New SOM center will examine consumer behavior

Expanding its core base of research think tanks, the Yale School of Management has opened a center dedicated to studying consumer behavior.

Last week, the SOM inaugurated the Yale Center for Consumer Insights, where experts in the fields of economics, psychology, marketing and finance will use an interdisciplinary approach to study connections between customer satisfaction, purchasing behavior, Internet shopping patterns and consumers’ financial planning. The center, which will be staffed by existing SOM faculty, is located at 52 Hillhouse Ave., near the SOM’s marketing department.

By bringing together researchers with various specialties and experiences, the center hopes to collect new data and analyze consumer trends to create strategies for marketing products.

“The new center will build links between the school and the real world by focusing on substantive real-world marketing problems,” SOM Deputy Dean Stan Garstka said in an e-mail last week.

SOM marketing professors Ravi Dhar and Dick Wittink have been named co-directors of the center and will be aided by a seven-member advisory board made up of corporate executives and SOM alumni.

“The idea started from talking to people in academia and practice [and] the lack any research centers like this one,” Dhar said.

The goal of the center is to create an environment where people can collaborate on problems of interest to the larger world — not just the business community, but non-profit organizations and public policy as well, Dhar said.

Along with their professors, SOM students will also find opportunities for research and internship work through the center.

“Some of the companies have expressed interest in MBA students doing most of the research themselves,” Dhar said.

Other SOM professors said one of the greatest characteristics of the new center is its ability to bridge the gap between the world of academia and industry.

“Too often academics do research that is not useful to industry, and industry does research that is not of as high quality because they are doing it by themselves,” SOM professor Subrata Sen said.

In addition, the center has the potential to bring financial benefits to the University, SOM professor Will Goetzmann said.

“The important thing about a center like this is that it can be used to attract financial recourses that can be used to help pay for research activities,” Goetzmann said. “It will be helpful for the professors here and scholars in the field of marketing.”

Already, the center has received seed funding from Tom Gage SOM ’80, a senior vice president at VeriSign, Inc., as well as corporate affiliates such as technology giant IBM. The center is working with the SOM’s development office to locate additional funding opportunities.

Goetzmann added that he sees the creation of the consumer center as an indication of real, active research growth in the SOM.

“Most students come to Yale because it is a great research and teaching university,” Goetzmann said. “It is important in that regard and valuable to students to come to a place where people are making discoveries.”

One of the first major research projects of the new center is to work with IBM on a new trend among computer companies of selling solutions as opposed to products to individual firms.

“There has been a shift in the mind set of how people are making business decisions — a move from product-oriented sales to solution-oriented sales,” Dhar said. “We will be looking at how the marketing of solutions fundamentally changes from the marketing we have been teaching people.”

Around 30 Yale professors from SOM as well as from other schools within the University — representing fields as diverse as marketing, economics, public health, psychology, sociology, organizational behavior, operations and finance — have been named fellows of the center.

The newly established Yale Center for Consumer Insights will investigate the complexities of consumer behavior in areas such as purchasing behavior and financial planning. School of Management say the center’s focus will offer a bridge between the often diverging outcomes of research in academics and industry.
Daniel Yao
The newly established Yale Center for Consumer Insights will investigate the complexities of consumer behavior in areas such as purchasing behavior and financial planning. School of Management say the center’s focus will offer a bridge between the often diverging outcomes of research in academics and industry.

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