apply that research to solve a real problem that the company is facing. That is the ultimate measure of impact of any academic research done in a business school.

[JJ] If you were to pick your top 3 favourite marketing / ad campaigns of all time, what would they be and why?

The Apple Macintosh launch in 1984, the iPod launch (very minimalist but extremely effective) and the current T-Mobile ‘railway station’ campaign.

[JJ] What do you think does the travel & hospitality industry do well in terms of marketing? Any examples that come to mind?

Segmenting customers and targeting different groups with specific products. One prominent example is Courtyard-by-Marriott which was developed with a real understanding of the needs of a particular segment of customers – the non-executive class business traveller. The other area is of course the use of technology and especially the Internet / WWW for dynamic pricing and targeting.

[JJ] Where do you think does the travel & hospitality industry have room to grow and learn from other industries, particularly with relation to marketing-related disciplines?

More use of data mining techniques for targeting and filling capacity – which is the key to success in any industry with very high fixed costs relative to variable costs.

[JJ] From your consulting and academic encounters with industry and professionals, how has this unique economic downturn changed the way marketers anticipate, react and plan…compared to just a year or two ago? Have any best practices emerged from the turmoil?

In the short term, the recession and slowdown globally, has resulted in a shift to ‘value’ and firms in the hospitality industry too need to take that into consideration. Mega hotels with their ostentatious offerings are not likely to do well in the near term. Whether this would have an enduring effect, is too early to tell. Given that uncertainty, having a varied portfolio of properties would help hedge.

[JJ] Branding obviously plays an enormous role in today’s marketplace…and companies have explored various facets, including sensory branding, lifestyle branding and more. From your experience, what are currently the cutting edge focus areas / niches that brand experts are exploring today?

Like firms in other consumer oriented sectors, the hospitality industry ahs done well on external branding. However, given that it is a service industry with simultaneous production and consumption, more emphasis needs to be placed on internal branding so that customers will get a consistent experience over time and properties of the same brand. I believe the inconsistency in delivery is a major weakness at the sector level, though individual firms vary in their performance – e.g., the Four Seasons chain is good at addressing that problem.

[JJ] What are your thoughts on the evolution and future of the advertising and media sector, particularly the shift away from “push” to leveraging the online / digital revolution and creating “pull” to market products & services?

The issue is what fraction of the total communication and promotional spend will shift to the web over time and how brands can be built and nurtured in that environment. Firms able to lake a lead on that issue will have an advantage in the market.

[JJ] What final words of advice would have to share with travel & hospitality marketers out there, particularly those starting off their budding careers in the industry?

Focus on the customer and execute, execute, and execute with passion. If someone wishing to join the hospitality industry has no passion for it, then everyone is wells served if they keep out.

A big thanks to Naufel for taking the time to do this…love the fact that “passion” (probably my favourite word that equates to success) makes a reappearance in his closing comments!

Naufel J. Vilcassim is currently Chaired Professor of Marketing at London Business School. Previously, he served as the Deputy Dean for Faculty and was also Chair of the Marketing Subject Area. Prior to joining LBS, he served as a faculty member in the business schools at USC (Marshall) and Northwestern University (Kellogg). He has also been a visiting professor at the University of Chicago. He received his Ph.D. degree from Cornell University. His teaching interests include Marketing Strategy, Pricing, Marketing Research, Marketing Models, and Product Planning and Development. He teaches regularly in the MBA, Executive MBA, International MBA, and various executive development programs. He has also consulted for various multinational corporations. The focus of his research has been on the use of economic theory and econometric techniques to analyze substantive marketing problems in such areas as competitive interactions and market structure, pricing and price promotion, marketing channels, measurement of market response to investments in advertising and other marketing mix elements, and household choice behavior. He has published extensively in leading research journals such as Marketing Science, Management Science, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Econometrics, Quantitative Marketing and Economics, International Journal for Research in Marketing, and Journal of Retailing, among others. He serves on the editorial board of Marketing Science, Journal of Marketing Research, Quantitative Marketing and Economics and the International Journal of Research in Marketing and the Asian Journal of Marketing. He is a member of the Institute for Operations Research & Management Science (INFORMS) and the American Marketing Association.

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Author: Jitendra Jain (JJ)

I have a passion for all things digital, marketing and future related. My day job involves marketing an amazing portfolio of hotels...at play I enjoy blogging, reading, experimenting with technology and learning new things. You can find my marketing blog at http://www.hotelemarketer.com (all views are my own) or connect on Twitter @hotelemarketer

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