The University of Newcastle, Australia

Consumers, concerts and crows feet

From the wrinkles in a brand ambassador’s smile, to the way the product name sounds in your mouth, Dr Alicia Kulczynski studies the underlying factors that motivate consumer attitudes and behaviour.

Alicia is currently the Head of the Marketing and Tourism Discipline in the Newcastle Business School, and a Senior Lecturer of Marketing at the University of Newcastle.

Utilising her research expertise in consumer behaviour, branding, and advertising, Alicia designs marketing experiments that show how consumers react and behave in response to advertising and branding stimuli.

“I conduct engaged research with both local and international SME’s that is of value to end users, and I have conducted impactful research that has influenced the development of strategies and marketing efforts for large, international brands,” Alicia explains.

An early career researcher with an impressive collaboration and publication record, Alicia has published in international academic journals such as the International Journal of Research in Marketing, European Journal of Marketing, Psychology & Marketing and Journal of Brand Management.

The science of perception

Tracing Alicia’s career trajectory gives insight into how she became expert at this very specific science.

She first obtained undergraduate degrees in both Science (Forensic) and Arts (Communication Studies) from the University of Newcastle, then seamlessly combined these seemingly disparate interests to become a leading expert in consumer response, earning a PhD in Management (Marketing) in 2014.

“The thing that motivates me or excites me the most about my research is I get to combine my love for design with my academic ability and knowledge in marketing,” Alicia says.

Associate Professor Jasmina Ilicic (Monash) and Stacey Baxter (University of Sydney) are close collaborators with Alicia. After uniting as unknowns at an Australian and New Zealand Marketing Academy Conference in 2012, the three bonded over similar research interests. They have built an international reputation in record time working hard on fascinating aspects of the nuances of marketing.

Sourcing authenticity

Three specific areas of consumer response research make up the majority of Alicia’s study – the largest being understanding the influence of spokesperson characteristics on consumer evaluations of marketing communications.

A particularly interesting focus of Alicia’s is on the smile in relation to endorsement authenticity. Alicia and her collaborators have made significant advances in this area, finding it was possible to boost consumer perceptions of celebrity genuineness through the use of a particular smile in advertising.

“In relation to spokesperson and celebrity characteristics I have examined the effect of smiling, and the types of smiles, facial characteristics such as symmetry, characteristics of eyes, and hair colour, to name a few, on consumer evaluations of concepts such as genuineness, purity and source trustworthiness, source authenticity, attachment, and source credibility,” Alicia says.

“These in turn have flow on attitudinal and behavioural effects with implications for marketing practice.”

Valuing words and music

A second area of expertise for Alicia is the use of psycholinguistics (sounds in words) in branding. Her work in this area includes collaborative investigations into the responses of children to pseudohompohone priming, and phonetic symbolism in branding.

“I have looked at how the sounds in words, names, and brand names influence consumer evaluations of product attributes,” Alicia says.

“Sounds in words and pictures can prime perceptions of attributes, brand meaning, attitudes, desire, and purchase intention.”

Thirdly, Alicia has studied consumer behaviour in relation to popular music concert attendance.

“This year I was contacted by the Director of Marketing and Communications for the world’s largest music festival brand with headquarters in Miami, Florida acknowledging my impact to changing practice in the field,” Alicia says.

It was very affirming to be told that my research works “particularly on motivations for concert attendance, have been invaluable in the development of our strategies and in organizing our marketing efforts” by Ultra Music Festival and Ultra Worldwide’s Albert Berdellans.

Marketing health

Whilst the majority of Alicia’s research is commercial and conducted to assist brand managers and advertisers, it spans many contexts, such as communicating with children, message strategies for promoting healthy eating, and cause related marketing.

Most recently, Alicia has been invited, as a consumer behaviour and marketing expert, to partner with a Swedish SME on a project on market investigation of a diabetes management system in Australia.

“For this project I will be leading activities that drive understanding the preferences of patients and health care professionals, including assessing consumer attitudes towards the diabetes technology, and intention to adopt the technology before introduction to the Australian market.”

Alicia’s end goal is to become a transdisciplinary expert, combining her STEMM mindset and research prowess with her ability to collaborate with a broader group of stakeholders in order to assist research in areas that will make a difference.

“All humans are consumers, and through my research I am able to gain a solid understanding of human behaviour.”

“Knowing their preferences and how humans respond to different kinds of stimuli is beneficial to many areas of research outside of marketing.”