Doing Well Versus Doing Good: The Differential Effect of Underdog Positioning on Moral and Competent Service Providers

Amna Kirmani, Rebecca W. Hamilton, Debora V. Thompson, & Shannon Lantzy
Article Snapshot
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Key Takeaways

​When choosing between service providers, consumers care about both competence and morality, but they tend to value competence more than morality.

Underdog positioning is more effective for highly moral service providers that are less competent than for less moral service providers that are highly competent.

Underdog positioning is particularly effective for brands and service providers positioned as being morally upstanding (i.e., honest, socially conscious, organic, or green).

​Article Snapshots: Executive Summaries from the Journal of Marketing​

Although consumers generally value competence more than morality when choosing between service providers, underdog positioning can help moral service providers overcome a deficit in competence.  



Research

Research in psychology shows that morality concerns dominate competence concerns in perceptions of other people. However, because service providers allow consumers to achieve task-related goals, such as managing their finances or buying a house, we predicted that consumers would be more willing to choose a competent, less moral provider over a less competent, more moral provider. Consumers will be more likely to choose the moral, less competent provider when that provider is positioned as an underdog. Underdog positioning will not, however, help the competent provider. 

Method

We use multiple methods to test our predictions. In Study 1, we content-analyze real online reviews to measure the extent to which consumers mention competence, warmth, and morality-related attributes when evaluating different types of service providers. Studies 2–5 use an experimental paradigm in which participants make choices between a highly competent but morally deficient service provider and a highly moral but less competent service provider. The providers vary in whether they are positioned as underdogs.

Findings

First, we find that online reviews of service providers overwhelmingly focus on competence and less so on either morality or warmth, suggesting that competence concerns dominate morality when choosing service providers. Our lab studies reinforce this finding; a competent, less moral service provider was preferred to a moral, less competent provider. In addition, we show that competence, warmth, and morality are distinct attributes. Finally, underdog positioning is more effective for moral providers overcoming a competence deficit than for competent providers overcoming a morality deficit.

Implications

Pursuit of task-related goals makes consumers willing to overlook moral violations when these violations are not directly related to the service being provided. Our findings also demonstrate that underdog positioning is effective for overcoming competence deficits but not for lapses in morality. Thus, underdog positioning may be particularly effective for brands that are positioned as moral (i.e., honest, socially conscious, organic, or green).


Questions for the Classroom

  • When is underdog positioning effective for brands?

  • When choosing celebrity endorsers, to what extent should firms focus on competence, morality. and warmth?

  • What types of attributes (competence, warmth, morality) do consumers emphasize in their reviews of service providers? What does this tell you about what matters to consumers?


Article Citation

Amna Kirmani, Rebecca W. Hamilton, Debora V. Thompson, and Shannon Lantzy (2017), “Doing Well Versus Doing Good: The Differential Effect of Underdog Positioning on Moral and Competent Service Providers,” Journal of Marketing, 81 (1), 103-117. 
doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1509/jm.15.0369 ​

Amna Kirmani is Professor of Marketing, Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland (e-mail: akirmani@rhsmith.umd.edu).

Rebecca W. Hamilton is Michael G. and Robin Psaros Chair in Business Administration and Professor of Marketing, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University (e-mail: Rebecca.Hamilton@georgetown.edu).

Debora V. Thompson is Beyer Family Associate Professor of Marketing, McDonough School of Business, Georgetown University (e-mail: dvt@georgetown.edu).

Shannon Lantzy received her PhD from the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland (e-mail: Shannon.Lantzy@gmail.com).


Author Bio:

 
Amna Kirmani, Rebecca W. Hamilton, Debora V. Thompson, & Shannon Lantzy
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