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.

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