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Behavioural lab to guage prospective consumers

M Saraswathy  |  Mumbai 

XLRI designs inter-disciplinary system that will allow researchers to explore the mindset of buyers across categories.

So far, in India relied on market research by leading firms in the field to understand consumer behaviour and then position their products appropriately. But, Xavier Labour Research Institute (XLRI) may alter that paradigm in India.

The Jamshedpur-based school of business and human resources has now established a behavioural inter-disciplinary laboratory that will allow researchers to explore the minds of prospect consumers across categories.

XLRI is the country’s first business school to have an interdisciplinary lab designed for the study of human behaviour.

The lab will be available for use across all functional disciplines of the 1949-established XLRI, comprising its faculty, fellow-researchers and post-graduate students.

Conceptualised last year, the ambitious endeavour is aimed at providing students and teachers with cutting-edge research tools designed to drill into the unconscious mind — said to influence consumer choices — and study behavioural trends.

XLRI marketing area chairperson Sanjeev Varshney says surveys like those held by the IMRB have already given the answer to “how many”. The lab will emphasise on the “why” of the consumer behaviour. “We believe this can be a useful addition to the existing surveys. It is a far better method,” added Varshney, who is also the chief co-ordinator of the lab.

The set-up has the facility to conduct several research projects in the fields of behavior studies, organisational behavior studies, economics, finance, human resource management. It will undertake collaborative studies in close concert with all the departments within the XLRI campus.

The lab is also forging tie-ups with researchers and institutes of repute in the field. “We look forward to establishing itself as a one-stop solution for all behavioural and neurological research in management sciences,” Varshney added.

The lab has a camera set-up to record people’s responses at an interview room, besides having a direct response machine that displays — through multiple monitors — a subject’s reaction to the advertisement of a product. It is also equipped with video-mixing equipment and a conference room.

XLRI Director E Abraham said the lab would provide the students and teachers with advanced research tools designed to study the minds of prospect consumers for private and public goods.

“The unique blend of student profiles at XLRI from all across India and abroad enables the behavioral lab to have a steady stream of eclectic volunteer groups for the experiments,” he said. “Thus, there is ample scope for understanding as well as exploring products and public policy initiatives targeted at the younger generation.”

The lab has chalked out plans to establish a consumer panel of over 3,000 people from different walks of life. The consumer panel will include people from urban and rural parts of Jamshedpur and East Singhbhum districts. Jamshedpur, a cosmopolitan Jharkhand city with a population of over 14 lakh, has an impressive 83 per cent literacy rate. It is home to several industrial giants, including Tata Steel and Tata Motors.

Employees working here and other in Jamshedpur come from different parts of the country, thereby allowing the selection of a diverse consumer panel by way of income, age, cultural background and education level, among others, to carry out experiments and controlled testing.

Varshney recalled that the earlier research done in this area was survey-based. “But it was seen that this led to socially-biased responses, resulting in the failure of around 90 per cent products in the markets,” he noted. “Our research in the behavioral lab will be based on cognitive neurology and cognitive psychology.”

Cognitive neurology, in simple terms, is about finding out that part of the brain which responds to what all kind of stimulus and help understand from which part is an individual taking a decision. “A lot of are into tier-1 and tier-2 towns,” Varshney said.

“Therefore Jamshedpur was chosen, being home to several corporates in India.” They are concentrating on need-based projects, and already have four to five projects from different corporates.

As of now, the Lab is equipped with software like Qualtrics and Media Lab besides equipment to run experiments based on the principles of cognitive psychology like direct response time machine that help in understanding whether the stimulus shown to people have an emotional or cognitive impact. It has also got facilities like one-way mirror observation rooms for group experiments.

The lab has also subscribed to other advanced software to enable students and researchers in testing image-based stimulus rather than textual stimulus, thereby facilitate product and campaign effectiveness testing.

In future, XLRI plans to acquire a few more equipment and software for the lab. It also has plans to forge collaborative initiatives for carrying out neurological research by tying up with local and national-level neuro research centres and leading hospital chains in India.

XLRI has already initiated the steps to forge tie-ups and partnerships with a view to have a pan-India footprint. XLRI has been approached by companies from the FMCG sector, IT/ITeS sector and public sector, and have already started work on about 5 projects.

Varshney also informed that two studies are currently scheduled to be undertaken. The first study relates to rash driving hazards and road safety vis-à-vis youth and children on Indian roads.

This study would help the traffic authorities in designing more effective campaigns with a view to bringing about attitudinal changes. The second study pertains to understanding consumer concerns and expectations and how organisations can strive towards increasing consumer satisfaction and reduce purchase dissonance.

First Published: Mon, October 10 2011. 01:27 IST