When it comes to marketing, customers must watch the information gap

By: Stephen D'Angelo
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Marketers have a choice of what to tell consumers, and consumers must consider what they are told or not told, says Sunita Sah, associate professor of management and organizations. Based on evidence found through her research, Sah warns that customers must be aware of potential gaps in information.

Sunita Sah, associate professor of management and organizations at Johnson.
Sunita Sah, associate professor of management and organizations.

Across six experiments, Sah and her co-author showed that consumers fail to differentiate between deliberate and nondeliberate missing information—known as ‘strategic naiveté’—and make generous conclusions when they do notice missing information is deliberately withheld—dubbed ‘charitability.’ They also show how marketers can take advantage of this by withholding information.

Sah investigated both sides to (a) show the effects of interventions to encourage consumers to consider deliberate nondisclosure in a less naïve and charitable fashion, (b) demonstrate when marketers should disclose (or not) if consumers are naïve and charitable (i.e., breakeven points), and (c) explore the reasons marketers give for (non)disclosure as well as consumers’ thoughts on why information is missing. Consumers respond differently to distinct but theoretically equivalent framings that increase the salience of nondisclosure. Only when nondisclosure was highly salient, and consumers could compare multiple profiles side by side, did consumers believe the nondisclosed information to be the worst possible.

Faculty expertise

Sah’s research is focused on ethics, influence, and advice. Specific topics include trust, advisor-advisee relationships, conflicts of interest, institutional corruption, transparency, disclosure, improving decisions, influence, and compliance. In particular, she researches how professionals who give advice, as well as recipients who receive advice, alter their behavior as a result of conflicts of interest and disclosure policies.

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