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Branding Drives Consumers

Published: March 1, 2012

If you ask Risto Moisio, companies’ marketing efforts deeply affect the way consumers think and experience brands. An assistant professor in The College of Business Administration’s Marketing Department, Moisio teaches consumer behavior and says today’s consumer is bombarded with an onslaught of advertising that sometimes makes it difficult to make a rational decision.

According to Moisio, people tend to believe they have their own personal history to draw from when making decisions, but they are limited in how they can think about branded experiences, whether those be products, services or experiences.

“Branding shapes the way we not only think about the brand, but the way we experience it too,” he said. “Marketing is a very powerful influence over people and even if people think they are not affected, they might be deeply affected by branding.”

In attempts to learn about marketing, students in his consumer behavior classes try to figure out the subconscious dimension of brand relationships.

“We try to understand how people subconsciously think about brands,” he said. “It’s always surprising that there’s something else going on behind the scenes that we don’t consciously recognize. But when you dig deeper, you see that there are other things that are more important, or other things are less important than you think they are.”

As a kid growing up in Finland, Moisio had narrowed his career choices down to two — chemist or psychoanalyst. And, although he didn’t specifically go into either field, he feels he combined them in his current career.

“I think they came together for me because dealing with behavior is kind of like being a psychoanalyst and the chemistry part is the science part of consumer behavior,” he said. “We’re doing research and experiments and trying to figure out what is happening.”

Moisio earned a BBA from Satakunta Polytechnic in Finland in 1998 and his M.Sc. from the University of Southern Denmark in 2001. While he was in college in Denmark, his educational life changed course following a presentation he attended given by two professors from the University of Nebraska. Moisio ended up going to the University of Nebraska-Lincoln for his doctorate and earning a Ph.D. in marketing in 2007.

And, although he earned his doctorate in the Midwest, Moisio always wanted to land in Southern California. Even as a high school student, he had plans to visit California, looking to go to San Diego as an exchange student.

“I had it all planned out. I had been planning a long time to get here, so this was in the works for at least 10 years,” he said of his finally putting roots in the Golden State. “I have always loved the water and that was one of the attraction points. I have an emotional connection to the ocean or sea.” Talk about nature’s branding.

Moisio was exhilarated when he got an offer from CSULB. Aside from the excitement of becoming a part of a marketing department for which he had great respect, joining CSULB turned out a perfect fit. If you look at pictures on his website and see him surfing, it is obvious why living and working in Long Beach was his top preference, which it was.

After a few months following the move to California and adjusting to the new workplace and life, Moisio took up surfing. “I ended up waiting a couple of months to start surfing. In October 2007, I purchased a board and got up on the first wave.”

Risto Moisio
PHOTO BY DAVID J. NELSON
Risto Moisio

Teaching consumer behavior classes to college students is one thing, but Moisio feels that consumers, American consumers in particular, are out there purchasing on emotion, rather than being rational.

“Consumer behavior is about emotional connections to all kinds of things. It’s the underlying motivation or the rationales for things,” he said. Yet, the enchantment of branding has its downside, according to Moisio: “Everybody’s got to think about not being tempted. Do you really need that iPad or can you wait? Will kids be happier if you don’t buy them a game, but instead a ticket to Disneyland or a basketball game? Research tells us that experiences are much more meaningful than possessions.”

He also admits that sometimes consumers can make very good choices very rapidly, which is a paradox too.

“You can make very good decisions quickly or make very bad decisions slowly as well,” he said. “Both happen. Some of the choices you make don’t need to be accurate to make a good choice. We talk about the ‘fits like a glove’ experience, but if you put a lot of effort into research and considerations ahead of time then you can make a choice relatively quickly and relatively accurate when the time comes.

“When you are not a skilled consumer and have not put in the hours of thinking through the choices and alternatives, you will be tempted to buy,” he added, “but when you put in the hours, that allows you to make very good decisions as compared to someone who doesn’t think about it at all and then just grabs something that is on sale and realizes later it’s not really what they wanted.”

Moisio enjoys teaching and interacting with students, and gets very excited about the things he teaches.

“Everyone has room to grow and I’m growing every semester,” he said. “You have to keep students engaged. I walk around all the time in the classroom. I want them to know I am there. I cannot be there if I am just standing in the front talking, so I am always racing back and forth. You have to keep it real because it’s so easy for students to tune out, especially in a large classroom. I don’t want to be in a class where I’m the only person talking.”