School of Business

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Author: Megan Nash

Meet Jodie L. Ferguson, Ph.D., Marketing professor and executive director of RVA Views at VCU Business. Driven by a lifelong fascination with consumer behavior and brand connections, her background in experiential marketing and collaboration with Fortune 500 brands have paved the way for current research. But it doesn’t stop there – beyond the “class-lab,” find out what historical mystery piques her curiosity and what happens when you find “worldly” inspiration in the unexpected.

Let’s get started!

Where can we find you on the VCU map?

You can find me at the VCU School of Business (Snead Hall), Room B3167.

Can you share a bit about your educational journey? Where did you go to school, and what was your major?

I received my B.S. in Marketing from Ohio State University and my MBA and PhD in Marketing from Georgia State University.

What inspired you to pursue a career in your field, and how has your journey evolved over the years? 

I have always been interested in how people respond to brands, not just in purchasing and consuming products, but in making personal connections with brands. For example, I have a strong affinity for Gatorade. Not only do I enjoy drinking lemon-lime when I’m active and thirsty, but I have positive memories of Gatorade on the sidelines when I played sports in high school and college. For me, the Gatorade brand means more to me than just a drink choice. 

My practical experience was in the field of experiential marketing, where marketers created staged experiences to build positive relationships with consumers. In that industry we worked with Fortune 500 brands to create personal interactions in places such as fairs, sporting events and beaches where consumers were likely to be open to engage with branded representatives in a fun and social way. 

The research I conduct now looks at how marketing actions impact consumer attitudes and behaviors. Most of my research involves experiments where we isolate simple variations in marketing messages to see effects on consumer responses. In this way, we can see how the decisions marketers make about advertisements or product packaging can affect people’s opinions and engagement with the brand in the future.

Could you describe your current research or projects? What excites you most about them?

Traditional behavioral marketing research has utilized subjective data to examine marketing phenomena. For example, to measure if a person is satisfied with their meal at a restaurant, the manager may have a survey that asks “On a scale of one to five, how satisfied are you with your meal?”. This satisfaction question is subjective because it is up to the person to interpret what “satisfied” means to them and apply that meaning to their meal experience. We as researchers can never know the true level of satisfaction as each survey respondent may be interpreting the question differently. Therefore, marketing researchers are turning to more objective measures to understand how people respond to marketing decisions. 

Objective measurement involves assessing properties that can be verified, such as asking a person’s age. In marketing research, we can look at objective properties such as sales and actual consumption behaviors. Additionally, we can use physiological measurements to see how the body responds to marketing stimuli.

I currently serve as executive director of RVA Views, a research and marketing insights initiative in the VCU School of Business, along with Dr. Mayoor Mohan. Within RVA Views is a behavioral research laboratory that features two eye tracking stations. We use eye tracking as an objective measure of people’s responses to things like advertisement images and messages. For example, we conducted research on business professionals’ eye movements when a celebrity’s image is present in a print advertisement. When a celebrity is present in an advertisement, people’s eyes fixate more times on the advertisement than if a non-celebrity person is in the ad. This can be impactful for marketers whose promotional objective is to get buyers to pay attention to an ad.

Let’s switch gears for a moment …

If you could time-travel to any historical period for a day, which era would you choose and why?

It would be interesting to be present when the first U.S. flag was being discussed and created. While I always pictured Betsy Ross stitching on the stars and stripes, historians note that the origins of the original flag are unknown. The decisions for the colors, shapes and layout of the flag were so purposefully made. The flag is an intriguing example of a brand mark that has stood the test of time. 

What’s the most unexpected or unconventional place where you’ve found inspiration for your academic work?

Recently, I had paint contractors paint several rooms in my house. The contractors used Sherwin Williams paint in the lovely shade of “Worldly Gray.” After work was completed, the painters left a few half-empty cans with me in case I needed to touch up the walls. Interestingly, the cans of paint had very plain, colorless, simple packing labels. It got me thinking…What do consumers think about the plain labels on the leftover cans? Does the look of the labeling influence future paint purchases? Would consumer attitudes toward Sherwin Williams change if the labels were more colorful, creative, and consumer-friendly? 

This situation example with the paint cans is referred to as “B2B2C”, or business-to-business-to-consumer. In essence, a product is targeted and sold to another business, but that same product eventually ends up in the possession of a consumer. In my example, the plain-labeled paint cans were sold from Sherwin Williams to the painter, but the cans ended up in Ferguson’s hands. The labeling could lead to less positive opinions about the brand and purchasing behaviors. My co-authors and I are currently exploring B2B2C and its effects on consumer responses in a series of experiments.

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