Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dr. Jagdish Sheth, Charles H. Kellstadt Chair of Marketing, Goizueta B-school of Emory University

An Interview with Dr. Jagdish Sheth
Charles H. Kellstadt Chair of Marketing, Goizueta B-school of Emory University

In this month's Vartalaap from the academic world, we have with us renowned Dr. Jagdish Sheth who is widely regarded as the Father of Relationship Marketing. Dr. Jagdish Sheth is a renowned scholar and world authority in the field of marketing. His insights on global competition, strategic thinking and customer relationship management are considered revolutionary. He is the Charles H. Kellstadt Chair of Marketing in the Goizueta Business School at Emory University. Professor Sheth has published more than 200 books and research papers in different areas of marketing and business strategy.

Q1: You went to the US for an MBA from the University of Pittsburgh. How did you get interested in consumer psychology? Could you share some key insights in this field with our readers?
In my MBA class, I learned several theories of motivation, including Maslow's theory of need hierarchy. This led me to studying what motivates consumers and why consumers become loyal to a brand. What I discovered is that consumers, over time, reduce choices through learning and feedback from the purchase and usage experience; and eventually become loyal to a given brand. They buy based on habit often learned at a very young age for products such as toothpaste and cereals. Also, they do not consider more than three brands in any given product category. This was contrary to prevailing belief in economics that consumer choose logically and not psychologically by evaluating difficult choices in a rational manner.

Q2: ‘Emerging Markets to Define Marketing’ read one of your recent interviews. It has been said that India is a country where value conscious thriftiness coexists with experiential indulgence. What is your take on this in the light of your statement? How can companies better understand consumer India and in turn bring forth a new definition of Marketing?
You are very right that Indian consumers are very value conscious. However, there are three reasons why the same consumers are also engaging in experiential indulgence. First, they are more aware of new experiences such as visiting the seven wonders of the world including Taj Mahal, going on safari and cruises as well as attending meditation camps. Social media and cable channels such as Discovery and Animal Planet have increased public awareness. Also, many of their friends, classmates and family members who have settled abroad and their children are in touch with one another. Second, consumer aspirations are rising to be more contemporary and they experience foreign cuisines such as Italian, Chinese and Thai, as well as Domino's Pizza and McDonald's. This is also true about fashion, cell phones and consumer electronics. Finally, there is new affordability. The wages of service workers and professionals have risen sharply. This enables them to experience small luxuries in life. Therefore, the new definition of marketing is "Luxury for the Masses".

Q3: In the current scenario where loyalty programs are a dime a dozen, how can companies ensure customer loyalty and in turn customer retention? What are the new trends emerging in this area?
Loyalty programs work well only if the product or service experience is exceptional. This is true across all services ranging from airlines to cell phones. It is also true for retails stores, hotels, restaurants and coffee shops. Therefore, the best way to retain customers is consistent and superior customer experience. The new trends in loyalty programs are to use social media and product experience to generate customer cult. The best examples today are iPhone and iPad and stores like Apple stores.

Q4: In your book ‘Chindia Rising’, you speak about the shift of the pivot of businesses from the Western world to India/ China. How do you think Indian Managers can train themselves to become global leaders? Where is the Indian Education System lacking in this aspect?
The necessary foundation for Indian managers to become global leaders is to have a global mind set. Most managers, all over the world, are usually ethnocentric. Indian managers are no exception. The best way to increase global mind set is to encourage them to manage businesses abroad especially in non-English speaking countries and cultures. It is not enough just to visit. You must have deep immersion in other cultures and customs.
With respect to the education system, there are several options. First, make study abroad mandatory. This is almost universal in all Executive MBA Programs which include one to two weeks of overseas education and learning. Second, invite foreign students to be part of a cohort. The ideal proportion is one third of the total student population; and they must come from different cultures and countries. However, I believe the most transformative option is to insist on Indian faculty to teach and research in foreign countries. In other words, what we need is a Faculty Abroad program in addition to student abroad programs.

Q5: In your illustrious career as an academician, professor and consultant; what has been your greatest learning? What continues to drive you in the field of marketing?
The greatest learning I have experienced over five decades as an academician, professor and consultant is that the best way to learn is to teach. What continues to drive me after 50 years is passion to learn about new areas. This has ranged from consumer behaviour to multivariate statistics to competitive strategy to relationship marketing. My latest passion is impact of emerging markets on marketing.

Q6: What would be your advice to students in business schools, looking to make a career in marketing?
I have three pieces of advice. First, learning is a lifelong journey. It does not stop with graduation. Therefore, make sure you are learning new knowledge while you are working. This will be more and more critical as the half-life of knowledge declines sharply. Second, the best way to learn is to teach. Therefore, find ways to teach at a nearby college or school. If nothing else, get invited to make presentations in your organization's training centres. Finally, learn to give back to the society. Please remember how fortunate you are to be blessed by your parents, your teachers and your mentors. They made a difference in your life. Think of what you can do to make a difference in the lives of others.

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