By: Elizabeth A. Minton, PhD
Religion and Marketing
Religion is one of those taboo topics that we’re not supposed to talk about in public, despite over 70% of the world adhering to some kind of religious belief. Even more so, mixing the sacred and the secular is something that should be a sin in itself. That’s what I do on a daily basis. I am fascinated by how a consumer’s belief system influences their behavior.
I take note to say “belief system” here because every consumer carries a belief system, regardless of whether or not they describe themselves as religious. An atheist carries the belief that a god or divine being does not exist and cares more about preserving the planet for future generations (think sustainability). Of course, these are generalizations, but across large samples, there are similarities within belief system groups that can be identified.
Our Religion & Marketing Review Book
In a recent book I coauthored with Dr. Lynn Kahle, “Belief Systems, Religion, and Behavioral Economics: Marketing in Multicultural Environments,” we review the prior research on belief system’s influence on consumers and marketing practices. We find that consumer’s belief systems influence consumption decisions, voting practices, reaction to pro-social messages and public policy communications, as well as donating behavior.
From a marketer’s perspective, we find five key behaviors to successfully operate in the growing diverse, international marketplace: know your customer, recognize adherence/religiosity level, be conscious of limited consumer time, address religious community, and be ready for change. To help aspiring marketers (i.e., marketing students), we developed three case studies at the end of our book that raise challenges of holiday advertising, sustainable policy, and election ads. Each are areas where beliefs are commonly targeted, but there is no clear consensus on how to effectively address these beliefs in a caring and non-manipulative way.
I hope through this book and my other research that I can inform the marketing community and consumers alike to be more aware of the broad-reaching influence that religion plays on every day behavior. My passion in studying religion began with several summer backpacking trips around Europe and Asia, realizing the great influence that religion has on everyday behavior, including those behaviors in the marketplace.
My Other Religion & Marketing Research
Speaking of other behaviors in the marketplace, my research outside of the review book on religion and marketing has focused on discovering the relationship between belief systems and sustainability as well as how religiosity influences trust in the marketplace.
My studies on sustainability find that Western religious consumers are generally less sustainable than Eastern religious consumers given that Eastern religions carry a pantheistic view of nature where god or spirits are part of nature (e.g., a rock or water can be a god). In contrast, Western religions generally believe in one main god that is not directly present in elements of nature.
With regard to religion and trust, I got an article published in the Journal of Advertising a few months ago which details this relationship. The findings show that highly religious consumers are more trusting of advertising, which leads to higher specific brand trust, ultimately leading to higher purchase intentions and brand attitude. Scary! It means that religious people are more susceptible to deception. Interestingly, I often ask people after running studies what they think of my findings, and they almost always say they don’t believe they are true. Yet, findings from 10+ studies show the exact same findings – the more religious you are, the more trusting you are.
Along with exploring religion’s influence on marketing, I also examine how to encourage other pro-social behaviors (e.g., eating healthier, recycling more). I desire to understand marketing so as to make a positive influence on consumers.
Teaching here at UW
Outside of research, I teach Marketing Management and Advanced Marketing Management here at UW’s College of Business. My classes are very much focused on applying theories and knowledge gained in prior classes. The central component of these courses is a real-world consulting project where local clients present challenges in their marketing practices, and students develop solutions and present these to the clients at the end of the term.
Laramie & My Personal Life
Personally, I love UW, Laramie, and Wyoming. I just moved here in the fall of last year from Oregon where I finished my PhD in marketing from the University of Oregon. I am originally from Alaska – grew up there, worked in the tourism industry for many years. After living in Oregon for several years, I was ready to get back to a place with real winters. I am always excited to see the first snow fall here. Great for skate skiing and the occasional run down the sledding hill. In the summer, my husband and I find ourselves climbing at Vedauwoo, hiking in the Snowies, and hope to do some mountaineering in the Rockies this summer.
If you find me out on the trails, just be ready for me to ask you how your belief system influences your outdoor practices. Whether it is feeling close to your god’s creation, worshipping your spirits in the natural surroundings, or preserving nature for generations to come, your belief system is vital in everything you do.
With that being said, do you think your belief system influences you as a consumer? Why or why not?