Writing the Book on Digital Marketing

Professor John Branch and Lecturer Marcus Collins bring practitioners and academics together to create the definitive guide to digital marketing.


John Branch

The traditional academic conference goes something like this: Professors gather for a few days and get an allotted time to present a paper, try to get constructive critiques, and network with colleagues.

It serves its purpose, but that wouldn’t cut it for what Professor John Branch and Lecturer Marcus Collins, BS ’02/MBA ’09, are doing — creating a digital marketing anthology for practitioners, with substance backed by academic research.

A three-day conference last fall drew digital marketing professionals and professors from around the world to Ross to create the anthology, which they say is sorely needed for this nascent field. The book, Digital Marketing: Practices and Perspectives, will be published late this year.

Marcus Collins

Together with co-editor Eldad Sotnick-Yogev, they used the symposium model over the three days to refine chapters and find the common themes that hold them together so it reads as a practical guidebook. The chapters and contributors were pre-selected from industry and academia via a double-blind review process.

“It’s an unusual way to do an anthology,” says Branch, academic director of Part-Time MBA Programs and clinical assistant professor of business administration.

“It’s really co-creation, bringing practitioners and professors together to write a book filled with evidence-based best practices and geared for people doing the work.”

Collins says the format “captures the best of what’s going on with research and how things are working out in the world.”

“We have academics who write a lot, but this gets them to think about how their ideas can be applied, and we have people in the field who are forced to think more about what drives ideas,” says Collins, also senior vice president and executive director at ad agency Doner. “The alchemy captures the best of both worlds.”

Missing Piece

Shalonda Hunter

Digital marketing is a relatively new field both in practice and in academic study. As such, both scholarly research and writing from people in the field is harder to come by than in other disciplines, says Shalonda Hunter, founder of Fast Lane Interactive in New York.

Hunter attended the conference and wrote a chapter on how companies can develop their organization around the technology they use.

“I think this is a real missing piece out there,” she says. “I teach at a startup institute and do some guest speaking at New York University, and one of the problems is that there’s not a lot of literature on digital marketing, and not a lot of practitioners writing about their experiences. I thought this was a great opportunity to have a voice, and get an idea of how to do something like an academic study.”

She said doing the work in person, together, is a critical part of merging theory and practice.

“When practitioners get together, they talk about their clients. When academics get together, they talk about their work,” Hunter says. “We need to hear both perspectives.”

Yotam Shmargad

Yotam Shmargad, a professor at the University of Arizona’s School of Information, has done research in the field but says this book is a great way to make an impact with a different audience. His chapter focuses on analyzing networks of consumers to develop marketing strategies.

“Most people don’t read academic journals unless they have to,” he says. “I’m looking to broaden the reach of my work, and this integration of industry and scholarship is missing. So this conference is unique. What we’re doing is really a skimmed-down version of the academic peer review process, but it’s in person and in conjunction with academics and practitioners. We’re constantly talking to each other, filling in ideas in our chapters and seeing how they’re related. It makes everything very tight.”

A Wiser Industry

Branch says he hopes readers can use the book — either individual chapters that apply to them or the entire anthology — to absorb insights backed by proven research and execute new ideas.

He wants to host more symposia that explore various marketing phenomena at the nexus of theory and practice. Branch is exploring an October symposium on the subject of consumer experience.

Collins says his own work in advertising and digital marketing improved greatly once he got interested in academia and started thinking about his work from a more research-oriented perspective.

“I really think our industry can benefit from that,” he says. “I hope this sparks some curiosity in the field. More work like this, I think, can only help better inform the work we do.”

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