Do you care if your research is managerially relevant?

You often hear people criticize scientific articles saying that they rarely address genuinely managerially relevant and topical issues let alone offer recommendations for how to deal with these. While offering value to practitioners indeed for many scientific journals is of secondary priority, it is nothing but a shame that journals cannot more often than now be of more significance to practitioners, entrepreneurs, and different societal stakeholders. So next, inspired by a recently published empirical study about how managers use marketing research, I set out to briefly reflect on the issue of managerial relevance of marketing research articles.

Why is research not managerially relevant?

What many consider to be the root causes for the theory-practice gap are broadly speaking related to how research is conducted and to how research is communicated.  What the former issue relates to and is the result of is “failure to generate relevant research ideas and insights altogether, fueled by an ever-growing focus on methodological sophistication, a tendency to examine niche phenomena, and production of incremental instead of innovative insights.” (Wiegand et al., 2020, p. 3)

The communication problem, on the other hand, refers to “failure to present research in a practitioner-accessible form, leaving managers unaware of the existence of relevant work and its implications for everyday business.” (Wiegand et al., 2020, p. 3) No wonder research as a result will be out of sync with practice or never even have a chance of being relevant and of use. Even if more experts, trainers, and business magazines would pick up research ideas and findings and spread them to practitioners, it is not enough, researchers themselves should also more often than now deliberately and directly reach out to practitioners.

What research is managerially relevant?

Research is essentially managerially relevant when it reaches practicing managers with nonobvious useful insights. Such insights can be useful for practitioners in different ways. Some conventional ways are that the insights are used for descriptive purposes meaning that they shed light on what and how questions, are used to explain why or to predict changes and developments, or to formulate effective intervention. (Van de Ven and Johnson, 2006) Managers can also employ research findings in other ways such as to justify decisions and improve argumentation. (Wiegand et al., 2020)

Earlier this year, four European marketing researchers Wiegand, Becker, Imschloss, and Reinartz (2020) published results from an empirical study about how managers use marketing research. They outlined research as managerially relevant when it addresses a business, organizational, or managerial issue or opportunity that concerns a sufficiently large or important group of organizations in the researched field, providing potentially useful insights or inspiration to better understand, frame, or solve this issue in the organizational context.

Can marketing research be useful to inspire managers?

Wiegand, Becker, Imschloss, and Reinartz (2020) in addition to problem-solving and educational purposes verified another way in which managers can use academic research, namely for inspiration. This means that managers used academic work to gain new ideas and perspectives, understand future trends, or broaden their horizon. They found examples of such research in the ethnographic online studies of Robert Kozinets or the work of Ozcan and Rangaswamy (2018) that discusses current and future developments in platform business models. In their sample, a study examining the effect of brand equity on employee salaries was classified as inspirational because it provided a radically new perspective on brand management—one managers had not contemplated about before.

In their interviews with practitioners, Wiegand et al. (2020) found some but very few articles in marketing to be inspirational. Inspirational research, they found, relied on compelling arguments which were based on or illustrated by real-world examples and complete reasoning that accounted for real-world conditions, actual practices, and plausible scopes of managerial action. Such research oftentimes originated from transferring ideas from seemingly unrelated research fields or observations to the marketing domain.

To be useful, the inspirational research had to have the potential to create substantial competitive advantage and be clearly connected to managerial realities. As inspiration research can be highly risky for companies to implement, they found that it was important that researchers decrease perceived risk by making potential gains explicit and concretely and realistically inform decision making or add to existing practices.

What can marketing researchers do to become more managerially relevant?

Based on their analysis of the extensive data, Wiegand et al. (2020) offer a list of recommendations for how researchers, managers, and editors can narrow the theory-practice gap. I recap some of their suggestions to researchers here but recommend that everyone interested reads their freely online available publication.

They advise researchers to first identify a “disruptive” research idea by for example attentively observing the environment and people’s behaviour, being creative – connecting unrelated ideas, using sources from unrelated fields (press, news, academic literature) as inspiration. They further recommend researchers to not be too radical to increase credibility, avoid claiming that the research questions existing practices, and to discuss initial results early on with managers and to make sure the research is not too far-fetched to be credible.

Other suggestions they offer are that marketing researchers should select to topics that (1) address complex issues which are difficult for managers to address by themselves, (2) pertain to current developments, (3) cover issues likely to become important in the future, (4) address persistent “nagging” issues, or bring forward (5) novel ideas or (6) nonobvious findings.

That articles too seldom are managerially relevant and reach practitioners is unfortunate—and embarrassing. Still, it should be fully possible for researchers, managers and editors to change this, and to become better at doing and communicating research that involves conceiving new concepts or theory, is exploratory, introduces new methods and is forward-looking in nature. To be relevant, each one of us as marketing researchers should ensure that we address meaningful business, societal, and global problems. To have an impact we also need to work with and for relevant partners and communicate broadly beyond our scientific community.

Marketing similarly to many other management research disciplines is, as a “theory”, after all, rather applied and practice dominant. One would think therefore that it is natural that research in marketing is of true value and benefit for companies and the society. Fortunately, in the future, however, I think that we will see a change since more and more editorials and articles highlight the need for marketing research to become more managerially relevant and discuss ways to accomplish this. The trend is also amplified as research simply needs to become more closely linked than now to significant topical business and societal challenges and provide useful insights for different stakeholders.

Maria Holmlund
Professor in Marketing

This text is based on Wiegand et al.’s (2020) publication that I offer as reading recommendation if you want to read more on how researchers, managers, schools, and editors can bridge the theory-practice gap:

A few additional references on how to increase managerially relevant research in marketing are:

  • Benoit, S., Klose, S., Wirtz, J., Andreassen, T. W., & Keiningham, T. L. (2019). Bridging the data divide between practitioners and academics. Journal of Service Management, 30(5), 524-548. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-05-2019-0158
  • Mooi, E., Mani, S., Kleinaltenkamp, M., Lilien, G., & Wilkinson, I. (2020). Connect, engage, transform: How B2B researchers can engage in impactful industry collaboration. Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing. Forthcoming available online https://doi.org/10.1108/JBIM-09-2019-0401
  • Nenonen, S., Brodie, R. J., Storbacka, K., & Peters, L. D. (2017). Theorizing with managers: how to achieve both academic rigor and practical relevance? European Journal of Marketing. 51(7/8), 1130-1152. https://doi.org/10.1108/EJM-03-2017-0171
  • Van de Ven, A. H., & Johnson, P. E. (2006). Knowledge for theory and practice. Academy of management review, 31(4), 802-821.

Innovation in times of crisis

The world has in many ways been turned on its head. Rather than borderless mobility, abundance of alternatives, and extensive cultural sharing that we are accustomed to in the 21st century, individuals and organizations across the globe are faced with physical restrictions, political turmoil and governmental interventions. As a marketing professor interested in innovation, consumer behaviour and digitalization, it has been exciting to observe how we humans are able to adjust and flourish in times of crisis. Instead of giving in to the circumstances accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe that we are doing what human beings do best; we adapt and evolve.

In my recent research together with the Dutch consumer insight company TrendWatching and its sister organization Business of Purpose, we investigated how organizations are innovating to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. Thousands of innovations were identified in a very short time in this crowdsourced platform. Similar ventures have been developed, such as the OECD’s Observatory of Public Sector Innovation (OPSI) platform designed to gather innovations in the public sector and governments. Their objective is to inspire and coordinate innovation efforts to mitigate the unprecedented and rapid disruption of society.

What I can observe is that these turbulent times have also had a positive effect on the creativity level of private, public, governmental and civilian actors. While some of the characterizing issues of these innovations are clearly related to the ongoing pandemic, other issues have more long-term consequences for how innovations are developed and designed. So, what can we learn from innovation in times of crisis?

Extensive reflection and sensemaking. In normal business circumstances we tend to build on linear thinking, relying on the relevance and viability of existing capabilities and resources. But in times of heightened turbulence, less can be taken for granted. Innovation as a driver for development requires more consideration about one’s activities, alternatives, and the broader surrounding environment. Innovation is thus a sensemaking process around not only what is, but also about what could be.

How willing and able are we to stretch our current capabilities and resources to become something new?

How willing and able are we to stretch our current capabilities and resources to become something new? How can we ensure relevance of and envision a future market for our current capabilities? In times of crisis, it is easy to become paralyzed and merely ride out the storm, but research shows that the ability to step out of the comfort zone of the current scope and making a case for new activities is clearly an opportunity for radical growth. An example of stretching boundaries is beauty brands’ recent initiatives to educate consumers, provide virtual consultation and online coaching and thus marking a path away from merely selling the brand in physical stores to providing additional intangible value for consumers in their own space. 

Networks and widespread collaboration. Our research shows that it is challenging to extend beyond the current business environment, especially when under pressure. A crisis can nurture an intensified interest in collaboration and cooperation with new actors to accelerate creativity. The pandemic has brought on new service delivery systems, especially in the tourism and hospitality sectors to mitigate the physical restrictions and change in buying behaviour.

However, collaboration extends beyond the strategies around production and delivery and involves challenging the over-confidence in individual approaches and single data-sets. Data and practice sharing is a necessity for innovation. Real-time data collection among a broad set of public and private actors has been accelerating, opening up previously hidden datasources, cross-fertilizing and linking diverse methods and evidence from different domains to gain a more holistic understanding of issues in the surrounding environment.

Customer is (still) king. Consumer behaviour will never be constant and cannot be taken for granted. Consider for example the demand for homeleisure wear and stay-in apparel that emerged as a new category in retailing. This face of quarantine fits has fuelled also the consumption of interior design pieces, ambiance fragrances, and other spirit-boosting objects for the home. The stay-in trend may persist if consumers are permanently nudged to favouring in-home experiences and multi-purpose loungewear. What a crisis can teach business managers is that while ecosystem collaboration is essential, the customer is and will remain the main stakeholder of the business and should be the key actor of innovation.

This is reflected in the management guru Peter Drucker’s classic statement: Without customers there is no purpose of the business. And similarly, an innovation is successful only if there is a customer who sees value in it. Customer as a notion involves all types of actors, irrespective of the label: user, buyer, consumer, citizen, patient, etc. Public and private organizations must thus take an outside-in approach and not get caught in the internal visions only but be thoughtful of issues happening in the surrounding environment that are not linked directly to the organizations’ business areas.

Individual and collective well-being. It is not surprising that in times of turbulence we try to balance and even out the aftermath. A commonality of innovations pouring out of the pandemic is the focus on collective and individual well-being. The health and humanitarian emergency aside, to mitigate the growing uncertainties in society, governments and organizations alike pursue social bricolage entrepreneurial thinking to foster collective and individual well-being. Examples include philanthropic and altruistic innovations, such as free online consultation, and safety innovations, such as schedulable store opening hours for vulnerable customers. What they have in common is the emergent and shared focus on societal well-being.

In times of crisis, markets are created and transformed. Innovation becomes a question of resilience, not only differentiation and growth. I believe that the key takeaway of the COVID-19 pandemic is that creativity and innovation don’t have to stall during a crisis. In fact, they should accelerate. If handled well, innovation is an opportunity to nurture profound organisational renewal and enhance the viability of companies in the eyes of consumers, policy makers, and other market actors. A crisis at any magnitude can and should be used to improve the resilience and sustainability of the business and the surrounding environment. In that sense it seems that in times of crisis, public and commercial innovation initiatives align, geared toward societal welfare at large.

Kristina Heinonen
Professor of service and relationship marketing, Director of CERS

Reference
Heinonen, K. and Strandvik, T. (2020), “Reframing service innovation: COVID-19 as a catalyst for imposed service innovation”, Journal of Service Management, Vol. ahead-of-print No. ahead-of-print. https://doi.org/10.1108/JOSM-05-2020-0161

Photo: Unsplash

My best advice during Covid-19: Keep your eyes on the ball

During Covid-19, discussions are slipping towards confrontation – who is to blame for doing or for not doing something, what is right and what is wrong, what is true and what is not. The way we talk to each other strikes me as depressing, and at times even cruel. Particularly online discussions follow ghastly rhetoric that seems only be getting worse. It’s “if you are not with me, you are against me”.  

We have witnessed similarly gloomy communication in politics, where people give each other the harshest personal blows to undermine their trustworthiness. Think about Donald Trump telling Joe Biden in a presidential debate: ”There’s nothing smart about you, Joe”, continuing that “in 47 years, you’ve done nothing.” (Caldera 2020). Nice, aye?

Why bring this up? The way we speak to each other is crucial, because we influence, and are influenced by others. Aristotle and other philosophers following him posit that the art of persuasion, or rhetoric, consists of ideas (logos), emotions (pathos), and the morality of the speaker (ethos). It is the last, ethos, that is now under attack. It seems no more matter what is said if you can with strong – and negative – emotional communication direct attention to all the shortcomings a person has, and thereby undermine his or her credibility.

I am arguing that the focus on personal characteristics distracts us from what we should be focusing on: content. At the same time, we need to accept that there are few absolute universal truths in science because of the many factors playing in. Particularly during a new situation, such as a previously unknown pandemic, we should remember that science is a winding path of trial and error during which knowledge evolves. What was held true yesterday may not apply today, because we are capable of critically assessing evidence and drawing new conclusions accordingly.

Think about the title in Kauppalehti’s column on the 21st of October 2020, freely translated as “Whatever you do during a pandemic, you are shit”. This column collects headlines with opposing advice for the public regarding Covid-19. Sure, witty, but is this really what we want to convey to people? That media knows nothing? That scientists know nothing? That we are playing a lose-lose game where there are no good choices? One would wish for a bit of hope amidst all the bad news.

One way to keep spirits up is focusing on what we are doing well and what could be improved. We are in this together and can get through this together, not by playing against each other. My advice is: keep your eyes on the ball. And the ball is living our lives, now, today. Not tomorrow or when other people think more like us.

You could blame me for naivety for taking this stance for positivity. A Facebook friend complained that seemingly intelligent people post office dog photos instead of mentally stimulating posts. Guilty as charged. Personally, I see enough pretty, witty, sarcastic, mean, and sometimes downright evil posts. I much prefer to direct attention to my office dog.  So here you go, one more picture: Keep your eyes on the good things – the people (and pets) we love, and the things we can do to create meaning in our lives!

Johanna Gummerus
Liikesivistysrahasto Associate Professor in Marketing

References
Caldera, C. (2020)https://eu.usatoday.com/story/news/2020/09/29/presidential-debate-trump-biden-theres-nothing-smart-you/3582861001/
Kauppalehti Optio (2020) Teit pandemiassa mitä tahansa, olet paska. Kolumni 21.10.2020.

Photo: Johanna Gummerus

From local experts to global contributors: the changing roles of Finnish marketing scholars

The Finnish marketing research has evolved from serving the general goal of informing international audiences about the development of Finland, its economy, consumers, and companies; to studying the applicability of models and frameworks initiated in the international marketing discourse to the local markets and players in it; and, finally, to studies stemming from the Finnish context aiming at advancing the international discourse itself.

In a recent book chapter[1], Mikko Laukkanen and I reflect on these developments, dividing the history of Finnish marketing research into three phases which we title “Marketing and Finland,” “Marketing in Finland,” and “Marketing from Finland,” respectively (for further details and references, please refer to our book chapter). Of course, the development has not been linear, and studies representative of each phase continue to get published in international academic journals. However, it is apparent that the specific foci and goals of marketing research have shifted over time, also shifting the role and focus of academic work.

In this short essay I will elaborate on the impact of these shifts in Finnish marketing research, as well as the impact of growing external pressures, stemming from the internationalization of research, on the profession of marketing scholars in Finland.

Most of the research based on the Finnish marketing context or published by Finnish marketing scholars falls into the second phase of studies (“Marketing in Finland”) identified in our analysis. These studies aim to explain and contribute to the development of Finnish business and the success of Finnish companies through the application of internationally developed models and frameworks into the national context. Such research is highly relevant for practitioners but often offers limited academic contribution.

Despite this prevailing trend, individual forerunners, such as Hanken’s Christian Grönroos, managed to have a significant impact on the development of international marketing thinking already in the earlier phases of development of the Finnish marketing research. However, the focus of most research characteristic of this phase has been dictated by developments in the Finnish economy and time-bound interests of businesses.

The recent shift of focus towards contributions to the academic discourse internationally, where Finland merely provides a context for studies that could just as well be conducted elsewhere, has fundamentally altered the nature of the relationship between academia and business.

The primary role of Finnish marketing scholars has, accordingly, been to inform the local audiences of broader international developments. The recent shift of focus towards contributions to the academic discourse internationally, where Finland merely provides a context for studies that could just as well be conducted elsewhere, has fundamentally altered the nature of the relationship between academia and business.

The role of business professors in Finland has, traditionally, incorporated three broad areas of responsibility: research, teaching, and societal impact. On the one hand, equally weighed, strength in one area could make up a relative weakness in another. Thus, individual scholars have been able to concentrate their efforts in what they do best, be it research, teaching, or, for instance, consulting firms and sitting on company boards. On the other hand, due to this multidimensional responsibility, the primary task for scholars has become to serve as general experts in their field, requiring not only participating in the international academic discourse but also distributing insights from it in teaching and consulting.

This role of a generalist expert has required relatively broad expertise in one’s field of study, as scholars in marketing have been expected to be prepared to discuss broader issues related to marketing, the markets, or business in general, and not only those related to their own narrow fields of study. This has promoted a more generalist approach to scholarly output containing not only academic articles but also managerial books and texts targeted at the general public, which may have come at the cost of publishing in the leading academic journals, the publications of which tend to be more narrowly focused.

The recent globalizing competition between universities for students, faculty, and funding has led most business schools internationally to adopt the U.S. based Tenure Track system – a merit-based career path for professors. In the Tenure Track system, evaluations of scholarly work are primarily based on research output in top-tier academic journals. This focus has led to an increasing number of scholars not only in Finland, but all over Europe and Asia to gradually shift the targets of their publishing towards the most sought-after academic journals. The adoption of the Tenure Track system has, thereby, aligned the targets and brought the productivity of Finnish marketing scholars on par with their international peers.

For individual scholars, this has opened the international academic job market for Finnish PhDs, who traditionally have searched for post-doctoral employment from within their home country. At the university level, this has heightened the academic ambition and strengthened the reputation of Finnish business schools internationally, while helping local universities to attract foreign faculty.

At the same time, however, this concerted focus on publications in top-tier journals only has narrowed the research foci and expertise of individual scholars. Instead of developing broad-based business expertise, scholars in marketing are increasingly incentivised to become global thought leaders in narrowly defined fields of discourse. This increases the international impact and career prospects of individuals but may do so at the cost of relevance of their work to the local society. This is because the forefront of global academic discourse may not (yet) reflect the most burning issues for local businesses, who may rather seek more general advice for further improving their marketing.

Given these developments, it is increasingly vital for Finnish marketing scholars to find a balance between global rigor and local relevance. It is also vital for universities to recognise the tensions caused by this development and, for their part, to find a balance of goals in their recruiting, in evaluating scholarly work, in initiating collaborative initiatives with business partners, and in securing research funding.

Johanna Frösén

Johanna Frösén is Associate Professor of Marketing and Director of KATAJA – The Finnish Doctoral Program in Business Studies. Her most recent research focuses on marketing analytics and accountability, firms’ sustainability orientations, and disclosure of marketing results.


[1] Frösén, J. and Laukkanen, M. (2020), “An interpreted review of the history of Finnish marketing research.” In: Huhtala, J.-P. and Hietanen, J. (Eds): Henrikki Tikkanen 50.  Nordic Institute of Business & Society Osuuskunta, Helsinki, pp. 118-135.

Photo: Unsplash

We can give up handshakes, but we will never shake off hugging

During the COVID-19 epidemic we have all become effective germaphobes. We are advised to avoid going out, and if we do so, to keep our six-feet distance from each other. Under no circumstances we are to avoid crowds, doorknobs, table surfaces, and most of all – touching our faces. No nose-picking, no eye-rubbing, no thoughtful chin-holding, and no playing with your hair. If you absolutely must cough, do it in a paper towel that you dispense immediately and if that is not an option, at least plant your face in your sleeve before erupting. Wear a mask, ventilate, disinfect, wash your hands, have Zoom meetings, Teams lectures, and Google Hangout parties. Netflix – just don’t chill.

Now that we have painstakingly learned these norms, the discussion on when and how we are to return to normalcy has begun. While writing this dozens of COVID vaccines are under development, so we might predict some light at the end of the tunnel. But what will “going back to normal” actually mean? Will it be business as usual circa 2019 or will some aspects of our daily life change forever, or at least until the next norm-shifting cataclysm?

Teaching, especially in higher education, has moved online, and discussions on this forced social experiment have already begun. Will we go back to the old face-to-face model? While some think it’s too early to say, there are also clear proponents to the idea of never going back and of course arguments to cast doubt on the idea of shifting to a pure virtual environment.

Work meetings have been pushed to a virtual world as well. Will we go back to being bored in the board room or is wearing a jacket but no pants the future of business meetings? Pushing aside the discussion on most meetings being useless in the first place, the topic of virtual meetings taking over face-to-face meetings has its proponents and opponents. It seems we do not yet have a consensus when it comes to virtual education or virtual business meetings. We will have to wait and see. And what about handshakes, hugs, high-fives, and afterwork drinks?

The discussion on moving our interaction online in all of these segments seems to hinge on what you think is the point of the interaction: information exchange or social exchange? There are clear and valid arguments to be made for both camps. In the case of information exchange, it is important for the students and teachers to form informational exchange networks so the flow and creation of knowledge can be made effective. Modern tools such as instant messaging, virtual environments and cloud-based collaboration platforms seem to facilitate the creation of such exchange networks well. There is evidence of this even from an earlier epoch of e-learning tools – a time before Facebook, cloud computing and Zoom. In fact, a meta-analysis of research on online learning from between 1996 and 2008 already “found that, on average, students in online learning conditions performed better than those receiving face-to-face instruction.”

A point for the online learning camp.

On the other hand, there is evidence that campus life helps students foster a greater openness to diversity through students’ relationships with peers. Exposure to diversity has also been linked to enhancing the educational experience of students. Of course there might be a chicken-and-the-egg question raised, but there is also solid evidence linking openness to experience to higher cognitive and intellectual capacities as well as general intelligence. We also know that creativity, which is also linked to openness to experience, can be fostered. It also a well-documented fact that social connections are a core pilar of mental health as well as general well-being and longevity.

One point for the face-to-face learning camp.

The fact is that we are psychophysical products of gene-culture coevolution. That is to say, we are a biological creature that comes with the baggage of a highly socially evolved primate that has ascended to arguably the highest state of social co-operation which has progressed from group hunting, coordinated stone-throwing, through tribal cohesion, group-identity, dancing and non-kin altruism, to creating culture, larger-than-life narratives, religion, nation states, and useful fictions such as money and democracy. All of these have evolutionary biological bases from the oxytocin that creates bonds between us, to the mirror neurons that let us feel each other’s feelings. We build up higher concepts of love and family on the building blocks of biological bimodal pair-bonding strategies and intersocial comparative advantage.

We might not be blank slates, but we are also conscious beings capable of linguistic abstract thought. We can build narratives that ascend our biological foundations and create meaning out of our mutual knowledge of self-awareness. We have a rational information processing unit inside us, and although it runs on a million-year-old physical system, it is capable quantum leaps of cultural evolution utilizing neuroplasticity and standing on the intellectual giants of a thousand ancestors.

However, we also desperately need the socio-physical interaction with each other. We are more of a eusocial hive creature than we might give credit to. The controversial Harry Harlow already demonstrated the deep-seeded need for a mother’s touch, and a stream of research has shown how important human touch is for us in early development, our emotional control, our interpersonal relationship, and many other factors.

So, are we in the information exchange or in the social exchange game?

So, are we in the information exchange or the social exchange game? Will we move to an all-Zoom meeting room, an all-Teams classroom, and never shake hands or hug again? It looks like only half of what we need is truly satisfied with purely virtual solutions. That is not nothing. Maybe we will dissect our working and learning a bit more and some segments will truly stay in in the ether. But it seems highly unlikely we can dislodge the social element from our work or study environments. We seem to be built for social water cooler gossip as much as practical information change. Students need to meet, to build identity, to learn from diversity, and to create community and fall in love. Not just to learn. And workers need to talk smack about the boss, chitchat about impossible clients, and have Friday pizza lunches. Not just to produce.

A handshake? Well, that seems a learned habit, since we have plenty of non-palm-touching greetings such as bowing, which is used widely in many Asian countries, the Roman salute or the common Muslim practice of placing a hand over the heart. So, we can probably switch to a less germy greeting if we want to. However, I bet a million years of evolution we will not get rid of hugging or holding hands with a loved one for that matter.

Jori Grym
Doctoral Candidate

Marketing can help with social inequality

During one of the classes for a course that I participated a few months ago, there was a discussion about marketing field not exerting enough influence on government policies. This has made me to start thinking about how marketing can exert more influence especially on governmental development policies.

Competition is needed to boost efficiency, innovation, and quality of offerings. Without competition, firms will have no incentives to improve their offerings. There is no doubt that there is need for competition, but the nature of competition matters a lot. The nature of competition in a society determines how well distributed the development of that society will be. Unfortunately, the nature of competition that is currently going on in most parts of the world impedes the objectives of development policies.

Marketing as a field has contributed to knowledge on competition. The current marketing thought on competition is that competition is based on comparative advantage in resources. Whoever has “superior” resources has competitive advantage for success. This describes the reality of things as they are now. It gives an answer to why the richest one percent of the world population owns twice as much as the ninety percent of the world’s population at the bottom of the world’s wealth pyramid.

If marketing wants to become reckoned with in development policies discussions, then marketing field must develop a new basis for competition that focuses on how competition can be done to ensure social equity, and not just describing the reality of competition as it is today. This should be done without jeopardizing the benefits (innovation, efficiency, and quality offerings) that the current marketing thought on competition offers our society. Striking the delicate balance in this area is very crucial. By doing this, marketing will tend to important issues that pertain to development policies.

The contribution by marketing field facilitates prosperity of firms, but it does not imply that the prosperity is fairly distributed to support the objectives of development policies. It is important to note here that I do not think it is possible to achieve a perfectly equal world, but I do think it can be better than what we have today. The vast knowledge in both micro and macro marketing should be used to inform development policies. Marketing research can put more emphasis on the link between marketing activities of a firm and development outcomes in addition to outcomes for firm’s prosperity.

Is there a link between the different types of marketing resources that firms possess comparative advantage for and development metrics performance? For instance, if a certain type of pricing strategy provides a comparative advantage for firms, what is the impact of such a pricing strategy on development performance metrics? If a certain type of marketing communication provides comparative advantage for firms, what is the impact of such marketing communication on development performance metrics? Questions such as these wander through my mind in the attempt to figure out how marketing can exert more influence on development policies.

Wuraola Falana

Biography

Wuraola Falana is a doctoral student at the Department of Marketing, Hanken School of Economics. The central theme in her doctoral dissertation research is consumer perceptions of brand innovativeness.

References

  1. Hunt, S.D. & Morgan, R.M. (1995). The Comparative Advantage Theory of Competition. Journal of Marketing, vol 59, pp. 1-15.
  2. https://philanthropynewsdigest.org/news/world-s-richest-1-percent-own-twice-as-much-as-bottom-90-percent

Photo: Unsplash

Matching market and brand strategy to changes in consumers’ habitual buying behaviour due to Covid-19

To the extent that the Covid-19 pandemic may change certain fundamental patterns of consumer behaviour, companies must carefully consider how to adjust their market strategies and tactics accordingly.

One classic pattern of consumer behaviour that seems to be subject to change due to Covid-19, is the so called habitual buying behaviour.

Under normal circumstances, one of the most defining patterns of consumer behaviour is indeed the fact that consumer behaviour is to a large extent based on habits. We buy and use the same products and services week after week, month after month, year after year. 

Most notably, a very high proportion of consumers’ shopping baskets at supermarkets remain the same week after week. This applies to both product categories purchased in the first place (what to buy?), and brands selected within product categories (which brand to pick?). It also very much applies to longer-term service subscriptions (e.g., banking services; media and home entertainment subscriptions) and seasonal purchases (e.g., gardening supplies purchased in spring; holiday purchases in November and December).

The main reason for habitual buying behaviour is that it allows consumers to save some of the mental and physical effort that reconsidering one’s shopping basket selections or brand choices tends to require. It is mentally and physically easier to simply shop your goods with an auto pilot on, relying on your established shopping habits – rather than every time reevaluate your needs and wants, and/or the benefits and costs of switching products and services or brands in your basket.

However, the repercussions caused by a crisis like Covid-19 may cause disruptions to such habits, shaking and waking up consumers from their conventions – disengaging their auto pilots.

Especially big brands and market-leading companies have to be alert with potential changes in consumers’ habitual behaviors. This is because it is especially the big brands and market leaders who have a large customer base – a large proportion of which is constituted precisely of such consumers who are normally just sticking to their habits and buying the same brand time after time. A non-negligible share of these habitual buyers is even likely to be rather dissatisfied with the brand or service-provider. They have just been sticking to the brand to save the trouble caused by switching brands or suppliers.

In this situation, the Covid-19 crisis may act as a wake-up call to many consumers. This is because consumers are in any case pressured to put some more careful thought and effort to their everyday shopping practices – and therefore to recognizing and reevaluating the appropriateness and rationality of their habits, too. If the consumer has to, in any case, much more carefully reconsider and plan when to shop, what to shop, and where to shop, it is not a big step or additional effort to also reconsider which  product categories and brands to select into one’s basket, when going shopping.

Big brands can fight this challenge in three ways. The brand can (1) identify such habitual buyers of the brand that are actually dissatisfied with the brand, and either contact them to ask what the brand can do better, or show them that the brand appreciates them by granting some extra regular customer reward to them. The brand can also (2) think of new ways through which consumers can access, purchase, and use its products and services, even if the habitual purchase channels and ways of use would become difficult or impossible due to restrictions imposed by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Finally, brands can also (3) seize opportunities created by disruptions in habitual purchase and usage patterns. Under normal circumstances, brands often find it challenging to introduce new, innovative products and services – because consumers are so accustomed to their existing, familiar options. Nevertheless, when reconsidering their consumption habits under Covid-19, consumers may well become more open-minded towards new kinds of – non-habitual — products and services, too.

Jaakko Aspara
Grönroos Professor in Marketing

Photo: Unsplash

Marketing communication needs a new logic!

My doctoral dissertation originated in my desire to understand the effects of the cognitive turn in the field of marketing communication from the late 1950s. Cognitivism saw people as active, thinking, meaning-building subjects instead of as passive, receiving objects. The view of learning changed radically, and people came to be viewed increasingly as builders of understanding rather than mere recipients of information, knowledge and messages, as was earlier the case. A constructivist view of learning displaced the previous behaviouristic approach to learning and teaching. The field of education and the school world are still struggling to deal with the impact of this revised view of people. But progress is taking place.

As for marketing, the cognitive turn has become evident in the development of service management, service marketing, relationship marketing, service logic and consumer behaviour research, just to mention a few examples. The fundamental ideas of the Nordic School were also influenced by the cognitive approach. Hanken’s strikingly modern view of people and business was one of the main reasons I applied here. In fact, a professor at the Stockholm School of Economics suggested that I apply to Hanken, despite it being 300 kilometres from my home: “Apply to Hanken, they’re really onto something there”.

Discussions about the scholarly home and theoretical status of marketing research as well as other related topics have been going on since the 1980s. I will not address here whether they have adequately focused on relevant issues, but what is clear is that more and more attention is placed on the customer. Value (co-)creation and customer needs are examples of this. Brand heritage and the active customer in advertisements are other indicators of the modern view of people.

Silence in the field of marketing communication

Unfortunately, discussions have not focused on the premises and view of learning in marketing communication. My search of nearly 21,000 articles in the ten most cited international journals in the field indicates that silence reigns on this topic. An author here, another there may make an attempt, but everything soon peters out in the black space of marketing communication. In Sweden in 2019, investments in marketing communication exceeded those in defence by 50%, totalling some eight billion euros. Silence persists, nevertheless. Activities continue along the same path, without reflection or attentiveness to theory.

The goal of marketing communication is to influence people in the market. Companies have long strived to influence behaviour. To date, the dominant view on influencing has been a behavioural kind: messages in the form of advertisements are expected to generate the desired behaviour. This approach continues in the vein of the stimulus-organism-response model, even though it was deemed outdated over 60 years ago. Perhaps not everywhere, but almost. However, in marketing communication, things continue as before. Nothing has happened. It is true that new channels have emerged, but the thinking nevertheless remains the same. Another aspect that has not changed is that half of the money put into marketing goes wasted. Which half is still unclear. 

My research shows that marketing communication is mainly carried out in the form of a message factory. Announcements are produced and published on the same bases as they were over 120 years ago. Behaviourism retains its grip on the theory and practice of marketing communication. The field follows a message logic, in which advertising agencies and the media jointly exert structural pressure over companies and organisations doing marketing. The agencies and media laugh all the way to the bank, and companies pay the price. This has been going on for a long time and it will continue to do so if the views and expectations placed on marketing communication do not change. The message logic and the dominance that behaviourism exerts over marketing communicators must be abandoned in favour of a more nuanced view of the communicating and learning person. It is by no means a controversial idea – it just needs to reach marketing communication as well.

From a message logic to a logic of learning

One of the questions is which view of influencing is relevant in this field. Marketing communication is part of marketing, the academic home of which has been placed within business economics, which in turn is an offspring of economics. This means that it is influenced by the natural scientific approach characteristic of economics as well as the strive in social sciences to find methods that are both specific to the field and meet the criteria of scientific investigation.

However, since the stimulus-response approach and behaviourism have, essentially, been abandoned, it is time for marketers to take into consideration that marketing communication may also belong to another academic field: that of the humanities. The constructivist view of people has shown us that behaviour cannot be triggered through stimuli alone – people are more complex than that. This complexity is something that the humanities strive to understand and deal with. What this entails is that marketing communication must nurture and master a simultaneous existence in three scientific paradigms: natural sciences, social sciences and the humanities. Paradoxically, this ought to make life easier, though not necessarily simpler.

During a single workday, we would speak the language of economics, business, management, marketing and influencing.

It would mean that during a single workday, we would speak the language of economics, business, management, marketing and influencing. This poses certain challenges, but it is fully possible. We just need to accept that we have learned a great deal about people and know that they are more complex than the former and present premises of behaviourism, scientific management and scientific marketing lead us to believe. We must also follow the cognitive approach, not only in marketing but also in marketing communication, which will consequently be imbued with a conscious view of influencing and learning. Management’s classic dream of an easy, simple solution to the question of influence in marketing communication will be replaced by a conscious understanding of the communicating, influencing and learning person as well as the implications and consequences of this. We will move from the dominant message logic to a revised logic of learning. The message factory can finally be closed down.

It would be fantastic if we at Hanken could help students, researchers and business through our research, methods and education and in this way help marketing communication benefit from the reform that it rightly deserves. This would also help avoid any more squandering of half the marketing investments.

Sigge Birkenfalk
Doctoral student

Biography

Sigge holds a bachelor’s degree in education and a master’s degree in economics from Stockholm University. He has also completed a degree in market economics at Berghs School of Communication, where he has taught subjects such as influencing studies, marketing communication and qualitative methodology for management and marketers for the past 25 years. Sigge worked at the SAS airline carrier for 12 years, as project manager in an advertising company for three years, and has together with his wife, Birgitta, run a company of their own, Communicans AB, since 1998.

Photo: Unsplash

Black Finland

Some time ago, even if the topic was not familiar to me, I always got all the Asian masters students to mentor. I asked why and the response was that “you are so good with Asians”.

Poor students! They did not get the person most knowledgeable with their thesis topic but a person who had lived in Asia. They were treated as if they needed special assistance because they were Asians. During the same time, professors were explaining that they cannot hire foreigners, as foreigners do not know how to write a Finnish application.

Not surprisingly, according to an EU survey two years ago Finland was the most racist country in the European Union. A survey from 2019 provides similar results. Participants of Hanken Business LEAD experienced discrimination both in working life and generally. All these participants are highly educated, have a lot of working experience internationally, and are flexible personalities given their multicultural background. Yet, they have hard to get employed, even job interviews. Other sources evidence that people who have generations after generations lived in Finland, like Romans, are as well discriminated to the extent that by changing their names they get better treatment in recruitment situations.

While writing an article about our findings from the survey, we, the team of four different nationalities, realised that so much focus is put into immigrant integration and in consequence training and schooling of “the others” in Finland. However, less effort is given to Finnish institutions like employing companies and their staff to train them to meet talents from other countries. Sometimes, taking an intern with other than Finnish background is only a corporate social responsibility gesture rather than a serious intention to really employ an immigrant, refugee or a person from an ethnic minority.

Our own perceived superiority makes us teachers rather than learners.

The world is more global today than probably ever before given that we can be global even digitally. We travel more and have information available 24/7 on our devices. However, we still tend to stay in our own villages of similarity unable to learn from our experiences of others.  Our own perceived superiority makes us teachers rather than learners.

The anecdote of Asian students from my personal life just illustrates how well-meaning intentions can be discriminating or how structures prevent entry of the other. Such cultural and structural inequalities go unnoticed most of the times. “Black lives matter” demonstrations are good ways to remind us all that the world still needs improvement; however, it is not enough. Political leaders need to unfold structures that prevent inequality like some American universities that started recruiting anonymously and increased female recruitments to about 50% of all employments. Extra training and support programs only remind the minorities that they needed to change. However, the majority can learn as well, and many times it also should.

Pia Polsa
Associate Professor in marketing

Sources:

EU (2018) Being Black in the EU. Second European Union Minorities and Discrimination Survey. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union.

Business LEAD program: https://www.hankensse.fi/programmes/integration-program-business-lead

Photo: Pia Polsa

The rise of Femtech in a gender biased technology sector – cure or symptom?

Our culture puts high hopes on the role of technology in improving our lives. New solutions, devices and applications enter the market constantly, and many of their creators are seen as trailblazers, paving the way to a better future, with more well-being. The development and emergence of new technologies is almost seen as a force of nature – it’s coming, and it will make everything better.

We might think that technology is neutral, that it’s neither good nor bad, because it doesn’t have a will of its own. This is true to a certain extent, but it omits the human element. As Marshall McLuhan famously said, first we shape our tools, and thereafter our tools shape us.

A lot of research has been dedicated to this question of how technology is shaped by society, and how it in turn shapes society. In the age of Silicon Valley and amidst general techno-optimism, it’s good to remember that technology is always a reflection of its creators, and the culture they are part of. Technology is designed by specific groups of people, in order to serve interests of specific groups, as the organization scholar Wanda Orlikowski argued already back in 1992.

With this realisation in mind, it’s good to stop and think about two questions: who are the ones developing tech products, and what problems are they solving? Once these questions are asked, we can start to think about the follow-up question: what’s being left out? The structures of society have led to a skewed gender divide in the technology sector, on two fronts. While women account for only less than 25 percent of tech jobs in the U.S., the small but growing amount of female entrepreneurs face also greater challenges in obtaining funding.

A couple of years ago The New Yorker wrote about an American start-up that had designed a smart breast pump. It could measure the milk nutrients, was comfortable to wear, and had a huge market potential. When the founder of the company met with venture capitalists for funding, the response surprised her: the men sitting in the board room didn’t even want to touch the device, calling it ”disgusting”.

In the end this device, with a huge market potential, got only a fraction of the funding that for example the infamous Juicero received from enthusiastic VCs. (For those unfamiliar with Juicero, it was a juice press that used pre-juiced fruit packets sold by subscription. The catch – the packets could just as easily be pressed by hand, with the same result).

A study made in Sweden showed that venture capitalists talk very differently about female entrepreneurs than male ones.

This story is not unique. It’s an example of the gendered nature of the tech industry. A study made in Sweden showed that venture capitalists talk very differently about female entrepreneurs than male ones. The study showed that when investors talked about women, they used language with qualities opposite to those that are valued in entrepreneurs. As a result, female entrepreneurs risk receiving less venture capital.

But many entrepreneurs and investors are now telling us not to despair. During the past couple of years, there has for instance been a huge surge in interest towards Femtech, i.e. technologies that focus specifically on female health. Femtech appears now more often in media than before, and there are even dedicated venture capital companies that focus solely on femtech solutions.

Clearly, progress is being made. This is all good and well, but, perhaps ironically, the term Femtech as such tells us a lot about the biased nature of the technology and innovation landscape. It implies two categories of technology: the Common, and the Other, echoing the thoughts of Simone de Beauvoir.

Femtech is an important first step towards more equal technology, but we could ask ourselves if just Tech without gender descriptors would be better. In the end, it’s questionable whether Silicon Valley can solve this gender divide by itself. The business and technology world is only a product of our society at large. This is where change needs to happen.

Hannu Tikkanen

Hannu Tikkanen is a doctoral candidate in marketing at Hanken. He is interested in understanding the roles of technology and societal norms in management of well-being.

References

Malmström, M., Johansson, J. & Wincent, J. (2017) Gender Stereotypes and Venture Support Decisions: How Governmental Venture Capitalists Socially Construct Entrepreneurs’ Potential. Entrepreneurship Theory and Practice, vol. 41, no. 5, pp. 833-860

Orlikowski, W. (1992) The Duality of Technology: Rethinking the Concept of Technology in Organizations. Organization Science, vol. 3, no. 3, pp. 398-427

The New Yorker: https://www.newyorker.com/business/currency/why-arent-mothers-worth-anything-to-venture-capitalists

Statista: https://www.statista.com/chart/4467/female-employees-at-tech-companies/

Photo: Unsplash