Entrepreneurship Grad Steers the Future of Marketing

Earlier this fall Direct Marketing News named Mason Thelen ’04 to its list of the country’s 40 most influential marketers under age 40. It’s pretty impressive, considering he switched out of his marketing major at St. Thomas. He credits that change as part of the reason he was able to start eight successful businesses before he turned 30.

Originally a philosophy major, switching to marketing, then landing in entrepreneurship, Thelen said his entrepreneurship classes gave him an M.B.A.-level education with enough depth to be successful in business.

“It’s the blend of the disciplines. It’s not pure accounting. It’s not pure finance, not pure marketing,” Thelen said. “To be successful in this entrepreneurship program, you have to be good at all of those things. What professors Jay Ebben and Alec Johnson have created is a curriculum that forces you to explore, probe deeper and become competent in demonstrating and executing those things.”

Thelen is a principal at Elicit, a customer science company that marries strategy, advanced analysis, technology integration and marketing effectiveness. That combination enables clients to adapt to the personalized, socially connected, real-time customer experiences of the future. Thelen takes his company to the edge of marketing, pushes it further, then goes to that newly created edge, and pushes it again.

Working with Fortune 500 companies like Southwest Airlines, Fossil, Hewlett Packard, JC Penney and Best Buy, Elicit helps them develop tools, techniques and processes that shift their marketing approach from managing costs to investing in customers.

He credits his award to the work of his employees and the forward thinking of Elicit’s clients.

“It is a cool honor that represents all the awesome work that our team has done,” Thelen said. “We are helping to invent an industry. We have gone through iterations and processes, and it’s taken the better part of four years to build, and for the clients to say, ‘This is groundbreaking stuff; they’ve done it for us,’ is what I’m most excited for.”

Elicit works with clients to get the most out of their consumer data, creating the information needed to treat each customer as an individual.

“There currently is this big data explosion, and most companies don’t know how to use and leverage all of this data that’s being thrown at them,” Thelen said. “It’s really hard to synthesize what you do online, with what you’re buying in the store and how you’re using the mobile app. Those companies that are using data to make people’s lives easier, more fun or both, are the ones that are winning.”

When the companies are winning, so is Thelen. He has excitement in his voice talking about Elicit’s upcoming work, including a new redesign of the entire customer experience at Southwest Airlines.

“If you think about reimagining the entire travel experience and using data to support what’s different about the Southwest travel experience, observing customers and how they interact, and how that differentiates us from other airlines, it’s going to be so killer.”

He plans to “continue to set Southwest apart.” He’s already taken them to a new level of data analyses and he will work to do that again. He’ll build plans and hypothesis, test them, and make changes where needed. Once he nails it. He’ll start the process again, further pushing where the future of marketing is heading. And wherever that future is, you’ll find Thelen.

“I am very hypersensitive to collaboration and working with and alongside all the smartest people out there, even with competitors. It starts to make me think about different things. I like nothing more than to get intellectually jarred and start to think, ‘Oh, I haven’t thought of it that way.’ We pride ourselves at Elicit in doing exactly that and staying on the cutting edge. If we’re not coming up with what the question should be, clearly they’re not thinking about it.”