Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Course bridges geography, marketing and supply chain

Spatial analysis, geocoding and thematic mapping. You wouldn’t guess by skimming Alan Halfen’s syllabus that his new elective in the School of Business is a marketing course.
Alan Halfen answers student questions.

MKTG 400: Marketing, Supply Chains and Geographic Information Systems aims to offer methods for gleaning consumer behavior insight through geographic tools.

“Geography’s principle role in marketing is in understanding people and place,” said Halfen, who created the interdisciplinary class after earning his doctorate in geography from KU in 2012. “In the field of geography, places are social constructs defined by history, cultures and perceptions.”

The senior-level course is a combination of the three fields, taught in a hybrid format. Students are immersed in the material in a mix of traditional lectures and interactive, lab-based activities, using geographic information systems, known as GIS, a set of computer tools and hardware used to analyze, manage and model data in a geographical way.

He said geographers who study places do so by understanding the people who occupy them. “Marketing merges with geography at the crossroads of people and place,” he said. Using geographic tools, businesses are able to shed light on how customers make purchasing choices, which is a foundation of marketing.

While GIS tools have been used in geography for decades, their application in business is becoming more commonplace.

Halfen hopes students will be able to understand how geographic information systems can be used by businesses to solve complex problems, how to employ basic GIS programs and how to critically analyze case studies for their use — or lack — of spatial data and geographic information systems.

With strong enrollment in its first semester, Halfen plans to offer the course every year in the spring semester. He is developing additional elective courses that focus on data analysis and visualization, and looks to create a course on location-based marketing in the future.

“As data becomes more and more available, it will be more important than ever for skilled workers to use technology to manage and understand data,” Halfen said.