Over a week ago, as a part of the 9th module of the SKOLKOVO Executive MBA programme, the second group studied a Consumer Behaviour course.
A complicated science of consumer behaviour was taught by Professor Jaideep SENGUPTA from the Hong Kong University of Science & Technology.
Professor Sengupta agreed to give an interview and discussed some professional subjects with us.
- Yes, I think it’s important because I spend a lot of my time studying all marketers trying to influence it. So if you’re aware of that, then to some extent when you are watching an ad, you can look at it itself and the influence it makes, and then you can guard against that a little bit. But there are so many things that are done, that marketers do and that we react to as consumers in a really unconscious way then even if you know about it, it’s very hard to guard against it. Well, I’ll give you one favourite example first. There’s a study that showed that if you’re in a wine store, I mean if you’re shopping for wine and they are playing classical music… When you’re hearing the classical music you’re more likely to buy more expensive wine, because it is in that state of mood. But if they’re playing this modern pop music, though you think of yourself as a sophisticated person, but then you kind of get down on your knees and buy the cheap wine. But that kind of thing you can’t even arrest. This is unconscious.
- You know that cultural differences have a direct impact on our behaviour, consumer behaviour. Can you give any striking examples?
- There are lots of them. I think one of the examples I actually use in my classes... You know about a Marlboro man? That was started in the US. Whenever you see the Marlboro man in the US typically or you used to see, because in these days he’s not popular any more, so back in the old days. All you see is one cowboy, just one man, because the US is very much about the power of the individuals standing out or doing their own thing. Now when Philip Morris, a parent company, took this label to Japan, it didn’t work at all. Japanese consumers felt sorry for him. The reaction was like to a poor man, he can’t be doing very well, he has to work alone. Then they showed several cowboys together. It’s the power of the group that is much more important in Japan. It’s a more collectivist culture. There are lots of other examples.
- Do you apply different approaches to teaching in different countries?
- To some extent, but I think it’s a basic theory. The consumer behaviour, the theory that I drop on the psychologist theory, that I drop on better about human behaviour, about human code. And the theory doesn’t change. Also in terms of how students interact in some countries. Now I’ve had a pleasure of teaching in many different countries. I’ll show an example when I teach in China. There’s a more reluctance of speak up, which I don’t see in Russia. So that’s why I encourage more group activity and so they speak at the group, which makes it easier for them to do that.
- Do you think a good marketing strategy can change the consumer behaviour? In other words, can marketing inculcate in consumers a need that is not characteristic of them?
- A need that is not characteristic of them. That’s an interesting one. I think it depends. You’d get different answers. My own take would be that it’s not very easy to inculcate a new need that was never there. But what marketers do really well is to take a need that was there but which we didn’t know it was there. That was lying waiting there and they make it come up to the surface. So many people have a need to have a more luxurious life, to be pampered, to be spoilt, but they don’t know it. Then they see all those ads on TV and they’re getting a much more luxurious style and then needs heavily comes and they think ok, I also need to go on this really certification or I need to buy that little expensive diamond. So they’re taking a need that was kind of vague and they are making it much more certain. Most of them. But I think that when marketers can actually inculcate a new need, it’s usually not one marketer. It’s the media as a whole driving one value. Again because I’ve spent a lot of time in Asia, I’ve seen this happen in Asia. So Asia used to be, many parts of Asia used to be very collective, the power of the group, the importance of the family. But now that the media has much of arresting influence, you see those values coming in and that has created some new needs, that has created the needs for people to be much more individualistic in public. It can happen but it’s rare.
- Clotaire Rapaille writes in his book The Cultural Code that our first impression of a product creates our perception of the product forever. Can marketers change the perception or make a new “first perception”?
- It depends on if the first impression was positive or negative. A positive impression is very easy to change. You may like something the first time and the second time you may see the thing and change it immediately. Changing a negative impression of course is much harder, but it can be done. We have, for example, Hyundai, that’s a Korean car company, which for many years in the US had a very bad image. It was part of cheap car, not just low in class, but low in terms of style, low in terms of efficiency. But over the last few years through delivering really good products, through a lot of marketing activities they changed their image a lot. So it’s very rare, but it can be done.
- Do you think the behaviour of online consumers, those who do shopping online in the Internet differs from that of ordinary consumers?
- It does, in many ways it does. And one particularly it does is advertising. Let’s for example, take TV advertising and I say TV advertising because I still think it as a primary form of advertising. When you’re watching TV, you have probably the most passive state of mind outside of sleeping. We could be watching TV, but we’re still sitting there on the coach, and the programme comes on, ads come on. We’re not really thinking an inch. Online it’s different. When we’re online, we have a purpose, we are very active, we’re looking for something –education, entertainment, whatever. So even if we’re analyzing that kind of advertisements, it’s very difficult for us to pay attention to them. It’s very difficult for them to get our attention. So online consumers are much more involved in what they are doing, which makes it harder for advertising to get their attention. That’s why online advertising is much more targeted to our interests.
- Can you recommend any books to read for our readers and for students?
- There are many interesting ones, but most of the top of my head I can hopefully recollect you a few. There is one that’s called "Buyology" by a guy called Paco Underhill. That’s a good lot. There is also, let me see, a book called «Billions» by Tom Doctoroff. He talks about a consumer in China. Actually I would also recommend Malcolm Gladwell’s books, even though they are not directly of consumer behaviour but he talks about the psychology of the mind – for example, «Tipping point». And finally, “Sensory marketing” by Aradhna Krishna