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You decide: Making a good decision or avoiding a bad one?

University of Chicago Press Journals

We feel good about a purchase if we believe we've made a decision that's in line with our goals. A new study in the Journal of Consumer Research examines the ways consumers evaluate brand features to make choices.

"When there is a fit between people's goals and how information is acquired, these feelings are positive and thus enhance brand evaluations," write authors Echo Wen Wan (University of Hong Kong), Jiewen Hong (Hong Kong University of Science and Technology), and Brian Sternthal (Northwestern University).

According to the researchers, even seemingly complicated decisions fall into two categories: Either we want to make a good decision that will help us get ahead in our life--the accomplishment goal--or we want to avoid making a mistake--the safety goal. Depending on the situation, we may switch decision processes.

In four separate studies carried out in Hong Kong and Chicago, the authors tested subjects' reactions to varying marketing copy to determine how favorably they would rate products. They found that participants with accomplishment goals responded more positively to ads that conveyed a sense of rapid progress. An example of this would be reporting several brand features on each of several successive pages of a magazine.

"Those whose goal was accomplishment evaluated the brand more favorably when information was acquired in a manner that prompted a sense of rapid progress toward a choice than when the acquisition was perceived to provide an opportunity to consider all of the information in detail. In contrast, those with a safety goal evaluated the brand more favorably when they perceived that they had an opportunity to consider all information in detail," the authors explain.

"These findings have important implications for designing persuasive messages," write the authors. They believe marketers could boost product perceptions and potential sales by matching ad strategies to consumers' likely goals. For example, since toothpastes typically are used to prevent tooth decay (a safety goal), ads should use a simultaneous presentation of information. Teeth whiteners, which are used to gain a brighter smile (a cosmetic accomplishment), should be advertised in ways that make consumers perceive rapid progress in their decision processes.

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Echo Wen Wan, Jiewen Hong, and Brian Sternthal. "The Effect of Regulatory Orientation and Decision Strategy on Brand Judgments." Journal of Consumer Research: April 2009.

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