The Maths of Marketing

Ian Harris (Operational Research, 1990, County) talks about his vision to apply maths to promote better digital marketing

"I graduated from Lancaster University in 1990.  My degree was very similar to the current BSc in MORSE (Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics).  Now, I own a company employing 140 people with offices in Leeds, London and New York. I pretty much owe my current position to my time at Lancaster.  Here’s my story …

I always understood Maths at school but didn’t want to do Maths.  I feared that a degree in Maths would get all ‘theoretical’ (not my thing). So when I saw the Operational Research degree at Lancaster it looked ideal.  It uses Maths and Statistics to solve real world problems. 

We were taught a range of mathematical techniques through their application to business problems, often taken directly from industry.  It was interesting stuff, so I remembered most of it; if not the detail, then the general concepts.

Wind on to 2005 and I started my own company, Search Laboratory, with a vision to apply quantitative mathematical techniques to perform better digital marketing.  I had witnessed, through exposure to this market, that big Pay Per Click campaigns were run by general marketers and it seemed to me that this was quite a complex statistical optimisation puzzle. I dug out my stats books and folders from Lancaster to get going.

In Pay Per Click campaigns we bid on thousands of keywords simultaneously, each with a probability of conversion (a conversion is when a click turns into an order), a search volume, a competitive landscape, a click-through rate etc.  The probability of conversion is unknown, so we need statistics to build an estimate of it.  If we do this better than our competitors, and therefore bid better than them, we win. 

Currently, as well as Pay Per Click, we run Search Engine Optimisation, Analytics, Display Advertising, Social Media, and overall Digital Strategy campaigns for many large brands. Everything we do is backed up by mathematical methods to ensure we make the best decisions at all times.

I had a great time at Lancaster.  In my three years there I met life-long friends, I met my wife and also my future brother-in-law (work that one out).  Not bad."