Talkin’ with teachers: Boston University’s Makarand Mody

He’s an associate professor of hospitality marketing who has studied Airbnb extensively.
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Makarand Mody

· 4 min read

With travel coming back in a big way, the hospitality industry is booming.

Companies like Airbnb are reaping the benefits as a result. Airbnb has been studied extensively by Makarand Mody, an associate professor of hospitality marketing at the Boston University School of Hospitality Administration (SHA). As part of his focus on the hospitality industry, he’s researched everything from Airbnb’s effect on hotel performance to whether the company impacts “non-hosting residents’ quality of life.” In addition to teaching, Mody is also the SHA’s director of research and chair of undergraduate programs.

Marketing Brew sat down with Mody to learn about his research and what it’s like to teach marketing.

As a professor, what would you say is challenging about teaching marketing?

I think there are two challenges, right? One is the very meaning of the word “marketing” and what the discipline encompasses. That itself is so broad. So, if you look at, like, 10 people with some sort of marketing word in their title, the kinds of jobs they probably do can be very different from each other…That makes it challenging to even just figure out what a course on marketing should include.

What you exclude from the course becomes equally important as well, because you only have a limited amount of time that you spend with students over a semester. Just the breadth of the field makes it a little bit hard to determine what you should include and what you should exclude.

The second sort of challenge stems from the fact that marketing is super dynamic. So it changes pretty quickly, right? Trying to incorporate all of those changes into your courses all the time can be a little bit exhausting and challenging. As an example, TikTok is a big piece of the conversation that marketers are having in terms of how they can use it to market their brands, but that’s just a piece of technology. It’s sort of trending now. It’ll be around for a couple of years, where people talk about it a lot. Then two years down the line, there’ll be another platform that becomes popular and marketers want to use that, and then you have to talk about that in class.

Would you say there’s a certain brand that you think does marketing very well?

I don’t think there’s one brand that does every bit of marketing really, really well. For example, I think of Trader Joe’s as a brand that I use quite a lot. From a customer experience standpoint, I think Trader Joe’s does it better than most other brands out there. If you go to Trader Joe’s, the staff is always exceptionally friendly. They will always help you find what you need. If they can’t find something, they’ll find somebody who can help. You know, they’re very conscious of my two-and-a-half-year-old. When I go with her, they always make sure to give her stickers…If you look at some of the social media content that’s put out, I think Starbucks does a really good job of using micro- and sort of semi-level influencers to actually spread the brand. They do a lot of their company-directed marketing as well, but I think on their socials, they try and use people as much as possible to talk about their products…Amazon does a pretty decent job with targeting you through SEM [search-engine marketing] and the digital performance-based advertising they do.

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You’ve written a lot about Airbnb in relation to the hotel industry. Could you discuss your research and your marketing findings?

So, the research that I’ve mainly focused on has been, “What drives people to use an Airbnb over a hotel option?” Because there’s so much more that hotels offer that Airbnb does not. So what is it that makes someone want to stay in someone’s home over a hotel?

That’s sort of been the driving question of a lot of the consumer behavior research that I’ve done on Airbnb, and we’re learning more sort of as we go along…The key findings have obviously been that people are very concerned about their budgets, so Airbnb tends to be a little bit cheaper sometimes. [That’s] not always the case, and that seems to be changing pretty quickly. We’ve found that a lot of times, people’s decisions are not driven by just whether they like Airbnb or whether they like hotels—it’s really driven by their situation.

So if [you’re] traveling with a large group, people tend to prefer something like an Airbnb because you can accommodate everyone in one room under one roof. If you are looking for a special travel occasion—a honeymoon or a once-in-three-year vacation—then I think people like to pamper themselves with a little bit more service, and they’ll tend to go for a hotel. So a lot of what we found is, there’s no one model of consumer behavior. A large part of it is very situation-dependent in terms of how people actually make choices.

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Marketing Brew informs marketing pros of the latest on brand strategy, social media, and ad tech via our weekday newsletter, virtual events, marketing conferences, and digital guides.