At Branded, we recently sat down with Dr. Wendy Liu, an expert in consumer behavior, to get insight from her research, and tips for better market research design. Dr. Liu specializes in consumer judgment and decision making, focusing on the cognitive and emotional basis of consumer choice, social interactions, and well-being. Her recent research topics include decision making in complex situations, such as shortlist formation, decisions involving risk and self-control, and complex emotions, motivations, and values. 

Question: What are your areas of research?

Answer: I study the psychology of consumers and buyers, particularly how their technical and social environments interact with economic motivations and behavior.

Question: What is the impact of asking consumers for their input? Is there a difference when the input is asked for via survey versus social media versus other methods?

Answer: This is a really interesting question. We don’t have direct evidence to this question, however, we found that asking people for suggestions (rather than opinions) made people feel closer and warmer to the company. I would speculate that asking people via social media versus other methods (e.g., in a banner ad) would similarly feel more communal.

Question: What is the impact of choice (or choice overload) on consumer research design? And how can researchers best manage this for optimal research?

Answer: I have a current project investigating this question. I’m looking at how people create shortlists to overcome choice overload. Recent research suggests people aren’t always experiencing overload, even when there are lots of information and options to choose from. It turns out people are quite capable of coping with that, and one way is through the use of shortlists. So I’m investigating this process.

Question: Can you share a couple of the most surprising findings that have come from your research?

Answer: We have found that asking people to donate time (rather than to donate money) made people more emotional, and therefore more willing to help a charity. Compared to money, time is a very emotional and personal concept to people.

In other research, we found that interrupting consumers can make them more risk seeking. For example, using a pop-up screen to introduce a brief interruption when they are making decisions. 

Question: When designing research, how does timing and ordering of questions impact responses from panelists?

Answer: Totally my area of research, and there are lots of questions we can ask about this. There is also quite a body of existing research, but there are still lots of unknowns. But the short answer is, order matters!

Question: Do you have any other tips researchers should keep in mind when designing research?

Answer: I am a strong advocate of experiments (i.e., “A-B tests”). The number one rule is, change one thing at a time so that you can truly understand the relationship between what you are varying and the outcome.

Dr. Wendy Liu received her Ph.D. in Marketing from the Stanford Graduate School of Business. She is currently an Associate Professor of Marketing at the UCSD Rady School of Management and teaches Consumer Behavior to MBA students.