“Quick Talks” Highlight Marketing Impact of New Research

MSI’s November 2016 Board of Trustees Meeting featured short sessions where top early-career academics discussed their latest work, offering new consumer insights with practical applications for marketers. Three talks are summarized below.

Measuring Digital Satisfaction

“Consumers are flooded with brand messages across the online landscape. How can marketers understand which are relevant and enabling and which are intrusive and annoying?” asked Ashlee Humphreys, Northwestern University. That question motivated her research with Mathew Isaac to develop a measure of customers’ satisfaction with their online experiences, analogous to the American Customer Satisfaction Index benchmark for offline products and services.

Based on qualitative and quantitative analyses, they identified four factors underlying digital satisfaction —utility, privacy, social, and trust—and a 10-question survey to measure consumer satisfaction with each construct. The Digital Satisfaction Index score is an overall weighted-average score, offering a general picture of how consumers feel about their digital experiences.

As the "utility" score of 77.0 indicates, “U.S. digital satisfaction is driven by usefulness, ease, and efficiency,” Humphreys pointed out. “This suggests that brands that prioritize utility will drive performance.” 

At the same time, while privacy and trust are less important to U.S. consumers, their ratings indicated a much lower level of satisfaction than with utility. “This suggests that building trust could be the gateway to improve satisfaction performance overall. There’s an opportunity to educate consumers on the value of collecting personal information to drive utility and a strong need to be transparent about the way it is done,” she noted.

Humphreys and Isaac find significant differences in consumer ratings across product categories as well as countries. Marketers can use their scale to regularly tap into consumer attitudes and perceptions of brands’ digital marketing behavior and understand where to focus their efforts.

Humphreys, Ashlee and Mathew Isaac (2016), “The Development of a Digital Satisfaction Scale (DSS) and Index (DSI) to Evaluate Consumers’ Satisfaction with Their Online Experiences,” Chicago, Ill.: Intent Lab.
Humphreys, Ashlee (2015), Social Media: Enduring Principles, Oxford, U.K.: Oxford University Press.

The Power of "Thank You"

Paul Fombelle, Northeastern University, discussed research demonstrating the benefits of acknowledging positive feedback from satisfied customers. In a longitudinal field experiment with a restaurant group, he and colleagues looked at the effects of acknowledging customers’ compliments in satisfaction surveys.

Half of respondents who offered high marks for their dining experience received a thank-you note from the company president. With attitudinal data and OpenTable records, Fombelle and coauthors were able to examine changes in the strength of the customer/restaurant relationship and in restaurant spending after one year.

Their findings suggest that saying thank you is a promising approach. Among male respondents, attitudes about the steakhouse—which were already high--remained consistent (10.2/11); among women, acknowledgment boosted attitudes to near the men’s scores.

For men, restaurant visits increased 50% in the following 12 months; women’s repatronage increased 57%. 

Even more striking were effects on repatronage: for men, restaurant visits increased 50% in the following 12 months; women’s repatronage increased 57%. 

The researchers found that timing is important; the “sweet spot” for the acknowledgement was about a week, Fombelle noted. Further, there was no difference between a no-reward conditions and one where respondents received a voucher or guaranteed reservation. “The simple gesture of a thank you was enough to reengage in that relationship.”

Firms tend to focus efforts on customer complaints, but this study suggests that strengthening bonds with your happiest customers can be just as important, he concluded. “There are new opportunities to engage with your most valued customers to increase future behaviors.”

Bone, S.A., Lemon, K.N., Liljenquist, K.A., Fombelle, P.W., Voorhees, C., DeTienne, K.B., and Money, R.B. (2017), "When Saying is Believing: How Solicitation of Feedback Influences Customer Repurchase Intentions and Behavior," Journal of Marketing Research (January).

How Consumers View Product Differentiation

We take for granted that some product differences are matters of quality and others are matters of taste, said Stephen Spiller, UCLA. But do consumer beliefs match this assumption?

To understand how consumers view product differentiation, he and coauthor Lena Belogolova asked consumers to evaluate pairs of products, such as Coke and Pepsi, Hilton and Marriott hotels, and Sony and LG televisions:

Which of the following statements best describes the comparison between A and B?

  1. It is a fact that A is better than B.
  2. It is a fact that B is better than A.
  3. It is not a fact that either one is better, it is a matter of personal preference.
  4. I do not know enough about A and B to judge.

They found that differences between people were at least as large as differences between product pairs. Further, these beliefs have meaningful consequences in consumer willingness to pay more for preferred products.

Differences between people were at least as large as differences between product pairs.

Spiller explained: “If consumers think that their preferred product is objectively better than the other, they are willing to pay more for that product.  However, if they have a strong preference for one product over another, but don’t think that it’s objectively better, then they are not as willing to pay more.” The rationale rests on perceptions of fairness: “I think it’s unfair for you to charge me a higher price just because I prefer that product.”

Spiller and Belogolova also found that, when explaining their choices, consumers are much more likely to use first-person references if their product choice is a matter of personal preference. This suggests that marketers can look at natural language use in product reviews, social media posts and service interactions for clues about consumer attitudes and how they differ from expert evaluations.

This new insight into consumer beliefs has important implications for strategic decisions about customer segmentation, product positioning, and pricing policies, Spiller concluded.

Spiller, Stephen A., and Lena Belogolova (2017), “On Consumer Beliefs about Quality and Taste,” Journal of Consumer Research (in press).

Related links

Marketing in the Real-Time Future (2017) [Article]

Fall 2016 Board of Trustees Meeting: Marketing in the Real-Time Future (2016) [Conference presentations]


  • 01/30/2017 by

    In the study “How Consumers View Product Differentiation” I wonder if the researchers took into account whether respondents were users of the products and services they were asked to rate for degree of differentiation? Preferences and opinions on differentiation are likely driven by/informed by whether a consumer is a user.

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