Appearing at regular intervals in YFile, Open Your Mind is a series of articles offering insight into the different ways York University professors, researchers and graduate students champion fresh ways of thinking in their research and teaching practice. Their approach, grounded in a desire to seek the unexpected, is charting a new course for future generations.
Today, the spotlight is on Markus Giesler, associate professor of marketing and head of the Marketing Department in the Schulich School of Business at York University.
Giesler, a former music producer, entered the field of marketing as an academic some 10 years ago during the war on music downloading. Frustrated with traditional approaches to marketing, he developed a new, sociologically inspired approach to marketing that inspires decision making on how we act, think and feel as consumers. Giesler takes his innovative approach to rethinking marketing into the classroom, using it to chart new and interesting opportunities in teaching through experiential education.
Q. Please describe your current research.
A. From listening to music and calling an Uber, to going on a date and working out in the gym – these and other everyday experiences we have are fundamentally driven, shaped and constrained by consumption and the marketplace.
And so, I ask a very simple question: Who and what shapes these experiences? To answer this question, I study the influence of companies, governments, labour unions, consumer activists, artists, health and other nutritional experts, the media, and many other marketplace actors and institutions on consumption and the market creation process.
Q. How are you approaching marketing in a different, unexpected or unusual way?
A. I entered the field of marketing 10 years ago as a music producer during the war on music downloading, out of the sheer frustration that the advisors I had hired just couldn’t stop talking about consumers and producers, thereby ignoring that markets consist of other roles as well.
Back then, I proposed a new approach called ‘market system dynamics and design’ – a sociologically inspired marketing lens that allows us to ask intriguing questions about not just the relationship between producers and consumers, but the ways in which multiple actors create and change markets and how their actions influence us as consumers. At first, there was some skepticism and resistance because this was a new lens. Ten years later, I’m happy that there is now a thriving subfield of marketing scholars all over the world studying these questions, with York University being an epicenter.
Q. How does your approach to the subject benefit the field?
A. My research benefits marketing because it allows us to understand not only how we make decisions and how we act, think and feel as consumers, it also shows how what we do and feel and how we decide is shaped by larger institutions and cultural forces.
It also benefits marketing by demonstrating how we can actively influence these institutions and how we change markets and industries. That’s incredibly important to know when you are a company and you want to connect with consumers. It also matters greatly in the context of solving larger problems such as poverty, global warming, chronic illness, or unemployment – problems where markets play a big role.
Q. What findings have surprised and excited you?
A. A general observation I make in my research is that, similar to the butterfly effect, little things and ordinary people can make a really big difference in the marketplace. Just consider what happened to Volkswagen recently. A simple computer chip, no bigger than a fingernail, can fundamentally change the fate of an entire company or an industry. Such phenomena illustrate that managers need to navigate a very complex landscape.
At Schulich, my colleague Ela Veresiu and I have created the Big Design Lab to work with senior executives from companies like BMW, Google and Apple, but also decision-makers at the United Nations to better understand this landscape.
Q. What are the interdisciplinary aspects of your research?
A. Understanding how reality emerges in social networks is an interdisciplinary project from the start. A lot of what I do as a researcher – let’s say my focus on process, interactivity and change – was originally inspired by my work as a music producer. When markets and customer experiences can be actively created, it makes sense to draw on insights from architecture or design. Ultimately, when we approach marketing as the science and the art of creating better markets, it will involve both analytics and activism. And, the goal is not so much to be a disciplinary purist but to combine different things in ways that add up to something that’s truly greater than the sum of its parts.
Q. How has your research influenced your teaching?
A. When researchers team up with researchers they create theory. When researchers team up with students, they create the future. Creating impact today doesn’t work without listening to and actively involving students. But, it goes beyond that. Because I emphasize in my research that everyone has a hand in shaping markets and customer experiences, I work very hard to make my classroom four-dimensional and experience-based. It can be a boardroom for the first 15 minutes or a lecture and a living room for an hour. After the break, it may be a newsroom or a courtroom for a bit. And next week, you may find yourself in a situation room, and so on. This flexibility matters because, in order to make a difference in society, business leaders need to take different perspectives.
Q. What advice would you give to students embarking on a research project for the first time?
A. I always advise young researchers to watch the flying-plastic-bag scene from the movie American Beauty. In my view, this scene teaches you a lot about research. It is about looking closer, having patience, finding beauty in some of the most mundane things, sharing the moment, developing friendships, and in the process, changing how you and others look at the world.
Q. What do you do for fun?
A. I do research for fun, really.