My Tryst With Consumer Behaviour – Ipsita Das From IIM Bangalore

A year ago, I came to IIM Bangalore abreast with dreams of becoming the next big revolutionary brand manager. You know, we all have our fantasies. Here was the country’s best B-School: all had to do now was ask, well, and also lose all my hair, working hard to realize that fantasy. IIM Bangalore offers electives at the end of the first year itself of the Post Graduate Programme in Management, allowing students to invest more energy into what they identify with. Although, the degree awarded to everyone is the same, one can always gain deep knowledge through selective choice of electives.

So when I began ‘networking’ with other marketing enthusiasts in the campus, I was told that if you don’t take this course, you can never become a true marketer. It was Consumer Behaviour or as we lovingly call it ‘ConB’. The hype around this subject itself was so intense that it went off the shelves in a jiffy, warding away the half-spirited, and attracting those who are true to their grit for marketing.

Now let me tell you something about Consumer Behaviour. This is neither a hard-to-get or scarily tough course. It explores the psychological aspects of the consumer that goes into his decision-making while making or not making a purchase. Sure, lots of other institutions offer the course. Sure, to hard-core finance enthusiast it still sounds marketing fluke or better a ‘globe course’. What truly sets the Consumer Behaviour course apart at IIM Bangalore, is Professor S Ramesh Kumar.

Professor Ramesh Kumar is who truly makes this course an experience of a lifetime! Professor is a seasoned veteran, one of the best in his field, in academic as well as research excellence.

Professor Kumar has taken carefully curated journal articles, penned down cases exclusively for the course and relevant reading materials written by him and other authors, to form a pedagogy which is not only intense and demanding, but also far-reaching and thought-provoking. It is designed in such a manner that you have to put down your strategic thinking hat and back-track on the devious ways that the human mind works, unpredictable and capricious, as easily swayed as it is staunch.

As the class unfolded, it proved that it was an all-in-or-nothing situation if you wanted to score good marks, something we, at B-School, are fanatic about, thanks to relative grading. But as the days progressed I realized, marks was a separate thing, Professor challenged us to break our own boundaries of thinking out of the book at every step we took. The course required us to constantly see the consumer world through the lens of the inside track, both in and outside class.

We analyzed various articles and cases abounding in examples from the Indian context, written by Professor himself and co-authored by his different colleagues. Each case was presented by a group of students, who had to identify the problems, the approach taken, diagnose the problem arising and give recommendations. For professor, it was the identification and diagnosis that was most important in terms of learning, his philosophy being, that if the problem is identified and diagnosed most of the problem is solved, solving it was up to the competence of the organization which would differ.

Over the duration of the course we came across various concepts from consumer psychology that dealt with analyzing the behavior that goes into purchasing or non-consumption. We learnt that each individual has their own set of values which are a part of our identity. These values give rise to belief systems which in turn form attitudes to different products. For example, if you are a risk-avoiding investor, your belief could probably be that investing in unknown forays will always end in losses. This might be crucial to you because self-respect and public image might be of huge importance to you. You lose money, you lose respect. Hence you don’t invest unless you are completely sure. We learnt how propagating a product that abominated a popular regional culture will always end in failure of the product; how people’s attribution of success and failure can affect their purchase behavior; that habits are learnt through trial and error and reinforced by rewards. And I could go on and on. All of these, when explained, appear quite obvious. But when that customer walks into your store, examines your product for 15 minutes and then drops it and goes, and you know you can’t figure it out, that’s when you understand how complex is the architecture of human behavior. And not knowing ‘why’, is what the corporates are losing their hair for.

To keep our thinking hats on their tip-toes, Professor encouraged us to actively contribute on class through anecdotes, answers and meaningful questions. If they were insightful enough to provoke thought, he would award marks. We called it ‘CP’ or Class Participation. It was indeed very hard to impress professor with a question, and a certification of the mark, if earned, was a like a resounding thump on the back, a moment of great pride. Oh, the moment when after you spoke, he would ask, “Your roll number please?” You knew, your day just got exponentially better.

This kind of an incentive system, encouraged even more and more students to speak up, think harder and think better about what was being taught. It was as if we were living the concepts in real life all the time. I unconsciously began applying the concepts learnt in my daily routines, analyzing why that color was used in that print ad or why place the product there in that particular shelf. The course had me ensnared inside as well as outside the class.

The end evaluation required us to work group-wise on various topics handpicked by Professor over a period of 48 hours. Oh what an experience it was when you work as a team to give shape to your thoughts! The amount of brain-storming, challenging each other’s views and finally a composite solution at the end of the time period gave us a sense of achievement that words cannot express. We made great friends in the process too, over sharing food, sleeping space and an after party to celebrate!

Have I mastered every aspect of Consumer Behaviour? Well, probably not. But have I gained the mindset to appreciate the dynamics of what the consumer psychology entails? Yes, with an expertise beyond your imagination. What made this course more impactful is the skillful design of the course structure. Professor truly has mastered human psychology. I could have read about consumer behavior off a bunch of books and aah-ed at the brilliance and that would have been that. Going through the course has been a deeply-entrenched experience that I am sure will last me all through my career. I am truly grateful that I chose this elective. Well, if you do want to know more about this course, feel free to prepare for CAT 2016. You need to be here to witness the magic.