I am an assistant professor of marketing at Mays Business School, Texas A&M University researching consumer behavior and well-being with an emphasis on close, personal relationships. I use a wide range of tools—laboratory experiments, field studies, in-depth interviews, and analysis of archival data—to investigate the psychological processes underlying how consumers make decisions when taking care of their families and sharing experiences with relationship partners. I am originally from Lima, Peru. I received a Bachelor of Business Administration from Universidad de Lima (2007), an MBA from INCAE Business School (2009), and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Harvard Business School (2021).
Consumers Value Effort Over Ease When Caring for Close Others
Many products and services can make caregiving easier: from premade meals that help feed a hungry family to robo-cribs that automatically rock a crying baby to sleep. Although effort-reducing products might seem like the perfect solution to help consumers juggle their responsibilities, my recent research with Mary Steffel, Elanor Williams, and Mike Norton suggests that using these products to take care of loved ones may come with a cost: consumers feel they have not exerted enough effort.
Across nine experiments, we saw that consumers preferred putting more effort into caregiving. They also avoided products that were designed to make caregiving easier. For example, we found that consumers felt like better caregivers when they sent an elderly relative a handmade card rather than a premade one. We also found that people preferred making cookies for their partner that they mixed by hand rather than ones they made from frozen dough. And we found that parents responded better to a Facebook ad for the SNOO robo-crib when the ad acknowledged the effort that parents put into helping their babies sleep soundly rather than to an ad emphasizing how the SNOO could make bedtime easier.
This happens because people believe that putting in effort is an important way of showing how much they care, even when taking a shortcut can do an equally good job of meeting the recipient’s needs.
Our research also suggests how to make people feel better about using these products. Marketers can make effort-reducing products more appealing by acknowledging caregivers’ efforts rather than emphasizing how these products simplify caregiving. Most of all, caregivers should keep in mind that it’s the love that you put into caregiving, and not the effort, that matters.