A Q+A with AI UVA Professor Rajkumar Venkatesan
Winning digital marketing strategies are driven by innovative marketing leaders who relentlessly pursue new ways to connect with their markets using the latest digital tools, from artificial intelligence (AI) to machine learning and more. The AI Marketing Certificate from the Darden School Foundation is designed to provide managers with the framework to advance their marketing strategies to deliver dynamic and personalized customer experiences.
We recently asked Rajkumar Venkatesan, Ronald Trzcinski Professor of Business Administration at the University of Virginia Darden School of Business, about his experience teaching in the AI Marketing Certificate program on Coursera.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and how you came to UVA?
I completed my undergraduate degree in computer engineering in 1997 in India. At that time, I took classes in this new thing called neural networks in my final year and I did my final year project on genetic algorithms, both of which are now part of the AI toolkit. When I came to the United States to do my PhD in marketing, my PhD advisor told me that technology and computers are going to play a big role in marketing and asked if I would be interested in pursuing this in my PhD. At that time, I did not think much of it and just said yes. I took classes in economics, marketing, consumer behavior, etc. and found it really fascinating. So, I stuck around and finished my PhD. I then taught marketing research at the University of Connecticut, and then marketing analytics at the University of Virginia from 2006, and digital marketing since 2015. Charlottesville, VA is now home and our two sons were born here in Charlottesville.
Why did you want to get involved in online learning and why is the AI Marketing Certificate suited for online learning?
Online learning has tremendous reach. I can spread the message globally in my research, teaching and learning as it relates to AI Marketing. Online learning and the AI Marketing program provide flexibility for participants to learn at their own pace in a structured and engaging environment. Both program participants and I get to learn from industries across the world.
The AI Marketing Certificate program is suited for online learning because there is tremendous potential and growth in AI in many industries globally. Furthermore, a platform that brings together people with different experiences is the right medium for the AI Marketing Certificate program.
Why is AI Marketing such an important topic?
“The art challenges the technology, and the technology inspires the art.”
I think this quote from Jon Lasseter is very appropriate to understanding the evolution of marketing. Like art, marketing also has a symbiotic relationship with technology. In the old days, one had mass marketing on the radio. When the new technology of TV came about, we saw the golden era of television commercials, but we still had one ad for all the customers. Then, we had the advent of cable TV and we started segmentation as a brand perhaps had 3 or 4 ad versions for their different segments that aired on the appropriate cable channels. With direct mail, we started the advent of one-to-one marketing and started to increase our customization.
Then we had digital marketing and the rise of the internet provided more customization. With AI, we are at the stage where brands are personalizing their marketing to a segment of one. All through this evolution, though, the fundamentals of marketing hold true – address customer needs, focus on benefits vs. features, develop emotional connections, be authentic, and more.
What excites you most about the courses in this certificate program?
What excites me most about this certificate program is that it focuses on application of skills and the program courses follow the AI Marketing Canvas framework, and these two aspects connect and build upon each other. What also excites me is that the course projects within the certificate program are a mix of applied exercises and simulations that provide participants with the ability to practice and apply their skills. Finally, participants can use and apply all course projects as a framework and roadmap in developing AI capabilities within their own organization.
How could students apply these courses to their career goals or their professional life?
This course does not focus on coding and developing AI algorithms, rather, it focuses on effectively using existing AI algorithms to personalized marketing. In these courses, participants can use the structure, framework, and guidance of the course projects within their own organization in developing AI capabilities.
For participants who might be interested in a career in AI Marketing, this program will provide an understanding and framework of AI and its main applications in AI Marketing. Together, the projects and assignments in this program allow for a deeper and richer understanding of the potential of AI within the organizations in which participants desire to work.
What’s one tip for people starting the program?
Participants should come prepared to interact and engage with the course material and peers within the program. This will allow for participants to shape and develop unique perspectives and learn from others experiences within this program. Finally, participants should come with a curious mindset to learn and contribute to meaningful discussions and interactions in the program.
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