5-Question Chatbot Session with Marketing Professor, Zhenning Xu

November 26th, 2018

As an applied science and technology company, it’s vital to build relationships with universities. We’re lucky to have the University of Southern Maine as a resource and even luckier to have met Marketing Professor Zhenning Xu.

Read below to learn more about this fascinating marketing expert:

With 10 years of work experience in media, education, statistical consulting, analytics, and digital marketing, Zhenning is particularly passionate about sentiment analysis, social networks, and marketing analytics. Prior to joining the USM faculty in 2016, Zhenning served as an instructor at School of Business at University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) and research assistant at the Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce at UTEP.

His other experience includes working with multiple international education organizations throughout China, Australia, Ireland, Canada, UK, Russia, India, and New Zealand. Additionally, he has consulted with logistics, railway, and media companies. Notably, a consulting project he led for a logistics company helped the company save hundreds of thousands of dollars. His research has been funded by Dodson Research Grants and he has more than 10 journal and conference papers. Zhenning is an active member of the American Marketing Association and the Academy of Marketing Science.

A 2011 report in the  McKinsey Quarterly suggested that many companies, “suffer from their own failure to share data among diverse lines of business.”  How have companies addressed this and do you feel companies have made sufficient inroads in data integration? 

Data integration (data fusion) or information fusion is a challenge for many businesses. Most businesses do not have a strategic roadmap or actionable solutions to integrate data/information from different sensors, social sensors, and social networks. Tableau, R, and Python might provide better ways for us to integrate data/information.

What are some Key Performance Indicators that even early-stage startups should pay attention to?

Some of the key performance indicators a start-up should investigate include Google Trends, market potential, social media sentiments, online social reviews, and supply chain networks. Marketers should integrate insights based on social, search, ranking data to track their business footprint or get an in-depth view of the conversion funnel.

What are some simple methods small businesses could use to test their marketing-related assumptions and what potential impact could it have on a company’s bottom line?

I would suggest the following tools for specific areas of marketing:

Google Trends, Facebook Audience Insights, and Twitter Audience Insights

These three tools have several things in common:

  • They can all be used for consumer insights, branding, and marketing research.
  • They are all free to use for commercial use to understand your audience and the competitors.
  • They can all be used to confirm marketers’ hypotheses about consumer’s interests and intents over time.
  • They can all be used to determine the relative popularity of search queries for advertising purposes on different platforms.

Google Analytics, Google AdWords, Google Consumer Surveys, and Google Marketing Platform

Google Analytics can be used by small businesses to track their digital marketing performance in one place. Google just launched Google Marketing Platform in June 2018.

Google Marketing Platform integrates all of these tools under one umbrella. For more, please read the following official announcement made by Google in June 2018: https://www.blog.google/products/marketingplatform/360/introducing-google-marketing-platform

SEO tools like SimilarWeb and Moz

  • SmilarWeb and Moz can be quite useful when it comes to SEO or SEM. SimilarWeb can be used to get in-depth traffic and engagement metrics for any active website with a single click. In comparison, Moz can be used for identifying popular search queries and tracking SERP features. Moz also has a one-stop professional digital marketing blog site featuring the best advice, research, how-tos, and insights posted by the industry’s top experts (https://moz.com/blog).

Social media analytics tools like Hashtagify.me and Voyont tools

  • There are hundreds of social media analytics tools available. Hashtagify.me is an intuitive tool that will help brands visualize hashtags or popular queries and identify top opinion leaders. Voyont tools is a free web-based text analytics environment that can be used to analyze individual or multiple texts.

Customer segmentation tools like Opportunity Atlas, PRIZM, and Tableau

  • The Opportunity Atlas is a free interactive tool that provides demographic insights and metrics in any given location in the US. PRIZM is a Nielson-owned interactive web tool developed for marketers to get insights like lifestyle, attitude, and behavior from consumers in different regions. Tableau provides more in-depth big data solutions for marketers to dig deeper into digital marketing and marketing intelligence.

How can AI (Artificial Intelligence) be used to help businesses move from reactive to proactive? 

AI is a big topic. However, the main challenge is to create a sustainable culture that facilitates data integration, data-driven or even AI-driven decision making. Offering employees life-long workshops on different human-friendly AI topics is probably a good way to help employees become more proactive.

Bridging the AI talent gap is not just producing more data scientists. It is also about “spreading the availability of data education across the business, into marketing, finance, engineering, and various other functions provides data literacy to people from various backgrounds (Adi 2018)”

What are some of the university resources available to businesses that you wish more people were aware of?

USM has recently started a Bachelor program in Business Analytics and a Data Science master program. Additionally, USM just received a multi-million dollar gift to launch Center for Digital Science and Innovation. These initiatives will definitely drive the investment in the future of jobs and skills in AI in Maine.


Adi, 2018. Organizations Striving To Close The Data Science Skills Gap. https://www.forbes.com/sites/adigaskell/2018/06/18/organizations-striving-to-close-the-data-science-skills-gap/#55d7ae8d1d50

Please feel free to visit my personal site (https://marketingstatistics.wordpress.com/) my Twitter (https://twitter.com/MKTJimmyxu) to leave a message.