Assistant Professor of Business Administration
Ray Weaver is an Assistant Professor at Harvard Business School, where he teaches the first-year MBA course in marketing. His research focuses on social learning: the ways and extent to which people determine their wants and needs using information from the social environment. In addition to his academic career, Ray has held several positions at consulting and information technology firms, concentrating on the marketing of new technologies.
Most recently, Ray worked for Akamai, a Cambridge-based Internet infrastructure services company. As Akamai’s first marketing employee, he played a key role in shaping the company’s brand and marketing strategy during its rapid growth from no revenue to over $90M in its first full year of operations. Ray was Product Manager for Akamai’s first offering, and later Director of Product Marketing for its rich media product. He worked with customers from a wide variety of industries including media, entertainment and electronic commerce.
Prior to Akamai, Ray was a member of Intel’s mobile products group in Santa Clara. There, he helped launch Bluetooth and other wireless communications technologies. Ray also worked in the Chicago office of Deloitte Consulting. At Deloitte, he designed information systems for clients in the health care and transportation industries.
Ray received his Ph.D. in management science from MIT. He also holds an MBA from the Wharton School, where he was a Palmer Scholar; and B.S. degrees in computer science and electrical engineering from Washington University in St. Louis, at which he was a Woodward Fellow.
One major area of my research is social learning: the ways and extent to which people discover what they want and need from the behavior and opinions of others. Social learning takes many forms. Probably most obvious is word of mouth—the advice and recommendations of friends, family, and coworkers. People also learn what they want from the easily observed choices of others for products such as clothing and cars. And we are all influenced by norms of behavior for various social contexts. These social norms certainly suggest what conduct is appropriate, but they also, often in subtle ways, affect what we prefer.
I am interested in how social learning impacts the decisions of consumers, and how firms can market their products and services more successfully through a better understanding of social influences on their customers. Some of the questions that interest me are:
- When is social learning the result of a search for information, and when is it the result of a desire to coordinate—for example, by watching a popular TV show to be able to talk about it with peers?
- How do new technologies (online discussion forums, social network websites, text messaging) impact social influence?
- Does using social information help people to make better decisions, or can it lead them astray?
- How can marketers stoke a social learning fire, and how can they turn a fad into something more sustainable?
- When is the social environment more or less influential compared to other sources of consumer information: advertising, the media, and experts?
I also study how people judge potential transactions. We often think of purchase decisions as straightforward: a consumer buys a product if he expects the benefits to outweigh the price, sometimes after shopping around for the best deal. In practice, however, a complex set of considerations—fairness, habits, expectations about future purchase opportunities—can influence judgments. I examine these factors and the sometimes unconscious role they play in purchase decisions.
My research also explores how we evaluate selling transactions. Selling is interesting in part because consumers are generally inexperienced sellers, and because the things we sell (houses, used cars) often have uncertain value. I study how these differences affect selling decisions, and whether the difficulty of judging sales transactions justifies consumers’ reliance on expensive experts such as real estate agents.