Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



First Advisor

C. Page Morea

Second Advisor

John G. Lynch

Third Advisor

Margaret C. Campbell

Fourth Advisor

Susan J. Grant

Fifth Advisor

Lawrence E. Williams


While researchers have documented the premium consumers place on these products, little research has examined the meaning that these products hold for consumers. In essay 1, I identify the factors that influence both the meaning that consumers build into their customized products and the composition of that meaning (i.e., public versus private). Using two studies that engage participants in real customization tasks, I find that consumers' identity motives interact with factors under the firm's control (e.g., design freedom) to influence product meaning, product evaluations, and satisfaction with customized products. In two additional studies, I ask other consumer to evaluate the designs. These measures are then used to assess the degree to which those customized products contain public and private meaning. By pairing these studies, I examine the relationship between the meaning that a product holds for the individual who created it and the meaning that it communicates to others. Together, four studies demonstrate that consumers' identity-based motivations influence both the amount and the type of meaning that consumers build into their products.

While much of the existing consumer behavior literature on signaling focuses on how consumers signal their identity to others (e.g., Berger and Heath 2007), the second essay of my dissertation examines how consumers may also use products to signal information to themselves (i.e., self-signal). Prior research (e.g., Townsend and Sood 2010) examines how choosing aesthetically pleasing products influences self-evaluations, but to my knowledge, no research has looked at how simply using attractive products influences self-evaluations and evaluations of resulting creations (i.e., cookies made with attractive vs. unattractive cooking utensils). In two studies, I find that even in seemingly mundane product categories (i.e., measuring spoons and writing paper), simply using aesthetically pleasing products may signal positive information about a consumer to himself. This effect is strongest when domain uncertainty is low and when the task is completed in private.


Sixth advisor: Darren W. Dahl.

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