Gabelli School of Business Faculty Researchers Collaborate with Sony to Gain Student Insights for Innovative Music Lifestyle Driven by LinkBuds Series

The preferences, behavior patterns and purchases of members of Gen Z, many of whom are currently students on college campuses, are top of mind for companies that are producing and bringing new products to market. This is because the group is nearly 69 million strong in the U.S., with a purchasing power that topped over $360 billion annually in 2021.

Interested in making an emotional connection with this powerful segment, Sony Corporation (“Sony”) collaborated with faculty researchers at the Gabelli School of Business to test its innovative LinkBuds series of truly wireless earbuds that enable users to “stay connected to and aware of people and places in everyday life, without ever having to pause their personal soundtrack.” LinkBuds—which come in a unique open ring design (LinkBuds) or a traditional, sealed noise-canceling design (LinkBuds S)—allow users to personalize a listening experience in which music, phone calls, games, and other digital content merge with, and seamlessly transition between, ambient sounds that occur in everyday life.

To test these product innovations, Sony enlisted the help of a team of marketing faculty researchers at the Gabelli School—Mohammad Nejad, Ph.D., Luke Kachersky, Ph.D., and Hoori Rafieian, Ph.D. Nejad is an associate professor of marketing and area chair of the Gabelli School’s Marketing area, with his research focusing on innovation diffusion and marketing new products. Kachersky is an associate professor of marketing, with expertise in branding and framing, Rafieian is an assistant professor of marketing, with expertise in consumer judgment, decision-making, goals and motivation.

“Through surveys, an interactive Discord channel, and direct conversation with students, we gained a 360-degree view of students’ reactions to LinkBuds series and ideas for future improvements. We started collecting data from a small pilot group of students in the spring of 2022 to gain early insights, and expanded the research to include nearly 1,000 students who returned to campus in fall of 2022,” noted Nejad. “While LinkBuds are now on the market, the insights we generated can help to understand and verify the real benefit of LinkBuds series and shape the future of truly wireless earbuds, ensuring Sony can meet the needs of Gen Z,” added Kachersky.

The research project benefited Sony in learning about Gen Z’s consumer behavior and preferences in a controlled environment, but the company also made participating in the research very appealing to Fordham students. Sony worked with Professors Nejad, Kachersky, Rafieian, and Linda Luca, adjunct instructor, to create an opportunity for students to experience the seamless audio provided by LinkBuds series and present their ideas to create the future sound experience through the Sony x Fordham “Create-Together” workshop/competition.

The final competition took place on Fordham’s Rose Hill campus, with eight teams presenting their pitches to more than 30 professionals from Sony and its audio content partners Spotify and Endel, who picked the winning team. The prize for the winning team members, Betty Guo and Malina Au, both freshmen, was a trip to Sony Corporation headquarters in Tokyo, in March 2023. During this trip, the faculty researchers presented a summary of the research findings, and the winning team presented and workshopped their ideas.

—Paola Curcio-Kleinman
Learn more about this initiative by watching the video produced about it here: