Jenkins MBA students find the ‘voice of the customer’

CIP team members Austin Henley and Catalina Aguirre Burneo discuss their project at the Creativity Studio.

This post was written by Hugh Fisher, second-year Jenkins MBA student and originally published on the NC State Poole College of Management website under the title CIP: Bringing research to life with creativity, technology.

Every semester, students from the NC State Jenkins MBA program, along with teammates from other NC State programs, contribute to groundbreaking research as part of the Consumer Innovation Practicum (CIP) managed by Poole College of Management’s Consumer Innovation Consortium.

These student consulting teams partner with companies to research and solve real business challenges. Through a mix of standard academic research and applied consumer behavior knowledge, CIP teams bring a host of unique insights and capture the voices, preferences and attitudes of consumers.

Results of the students’ months of work are presented to the teams’ company sponsors, with several of the spring and fall 2015 teams using the resources of the Creativity Studio at NC State’s James B. Hunt, Jr. Library. This state-of-the art space allows for creative visualization of data, audio and video.

The Creativity Studio provided the perfect setting to showcase the research NC State students have performed for partner companies, said Colbey Emmerson Reid, Ph.D., Consumer Innovation Consortium director and faculty advisor for the team projects.

“Our students spend all semester performing rigorous research, conducting interviews, designing consumer surveys and recording the voice of the consumer,” Reid said. “The ability to share those interviews, images and sound at the Creativity Studio helps our CIP teams communicate the results of this research in a more evocative way.”

During the fall 2015 semester, one student team used video interviews to show how interviewees selected pictures that represented their concepts of beauty, capturing not only the ideas and images, but the actual faces, voices and emotions that students discovered in their research. “The Creativity Studio adds an immersive, interactive dimension to these presentations,” Reid said.

It’s a perspective and a level of quality that the Consumer Innovation Consortium’s corporate partners appreciate. Carolina Lobo, vice president of marketing at AmerisourceBergen, called their CIP team’s presentation “a super-fantastic-interactive download of truly insightful findings.”

Ben Jordan, market insights manager at Burt’s Bees, said his team’s presentation “was just amazing.”

Emma Eble, a December 2015 graduate of NC State’s College of Design, was a member of the Burt’s Bees team.

“Our project was able to produce significant insights using qualitative methodologies that otherwise would not be available to our partner company,” Eble said. “We were able to create clarity through storytelling and provide them with an environment where they could not only learn about the segment of interest, but interact with the findings.”

While the team was able to offer a unique perspective and valuable insights, students benefitted from the opportunity to put high-level research methods to work.

“I was able to closely work with students and professors that are truly passionate about their field of study,” Eble said. “I was introduced into a whole new world of consumer behavior, market research, and millennial segmentation that I had no prior experience with.” Elbe is an exceptional College of Design honors undergraduate student who was accepted into this practicum exprience to provide the design expertise needed for this project.

Eble said that team members and faculty advisors mentored her, and she came out of the CIP project “ready to get my hands dirty in the rigorous research process, and I enjoyed every moment of it.”

Jody Oakley, a Jenkins MBA candidate concentrating in marketing management and with a specific interest in decision analytics, was project manager for the AmerisourceBergen team.

“Our company wanted to better understand a potential consumer segment. Through in-depth interviews and ethnographic observations, we were able to provide AmerisourceBergen with a candid view of the millennial generation,” Oakley said.

“It can be overwhelming to be given a high-level business problem and tasked with designing a research methodology that will be both interesting and practical for the company,” Oakley said. Even so, she said that her team’s final presentation and the ensuing discussion was very rewarding.

While not every project is presented at the Creativity Lab, the depth of experience provided by the practicum is valued by students and their project sponsors.

“This was among the most rewarding projects that I’ve ever worked on,” said Dave Knospe, a second-year student in the Jenkins MBA program who served as project manager for a CIP team assigned to a Bayer CropScience project.

“By applying knowledge gained through prior coursework and Consumer Innovation Consortium workshops, my team created a survey and provided our partner company with an unbiased view of the current market climate. Seeing the ‘ah-ha!’ look on our partners’ faces as we presented our findings was especially rewarding and exciting,” Knospe said. He also worked on a Burt’s Bees project team which did use the Creativity Studio when reporting its results.

“Our partner representatives told us that last semester’s presentations were the best they had ever seen,” Reid said. “That’s a compliment that’s not doled out lightly by executives, who are comparing our students’ presentations to the many others they’ve seen.”

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