XLRI's Marketing Fair on 27,28 promises action in silver jubilee year

MUMBAI: Come 27 December, and Jamshedpur's Xavier Labour Relations Institute (XLRI) - one of India's Top Five management schools - is going to be abuzz. The reason: it's famed Marketing Fair (MF) is entering its silver jubilee year. And it is hoping to celebrate the moment with a bang: higher participation and better research problems. The high point will be the honouring of the ex-secretaries of the Marketing Association of XLRI (MAXI), some of whom are top notch executives in large corporations today.



"The Marketing Fair in its simplest form is marketing research disguised in the form of games," says XLRI marketing department head and the man who conceived the idea, Sharad Sarin. "The participating companies provide us the research problems. A group of students convert them in the form of games. The games need to ensure that the desired information is collected with out any bias or distortions. The residents of Jamshedpur, who visit the fair, are not aware of the company or the problem being researched."

The MF maintains exclusivity each year by having a definite focus. Some of the prominent focus areas of the MF in the past have been: children as consumers, new entrants in the Indian market, Indian women as consumers and niche product consumers. Till date, two fairs have been exclusively dedicated to the LIG (Low Income group), two for children and one for women only.

The MF is disguised research, Sarin explains, and includes formulation, research design, identifying information needs of the research problem, alternative forms to collect the same information, finalisation of the formats for information collection, sample profile and size and information analysis. The techniques used for the research comprise conjoint analyse, multi-dimensional scaling, cluster analysis, factor analysis among others.

Adds Sarin: "The MF is by far the most powerful and low cost exploratory research tool. Corporates can use it to test several alternative solutions they may have about marketing decisions like packaging, flavors in a food product, re-positioning alternatives for a brand and so on. MF does not only cater to the FMCGs but also to a vast variety of house hold customers."

The corporates which have presented problems to The MF for study in the last 24 years include multinationals like the ANZ Group, Bata, Cadbury, Citibank, Coca Cola, GSK, HSBC, ICI, Nestle, Ogilvy & Mather, Procter & Gamble, Philips, Ponds, RCI, Shaw Wallace and UNICEF.

Indian companies that have actively participated in the MF include Arvind Mills, Asian Paints, Berger Paints, Bharat Shell, Blowplast, Dabur, GIC, Hindustan Ciba-Geigy, HLL, HMT, HMV, ICICI, Indo-National, ITC, Marico, New India Assurance, SBI, Tata Tea, Titan and Voltas. The companies participating this year are ITC, Titan, Franklin Templeton Investments, Colgate Palmolive, Nestle and UTI Bank.

The idea came to Sarin way back in 1976 when he was looking for a comprehensive concept which could weave-in several stakeholders like students, faculty, marketing companies and the town people.

"On the one hand I wanted to provide an opportunity to students to practice what they learn in the classes. Besides using the tools of MR (marketing research), the MF requires a challenge of managing a large group activity involving more than 200 students. For the marketing companies, I wanted to establish relationship through an academic activity. For the town people, the idea was to bring them closer to XLRI. Till then, for the majority of the citizens XLRI was an alien institute," says Sarin.

The MF has been widely acknowledged as one of India's and XLRI most valuable contributions to the field of marketing and is now being followed as a model by a number of premier Indian, American and European business schools. The unique concept of The Fair has been hailed by marketing and strategy gurus, Philip Kotler of the Kellogg School of Management, Theodore Levitt of the Harvard Business School and Dr Jim Nelson of the Colorado University.

Sarin is presently working on extending the relevance of the concept to the Internet. Called the "E-Marketing Fair," it will provide a platform to analyse issues regarding marketing on the Internet.

"There's more," he says. "We are planning to launch a new concept in the near future of setting up a Marketing Lab in XLRI. It is an ambitious project and we are confident that the pay off to students and the companies would be very substantial. We will unfold the details soon," discloses Sarin.

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