Michigan Ross Professor Rajeev Batra Honored with Distinguished Consumer Psychology Award
Rajeev Batra, Sebastian S. Kresge Professor of Marketing, was recently named a Fellow of the Society for Consumer Psychology. The award recognizes senior faculty whose published research has significantly impacted the field of consumer psychology. To learn more about the award, his career, and his plans for the future, we invited Rajeev to answer a few questions.
Much of your recent research is focused on global branding and emotional advertising. What motivated your interest in consumer psychology from that perspective?
Overall, as a consumer researcher who uses a psychological lens, I try to get into the minds and hearts of consumers to better understand why they like and buy products, so marketers can make better decisions.
My first stream of research dealt with the question, "how does advertising lead consumers to buy?" It was triggered by my years as a brand manager, wanting to better understand how consumers processed ad messages. For many years, I studied how the emotional responses evoked by the ad could play an important role. Over a 10-year span at the University of Michigan, I grew this research stream to show more clearly how ad-evoked emotions interacted with the ads’ more rational content, the different types of ad-evoked emotions, how they can be measured accurately, and how they shape consumers’ perceptions of brands.
Later, as the worlds of trade and culture were globalizing in the 1980s, consumers around the world were seeing standardized global brands grow to displace local brands that had been dominant for decades. In a series of research papers, my co-authors and I found that if consumers perceived brands as being global, they assumed these brands were of higher quality, capable of bestowing more prestige and status to their buyers, and that buying these global brands made these consumers feel closer to the imagined lifestyles of consumers in the home countries of these brands. Today, as the lure of globalization seems to be receding and local brands seem to be winning again, this body of work highlights the tensions and trade-offs at play.
How does it feel to be honored for your contributions to the field of consumer psychology?
Well, it's been a very long journey for me as a researcher, starting in 1982. There's been a lot of struggle and heartbreak along the way, dealing with journals rejecting some of my papers (only about 5% of papers submitted to top marketing journals get accepted). After all these years, it gives me a lot of satisfaction to see that the work I've done and managed to publish has had the cumulative impact that it has had, not only among other academic researchers, but also among managers. It makes this long, hard journey seem a lot more worthwhile.
You have previously taught courses on strategic brand management at the Ross School of Business and are currently a faculty supervisor for MAP. How have your experiences engaging with Michigan Ross students impacted your career as an academic?
Engaging with students in a classroom and discussing ways to build stronger brands has always helped me to better balance in my research the needs of the 'real world' with the frameworks and concepts that exist in the world of theory. My philosophical preference has always been to do the kinds of research that combine academic rigor and practical relevance. While this isn't always possible, it's good to get these frequent nudges and reminders from my teaching life to bring me back to this more centered middle path.
What are you currently researching? Do you have any big projects upcoming?
My recent research has dealt with important aspects of building and managing brands. I've focused on aspects of brand management that managers have an intuitive sense of but need more solid research to draw on. Some years ago, along with some terrific co-authors, I dug deep into the idea of 'brand love,' what it is, and how brands can become more loved (not merely liked). This work has had a lot of impact, including among some large global brands. Then, again, with a very talented co-author team, I studied the factors that make some brands seem more 'cool' than others. We now have a project ongoing with a PhD student in Portugal to see if some of the coolness-creating factors we found can be used to make 'sustainable consumption' a lot more cool (and thus more adopted) behavior among consumers.
After being honored for your work, what are some of your goals moving forward?
I've begun to consolidate many of my findings and frameworks on how to build and manage strong brands into a book manuscript to reach a wider audience beyond the academic, scholarly community. Even as I continue research projects on newer topics that have begun to interest me, one of these is to better understand Asian consumers and why they like and buy what they do. Particularly because so much of future global growth in consumer demand will come from Asia, for example, two out of three members of the global middle class will be from Asia by 2030! Too much of our current academic research is conducted with Western blinkers on. Asian consumers are more cognizant of their social roles and obligations and are more religious and less secular than Western consumers. Therefore, the underlying values that drive their preferences need much more study. We need to understand better the 'psychology of the Asian consumer,' and that's an area I've been working on recently.