Malthouse Brings Rigorous Statistical Analysis, Methodology to Marketing

By Glenn JeffersJune 9, 2017

A running joke inside Medill’s Integrated Marketing Communications program is that Professor Malthouse turns people into nerds.

By the time they’ve completed his first-quarter statistics class, IMC students are singing the praises of Ed Malthouse, whose accessible, context-driven teaching style has helped many a “non-quant” graduate student conquer any lingering math anxiety. Little wonder that students have voted Malthouse IMC Teacher of the Year five times.

But Malthouse, the Theodore R. and Annie Laurie Sills Professor of Integrated Marketing Communications and research director of the Medill IMC Spiegel Digital and Database Research Center, sees his students’ success another way.

“I help them rediscover their math gene,” he says lightheartedly. “It gives me great pleasure to teach students who may be great writers that they can bring out their brain’s numerical side. They become better thinkers  if they can inform their arguments with numerical figures effectively.”

That ability transcends the classroom. Faculty colleagues laud Malthouse for the clear-headed statistical analysis he brings to his research. His intense focus on methodology — on how data are recorded and used — ensures that the insights gleaned from his work are rationally sound.

Peers outside the University agree.

In February, the Journal of Advertising Research recognized a Malthouse manuscript as Best Paper of 2016. (The work was coauthored by Bobby Calder of Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management and Matthew Isaac of Seattle University.) Last year, Malthouse received the Journal  of Service Management’s Robert Johnston Outstanding Paper Award  for a paper he coauthored.

“Ed’s got a steel-trap mind, but it’s more of an iron first inside a velvet glove,” says Tom Collinger, the Spiegel Research Center’s executive director and an associate professor at Medill. “He’s an extremely talented and rigorous researcher. He doesn’t accept things at face value, ever. He’ll challenge or resist the status quo, but he does it in the most genuine, honest way.”

It’s no accident that Malthouse comes across as genuine. Growing up in Moline, Illinois, about three hours west of Chicago, he was certain about two things: math and academics. “I’ve always wanted to be a professor, both for the teaching and research.”

Malthouse spent his high school and undergraduate years tutoring students in math. Then, while working on his PhD in computational statistics at Northwestern, he came across a want ad: a marketing professor needed help analyzing  a big data set. Despite never taking  a marketing class before — and not knowing anything about the field — he applied for the job and got it.

After a summer working on the data set, Malthouse discovered he liked marketing.

“It draws on so many different fields — psychology and economics, among others — and can be very quantitative,” he says. “It allowed me to combine all my skills with this interest in econ and social sciences. It was a perfect package.”

Malthouse did his postdoctoral work at Kellogg, where he worked with Calder, the Charles H. Kellstadt Professor of Marketing. The two developed a collaborative relationship, working on research projects ranging from tracking and predicting changes in the newspaper industry to understanding the phenomenon of engagement — that is, how different media interact with people to catch their interest.

After 20-plus years, Calder and Malthouse continue to work together. But the partnership, once mentor and student, is more balanced these days. “It’s been a very productive relationship,” says Calder, also a professor of journalism and media
at Medill. “Ed started out as a student, but he’s every bit become a colleague. It’s been a pleasure seeing him branch out.”

And branch out he has. Malthouse’s interests in engineering led him to join Northwestern’s McCormick School as a professor of industrial engineering and management science, where he teaches statistical methods for data mining.

Malthouse employs postdoctoral students from various fields to help in his work. He’s found that combining different perspectives can provide richer analysis.

“When you work with people different from you and start exploring the intersection between what you bring and what they bring,” he says,  “that’s where you can really make contributions.”