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Eric VanEpps: New Marketing Faculty Q&A

Sep 7, 2023
Innately curious and with a desire to help, Vanderbilt Business' new marketing faculty member, Eric VanEpps, helps people make better choices by researching judgment and decision-making

By Lacie Blankenship

Pictured: Eric VanEpps, Vanderbilt Business Associate Professor of Marketing

Eric VanEpps, Associate Professor of Marketing, Vanderbilt Business

Eric VanEpps, Vanderbilt Business Associate Professor of Marketing, earned a PhD and MS in Behavioral Decision Research from Carnegie Mellon University and a BA in Psychology and Leadership Studies from the University of Richmond. Before coming to Vanderbilt, VanEpps served 6 years as an Assistant Professor of Marketing at the University of Utah. VanEpps’ research focuses on consumer behavior, judgment, and decision-making. His research is published in top journals such as the Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, and Journal of Consumer Psychology, and his expertise has been featured in global outlets such as Forbes, Time, and the Harvard Business Review.    

What motivated you to pursue a career in academia? 

I am really interested in how people make decisions and how we can help people make better decisions. As a researcher and an academic, I can think about and work on whatever problem comes to mind and whatever I want to try to understand in this world. That’s exciting, and I’m surrounded by amazing, intelligent, thoughtful people I’m happy to call my colleagues. We’re all trying to understand the world around us and make it better, and that’s really appealing to me. 

What attracted you to Vanderbilt Business? 

Two main things. One is the Marketing Department has some of the best people; specifically, we have a real focus and strength in studying consumer behavior within the field of marketing. Whether it’s Kelly Haws researching self-control and decision-making or Kelly Goldsmith working on scarcity and financial decision-making or Tony Salerno who does amazing work on emotions. Up and down the faculty, we have people doing really exciting consumer behavior research. The second is Vanderbilt and the city of Nashville. This is a place where I want to spend the rest of my career. I am confident that my wife, my kid, and I will be happy in Nashville for a long time. Vanderbilt is a school that I am proud to be affiliated with, and it’s a really comfortable place to be.

Can you tell us about your research? 

I bounce around from topic to topic, but lately, I am especially interested in conversations, question-asking, and impression management, which involves how we ask questions or how we may keep secrets because of how we want to present ourselves. We’re at a cool space right now where we can do better research on conversational dynamics than ever before, and there are some interesting dynamics at play with virtual conversations that would be different in-person or on the phone. So, in addition to my interest in the nitty-gritty of what we ask and why we ask it, there’s now this additional element of technology and media that gives us even more ways to test all of that. 

Another recent interest is more of a policy lens: how can we help people make better decisions? I’ve focused on healthy choices and information provision, and I’m very interested in some of the policy implications of food and calorie labeling. For example, there are calorie labels on menu items now, but if I’m trying to order multiple items to make a meal, I have to add those up. If I’m ordering online, there may be a chance to have the total number of calories presented to me, as opposed to having to add it up in my head.  

What’s a course you’re particularly excited to teach? 

Consumer Insights for Marketing Decision-Making in Mod 2. It’s a qualitative research course; we’ll focus on how to do structured interviews, focus groups, and observation (imagine being a secret shopper), and we’ll try to work in some data visualization as well. I’m excited to take this class on. It’ll build well into the next course in the research series that Tony Salerno will teach in Mod 3. We’re giving students some cool tools to go out and do marketing, including the part of marketing about understanding what your consumers want using some of these research tools. It’s going to be fun.

What is a piece of advice for any of your future students?

Ask questions. You’re going to overestimate how awkward the question asking will be, and you’re going to overestimate how painful it’ll be. In reality, you will get helpful information, and the people around you will too. You’re going to be a hero for asking questions. So ask questions.

What should the Vanderbilt Business community know about you?

For business professionals, I am interested in doing field experiments, so if you have a business and you want to partner about doing this kind of research, I would love to work with any business. Whether it’s a small business or a Fortune 500 company, there’s always an opportunity to run experiments, collect survey data, and do things better. 

Outside of work, what are some things you’re passionate about? 

I have a five-year-old, and he’s the coolest. My wife and I spend a ton of time with him. He’s really into birds and Pokémon, so you might even see us out on a bird-watching adventure at Radnor Lake State Park or other parks and playgrounds. My family is the most important thing in my life, but aside from my family, I have a lot of thoughts about prestige television and movies–meaning that, yes, I keep spreadsheets and lists of what I watch, including every episode of The Simpsons. I’ve also been considering a membership at the Belcourt Theatre, as that seems very much like my scene after living in Salt Lake City and attending Sundance [Film Festival] in the past. 

What excites you most about moving to Nashville?

Everybody says music, right? We live close to the Bluebird Cafe, and so that’s on our to-do list. The Nashville food scene, too. My wife and I recently went to Italy, and 4 of the top 5 things from the trip were meals. Sean Brock, if you’re reading this, we want to get into one of your restaurants.

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