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Rethinking Marketing: Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger

Jonah Berger
University of Pennsylvania

When talking about better marketing for a better world, there is a lot of ground we could cover. One big point is that the domain we pick to do our research in plays a big role on its impact. While we can keep our theory the same, we can make our research more powerful by picking choices tasks or contexts that have greater potential to resonate with people or to convince policy makers that our findings are important. If your theory calls for a study with choice task as the dependent variable, for example, you can choose a choice domain that is more important, such as healthcare options, over something that is equally as valid but less policy-relevant, such as grills. To elucidate this point, I want to take a few minutes to talk about insights from textual analysis. 

Natural processing of content, such as music, social media posts, movie scripts, and news articles, is a new and exciting way to get a lot of rich information from data, and there are a lot of accessible off-the-shelf tools available for us all to do so. It can allow us to understand why people engage and allow us to pull out novel behavioral insights from the content. With textual analysis, we can look at the impact of content and how it fits with our psychological processes. This can have big implications for consumers and society at large. 

For instance, textual analysis allows us to ask questions such as, “Why does false information succeed?” By understanding how false information succeeds, we can engineer true content to be more successful. This challenges the notion that the story or content around a topic is fixed—we can actually “bake” elements into content that we know people will respond to in order to make true and important content more impactful. Doing so does not actually change the topic or its veracity, but it does help to ensure that it spreads and that more people learn about it.

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This insight from textual analysis, that we can make the content around a fixed topic more interesting and more successful, highlights the point I made earlier: holding theory constant, the domain in which we choose to do our research can shape the impact of our research. We can market and frame our own research better to help make a better world.

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Jonah Berger is Associate Professor of Marketing, Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania.