Author: Lexie Walther O'Brien


About Lexie Walther O'Brien

I'm Olin's Director of Digital Communications and an Olin MBA 1990. Still loving my job in higher ed marketing, communications, and web strategy.

The Quantitative Marketing and Structural Econometrics Workshop hosted this month at Washington University attracted 153 PhD students and faculty from across the country who create complex models to dice and slice big data sets for research in the areas of marketing, economics, and operations.

The workshop’s goal is to prepare PhD students for the rigors of research in the academic job market, according to Olin’s Raphael Thomadsen, associate professor of marketing and co-organizer of the gathering.

Olin Professor Raphael Thomadsen“We saw many students going into the job market with supposed ‘structural’ papers which were not meaningfully structural at all,” said Thomadsen who created the workshop in 2010 with Brett Gordon, a professor at Kellogg School of Management.

“Rather, these papers had very complex models that were often not identified by the data. Further, many people ran structural models without understanding what benefits a structural model might bring.”

Zhenling Jiang, a PhD student at Olin, attended the workshop for a second time this July. She is preparing to go on the marketing job market in Summer 2018. According to Jiang, “It was hugely helpful for my PhD study. The workshop brings thought leaders in the field to share their experience and state-of-the-art techniques to students. Each topic is taught by someone who is highly experienced in the area.”PhD candidate Zhenling Jiang

The workshop is intended for PhD students in marketing, economics, or related business disciplines who have completed at least two courses on microeconomics and econometrics. So, as you would imagine, I needed her help translating the subject for this post.

Basics of Structural and Non‐Structural Analysis

Thomadsen kicked off the workshop with the basics, as depicted in this chart:

classification of empirical work

Descriptive statistical analysis I understood, but models were new to me.

So I asked Jiang to explain: “Theory-based models draw on analysis of theories about how agents behave. The model could come from economic theory or psychology theory. For example, consumers maximize their utility or firms maximize profit. The structural model describes how agents make decisions, and this results in the observational data being generated from agents behaving according to the model (i.e. the data generating process).

“By getting the ‘primitives of the model,’ effectively we know how agents will behave. The powerful thing about structural models is that you can simulate what agents’ behavior will be like under a different situation (counterfactual analysis) that is not observed in data.”

Her explanation was helpful, but still a little beyond my comprehension. Another presentation takeaway was reassuring, “Structural need not be complex, and complexity does not mean structural.” But then came the next presentation.

Model-Free Evidence and Structural Models

Brett Gordon presents Model-Free Evidence and Structural Models

Professor Brett Gordon led the students through a marketing problem about a digital advertising campaign for an online retailer. How did exposing consumers to an online ad (with a $10 discount code) affect sales? He explained that descriptive analysis—model-free evidence—should motivate a structural model.

Then, by applying a structural model to the observational data, one can make predictions beyond the observed data. For example, what would sales be if free shipping were offered?

structural model example

structural model assumptionsAnswering questions like this is why we need PhDs in marketing.

PhDs intently focused at Quantitative Marketing WorkshopAccording to Thomadsen, the workshop has two types of sessions: philosophical and technique. “For the philosophical sessions, we want students to understand that when one estimates a structural model (or any model, really), one needs to think about the data generating process behind it. If one cannot identify what variation in the data links the data to the parameter estimates, then one needs to either get better data or use a different model.

“For the technique sessions, we discuss how to estimate demand, how to solve models with dynamics (where the choices you make today affect the tradeoffs you face tomorrow), estimate game theory models (where the choices one person/firm makes affects the payoffs of another person/firm, and vice versa), and new machine learning techniques.”

Note: The Quantitative Marketing and Structural Econometrics Workshop was hosted at Washington University on July 17-19, 2017. Previously, Thomadsen co-organized this workshop with Brett Gordon of Kellogg, and Rick Staelin of Duke University. The workshop was held at Duke’s executive center in 2010 and 2013 and at Kellogg’s Allen Center in 2015. Attendance has ranged roughly from 95 – 130 students and faculty in the past years, not including the organizers and presenters.

On Thursday, Feb. 4, Jonathan Rosenberg, former senior VP of products at Google, delivered a fast-paced synopsis of his book “How Google Works,” co-authored with former Google CEO Eric Schmidt.

Google’s secrets to innovation (paraphrased in my frantically scrawled notes) are provided below. I recommend you read the book. Or stay tuned for a video interview with Rosenberg produced by our colleagues at the School of Engineering – coming to WashU websites soon.

  • Focus on small teams, minimize “hippos” (highest paid person’s opinion). You’re looking for smart creatives who have the business savvy and persistence to produce in a fast-paced environment.
  • Exile knaves and fight for divas. When someone reveals themselves as a bad egg, believe them.
  • Focus on technical insights that make products better. Strategies can be just a bunch of words.
  • When you hire, be personally engaged and look for passion.
  • Companies have lots of data. Start discussions by sharing information, not opinions.
  • Set aggressive goals. If you make goals that you’re pretty sure you’ll reach, then you fail by virtue of small thinking.

Rosenberg is the parent of a WashU engineering student. He spoke to a standing-room-only audience of students and alumni in Emerson Auditorium, Knight Hall.

View full lecture below:

The all-university Commencement ceremony takes place Friday, May 16, 2014, at 8:30 a.m. in Brookings Quadrangle. Read more and watch streaming video at

Olin Business School Diploma & Awards Ceremonies take place in the Athletic Complex Field House
11:30 a.m. Undergraduate – Watch live streaming video
3:30 p.m. Graduate Programs – Watch live streaming video

The Charles F. Knight Executive Education & Conference Center celebrates the Cardinals World Series opener with baseball-themed food and décor. Come to the pub to watch the game in HD. Specials on wings and beverages throughout the Series.

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