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Doctoral Research Studies 'Brand Genericide'
This article originally appeared in the Bentley Magazine.
Managing information is a challenge even for data-centric companies. At EMC Corp., the task belongs to Joe Dery, a four-year veteran at the Massachusetts-based data storage provider.
“Our business insights and analytics team works on some of EMC’s most challenging problems internally,” he says. “No day is the same. We’re completely at the discretion of what management needs at that point in time …which makes the team’s work relevant and exciting.”
One project involved a protection and service plan that EMC offers. Dery’s team examined which customers were most likely to renew that plan in a given time period, so EMC could prioritize renewal opportunities. This required architecting new data components to track renewals, collaborating with executives company wide, building analytical models, and communicating insights to a global sales force.
While he enjoys the corporate work, Dery is pursuing a PhD at Bentley with sights set on becoming a college professor. His doctoral research uses longitudinal text mining to study “brand genericide.” That is, how long it takes for a brand to become generic to the point of losing its trademark.
“A company can gain by having a brand name become a household word,” explains Dery, who teaches the Bentley graduate course Customer Data Analysis. “But it can become so generic that you’re at risk for losing your federally protected right to the name. My aim is to study and measure it.”
Where it once took decades for words like “thermos” and “yo-yo” to become generic terms, Dery’s studies show the process has sped up. Example: app store. “As soon as Apple trademarked the term, they were almost immediately in court to protect it…and they did lose it.”
The research draws on social media and print data, among other sources, to provide a more accurate picture of how branding works today, with legal repercussions. Without a clear-cut way to measure brand genericide, court cases “come down to the judge’s interpretation of the law in prior precedent,” explains Dery. “We hope to give concrete evidence that the underlying structure of the brand name, at the linguistic level, has actually changed.”
Read about other Bentley alumni using big data in their careers.
More from Joseph Dery:
Why did you choose Bentley for your MSMA?
When I was an undergraduate, I was split between statistical modeling and marketing. I knew I wanted to get a master’s degree because my dream had always been to be a professor, but I wasn't sure if I wanted to study statistics or marketing.
My undergraduate adviser put me in touch with [Professor of Marketing] Paul Berger, who was the director of the marketing analytics program — and has a background in both marketing and statistics. He introduced me to this whole notion of analytics and Bentley's program. I describe it in thirds: a third business, a third statistics and a third computer science.
Paul put me in touch with [Professor of Mathematical Sciences] Dominique Haughton. She’s the mother of analytics — to say the least. She really brought me into the analytics family, and that's what convinced me to come to Bentley.
Did you work while going to school?
When I started at Bentley, I was a full-time student but very quickly went to work for a company called Calexus. They are a data mining boutique. I was working full time and doing the full-time master’s program at night. As soon as I graduated from the MSMA program, I went to work at EMC full time in data science. That’s where I've been ever since.
Say more about your work at EMC.
My team does project-based consulting. We work on some of EMC’s most challenging problems internally, which could range from forecasting to trying to drag internal efficiencies and optimization. No day is the same. We’re completely at the discretion of what management needs at that point in time.
They start out as consulting engagements, which leverages the “big” component and typically involves data collection, hypothesis and analysis. Then, very quickly, we go right back into the consulting mindset: actually telling a story to our stakeholders.
Your PhD research explores “generecide.” What exactly is that?
This is a facet of business analytics that looks at [spoken and written] language over time, with a focus on marketing. My project has to do with brand generalization. Think about terms like hacky sack, yo-yo, escalator, aspirin. There's a whole bunch of them.
My work studies the progression of marketing language over time. The goal is to create markers that identify when a brand name is becoming generic. The situation is a double-edged sword. A company can benefit by having a brand name become a household word. But it can become so generic that you're at risk for losing your federally protected right to the name.
Before, measuring that quantitatively hasn't been possible. Social media has expedited the process. So instead of taking 50 or 60 years for a name to become generic, there have been documented cases of it happening in one to two years.
Right now in the legal system, there's no clear-cut way of measuring brand genericide. As a result, it comes down to the judge's objective interpretation of the law in prior precedent. It's just like when dealing with criminal cases. I hope that by using social media data, print data and so forth, we can give concrete evidence that the underlying structure of the brand name at the linguistic level has actually changed.
Why do you guest lecture at Bentley?
One reason is to build my experience in the classroom, so when I complete my PhD I'll be better prepared for my next job: teaching. The other is that this is my chance to give back to Bentley. If it wasn't for analytics, I wouldn't be at EMC and if it wasn't for EMC I wouldn't have met my fiancée. It’s interesting how everything works out.
Alison Davis-Blake, the former business school dean at the Universities of Michigan and Minnesota, was inaugurated as the eighth president of Bentley University in a ceremony attended by students, faculty, staff, alumni and other members of the extended Bentley community.