Books, Branding, and Balance – an Interview with Barak Libai
Updated: Oct 5
Written by Marie Brand, PhD Candidate at WU Vienna
The Books Have It
They say that you can tell a lot about a person by their shoes, but I would say that you could tell even more about a person by the books on their bookshelf. Barak and I held our interview in his office, so I had an opportunity to peek at this bookshelf, where I could see some of the books that underlie the building blocks of his career.
His bookshelf is divided by topic; there are a lot of books on methodology, some about consumer behavior. There are books about branding and customer equity, but also some about network analysis, strategy, CRM, and customer profitability. Other books examine entrepreneurship and diffusion and, of course, there are general books on marketing and business.
Currently, Barak is a professor and the head of the marketing group, at the Arison School of Business at the Interdisciplinary Center (IDC), Herzliya, Israel and serves as Area Editor for IJRM. Barak started as an industrial engineering student, hoping for a quantitative, practical way to learn business. He then took an elective marketing course where he decided this is what he wanted to do.
“As I sat in this marketing course, I said, 'This is what I want to do.' And today, when I talk with students, I tell them that unlike what people think, when you go to university, you don’t know what you want to do. But during university, you start to understand what you want and what you find interesting.”
“Marketing allowed me to gain analytical skills and to see a broad view of the world. I realized that marketing drives a lot of the world. And what I find so interesting is that it is a combination of both analytical tools and psychology. And it is fun to a large extent, which is harder to say about accounting.”
– Barak Libai
Follow the Money
In his research throughout the years, Barak's focus has been on the bigger picture, the company, and the market as the unit of analysis.
"I think psychology is dealing too much with the individuals. I mean, that's my personal view. You look at Barack Obama and how he makes a decision. We've analyzed Barack from all kinds of angles, but often Barack makes a decision based on what other people around him are doing. If you want to understand how the market evolves, and this is what interests firms at the end of the day, you need to understand how these connections drive things."
"I have tried to merge diffusion of innovation, social influence, and customer lifetime value, which I believe is the basis of many things we do in marketing, into one picture. And my guiding theme is customer equity; it’s something I deal a lot with in my teaching and thinking about different topics."
"At the end of the day, we should look at the monetary aspect, which is the customer equity. I look at the money and try to see how it’s created. If we do not understand why firms, who are motivated by economic motives, do or don’t do something, we don’t truly understand the world."
– Barak Libai
A Personal Brand and a Good Story
When talking about writing papers, Barak has two major points of advice. First, think of yourself as a brand. Just as a brand releases products into the market, researchers release their papers, which have a market made up of reviewers and readers.
"The question is what kind of brand you are trying to build in order for people to buy your products. What do you want to be associated with? We are all brands and courses of personal branding apply to us as well."
The second fundamental point is that researchers need to know how to tell good stories that reviewers and readers would find interesting. During his time as an undergraduate, as a way to finance his studies, Barak worked as a journalist. He credits this as where he learned to tell stories.
"A good story is practical and important. Maybe it’s important because there is a lot of money there. It needs to be rich and not trivial; people should understand it and become attached to it gradually as they read. However, it should be straightforward enough to understand what is going on without much effort. And it needs to be interesting or counterintuitive."
– Barak Libai
A Flexible 70-Hour/Week Job
Answering the question on how he balances his work with time outside of the office gives some insight into Barak’s work ethic:
"If you imply that academics have other lives outside of work, you start with the wrong expectation. The good thing about our profession is that you have the flexibility to work 70 hours a week whenever you want. Even if you tell yourself that when you get tenure, you will work less, you actually seem to work more. There are so many projects and people wanting different things from you. You’ll always feel guilty that you are not doing enough. I am not able to get away that easily from the guilt factor, but I’m trying to work on it."
When he is not working, Barak reads and has started listening to podcasts.
"I read a lot in order to see and understand more of the world. Marketing is such a broad set of activities that are affected by so many factors; reading a lot is a must in order to build the big picture. These days, I read mostly other things outside of marketing. I started listening to podcasts and try to do it while exercising."
He recommends "People I mostly admire" by Freakonomics co-author Steve Levitt, Malcolm Gladwell’s "Revisionist History," and "No stupid questions" by Angela Duckworth and Mike Maughan.
More about Barak
If you were not in academia, what would you be?
It’s a good question. I almost went to study law. But I wouldn’t become a judge, and I don’t see myself as a lawyer in a big law firm. I guess in today’s environment, I would go into the start-up scene, which is very big here but wasn’t during my time.
What do you like about your job?
It is really a nice job. Especially compared to other academics, let’s say in biology, who need to become managers of a big lab, with all of these people and grants that you need to manage. For me, I sit in my office and work; I need to manage no one, which I really like.
This article was written by
Ph.D. candidate at the WU, Vienna