• 4 minute read

The Power of Personal

How providing information brings meaning to both consumers and producers in today’s world

By Huang Feifei, PhD Candidate, Department of Marketing, CUHK Business School

Since the Industrial Revolution, technology has improved the well-being of both producers, whose incomes have increased through greater productivity, and consumers, who have benefited through greater availability and lower prices of consumer goods. However, technology has come at the cost of alienation between consumers and producers, as well as between consumers and production.

“In an impersonal production system, producer and consumers feel alienated from each other. Production and consumption are devoid of meaning and producers and consumers may even feel objectified,” said Stijn M.J. van Osselaer, S.C. Johnson Professor of Marketing from Cornell University.

In a seminar organized by CUHK Business School’s Department of Marketing, Prof. van Osselaer shared the findings from a research program investigating the effects of reducing this alienation. In his presentation called “The Power of Personal”, he shared the insights from a series of research investigating how to make production and consumption more meaningful through connecting the consumer and the producer. “The Power of Personal” was presented both at the EMAC conference in Oslo and at the Society for Consumer Psychology conference in Florida in 2016.

Knowing Who Produce For You

“From the perspective of producers, production that separates producers from consumers devoids production of meaning and objectifies the producer. However, identifying producers information makes producer feel more human, as it person-izes the producer,” said Prof. van Osselaer.

On the contrary, identifying information of producers will have substantial effects on work enjoyment and satisfaction; it will also help to increase the quality and creativity of work.

His experiments included workers performing different tasks (e.g. drawing pictures or making handicrafts) and the findings have consistently proved that for those workers who can be identified for their own work, both the creativity and enjoyment when conducting the work increased extensively.

These findings are beneficial for the producers. But what if consumers know who made the products?

“Consumers may prefer to know who made the products they buy. The information may influence consumer choice and the willingness to pay more and even increase the enjoyment and perceived quality of products,” he said.

In an experiment collaborated with a cookie seller Kekswerkstatt, the results showed that when consumers were given specific information about the baker (besides the general information of production), they were more willing to pay for a higher price for the cookies of an increase by more than 20 percent. Thus, identifying information about producers has substantial influence on both producers and consumers.

“Consumers may prefer to know who made the products they buy. The information may influence consumer choice and the willingness to pay more and even increase the enjoyment and perceived quality of products.” – Prof. Stijn M.J. van Osselaer

Knowing Who You Produce For

Prof. van Osselaer went on further and asked: “What if producers know who they are producing for?”

One of his experiments answered the question. In the experiment, workers were asked to make birthday cards to an anonymous child or to a girl with a name and specific personal information. As a result, the quality of the birthday cards made for those with names and specific information was higher than the cards made for anonymous children. Thus, when producers know who they are producing their products for, the quality of products will be improved.

“If that was the case, would producers having information of consumers also have any effect on consumers themselves?” he asked. “Let’s think about Starbucks. What will happen to consumers when they get a cup with their own name instead of a number?”

To find out the effect, he conducted a field study in the campus of Cornell University. Two cafes were invited to participate in the experiment. One cafe called their customers by names while the other called them by numbers. The results showed that customers felt more objectified when they were called by numbers instead of names. What’s more important, customers felt more satisfied when they were called by their names.

“In general, consumers prefer producers to know who they are,” he said.

However, there could be negative effects to more consumers’ information, he warned.

“Some consumers may be concerned about privacy issues, so having more personal information may not always be a good idea,” he said.

“Identifying information of either producers or consumers will influence both producers and customers. Unlike in an impersonal production system, to make production and consumption more meaningful, they need to be embedded in social or semi-social connections. The use of technology in today’s businesses can impede such connection, but it can also facilitate them. Simple interventions can be implemented at scale to person-ized production and consumption,” he concluded.

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