Attendees listen to a speaker at the 2019 IGNITE Conference

How the Institute for Research in Marketing Keeps the Carlson School a Leader in the Field

Tuesday, December 31, 2019

When the American Dream mall in New Jersey is fully open in spring 2020, it will have more than 500 stores, a Nickelodeon Universe theme park, skating rink, and even a ski hill with real snow. The intention, according to CEO Don Ghermezian, is to “be the realization of our guests’ wildest dreams.”

But for Mall of America (MOA), which is owned by the same parent company, American Dream poses a unique challenge and opportunity. MOA has long prided itself on being a destination for tourists from around the world to experience the best shopping, dining, attractions, and entertainment under one roof. With the opening of American Dream, how would MOA set itself apart?

That’s where the Carlson School stepped in. Students participating in the Institute for Research in Marketing Campaign Competition, part of the Marketing Strategy capstone class MKTG 4080, conducted a top-to-bottom marketing analysis for the mall and presented their findings. Ultimately, they recommended Mall of America embrace its Midwestern roots, create “snackable and shareable” food experiences, and position MOA as a one-stop shop for weekend entertainment and errands. While American Dream aims to be a destination for experience-seeking families, Mall of America should differentiate by providing lifestyle value.

“Working with the IRM at the Carlson School was an inspiring and rewarding experience for our marketing leadership team,” says Jill Renslow, senior vice president of marketing and business development for Mall of America. “Not only did the campaign competition provide us with insightful and nuanced recommendations, we walked away with a fresh perspective on the opportunities ahead of us. We are grateful to the countless hours the students dedicated to helping us address this challenge.”

The case competition course is one offered through the Institute for Research in Marketing, which brings together the expertise of the Carlson School’s marketing faculty with top marketers and market research professionals from global brands, creating thought-provoking dialogue and driving the science and practice of marketing forward. It also provides a space for students to apply what they’ve learned at the Carlson School in a real-world setting.

“Experiential projects like those offered through IRM are central to Carlson's learning-by-doing approach to training students,” says Vlad Griskevicius, chair of the Marketing department.

Once a relatively tight-knit organization focused on marketing research and best practices, IRM has been in expansion mode over the last several years. For many years, about 10 people sat on its board. Today, two dozen senior-level executives from leading organizations in the Twin Cities (including 3M, Best Buy, Caribou Coffee, Optum, Ecolab, Land O’Lakes, Minnesota Public Radio, Minnesota Wild, etc.) are members, providing a crucial link between the Carlson School and the business community in Minnesota and beyond.

“The relationship that IRM has with these marketing professionals is win-win,” says Ashley Beukelman, program manager for IRM. “We get to hear from them on the most-pressing needs in the industry and we use that to tailor our research and advance the field.”

One of IRM’s most-recent successes is the launch of IGNITE, a single-day marketing conference that brings together the best and brightest in the industry. This year’s sold out IGNITE Conference speakers included Carlson alumni from Starbucks, Target, and Under Armour, as well as a speaker from Electronic Arts, and a number of academics in the field, including Carlson faculty Akshay Rao, Dave Hopkins and Amee McDonald. IGNITE also welcomed Generations expert and San Diego State University Professor Jean Twenge. The discussion was centered around marketing to different generations.

“Today, there are five different generations that have buying power. But marketing to Baby Boomers requires a different tactic than Generation Z,” Beukelman says. “Attendees at IGNITE got to hear from high-level decision makers on how they’re tackling this challenge and making it work for their organization.”

The institute’s expansion -- from the doubling of board seats to case competitions providing real-world analysis to an emerging marketing conference -- have undoubtedly fostered a closer relationship between the Carlson School and businesses around the country, says Steve Goodyear, academic director of the institute.

“The Carlson School has long prided itself on its relationship with the business community. The Institute for Research in Marketing has leveraged that relationship and worked to deepen it.”