Boxers or Briefs? Stony Brook MBAs Get the Skinny on Skivvies
Over the course of the fall semester, fourteen MBA students found themselves intimately involved in studying the most intimate of garments -- underwear. This unlikely endeavor emerged as the result of signing up for a course on Consumer Behavior. Stony Brook University marketing professor, Ethan Pew, constructed his MBA course around a class consulting project with Brooklyn startup, Flint and Tinder, which recently launched a line of premium men’s underwear manufactured entirely in the United States. The idea was that students could learn about the managerial implications of judgment, decision making, and choice -- the core topics of Consumer Behavior -- by researching and studying a real problem for a real company.
Pew first learned about Flint and Tinder through, Kickstarter.com, a website that provides a platform for market testing and product launches in which individuals “back” projects that match their interests. Through this mechanism, only projects that reach a pre-defined threshold get launched. Functionally, this allows firms to test demand by taking pre-orders for products and then calibrate initial orders accordingly. Flint and Tinder set the launch threshold at $30,000 in pre-orders -- a number, CEO Jake Bronstein thought they would never reach -- however, at the end of the Kickstarter campaign, Flint and Tinder had received almost $300,000 in pre-orders. Clearly, the market had spoken.
Seeing this success, Pew contacted Flint and Tinder to propose a collaboration. “I had a set of talented students eager to learn about consumer behavior, and Flint and Tinder had clearly tapped into an interesting and exciting consumer space. Because they were an early-stage start up, we were in a position to provide them with real insights that could influence their operations,” Pew said. After a few e-mails and a couple of phone calls, the project was official. Bronstein came to Stony Brook campus and brought along his right-hand woman, Jess Bergeron, for an initial presentation and discussion on how these MBAs might be able to help Flint and Tinder better understand consumer decision making surrounding mens underwear. Based on this meeting, the class divided into teams exploring the essence of manliness (a component of Flint and Tinder’s branding), associations with crafted goods, attitudes toward the “Made in the USA” label, and general purchase habits for men’s underwear.
To begin, students scoured academic articles, market research reports, and news coverage. Next, data were collected through focus groups, interviews, surveys, and online experiments. And ultimately, all of this information was compiled to develop a sense of how men conceptualize underwear purchase decisions. Julie Williamson (MBA ’12), one of the student consultants for the project, described the multi-faceted approach, stating: “As we became immersed in our research, I realized that studying consumer behavior is like looking through a kaleidoscope – suddenly, I am noticing many different, often colorful reasons for why people react the way they do to marketing and what makes them “tick” as consumers.”
When it comes to men’s underwear, it turns out are plenty of interesting dimensions to explore. The MBAs found that 53% of men have been wearing the same brand of underwear for four or more years, despite the fact that they don’t particularly love the product they’re wearing. Pew said “in consumer behavior, we tend to emphasize brands such as Apple, BMW, or Whole Foods where consumer passion and brand loyalty go hand in hand, but that is not always the case. Habit can be incredibly powerful as well.” Another team found that in an online experiment, respondents explicitly stated an indifference to manufacturing location. However, when this was tested implicitly, data revealed a slight bias against American-made products. The fact that this proved to be a non-conscious bias sparked a thoughtful debate and discussion when the MBAs presented to the Flint and Tinder team in December (pictured below).
The Flint and Tinder team and Aparna K. Baldwin(MBA ’12,PhD ’13, pictured far right) listening to students present their findings.
Maria Trapani (MBA ’12) presents at the Flint and Tinder HQ.
In just two hours, Stony Brook MBA students condensed a semester’s worth of insights and market analysis into key take aways for Flint and Tinder. At the conclusion of the presentations, Bronstein stated how thought provoking he found the results and that he was incredibly grateful for the kind of help that costs other companies hundreds of thousands of dollars -- high praise from a serial entrepreneur and former magazine executive.
In the end, the project proved a major success for all involved. Reflecting on the course, Max Rudkin (MBA ’13) said, “Interacting with a CEO was incredibly motivating. What I learned from working with Flint and Tinder will prove to be a tremendous asset in my career, particularly when it comes to applying a skill set to understand how consumer perception can be used in shaping a brand.” At the end of the day, Rudkin and Williamson along with the other MBA students who worked on the project can add themselves to the list of managers with knowhow for leveraging consumer behavior – and they also join the elite ranks of individuals who know the underwear industry inside and out.
Introducing the Stony Brook University Saturday Executive MBA Program. A blended program of Saturday and online classes.