Employability is key when Queen’s University Belfast develops students with real-world analytics skills

Top international university uses SAS® to bridge big data skills gap and bring marketing to the forefront of the enterprise

By offering a marketing module that teaches postgraduates how to use big data analytics to solve business problems, Queen's University Belfast is able to arm students with the practical knowledge needed to gain a competitive advantage for themselves and their employers.

The "Marketing Analytics for Managers" module uses SAS® to teach students the analytics skills needed for marketing decision making and evaluation. By demonstrating their knowledge of SAS, students are recognised by potential employers as strong candidates to deliver the return on investment, accountability and revenue generation that marketing departments strive to demonstrate. The module helped a student who came to the course with a fine arts bachelor's degree to secure interviews for data analyst jobs – a role traditionally hiring maths, statistics and science degree students.

"In today's increasingly data-driven world, the marketing industry needs to be supported by graduates who have practical, industry-standard software skills which complement the reputation of creativity that marketing has gained over the years," says Dr Patrick McCole, Senior Lecturer at Queen's University Management School. "By using SAS to educate our students, we have equipped them with the skills needed to turn marketing departments of the future into proven revenue-generating departments."

Our students’ SAS skills are in high demand, and with the quantitative marketing abilities they have now gained through SAS analytics experience, they can lead the charge to help employers truly show return on investment.

Dr Patrick McCole
Senior Lecturer at Queen’s University Management School

Practical industry application

The university used SAS® Enterprise Miner and SAS® Enterprise Guide® to teach students how to fully exploit rapidly growing amounts of data. Students learnt data mining systems for marketing, including techniques within sales and customer relationship management. The module was taught using a combination of lecture, seminar and instructor-led computer workshops using SAS to solve marketing problems.

"Truly capitalising on big data means knowing your customer's story – there's no point collecting all this information if you don't know how to deploy it effectively," says Hayley Mahon, a top-performing graduate of the "Marketing Analytics for Managers" module. "Our SAS experience clearly shows employers that we know how to work with different types of data to inform marketing action that results in return on investment, and that we can actually turn data into competitive advantage. Without the analytics skills and tools we learnt using SAS, we would have been trying to address business problems just going in blind.

"Not only can we confidently work with the best data scientists in the industry, but having learnt how to use SAS, we are now able to crunch the data ourselves. We have been armed with the tools to be objective, accountable and more scientific," adds Mahon.

Real-world tools

The university recognised that, in order for the next generation of marketing practitioners to be able to harness value from big data, they needed practical training using solutions deployed by real-world organisations. The university chose to partner with SAS as it is recognised by analysts such as IDC to be a leader in advanced analytics. The software's user-friendly interface - such as its point-and-click abilities - coupled with its high functionality, made the technology an ideal solution for students, as some had no prior programming knowledge.

"Organisations all across the globe are already using SAS, and we wanted to partner with the company because of how well it's known. Our students' SAS skills are in high demand, and with the quantitative marketing abilities they have now gained through SAS analytics experience, they can lead the charge to help employers truly show return on investment and generate new channels of revenue," notes Dr McCole.

Embedding future marketers with customer centricity

Before developing the module, the university had observed that today's marketing graduates were increasingly perceived to be deficient in the analytics skills needed to tackle the sector's key challenge – demonstrating return on investment and accountability within the business. With many marketing departments struggling to maintain influence within their enterprise due to a lack of demonstrable revenue-generating results, this was a pressing issue for the industry.

Furthermore, the use of data in marketing decision making and accountability has rapidly grown in importance. Qualitative measurements alone are no longer acceptable reporting tools, and the use of marketing resources has increasingly been queried. All the while, the proliferation of digital connectivity has resulted in burgeoning amounts of consumer data and number of touchpoints, with customers becoming more sophisticated in their ever-changing demands.

The university quickly recognised that for today's marketers to truly put the customer first, they would need to know how to interpret and derive insights from this data. Only then could they demonstrate marketing return on investment, avoid unnecessary costs, and provide new channels through which revenues could be generated.

"The economic downturn unfortunately revealed that marketing activity had lost strategic direction. It should have come as no surprise that marketing budgets were always among the first to be cut," concludes Dr McCole. "Today's marketers cannot lose sight of customer centricity. In our increasingly globalised and networked world, consumers are no longer homogenous. If marketers have the right data analytics skillset, access to entirely new markets - whether that's demographic, behavioural or geographical – can easily be opened up to organisations."

Queen's University Management School


Queen's University required a data analytics leader to partner with, in order to arm its students with in-demand skills


SAS® Enterprise Miner™;
SAS® Enterprise Guide®


  • Students have ensured their employability within marketing through hands-on experience with a leader in advanced analytics
  • Future marketers have learnt the practical skills to demonstrate return on investment, cut costs and generate new revenue channels.
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