Professor cracks the codes of consumerism

Keisha Cutright grew up in a Southern Baptist family in Cincinnati. “I didn’t realize how religious the household was until I went to college. I didn’t think we were different than the masses,” she says. Eventually, her family’s system of beliefs would lay the foundation for the associate professor of marketing’s groundbreaking research.

Cutright’s research explores the psychological drivers of consumer behavior, including religion, personal control, culture, and emotion. Her work has been published in top-tier academic journals, including the Journal of Consumer Research, and the Journal of Marketing Research, and mainstream newspapers and magazines, including The Wall Street Journal and Fast Company.

In her February 2018 research paper, “In God’s Hands: How Reminders of God Dampen the Effectiveness of Fear Appeals,” Cutright found that people thinking about God aren’t as interested in products that offer precautionary benefits when the advertising is rooted in fear. Cutright worked with Eugenia Wu of the University of Pittsburgh.

Her findings suggest marketers should think twice about using fear-based advertising in highly religious areas of the country or among people who are more likely to be religious, as in older populations. “You could likely sell the same product, but you should use a different tactic.”

“My most surprising research that comes from the religion realm is the more religious you are the more likely you are to buy generics,” she says. In that 2011 study, “Brands: The Opiate of the Nonreligious Masses?” she found that when you can express yourself through religious beliefs and positions, you don’t need to express yourself through a brand. “We theorize that brands and religiosity may serve as substitutes for one another because both allow individuals to express their feelings of self-worth,” she writes in the report.

In 2015, Cutright was named one of the world’s forty best business-school professors under the age of forty by the Poets and Quants news website. When the website staff asked about the professors she most admired, she praised her “very patient Ph.D. advisers at Duke: Jim Bettman and Gavan Fitzsimons.” At the time, Cutright was working as an assistant professor at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School of Business. She received her bachelor’s in business administration from Ohio State University and her Ph.D. in marketing from Fuqua in 2011. When she returned to Fuqua in 2016 as a faculty member, her professors became her peers.

“I loved my colleagues and students at Wharton, but Fuqua has always felt like home,” she says. “The ‘Team Fuqua’ spirit is one that resonates not only among our students, but also our faculty, and makes it a really special place.”

Before returning to the classroom as a faculty member, Cutright worked in brand management at Procter & Gamble for three years, on the Charmin brand. “I loved my job and coworkers, but from a marketing standpoint, I was interested in understanding consumers’ needs beyond particular product categories.” She’s had that interest in psychology since high school, she says. She views teaching marketing as understanding customers and their underlying needs.

She sees her research as valuable to consumers because she examines what influences their everyday behavior. “If you are making decisions that are not optimal, you can change that,” she says.

How does Cutright describe herself as a consumer? The wife and mother of three says her primary goal is to be efficient. “I look for the things that get the job done without a lot of work or searching. I’m not as price-sensitive as I was before. I want to find things quickly and know they will show up reliably. I do most of my shopping on Amazon. That’s my ideal place to get it done.”

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