Stepping Outside the Box

PROVO, Utah – Oct 08, 2020 – As a former singer in the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square, Jeff Larson recognizes the value of carefully following instructions as he and his fellow choir members must follow their conductor precisely in order to create beautiful music. However, as an associate professor of marketing at the BYU Marriott School of Business, he encourages his students to look beyond the instructions they’re given and use their unique abilities to create digital marketing strategies that are new and different.

Larson teaches students that they can think outside the box in the digital marketing world. “In digital marketing classes, I show my students that even though there's a particular way to do things, they also should figure things out themselves. The same formulas don’t always work in every situation, and there’s a lot of room for variability in what they do,” he says.

In fact, Larson’s journey to become a professor of marketing came from his own personal step outside the box and desire to try new things. He started his academic journey as an undergraduate student at BYU studying actuarial science. While he had a job lined up after graduation, he decided to look at graduate school programs. One conversation with a professor changed the trajectory of his career.

“I went to talk to Gilbert Fellingham, a professor in the statistics department at BYU, about the possibility of doing a master's degree. He had received an email from a professor of marketing who came from a statistics background, and the school he was at was recruiting undergrads from quantitatively oriented disciplines such as statistics and engineering to do a PhD in marketing,” says Larson. “When he mentioned that email, something clicked, and I decided to look into a PhD in marketing.”

Both before and after earning his PhD from the University of Pennsylvania, Larson has designed research that challenges previously held assumptions about the behavior and knowledge of the average consumer. He is also interested in how expertise could affect an individual’s analysis of a situation.

One of his research projects looked at the judging capabilities of beginner, intermediate, and expert dancers at an official ballroom dance competition hosted by BYU. Larson and his colleague Darron Billeter, an associate professor of marketing at BYU Marriott, found that intermediate dancers judged the beginners better than did expert dancers. The study suggests that, because those dancers had been beginners themselves not long before the competition, they found it easier to spot the differences in dancing ability than the experts who were further removed from the beginner stage.

Another one of Larson’s research projects investigated the impact that looking at pictures of food had on the actual taste of food. Larson conducted this research with Ryan Elder, an associate professor of marketing at BYU Marriott and Joseph Redden, a professor at the University of Minnesota. “We looked at satiation from mental simulation, which is the idea that if you look at a picture of food, the process in your brain is simulating the taste,” he says. “We found in our research that if people simulate the taste, they can actually get tired of the taste. People who looked at pictures of salty foods didn’t like the taste of salted peanuts as much as they did before looking at the pictures.” The team’s insights were featured on Good Morning America and CBS This Morning.

Larson plans to continue breaking the mold and answering the questions that most interest him. “In my research, I jump around to a variety of topics,” he says. “I pursue research that I find interesting and that I think will contribute to the world.” As he challenges assumptions and finds new insights, he will continue to break the mold to add new knowledge to the world.

Jeff Larson
Jeff Larson
Larson singing with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square
Larson sang with the Tabernacle Choir at Temple Square until four years ago when his third child was born. Photo courtesy of Jeff Larson.
Larson and Ryan Elder appear on CBS This Morning to discuss the results of their research.
Larson and Ryan Elder present the results of their research on CBS This Morning. Photo courtesy of Jeff Larson

Media Contact: Chad Little: (801) 422-1512
Writer: Kenna Pierce