Marketing professor focuses on 'the greater good'

March 25, 2022

Ethics. Inclusivity. Societal well-being.

Maura Scott makes those concepts the focus of her award-winning research into, among other topics, ways in which organizations can simultaneously increase profits and make life better for their customers, particularly those from vulnerable populations.

Scott, the Persis E. Rockwood Professor of Marketing in the College of Business, says her approach reflects her vision of using "rigorous, inclusive scholarly research to help improve consumers' financial and health decision-making and well-being, and to underscore the role firms can play in advancing the greater good."

She continues to win prestigious awards and grants for her research and scholarship, including the American Marketing Association's 2021 Williams-Qualls-Spratlen Multicultural Mentoring Award of Excellence. She is president-elect of the AMA's academic council and joint editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing.

Scott recently took time to share more with us about her research and vision.

Q: Please summarize your vision for business interests and societal well-being, particularly among vulnerable populations.
Ethics and good business decision-making can and should go hand in hand. As a marketing scholar, I am very interested in studying how organizations can build strong bonds with customers that are both beneficial for the customer and profitable for the firm. It is my view that when organizations are working toward the goals and interests of the consumer, that consumer will be more loyal, in terms of repurchasing from the firm and recommending the firm to others. This perspective suggests that it is in firms' interests to develop offerings that are in consumers' interests and promote consumers' well-being.

Q: Could you elaborate on inclusivity as one of your research themes?
Firms are increasingly challenged to expand their business, both by developing deeper relationships with existing customers and expanding their customer base to include new customer segments. In doing so, it is important to recognize that the needs of existing customers are constantly evolving, and new customer segments may have altogether different needs, goals and behaviors.

In my own research, I am interested in increasing access to quality health care for all consumers. Prior research has established that higher levels of patient engagement can lead to positive health outcomes and lower health-care costs. In a recent project, my coauthors and I examined how consumers differ in their health-care engagement depending on the extent to which their health condition was more or less stigmatized. Some illnesses, such as those relating to mental and sexual health, can be highly stigmatized. The extent to which a health condition is stigmatized can be based on factors such as whether the illness is perceived as visible, contagious, controllable and permanent.

As you might imagine, individuals faced with highly stigmatized illnesses perceive the same marketing messages very differently than those with less-stigmatized illnesses; this is because they feel vulnerable and are actively looking out for threatening cues. Because of this, patients with stigmatized illnesses tend to be reluctant to interact with others about their health condition, even if it could lead to better health outcomes. Thus, for health-care providers, a 'one size fits all' approach to patient engagement cannot work. In our research, we found that people with highly stigmatized illnesses would be more likely to engage in an online health-care community when they receive marketing messages indicating that the others in the community share their health condition; when the composition of the community was ambiguous, engagement among this patient segment dropped.

Thus, one approach to increasing inclusivity among individuals with stigmatized illnesses is to recognize that their unique journey requires different types of information, and such tailored messages can help increase their patient engagement.  

Q: What would you say is driving increased conversation and scholarship on the topic of responsible marketing?
A: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UN SDGs) provide one lens for businesses and researchers to prioritize their work. Those goals propose global partnership among countries and businesses to help promote peace and prosperity for all people in the world. These goals have served as a guide for my research, teaching and service. We are increasingly seeing collaborations between scholars, businesses and policymakers to utilize rigorous scholarly research approaches to tackle the grand challenges we face in society, particularly as they relate to helping promote better health and financial stability among the most vulnerable in our communities.

Q: In what ways besides teaching and research do you feel you're helping to guide direction of responsible marketing and consumer and societal well-being?
In my role as joint editor-in-chief of the Journal of Public Policy & Marketing (JPP&M), it is my responsibility to set an agenda for the research priorities in the journal. JPP&M holds a distinct place in the business academic community because it is the leading journal worldwide that focuses on topics at the intersection of (a) business and marketing, (b) public policy and (c) individual, societal and environmental well-being. In collaboration with my joint editor, Dr. Kelly Martin (Colorado State University), we developed a strategic plan for our editorship, which has a foundation in the idea of inclusivity. That is, we recognize that the impact, rigor and relevance of the scholarly conversation will be strengthened when there are varied perspectives included. For us that meant expanding the scope of topics published and authors represented in the journal. JPP&M is celebrating its 40th year and has a long history of tackling pressing societal issues very much aligned with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (e.g., business strategies to tackle climate change, understanding the role of race and ethnicity in the marketplace, advancing business practices against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic). As business professors, we have a responsibility to generate and disseminate knowledge that can help inform and advance business, as well as society's greater good. We do this by addressing real-world research problems that can help improve society.

Q: What are you seeing and hearing from students regarding themes such as consumer well-being, inclusivity and other socially responsible marketing?
Increasingly, I find that FSU marketing students are very interested in the types of topics we are studying in our research around well-being and the U.N.'s Sustainable Development Goals. These bright and hard-working students are interested in having successful careers, and they realize they have options. Many want to work for organizations that not only offer upward mobility, but that also demonstrate ethics, respect and compassion in terms of how they treat individuals, communities and the environment.

Q: In what ways would you say your work is making a difference?
In a recent project, my coauthors and I studied how financial institutions can be more inclusive to poor communities. Consumers living in low-income census areas and consumers of color are more likely to live in so-called 'banking deserts,' which are vulnerable communities that have inadequate or no access to mainstream banks. Such consumers may be subject to using financial services that employ predatory tactics (e.g., 'payday loan,' 'check cashing' and 'pawn shop' services). Consumers living in banking desert communities are typically excluded from research participant samples and firms' targeting strategies.

Our research helps to bring such consumers' voices and perspectives to the pages of the marketing literature, and ultimately to the classroom, managers, and policy makers. We worked in partnership with a large financial institution to conduct a field survey and a controlled field experiment, which demonstrate that communally oriented marketing communications emphasizing the benefits of bank patronage to the community are better at engaging consumers living in banking deserts than are personally oriented communications emphasizing benefits only to oneself. In other words, consumers living in banking deserts are more interested in engaging with financial institutions that can both support the consumers' personal financial goals while also playing an important role in the consumers' communities.

We find that this approach can improve financial inclusion while also increasing the viability of serving banking deserts. The result is a win-win-win for under-served consumers, their communities, and financial service organizations. In this way, the research helps to develop new knowledge that not only benefits businesses, but also broader society.