There’s no textbook for MKTG 4072. Or assigned readings, for that matter.

Instead, students in Associate Professor Joe Redden’s class buy a marketing simulation software license and credits on Amazon’s Mechanical Turk crowdsourcing platform for market research. They develop a command of Microsoft Excel and familiarize themselves with statistical computing programming languages like R.

Marketing in Action isn’t just a hollow course title. Redden’s students sharpen the skills they’ll use as professionals by tackling real case studies, analyzing raw data, and producing recommendations for challenges that range from segmenting target customers to determining product pricing.

“My whole goal is to make them stars in their organizations,” says Redden, a veteran of the marketing world before moving into academia.

“I want to make them stand out—that a manager gives them a job and when something comes back, they go, ‘Wow, that’s really good. That really helped me. Where did you learn to do this?’”

The idea is to expose students to a variety of marketing quandaries—sourced from the business world—and analytical techniques that go beyond what many MBA programs even teach. Throughout the semester, Redden presents scenarios mined from his work as a consultant and with the Carlson Brand Enterprise, outlines the framework of each problem, and talks through a conceptual approach.

"It's kind of like if I wanted to teach you to play tennis. ... Nothing is going to replace you actually going out there and hitting balls. And that's the whole idea of this class, is you're actually going to hit those balls."

- Joe Redden, Board of Overseers Professor in Marketing

Then it’s up to the students to sift through data sets to build their recommendations. Redden insists on using real data to mimic what students will encounter on the job.

“The real world’s not sterile,” he says. “Data is ugly, data has warts, data has difficulties, data has weird patterns, and so I don’t take out the warts.”

But even after performing sophisticated analysis, “it’s not just like there’s a clear-cut answer,” says Daniel McKinney, a senior majoring in Marketing and Finance.

“You’re making a decision for a certain company, whatever the project we’re doing, and there’s no clear-cut, right-or-wrong answer,” says McKinney, who will be joining Aldi as a district manager after graduation. “It’s, make an answer and say, ‘All right, here was our rationale behind it.’”

Redden created Marketing in Action two years ago in part as a response to what he saw as shortcomings in the field. Too many companies don’t collect or utilize data to inform their decisions, he says. “People don’t use data a lot when they should. They just don’t do analysis; they fly blind.”

“My belief is 10 years from now, marketing’s going to look a lot different in that it’s going to be so much more data-driven,” he says, pointing to two specific areas: big data and rapid insights.

The latter includes using tools like Mechanical Turk to quickly collect focused data. For one project, students propose new flavors for a food product, then post a survey on the crowdsourcing platform to collect data within an hour.

“You have to put all the things you think about in class to application every single week during the process,” says Chance Nguyen, a junior majoring in Marketing and Management Information Systems.

Redden, an avid tennis player, sums up the course by referencing his favorite sport.

“To me, it’s kind of like if I wanted to teach you to play tennis,” he says. “I could give you a book on it and you could read and you’d know a little more on how you’re supposed to hit. I could let you watch a video of Roger Federer hitting, but nothing is going to replace you actually going out there and hitting balls. And that’s the whole idea of this class, is you’re actually going to hit those balls.”