Foster Marketing Faculty Spotlight – Shirsho Biswas

Get to know Shirsho Biswas, Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and Distinguished Faculty Fellow, Foster Customer Analytics Center. He teaches the elective course Pricing Strategy and Analytics.


Please tell us a bit about your background.

I was born and brought up in Hyderabad, India, although my family is originally from Kolkata and have now moved back there. Like many young Indians, I got a Bachelor’s degree in Engineering (specifically, a degree in Electrical and Electronics Engineering from BITS Pilani). However, I was pretty sure that I didn’t want to make a career as an Electrical Engineer, so I chose to get a Post Graduate Diploma in Management (equivalent to an MBA) at the Indian Institute of Management Calcutta immediately after getting my Bachelors degree. Post-MBA, I worked for a year at a bank in Mumbai as a Product Manager for a consumer banking product. However, I left that job after a year to go back to academia, and I joined the Marketing PhD program at the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. I graduated with my PhD in 2020, and since then, I’ve been at UW Foster school as an Assistant Professor of Marketing. 


What excites you about your subject area and what are some of your research interests?

My subject area is quantitative marketing and broadly, I use large scale data to study how consumers respond to advertising, pricing and media. I really enjoy the multidisciplinary nature of marketing – our research often draws from various disciplines like economics, psychology, sociology and data science. Moreover, being a consumer myself, delving into how other consumers behave is quite fun and sometimes, situations I encounter in my own daily life can lead to some interesting research questions. The availability of big data and advanced analytics tools has also transformed marketing research. Companies have become more open to sharing data and collaborating with academic researchers. Working directly with firms to optimize their marketing efforts and being able to see the impact of marketing research on businesses and society is very rewarding to me.  


Which factors influenced your decision to join UW Foster?

Foster has a very strong reputation in the field of quantitative marketing research and I wanted to be a part of a top school like Foster, with highly productive and esteemed colleagues. When I visited, I saw that the atmosphere here was very collegiate, and the people were welcoming and helpful. In addition, Seattle is an amazing city with great places to explore and hang out, both indoors and outdoors.The fact that it has a thriving business community, providing opportunities for collaboration with industry is also a big plus. All of these factors contributed to my decision to join Foster.


What do you find meaningful about your time thus far at Foster?

The research collaborations with my faculty colleagues and PhD students here have been immensely fulfilling. Teaching my course on Pricing Analytics at various levels (undergraduate, MBA and Master of Science in Business Analytics), and having some of my former students reach out afterwards, telling me about how they’ve applied what they have learned in class at different levels in their respective organizations is also very rewarding. So I think both my research and teaching activities at Foster have been quite meaningful.


How does your work align with Foster’s purpose? Purpose statement: Together…We Foster Leaders; We Foster Insights; We Foster Progress…To Better Humanity

Fostering Leaders: Foster students go on to become leaders at various organizations around the world. Through my teaching, I try to equip my students, the leaders of tomorrow, with the analytical skills needed to make data driven decisions to drive their organizations forward.

Fostering Insights: Through my research, I generate insights into how consumers respond to different marketing activities, which in turn informs business practices, policy decisions and furthers our general understanding of marketing related issues.

Fostering Progress: My role as an educator helps me equip students with the skills required to make progress in their own careers and also contribute to the progress of their organizations. My research projects with industry collaborators has also helped those organizations make better decisions, thus aiding in their progress.

To Better Humanity: In general, I think that engaging in research to uncover novel insights into consumer behavior, and teaching future business leaders aids in the progress of humanity as a whole. To give a more specific example: in my course on Pricing, I discuss the ethics and social responsibilities of managers vis-a-vis price targeting, with the intention of encouraging ethical decision making and responsible marketing practices among the business leaders of tomorrow. My hope is that this has a broader impact on business practices in the future and contributes to a better and fairer society.


How have you worked to make your classroom / course curriculum inclusive?

I make an effort to incorporate real-world examples and case studies from different contexts, industries, geographies and with diverse protagonists, in order to engage students from different backgrounds. I try to accommodate different learning styles, with a mix of lectures, case-studies, hands-on data analytics assignments and in-class group discussions. In the classroom, I attempt to create an atmosphere where everyone feels comfortable sharing their thoughts and opinions. As much as possible, I am also happy to provide additional help outside the classroom to any students who need it due to any special needs or circumstances.


Any favorite memories from your experience with Full-Time MBAs/Evening MBAs? 

Some of the lively and insightful in-class discussions on the ethics of price targeting, with students challenging each other’s ideas, have been very memorable. There have also been a few instances of former MBA students reaching out to discuss a challenging problem related to pricing that they are trying to solve for their companies. These discussions are quite heartwarming and motivating for me as I get to see how my students have applied their learnings from class to real-world challenges. Hearing back from former students also helps me update my class materials to make them more relevant to the problems that real-world managers face.


How have you supported students outside the classroom? 

I have helped a couple of students to find internships and job opportunities by putting them in touch with some of my contacts looking for candidates with their skillset. I have participated as a faculty supervisor for a team of students for the Adobe Analytics challenge. In addition, some former students have reached out to me for help with pricing related challenges that they have faced at their work, and I have helped them think through potential strategies and solutions.


How have your relationships with industry experts influenced what happens in your class?

My research collaborations with industry experts have helped me to bring real-world insights, practical examples and current industry trends to the classroom. Being involved in solving real-world problems with my industry collaborators helps me to discuss the entire process in class: starting from the research question we were trying to answer, the relevance for the company, the different solutions we tried – which failed and which succeeded, thinking about why some of them worked and why some didn’t etc. My industry collaborators also give me feedback on current trends and practices in pricing, and I try to incorporate these into my curriculum.


Please tell us briefly about the structure of your elective course – what can students expect to master by the end of it?

We start with a discussion of how to tie the value proposition of a product/service to its price, and the pros of a value based approach to pricing vs. cost or competition based pricing. 

Next, we learn how to measure demand and set a uniform optimal price for a product or service under different data availability constraints – (1) retail settings with historical sales and price data available (2) no historical data available but the company is able to run a price experiment to learn the causal effects of price changes (3) no historical data available and not possible to run a price experiment – in these case we will learn how to design and analyze conjoint surveys, a popular survey based method to measure consumer preferences.

In the second half of the course, we will learn different forms of price targeting strategies – direct price targeting (different prices to different consumers for the same product/service), product line pricing (launching different versions of the product aimed at different consumer segments), bundled pricing (bundling different products together into a single package), and dynamic pricing (changing prices over time to adapt to changing market conditions).

By the end of the course, students will know:

(1) How to measure the value of a product/service and set its price based on value. 

(2) How to use historical sales and price data to measure the price elasticity of demand and set a uniform optimal price. 

(3) How to design price experiments and conjoint surveys, and analyze the resulting data to measure the causal effects of price changes on consumer demand.

(4) How to gauge the feasibility and impact of some common forms of direct and indirect price targeting strategies in different types of markets.


Are there components of your elective that can help students build their resume? 

Som of the assignments in my course involve using R to run linear regressions and optimization routines on real-world data, and using the results to make pricing decisions. Students can list these analytical skills and experiences on their resumes.


How will students apply the knowledge and skills they gain in your classroom in their careers? 

Students will learn how to take a data driven approach to pricing decision-making. Pricing analytics is a key focus-area for many businesses today in various industries including tech, Consumer Packaged Goods (CPG), manufacturing, e-commerce, hospitality, Software as a Service (SaaS) etc. Students who take up jobs like product manager, consultant, marketing manager etc. and work on the pricing of any product or service in their jobs can apply the concepts they learn in my class to determine optimal pricing strategies depending on the data available, market conditions, customer preferences, and competitive environment. 


Any tips for incoming MBAs on how they can brush up on skills/knowledge over the summer?

If you are interested in a career involving any kind of analytics, then getting a head-start on learning how to code using R/Python will help with most analytics courses at Foster and also in your future jobs.