Cracking the Code: How Managers Can Drive Profits by Leveraging Principles of Consumer Psychology

The 2010 Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference was held on May 21, 2010 at Owen this year.

Media Contact:
Amy Wolf
Senior Public Affairs Officer
Vanderbilt University
(615) 322-NEWS |

May 21, 2010

Marketing professionals and academics gathered together in Averbuch auditorium on May 21 as Owen’s consumer behavior marketing team and other marketing experts made presentations at the 2010 Advertising and Consumer Psychology Conference.

Titled “Cracking the Code: How Managers Can Drive Profits by Leveraging Principles of Consumer Psychology,” the conference attendees heard presentations on state-of-the-art managerial consumer advice and reviews of up-to-the-minute research on consumer behavior with the goal of ultimately improving managerial decision-making and organizational performance.

Presenters from Owen included Steve Posavac, the conference organizer and E. Bronson Ingram Professor in Marketing; Jennifer Escalas, associate professor of marketing; and Steve Hoeffler, associate professor of marketing.

Posavac’s presentation focused on “Managing the Marketing Mix to Drive Brand Consideration and Choice.” Posavac half-jokingly referred to his selection of the conference t-shirt as an illustration of the way most consumers go about buying products. Posavac simply called colleagues from Owen and got a recommendation for a t-shirt company without thoroughly researching his options according to quality, cost or any other factors. Consumers, he said, always appreciate an easy decision, and that’s one reason end-caps in supermarkets usually sell well.

“Brands are judged more favorably than warranted when judged in isolation,” he said.

In addition, current research seems to support the notion that when consumers hold an initial belief about a product, they look for information that supports, rather than contradicts, their current belief. And consumers are more likely to consider a product they see early in the buying process.

Posavac also talked about making licensing spin-offs consistent with the brand image. As an illustration, he discussed the Veggie Tales series’ decision to promote chewy fruit candies to children. He encouraged consumer sampling campaigns where appropriate to encourage potential buyers to try a product.

Hoeffler focused on the area of radically new products (RNP), his marketing research specialty. He said questions need to be asked about whether an RNP transforms the market or creates a new market before a strategy is devised to market it separately. “Does it allow customers to do something they’ve never done before?” he asked. If a product meets that test, then there is more flexibility in advertising and more opportunity to break new ground, while communicating the basic needs met by the product.

When bringing out a new product, a company can start with an abstract idea or concept, but Hoeffler said it’s important to create a more concrete message at the point of adoption. One note of interest: Consumers appear to give less weight to usability when buying an RNP, but demonstrations can alleviate customer concerns about usability and reduce perceived learning costs.
Escalas’ presentation highlighted narrative processing and storytelling in ads. She mentioned a dog food campaign that told stories about pets in need of adoption. The dog food was then associated with a good cause and a good story.

Photo: Steve Posavac, Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management and Bernd Schmitt, Columbia University

Escalas talked about what makes for a good story in advertising and emphasized that research has shown stories can build meaning for brands. A surprising finding was consumer data showing fictional stories persuade consumers just as much as factual narratives.

“You need creative ad execution to get through the clutter,” she said.

Of interest in today’s social media culture is the fact that consumers themselves are creating the narrative about a product on-line in a variety of forums leading to an effort to build a consumer base that will advocate for a particular brand, she said.

“We want a missionary link between infatuation and purchase,” she said. A key question for today: How do marketers motivate missionaries?

The conference was held in Nashville for the first time this year.

Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management is ranked as a top institution by BusinessWeek, U.S. News & World Report, Financial Times and Forbes. For more information about Owen, visit or follow us on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn or Instagram.