Assistant Professor Yi Zhu knew he wanted to be at the Carlson School of Management. He'd heard the Carlson School name a lot, and had even studied its faculty papers in class as a doctoral student at the University of Southern California.
"You get the impression that Carlson is a very good school," Zhu said. "That the faculty here, especially the marketing group, does very impressive research. It's not a secondary school that people don't know. When you say Carlson, people know."
Another huge motivation to join the Carlson School was its strong connection with the many extraordinary companies in the Twin Cities. Developing connections with these companies is a priority for Zhu because he feels the best research ideas come from real situations. He values talking with managers, understanding their questions, and getting some exciting new ideas or data sets to work with.
Right now Zhu's research is focusing on two areas. The first is media bias. In China, every media outlet and TV station says the same thing. But here, Fox News and MSNBC are different.
"They say different things about the same subject matter," he said. "So which one do you believe, how do you know which one is correct?"
One of Zhu's ongoing projects is attempting to understand the act of selective reporting, meaning ignoring certain relevant facts in order to create a dramatically different impression to consumers. He's finding that competition can make the media more selective, become less informative, and provide less content in an article. This provides an alternative explanation to the observation that many major news outlets have reduced their news content since the booming of online and mobile media.
But, right now, Zhu's main research focus is e-commerce, particularly real-world phenomena about search advertising and how it can be linked with business activities. Search advertising is a way of placing online ads on websites that display results from search engine inquiries and it has a lot of implications for real businesses.
Zhu's research is trying to help firms better understand this new advertising format, how they can make better use of it to improve returns and how they can optimally allocate their budget. One of his forthcoming articles in Management Science studies the connection between traditional advertising and newer options like search advertising.
For example, if people see an ad about Fidelity, are they more likely to search Google using the generic keywords "financial service company" or the branded keyword "Fidelity?" To answer that question, the researchers linked two data sets. The first data set was from Kantar Media, which collects detailed information about TV ads. The researchers matched that data to another set where they collected adult online search activities from Google. So if there was an ad shown on TV, they could check to see whether people searched more, and what kind of keyword was used on Google.
Zhu and his fellow authors developed a new mining-query technique to identify a set of branded and generic financial services. The team devised a method to examine 35 million online searches and identify those that included generic financial services keywords, as opposed to simply brand names.
This research found that TV advertising has two effects. It increases searches in general, but it also has significant impact on consumers' keyword choice. So if there is a Fidelity ad on TV, there's going to be more searches about Fidelity on Google. That provides a lot of implications for advertisers and media companies. Marketers need to account for these effects when setting TV and search advertising budgets. The moment a TV ad starts, the company may want to buy more brand keywords on Google, which are less expensive than generic keywords.
This also highlights the importance for companies to integrate advertising campaigns across these two platforms. Right now, there is a separation; many companies have different agencies for TV and online advertising. There's a huge market need to synchronize these two types of campaigns. In elasticity terms, this research found the effect of TV advertising on consumers' choice of branded keywords is about as large as its effect on sales.
Zhu is reminded of a famous quote: "Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don't know which half." He suggests firms think carefully when they measure the effectiveness of TV advertising - they should take into account revenue from other advertising campaigns. The money they think they've wasted maybe simply transferred consumers' activities online."I guess this is the part I like best. You find the real questions and you do the rigorous analysis, and you find the cool result," Zhu said. "You have a real impact to this field, to this industry. You feel your research can help mangers better understand phenomena, to help them increase their revenue. That's the part I find the most rewarding, the most enjoyable."
Business Administration (Marketing)
University of Southern California
University of British Columbia
Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences
Shanghai University of Electric Power