Skip to content

Students conduct research and solve real world business problems for big-name clients in the College’s Consumer Research Center

Wednesday, September 23 2015 12:00am

Last year, the College of Business added a sixth Center of Excellence to its catalog: the Consumer Research Center, or CRC. The CRC gives students the opportunity to gain marketing research experience by working with top consumer brands.

By Brianna Wilson 

20150916 Consumerresearchcenter 0027

What can 11 student fellows, academic advisers Dr. Alexa Fox and Dr. Jacob Hiler, and Dan Dahlen, director, CRC accomplish in one semester’s time? This fall, they’ll be completing five in-depth research projects for The J.M. Smucker Company, Dairy Queen, Grange Insurance, and Gatesman+Dave – in addition to their other commitments.

What about spring semester? It’s full, too. “It’s like a year-old restaurant being booked solid for the year,” said Dahlen. “It’s been really rewarding to see how seamless and successful the program has been in just its first year. The first few projects we completed were so well received that clients are returning this fall.”

So, how does it all work? Dahlen, who came to the College with nearly 40 years of advertising experience, identifies prospective clients, who come from all over the U.S. This semester’s clients are based in Columbus, Ohio; Minneapolis, Minn.; Boston, Mass.; and Pittsburgh, Pa. Dahlen shares the CRC’s capabilities with each company, and interested companies identify a research need.

Meanwhile, the entire group meets Wednesday nights for class, run by Hiler, who previously worked in marketing research. Fellows complete an intensive onboarding process, covering nearly a semester’s worth of material in just five weeks. They also become certified with the Institutional Review Board (IRB).

Once training is complete, students break into project teams to create and present a proposed research plan that addresses individual client needs. Teams are comprised of two project associates, one or two project leads, who are returning CRC fellows, and one of four faculty advisers, all of whom have PhD’s in marketing research and consumer behavior.

At this point, Hiler begins to run his classroom like a real research firm. “I mimic the atmosphere of a real agency, so students are exposed to it,” said Hiler.

Fellows work with their adviser to develop proposals that include various types of research and methodology, including both online and telephone surveys, focus groups, customer intercepts, store mystery shoppers, and secondary research analysis. Once the client approves the proposal, they execute the research plan, analyze the data, and create a final client presentation.

“Very few students are able to conduct real world research before they’re hired into a research role,” said Hiler. “The fact that our students are exposed to real company initiatives is a big deal.”

Cob Consumer Research Center Logo Color Final (1)As data becomes more accessible, knowing how to conduct research is increasingly important, according to Dahlen. “Companies want to take advantage of this data and use it as competitively advanced intelligence,” he said.

Through the CRC, fellows build this critical skill, while also building relationships with the client and becoming familiar with their brand. “It makes it a lot easier for our students to secure competitive internships with these companies,” said Dahlen. “This summer, four out of our six fellows worked as interns for clients or prospective clients, and we’re already working on opening those internship doors for 2016.”

Dr. Raj Agnihotri, former chair of marketing, Dr. Katherine Hartman, interim chair and associate professor of marketing, and Dahlen, founded the CRC Sept. 2014.

Visit the CRC website for more information, or contact Dahlen at