Steven Sweldens appointed RSM Professor of Consumer Behavior and Marketing

Understanding what customers think, do and want is key to business success. Steven Sweldens has been appointed as endowed professor of consumer behavior and marketing at Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) to lead research focusing on finding out what consumers themselves are often unaware of; those factors that escape the conscious attention. His chair, a new position created to reflect that customer centricity and marketing have become more important for organisations’ success, is endowed by the Erasmus Trust Fund (Erasmus Trustfonds) and was established on 1 May 2017.

“Success in marketing and business more generally has always depended on acquiring an intimate understanding of what your customers think, do and want. Recent evolutions in technology, social media use and society have made traditional boundaries between firms and customers evaporate. As a result, companies need ever deeper understanding of their customers and the consumers at the end of the value chain,” says Professor Sweldens.


“Understanding consumers in detail is, unfortunately, easier said than done. To understand the behaviour of your customers, you need to understand their thoughts, their psychology. However, thought processes can never be directly observed, despite several promising evolutions in the field of neuro-marketing. Therefore we must rely on careful experimental manipulations of environmental variables to infer consumers’ wants, needs and thoughts underlying their observable behaviours. I have specialised in this experimental approach to study consumer psychology and found it extremely rewarding throughout my career.”


“A particular challenge lies in the fact that consumers themselves are often unaware of the various factors influencing their behaviour. I strongly believe that the majority of our purchase decisions are influenced by factors escaping our conscious attention, be they our habits, visceral stimuli, mood, judgmental biases, opinions of others, or the vast array of subtle influence attempts by marketers.”


“Charting the power and impact of these stimuli and thought processes that operate outside our awareness is of paramount importance, both to inform businesses and marketers of how consumers can be influenced, but also, and perhaps even more pressingly, to inform regulators on areas where consumers need protection. Methodologically, however, studying the ‘unconscious’ is one of the toughest nuts to crack in science. Which is exactly why I love it,” Sweldens says.


Professor Sweldens’ research fits in well within this theme. He is best known for his work outlining the mental processes through which advertising changes brand attitudes, coming up with innovative solutions to separate conscious from unconscious influences in this domain. His research also investigated other fundamental drivers of consumption behaviour, such as consumers’ self-control ability, their susceptibility to normative social influence, and their tendencies to protect their egos when under threat. His most recent work investigates whether commonly used principles in advertising have the potential to change consumers’ attitudes and behaviours uncontrollably.


Steven Sweldens obtained a master degree in theoretical and experimental psychology from the Catholic University of Leuven in 2004, and a PhD in marketing from Erasmus University Rotterdam in 2009. He then spent six years as a professor at INSEAD Business School in France and returned to RSM as an associate professor of marketing in 2014.


He is the recipient of several international awards. His dissertation research, conducted at Erasmus University, was lauded as the best in Europe by the European Marketing Academy (EMAC) and consultancy firm McKinsey, and was a finalist in the global ranking of marketing dissertations by the American Marketing Association. His case study on the Renova Paper Company won top honours as the best new case study across business disciplines in 2012. While at INSEAD, he received the Dean’s commendation for excellence in MBA teaching.


Professor Sweldens has published his work in the most prestigious journals in marketing and psychology, such as the Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Experimental Psychology: General, Personality and Social Psychology Review, and Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes. He serves as on the editorial board of the Journal of Consumer Research.


He currently teaches the core marketing courses in RSM's MBA and Executive MBA programmes. Professor Sweldens still regularly collaborates with faculty and students at INSEAD, where he is still affiliated as a distinguished research fellow.


Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top 10 business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.


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