|dc.description.abstract||A large body of tourism and hospitality literature has established the vital role of mental imagery and emotions in driving consumer hedonic consumption behaviour. As consumers seek and pay for experiential benefits such as fantasy, fun and feelings, experiential marketing has become an essential strategy to promote hedonic tourism experiences. Experiential marketing uses visual and multisensory contents (e.g., pictures, videos) to stimulate elaborated imagery experiences such as imagination and feelings of presence. Mental imagery is associated with positive emotions and thus inspires hedonic consumption behaviour. Tourism and hospitality research in this area is grounded on the theory of embodied cognition, assuming the bottom-up mechanism of consumer imagery: the exposure to experiential marketing messages triggers imagery processing by activating sensorimotor neural systems as-if consumers are involved in real consumption experiences. Based on the theory of embodied cognition, consumers are considered as passive receivers of experiential marketing messages.
The view of consumers as passive receivers is subject to a number of criticisms. First, this simplifying assumption of this bottom-up mechanism overlooks the mentally active role of consumers in selecting and interpreting marketing messages in relation to their disposition (i.e., goals/needs, prior knowledge) via a top-down mechanism. Second, imagery-inducing marketing messages do not necessarily inspire hedonic consumption behaviour but, in some cases, can decrease consumer behavioural intentions as found in recent studies. The existing literature based on the theory of embodied cognition could not provide reasonable explanations of why consumer imagery of experiential marketing messages success or fail in inspiring hedonic consumption behaviour.
This PhD research aims to advance the literature by exploring the mentally active role of consumers in perceiving experiential marketing messages via a top-down mechanism. It proposes a dual cognitive mechanism model that integrates both the top-down and bottom-up mechanisms to explain how experiential marketing messages are perceived by means of mental processes and influence consumer hedonic consumption behaviour. The dual cognitive mechanism model of consumer hedonic consumption behaviour is consistent with psychology theories and neuroscience evidence. In addition to the bottom-up mechanism based on the theory of embodied cognition, the cognitive appraisal theory consists of the theoretical basis for the top-down mechanism in this thesis. According to the cognitive appraisal theory, external stimuli are subconsciously evaluated based on appraisal dimensions such as novelty and goal relevance. These appraisal dimensions determine the elicitation of specific emotions and enhance mental imagery of novel and goal-relevant marketing messages.
The post-positivism paradigm was adopted to regulate the research process, and mixed-methods (quantitative-qualitative) were used to frame the research design. Thus, there were two main stages of data collection. The quantitative study was conducted in stage one, using a large sample survey (n = 655) to empirically test the dual cognitive mechanism model in the context of a hedonic tourism experience (i.e. a partying event). In stage two, a follow-up qualitative study, employing individual in-depth interviews (n=20) provided further insights into the mental processes involved in consumer perception of experiential marketing messages.
This thesis uses a “thesis with publication format”, and comprises a compilation of three interconnected manuscripts to report the process of reviewing the literature, validation of prior theory and further theory development. Manuscript one consists of a systematic literature review that synthesises the relevant body of tourism, psychology and neuroscience research on mental processes by which consumers perceive experiential marketing messages. Research findings in the field are organised into a stimulus-organism-response model: experiential marketing stimuli are dominantly processed through mental imagery (i.e. the mental organism), resulting in cognitive, emotional, and behavioural responses. Manuscript one illustrates the underlying assumption of the bottom-up mechanism and the dominant view of consumers as passive receivers of experiential marketing messages. The literature review identifies knowledge gaps and suggests three research directions to advance the literature: (1) research on the top-down mechanism (i.e. the appraisal process) by which consumers actively select and interpret marketing messages in relation to their prior knowledge and goals, (2) tourism experience management based on a mental imagery perspective, and (3) a more comprehensive and valid measurement scale of mental imagery. Manuscript one provides the theoretical basis for two follow-up manuscripts. These papers consider the cognitive appraisal theory as the top-down psychological mechanism that determines the elicitation of consumer pre-consumption emotions and enhances consumer intensive imagery processing.
Manuscript two focuses on theory validation and relies on the cognitive appraisal theory in explaining consumer pre-consumption emotions related to tourism experiences. Using an experimental research design, four different marketing strategies (two message visual designs x two message delivery channels) were manipulated to examine how experiential marketing messages are appraised by consumers in each condition, leading to emotional and behavioural intentions. Research outcomes validate the cognitive appraisal theory in explaining consumer pre-consumption emotions and thus suggest the mechanism behind consumer affect-driven behaviour: positive emotions are goal-relevant signals that beneficially guide consumer consumption decisions to satisfy their specific goals. Based on a good understanding of the appraisal determinants of consumer emotions, suggestions for emotion-inducing marketing strategies are provided. Manuscript two also raises the question of the relationships between consumer imagery, emotions and appraisal dimensions at the pre-consumption stage and suggests further research in this area.
Manuscript three addresses the research question raised in manuscript two by exploring mental processes (appraisal, imagery, emotions) involved in consumer perception of experiential marketing messages, leading to consumer hedonic consumption behaviour. Based on a purposive literature review of relevant theories in psychology, a dual cognitive mechanism model is conceptually developed, integrating the cognitive appraisal theory as the top-down mechanism and the theory of embodied cognition as the bottom-up mechanism. This model is supported by neuroscience evidence of two separate neural systems involved in visual perception and imagery processing (the bottom-up and top-down couplings between fronto-parietal and visual areas). Explanatory sequential research (quantitative-qualitative) is used to examine the conceptual model in the context of hedonic tourism experiences (i.e. a partying event). The quantitative study provides empirical evidence to support the dual cognitive mechanism model. However, some hypothesised relationships between mental processes (appraisal, imagery, emotions) are partly supported. Therefore, the qualitative study employs in-depth interviews with twenty participants to provide further insights into the relationships between these mental processes. Results of the qualitative study clarify how appraisal dimensions differentiate consumers’ mental experiences (imagery and emotions) among the audience of the same marketing stimuli.
Collectively, this set of manuscripts achieves the overall aim of exploring how experiential marketing messages are perceived by means of mental processes and influence consumer hedonic consumption behaviour. By including both the bottom-up and top-down mechanism, the dual cognitive mechanism model provides a comprehensive framework to explain consumer hedonic consumption behaviour from a mental processing perspective. Research findings highlight the mentally active role of consumers in perceiving experiential marketing messages via the top-down appraisal process and recommend a consumer-centric approach to experiential marketing in tourism.||