Maslowska’s research investigates relationships between consumers and brands in the digital space

Ewa Maslowska

After taking a course in the psychology of advertising, Ewa Maslowska was inspired to learn more about persuasion techniques. Since then, she has pursued research to examine consumer behavior, online brand engagement, and the effects of personalized marketing. 

“I have always been interested in people’s cognitive processes,” said Maslowska, assistant professor of advertising. “That is why I decided to study psychology. I want to understand how people process information and make decisions, and how these processes are affected by environmental cues, being ads on social media or recommendations from other consumers in the form of online reviews.”

Many of Maslowska’s past research projects had a specific focus on online reviews, where she and her collaborators considered them from two perspectives. 

“First, we analyzed real-life data from different online stores to test the effects of various review features on sales. Second, we ran some experiments to better understand how consumers process reviews,” which include eye-tracking, she explained. 

As a postdoctoral student at Northwestern University, she worked with various companies to study the relationship between customer engagement and purchase behaviors using digital-trace data—data left behind by consumers’ online interactions, such as posts, likes, or product reviews.

“Together with colleagues from Northwestern University, we found, for example, that contrary to popular belief, more positive ratings do not simply result in higher sales, but the effect can be nonlinear, where the probability of purchase increases with rating to about 4.2-4.5 stars, but then decreases.”

The team also found that the effects of different review features interact with each other. In one of their studies, they showed that the effect of review rating on purchase probability is strongest when there are many reviews, the customer reads reviews, and the product is higher priced. 

Maslowska is currently working on several projects that further investigate the effects of online product reviews, and is developing a study to observe the characteristics of reviewers and how consumers can become motivated to write reviews.

She often takes a data-driven approach to investigate the effectiveness of marketing communications, as well as the relationship between various forms of consumer engagement and purchase behaviors. As a trained psychologist and communication scientist, she applies experimental and psychophysiological methods (such as eye tracking) to her research as well.

She is also continuing her investigation into personalized communication by studying personality-based targeting.

“Personalization has been defined in different ways, but often it has been used to describe a strategy of adding personally recognizable cues, such as the consumer’s name in the heading or body of a message,” Maslowska said. “We call it cue-based personalization. Such personalization does not change the persuasive content of a message. However, the increasing amounts of data about consumers and the new methods making the analysis of big data easier and faster allow advertisers to better understand consumers and tailor messages at a more individual level.”

Instead of relying on demographics, advertisers can adapt their messages to the specific consumers’ trait, such as personality. 

As a PhD candidate at the University of Amsterdam, Maslowska primarily focused on experimental research, and her dissertation explored how personalized marketing communication can impact consumers. She studied the relationship between the type of personalization and attention, information processing, attitude, intention, and behavior, while taking personal and situational factors into account.

She also showed that personalization may be successful, but only when perceived as personal, and that the effectiveness of personalization is moderated by consumers’ need for uniqueness, their privacy concerns, trust, and cultural background.

“With colleagues from the University of Koblenz-Landau and the University of Amsterdam, we studied how effective such trait-based personalization is,” Maslowska said. “We showed limited effects of personality matching. Matched messages led to increased intentions to engage with the post when they addressed specific persuasive susceptibilities (particularly toward authority influence). However, there were no consistent effects on consumers’ attitudes toward the advertised products.”

This fall, Maslowska is instructing Innovation in Advertising (ADV 460), a course that explores advertising in the digital era. Students will learn the basics of digital technologies, platforms, and measurements, and apply the learned concepts to a strategic planning process.

—Kimberly Belser, Communications and Marketing Intern