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Parasocial interaction with reviewers: The new way of looking at video reviews

Vecteezy/ Dheovano Al-Furqan  

Product and service reviews are one of the most popular video categories on YouTube. Many of you have probably watched a video review at least once, be it on YouTube or another platform. Have you however, wondered why some video reviews have a stronger impact on your purchase decisions than others? In our recent research article titled “YouTube It Before You Buy It: The Role of Parasocial Interaction in Consumer-to-Consumer Video Reviews”, Robert Ciuchita, Martina Caic, and I are looking at the development of parasocial interaction with authors of video reviews (aka reviewers) and the impact of parasocial interaction on purchase decisions of consumers (aka viewers).  

Before we continue, you may ask what parasocial interaction is. In simple terms, it is a one-sided feeling of connection that one experiences towards a media personality (e.g., celebrity, online influencer) in a mediated environment (e.g., television, social media). This feeling sort of resembles a situation when you meet a new person in real life and feel that you connect with them on a personal level although they might not even be aware of you (hence the one-sidedness). With time, this initial feeling of connection can grow into a parasocial relationship, resembling a one-sided feeling of friendship, but let’s not dive into that. 

What is our research about?  

In our article, we argue that reviewers can foster strong (vs. weak) parasocial interaction with their audiences through a video review by leveraging interactivity and self-disclosure in their communication. Interactivity occurs when viewers feel like they are engaged in a conversation with the reviewers. Examples of interactivity cues from the reviewers include them looking directly at the camera, asking questions to their audience, or referring to previous communications. Self-disclosure occurs when viewers feel that the reviewers share personal details, thus getting viewers to know them on a more personal level. Examples of self-disclosure cues from the reviewers includes sharing their personal preferences, their habits, or their own experiences with the product/service. To sum up, viewers are likely to develop parasocial interaction with reviewers because they feel engaged in an interactive conversation since they are getting to know the reviewers.  

Now you might ask, why do viewers follow the recommendations of reviewers when experiencing parasocial interaction? We argue that this happens because consumers trust reviewers more once they establish that special, albeit one-sided, connection with them. Think about it: would you trust a stranger you know nothing about and have never interacted with? Or would you trust a person that indicated a seemingly genuine interest in talking to you and shared personal information that revealed their competence in the topic? 

What did we do in our article? 

While trying to test our assumptions, we also had some fun. First, we looked at many First, we looked at all sorts of product reviews on YouTube whilst avoiding the “professional” reviewers. Our goal was to understand how reviewers made their videos appear interactive and what kind of information they disclosed about themselves. We learned a lot about what interactivity and self-disclosure looks like in real life and applied that knowledge to develop our very own video reviews. Specifically, we wrote different scripts, where a reviewer employed or did not employ interactivity and self-disclosure cues when reviewing a backpack. Then, we recorded different versions of video reviews, which were used to test our assumptions in a series of experimental studies with online consumers. 

What did we find? 

From the outcomes of our studies, we could conclude that, when consumers watch video reviews that have interactivity and/or self-disclosure cues, they are more likely to connect with reviewers and trust product recommendations. This confirms that video reviews fostering strong parasocial interaction are more likely to improve the purchase decisions of consumers in comparison to those video reviews that foster weak parasocial interaction. In a follow-up study, we went a step further and first asked if consumers were likely to buy the backpack, then showed them a version of the backpack video review and asked them for a second time if they were likely to buy the backpack. Our results showed that video reviews that foster weak parasocial interaction may make consumers less interested in buying the product, even if those consumers were rather willing to purchase before watching the review. 

How can our findings be applied in practice? 

There are several practical implications that we present in our article. Most importantly, we suggest that firms should be aware of how important video reviews can be in influencing consumers’ purchase decisions. When working on this study, we noted that very few online retailers (e.g., Amazon, and Nike) encourage consumers to leave video reviews. However, we believe that by making video reviews accessible, firms can help their consumers make better purchase decisions. Recording video reviews arguably require different skills and capabilities than writing textual reviews. If firms want to motivate consumers to share such reviews, they should show some form of appreciation. For instance, if consumers share video reviews on social media (e.g., Instagram), firms can repost them or leave a supportive comment. Furthermore, our findings are not limited to reviews. For example, we suggest that when producing brand content in collaboration with an influencer, firms should make sure that interactivity and self-disclosure are present in the communication to ensure that consumers connect with the influencer 

Finally, for all the content creators out there, we suggest using the findings presented in our article to gain more followers/views on social media. Video reviews provide information that consumers are willing to receive from complete strangers. If reviewers want those consumers to become their followers, they can use video reviews to foster parasocial interaction (i.e., leverage interactivity and self-disclosure in communications). Once parasocial interaction is established, it is more likely that consumers will become interested in watching more content created by the reviewers and potentially develop parasocial relationships.   

Some concluding words 

Feel free to check out the article (it is available to everyone through this link). If you have questions or want to engage in a discussion, feel free to reach out. Now, it is time to watch some video reviews and reflect on whether reviewers managed to connect with you or not. Enjoy! 

Valeria Penttinen

Doctoral Candidate

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What is Grounded Theory?

Have you ever wondered what Grounded Theory (GT) is all about? If so, here is a short overview of this qualitative research method. In a nutshell, GT is a framework for analysing qualitative data. The method offers a set of flexible guidelines that help researchers to focus their data collection and analysis with the aim of inductively building theories. Research regularly starts with some theories or ideas that guide the investigation and data gathering process. Whereas with GT the process is more inductive, where data is first collected and let to shape the research outcome. In other words, instead of starting with theories or ideas to be tested with the help of the data, the researcher allows the data to shape their research questions and process. The Discovery of Grounded Theory: Strategies for Qualitative Research (1967) by Barney G. Glaser and Anselm Strauss was the first book on the method and is one of the most cited books in the field of social science.

In order to understand GT, one has to look at the academic backgrounds of both Glaser and Strauss. Glaser had a traditional positivistic training in quantitative research from Colombia University and Strauss came from University from Chicago with a strong tradition of field research and an interpretative approach called symbolic interactionism. Their collaboration resulted in a very structured and rigorous way of conducting qualitative research. GT, therefore, soon became an accepted form of qualitative research in a largely positivistic world of social science.         

The success and criticism of GT

GT was revolutionary in the sense that it challenged a) separation between theory and research, b) views of qualitative research as mainly a preparation for ‘real’ quantitative measurement, c) opinions that qualitative methods were not rigorous enough, d) beliefs that qualitative methods are vague, fuzzy, and unsystematic, e) division of data collection and analysis, and f) assumptions that qualitative research could generate only descriptive case studies and not develop theory. The fact that Glaser and Strauss not only argued for qualitative research to move toward theory development, but also provided guidelines for the entire research process probably contributed to the success of GT.

Despite its success, GT is not without its weaknesses and has been much criticized as well. Bryman et al. (2011), for example, argue that GT seldom generate any formal theories. Another problem is the confusing and diffuse use of GT terminology in the books written on the method. An example of this is the interchangeably use of the terms ‘categories’ and ‘concepts’. The fragmented terminology use totally contradicts the claim of GT to be a rigorous and structured method. However, the terminology problem has a natural explanation in the early split-up between Glaser and Strauss after the publication of Discovery of Grounded Theory (1967). The two founders of the method have since developed more or less their own versions of GT.

Two versions of GT

Glaser’s book Theoretical Sensitivity (1978) further developed GT but was considered inaccessible to many readers due to Glaser’s abstract terminology and dense writing. Instead, it was Strauss and his later co-author Juliet Corbin who made GT more accessible and known to a wider audience through the books Qualitative Analysis for Social Scientists (1987) and Basics of Qualitative Research: Grounded Theory Procedures and Techniques (1990). At the same time, Glaser felt that the Strauss approach to GT promoted in the two above books was too rigid and focused too much on development of concepts instead of theories.

A major difference between the two approaches to GT emerges already in the planning stage of the research project. Strauss and Corbin are of the opinion that a research question can and should be formulated before the data collection starts. Glaser opposes this view fiercely and argues that a preconceived research question will force concepts upon the data instead of letting the data reveal concepts. This controversy is clear already from the title Basics of Grounded Theory Analysis: Emergence vs. Forcing that Glaser (1992) chose for his response to Strauss and Corbin.

So, which version of GT is best? That is a problem faced by more or less every researcher interested in GT. Both versions have their pros and cons. Hartman (2001) emphasizes the importance of making a choice, otherwise it is easy to get divided and end up with some kind of useless hybrid version of GT. It is generally considered that Glaser is true to the original idea and Strauss (later together with Corbin) has moved away from it, which of course is not necessarily a bad thing as research methods often develop over time.

Gustav Medberg is a Postdoctoral Researcher and Lecturer at the Department of Marketing at Hanken. His main research interests include financial services, service marketing and management, value creation and destruction, and qualitative research methods.

References

Bryman, A., Bell, E., Mills, A.J. & Yue, A.R, (2011), Business Research Methods. Canadian Edition. Oxford: Oxford University Press

Glaser, B. (1978), Theoretical Sensitivity. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press

Glaser, B. (1992), Basics of grounded theory analysis: Emergence vs. forcing. Mill Valley, CA: Sociology Press

Glaser, B. & Strauss, A. (1967), The discovery of grounded theory: Strategies for qualitative research. Chicago: Aldine

Hartman, J. (2001), Grundad teori. Teorigenerering på empirisk grund. Lund:

Studentlitteratur

Strauss, A. (1987), Qualitative analysis for social scientists. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press

Strauss, A. & Corbin, J. (1990), Basics of qualitative research: Grounded theory procedures and techniques. Newbury Park, CA: Sage Publications

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I watched hundreds of flat-Earth videos to learn how conspiracy theories spread – and what it could mean for fighting disinformation

Darryl Fonseka / Shutterstock

Carlos Diaz Ruiz, Hanken School of Economics

Around the world, and against all scientific evidence, a segment of the population believes that Earth’s round shape is either an unproven theory or an elaborate hoax. Polls by YouGov America in 2018 and FDU in 2022 found that as many as 11% of Americans believe the Earth might be flat.

While it is tempting to dismiss “flat Earthers” as mildly amusing, we ignore their arguments at our peril. Polling shows that there is an overlap between conspiracy theories, some of which can act as gateways for radicalisation. QAnon and the great replacement theory, for example, have proved deadly more than once.

By studying how flat Earthers talk about their beliefs, we can learn how they make their arguments engaging to their audience, and in turn, learn what makes disinformation spread online.

In a recent study, my colleague Tomas Nilsson at Linnaeus University and I analysed hundreds of YouTube videos in which people argue that the Earth is flat. We paid attention to their debating techniques to understand the structure of their arguments and how they make them appear rational.

One strategy they use is to take sides in existing debates. People who are deeply attached to one side of a culture war are likely to wield any and all arguments (including truths, half-truths and opinions), if it helps them win. People invest their identity into the group and are more willing to believe fellow allies rather than perceived opponents – a phenomenon that sociologists call neo-tribalism.

The problem arises when people internalise disinformation as part of their identity. While news articles can be fact-checked, personal beliefs cannot. When conspiracy theories are part of someone’s value system or worldview, it is difficult to challenge them.

The three themes of the flat-Earth theory

In analysing these videos, we observed that flat Earthers take advantage of ongoing culture wars by inserting their own arguments into the logic of, primarily, three main debates. These debates are longstanding and can be very personal for participants on either side.

First is the debate about the existence of God, which goes back to antiquity, and is built on reason, rather than observation. People already debate atheism v faith, evolution v creationism, and Big Bang v intelligent design. What flat Earthers do is set up their argument within the longstanding struggle of the Christian right, by arguing that atheists use pseudoscience – evolution, the Big Bang and round Earth – to sway people away from God.

A common flat Earther refrain that taps into religious beliefs is that God can inhabit the heavens above us physically only in a flat plane, not a sphere. As one flat Earther put it:

They invented the Big Bang to deny that God created everything, and they invented evolution to convince you that He cares more about monkeys than about you … they invented the round Earth because God cannot be above you if He is also below you, and they invented an infinite universe, to make you believe that God is far away from you.

The second theme is a conspiracy theory that sees ordinary people stand against a ruling elite of corrupt politicians and celebrities. Knowledge is power, and this theory argues that those in power conspire to keep knowledge for themselves by distorting the basic nature of reality. The message is that people are easily controlled if they believe what they are told rather than their own eyes. Indeed, the Earth does appear flat to the naked eye. Flat Earthers see themselves as part of a community of unsung heroes, fighting against the tyranny of an elite who make the public disbelieve what they see.

The third theme is based on the “freethinking” argument, which dates back to the spirited debate about the presence or absence of God in the text of the US constitution. This secularist view argues that rational people should not believe authority or dogma – instead, they should trust only their own reason and experience. Freethinkers distrust experts who use “book knowledge” or “nonsense math” that laypeople cannot replicate. Flat Earthers often use personal observations to test whether the Earth is round, especially through homemade experiments. They see themselves as the visionaries and scientists of yesteryear, like a modern-day Galileo.

Possible counterarguments

Countering disinformation on social media is difficult when people internalise it as a personal belief. Fact-checking can be ineffective and backfire, because disinformation becomes a personal opinion or value.

Responding to flat Earthers (or other conspiracy theorists) requires understanding the logic that makes their arguments persuasive. For example, if you know that they find arguments from authority unconvincing, then selecting a government scientist as a spokesperson for a counterargument may be ineffective. Instead, it may be more appealing to propose a homemade experiment that anyone can replicate.

If you can identify the rationality behind their specific beliefs, then a counterargument can engage that logic. Insiders of the group are often key to this – only a spokesperson with impeccable credentials as a devout Christian can say that you do not need the flat-Earth beliefs to remain true to your faith.

Overall, beliefs like flat-Earth theory, QAnon and the great replacement theory grow because they appeal to a sense of group identity under attack. Even far-fetched misinformation and conspiracies can seem rational if they fit into existing grievances. Since debates on social media require only posting content, participants create a feedback loop that solidifies disinformation as points of view that cannot be fact-checked.The Conversation

Carlos Diaz Ruiz, Assistant Professor, Hanken School of Economics

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Christmas traditions

The Advent calendar is around 40 years old. It has been reconstructed a couple of times but is still in use. Picture: Harry Lindell

My late grandmother used to tell us children about how her own mother was Father Christmas and how they got toys as gifts. After two weeks those toys disappeared just to come back next Christmas again. These memories were dear to my grandmother without her mentioning anything about scarcity or such. Even today, rather than depressing I consider the tales to be beautiful.

My own memories of Christmas are on top of the warm traditions also around toys, paper, pencils, perfumes I received year after year. Not until I had spent several years in China did, I start to question the consumption habits that we have around Christmas. If a child is kind and well behaved, he or she will receive gifts whereas the not so well-behaved are left without. As adults we all know that wealthier families’ kids are the kindest!

According to some marketing researchers we live in a global consumer culture and consumption (Arnould and Thompson, 2005) coupled with creed to eternal economic growth is the social dominant logic we live in (Sandberg, 2018; Gorge, Herbert, Özçağlar-Toulouse, & Robert, 2014). Rather than building up our identities around national or local cultures we do so by consuming (Belk, 1988; 2013). Our traditions around Christmas enhance such consumption. But the very same researchers also notice trends of anti-consumption (Lee, Cherrier, & Belk, 2010), sharing (Belk, 2010) and degrowth discussions. At the same time, natural scientists warn us of loss of biodiversity, climate change and health issues related to our consumption.

Is there a change in the air for another social dominant logic or will Homo Sapiens be forced to change?

On my way back from a marketing tutorial this year in Vaasa I overheard young doctoral students talking about shopping for Christmas presents. They agreed on that the world has change so much that it is acceptable to give recycled or pre-loved gifts. I fully agree! Even if I still love stuff, my gifts for this year will be handicrafts by my grandmother, harvests from my own or my neighbors garden or little items that I can make myself. These are coupled with stories and tales as well as instructions on how to use them and their purpose in an everyday life context. As of last year, my 50-year-old tradition to use an Advent Calendar made of old matchboxes is now filled with thoughts and aphorisms from others and from myself written on paper that is made out from bed sheets. I build up my own and my family’s’ identity around these habits.

Though Christmas has been a big commercial success and a newly adopted festive tradition, most people in China do not celebrate as people do in the West. Their celebration has instead been around the Luna calendar where the biggest celebration is happening on the Lunar New Years. Is gift giving part of the celebration? No. Instead children receive from their family, relatives and friends Hong Baos, red envelopes, that are filled with money. I asked my good friend; do you go shopping after the Lunar Year? I received the straightforward answer, No. The money is given to be saved. The tales that are told while giving the red envelopes are around saving: this is for your education, housing, or health. Despite huge economic growth in Asian countries their saving rates remain high, much higher than any Western countries. Could I learn from this tradition?

Pia Polsa, Associate Professor, Department of Marketing at Hanken School of Economics.

References:

Arnould, E. J. & Thompson, C. J. (2005). “Consumer Culture Theory (CCT): Twenty Years of Research,” Journal of Consumer Research, 31(4), 868–882. https://doi.org/10.1086/426626

Belk, W.R. (1988). “Possessions and the extended self,” Journal of Consumer Research, 15(2), 139-168.

Belk, W.R. (2010). “Sharing,” Journal of Consumer Research, 36(5), 715–734. https://doi.org/10.1086/612649

Belk, W.R., (2013). “Extended Self in a Digital World,” Journal of Consumer Research, 40(3), 477–500. https://doi.org/10.1086/671052

Gorge, H., Herbert, M., Özçağlar-Toulouse, N., & Robert, I. (2014). “What do we really need? Questioning consumption through sufficiency,” Journal of Macromarketing, 35(1), 11-22.

Lee S. W.M., Cherrier, H., & Belk, W.R. (2013). “Special Issue: Anti-Consumption Research and Society,” Journal of Macromarketing, 33(3), 187-189. https://doi.org/10.1177/0276146713485

Sandberg, M. (2018). “Downsizing of housing: negotiating sufficiency and spatial norms,” Journal of Macromarketing, 38(2), 154-167.

Cocreating transformative value propositions with customers experiencing vulnerability during humanitarian crises

The global COVID-19 pandemic made us all aware of people experiencing vulnerability. Moreover, the pandemic was continuing when Russia invaded Ukraine, creating vulnerability for millions of people and forcing them to seek refuge in other countries. Humanitarian crises, such as a pandemic, wars, and natural catastrophes impose vulnerabilities that emerge due to the crisis and hit people who are already living in disadvantaged conditions

Transformative service aims to alleviate experiences of vulnerability

People experiencing vulnerability need services that alleviate their vulnerability. This type of service is called transformative service. Transformative service aims to increase people’s wellbeing and alleviate their experiences of vulnerability.  

Vulnerability can be understood in many different ways. Social determinants of health reflect people’s living conditions at home, work, school and social sites. To alleviate conditions that create vulnerability during and after humanitarian crises, it is important to alleviate the underlying causes, improving social determinants of health.

Already the COVID pandemic made us understand that it is not enough for government agencies to design transformative value propositions for people experiencing vulnerability. All entities must align their goals and intentions: firms, non-for-profits, and public at large. Aligned efforts to offer transformative value propositions are needed to help people experiencing vulnerability.

Designing transformative value propositions using archetypes of service innovation

Archetypes of service innovation is a typology that can help service providers design transformative value propositions.

  • The most common archetypes are output-based (e.g. measured in quantity) and process-based (e.g. managing the process of helping).
  • The experiential archetype is needed to create positive experiences and cocreate transformative value propositions with customers. In case of emergency, just receiving help can create a positive experience and alleviate vulnerability. However, even in humanitarian crises, people need to be willing and able to engage with the help offered. Service providers can propose value propositions, but before value is experienced by people, they need to be willing and capable to cocreate value for themselves.
  • A systemic archetype takes a service ecosystems approach to design how to integrate aligned forces and resources to alleviate causes of vulnerability. Often vulnerability, such as poverty, is systemic, and one-time help is not enough.

Service providers and individuals can target one or more of these archetypes when designing transformative value propositions. For example, the battle to deliver food to people experiencing vulnerabilities in a war zone: the output is the amount of food delivered for hungry people. The process is how to get the food delivered as safely as possible to right source, right time, and in good condition. The systemic archetype integrates the efforts of multiple actors and resources, which is of utmost importance in difficult circumstances. For example, delivering help to the war zone needs a capable ecosystem with many actors and different resources.

Model of transformative value propositions (TVPs) by service innovation archetypes. Note: The exemplars in this figure illustrate TVPs described more fully in the article:

Gallan, A.S. and Helkkula, A. (2022), Cocreating transformative value propositions with customers experiencing vulnerability during humanitarian crises, AMS Review, https://doi.org/10.1007/s13162-022-00223-5

Cocreating transformative value propositions

When vulnerability is understood as an experience, service providers need to understand that help cannot just be delivered – help needs to be cocreated with people experiencing vulnerability. This understanding becomes especially important in a long-term situation of vulnerability. For example, in an acute crisis, it is of utmost importance to offer shelter, food, and basic utilities to refugees. However, in the longer run, transformative service does not aim to passivate people experiencing vulnerability as an objective of help; the aim is to get people to cocreate their wellbeing with service providers during and after the humanitarian crises. For example, registered Ukrainian refugees in Finland get a working permit for a year enabling them to integrate their resources and cocreate with the local service ecosystem. Another example from the education sector is Hanken School of Economics offering Ukrainian students who have fled the war an opportunity to continue studying in Finland.

Humanitarian crises often force people to change their living and working conditions, and these changes may become long-term. While the COVID-19 pandemic created a huge digital leap in working and learning, at the same time global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased massively. Therefore, transformative service propositions are needed during the crisis, and longer-term after humanitarian crises.

For examples of transformative value propositions that firms have made, please read:

Gallan, A.S. and Helkkula, A. (2022), Cocreating transformative value propositions with customers experiencing vulnerability during humanitarian crises, AMS Review,   
(The paper can be requested from anu.helkkula(at)hanken.fi) 

Archetypes of service innovation: 

Helkkula, A., Kowalkowski, C. and Tronvoll, B. 2018, ‘Archetypes of service innovation: Implications for value cocreation’, Journal of Service Research, vol 21, no3, pp. 284-301, Open Gold Access. 

Anu Helkkula

Manager of Hanken PhD Programme

Consumer Insight Remains the Bedrock of Competitive Businesses (Even During This Inflationary Period)

It’s no news that the world is experiencing an inflation that I consider complicated for the average person to wrap their head around, as it has both demand-pull (shortage of supply due to supply chain crisis) and cost-push (increase in prices of raw materials because of the climbing fuel prices) perspectives to its cause. This might explain why some predict it will take a while for the inflationary period to end. In addition to consumer earnings not having the same purchasing power as it used to, consumers are increasing savings, due to uncertainty for the future (Inman, 2022). The prior suggests that consumers are spending less, and market competitiveness is fiercer currently. As a result, remaining competitive under this period is now of utmost priority for firms.

“Innovation is the lifeblood of a business where competitive advantage comes from”.

For firms, there are many innovation possibilities to take on at any moment, but they rank differently in terms of their priority based on social and economic circumstances. Time and resource limitations do not give firms the luxury of implementing all innovation possibilities open to them.

In times like this, product innovations that are solely geared towards impressing consumers by enhancing  their perceived innovativeness might not bring out the appropriate (or expected) level of consumers’ perceived innovativeness. For instance, a rechargeable portable blender with a noticeably better design or battery life than its competitors might not attract the attention of consumers now, especially if it comes with a price increase . Therefore, it ultimately does not improve a firm’s ability to retain their customers or attract new ones, owing to the fact that consumers might be cognitively distracted because of the current economic instability. On the other hand, innovations that reduce firm costs, even if they are not visible to consumers are of high priority during this inflationary period. In my opinion, these innovations are in a better position to improve firms’ competitiveness.

The present business environment calls for cost reduction in business operations so that they can stay afloat. The latest CMO survey by Veenstra (n.d.) published by Deloitte indicated an increase in marketing spending and a further increase is anticipated. Rightly prioritizing consumer insights can help firms reduce marketing cost. This presents an avenue for marketing innovation driven by insights that focus on underlying unconscious processes that drives consumer behaviour (such as, detection of consumer emotion). Below is a simple illustration to show what I mean:

(M1). Manager: Which of the two marketing campaigns that we tested resulted in a higher conversion rate?

(E1). Employee: It’s campaign A with a 3% increase in conversion rate while campaign B only increased its conversion rate by 1%.

(M2). Manager: Ok. Let’s replace our marketing campaign with campaign A.

(E2). Employee: Ok.

M2 and E2 above should be replaced with the below:

(M2).  Manager: What is it about campaign A that makes it better? Why does campaign A increase conversion at a higher rate from a consumer perspective?

(E2). Employee: I haven’t tried to find out yet.

(M3).  Manager: Please, do.

(E3). Employee: Ok.

What the above conversation does, is that it gives the firm the starting point to explore other possible cost-effective marketing strategies that would elicit the same “why” that made Campaign A increase conversion at a higher rate, thereby leading to marketing innovation.

In conclusion, accepting the fact that the marketing of encouraging consumers to spend more and more may not be suitable (or work as it used to) under inflation. This time should rather be spent on further improving the firm’s capability to gain relevant consumer insights and use them appropriately to reduce marketing cost.

Biography

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


References

  1. Inman, P. (2022, March 1). Britons slow credit card spending and increase savings – for now. https://www.theguardian.com/money/2022/mar/01/uk-credit-card-spending-slows-savings-increase-january[WS1] [WF2] 
  2. Veenstra, J. (n.d.). The CMO Survey: The latest results. https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/chief-marketing-officer/articles/cmo-survey.html

A coherent identity is not always key to successful corporate branding

Last week, I defended my doctoral dissertation at Hanken. The thesis bears the title” Coherence or diversity in corporate branding – Varying perceptions of the company as sources for corporate branding”. It’s about identity (basically, ’who am I?’), but specifically in the context of companies, discussing the concept of corporate identity.

At a general level, my thesis has one main message

Corporate brands do not always need to be coherent and consistent.

This means that companies do not necessarily need to strive to align their stakeholders’ perceptions of them. In my thesis I have focused on exploring the diverse perceptions of employees and customers. In addition, companies may also consider a multitude of stakeholders such as shareholders, suppliers, and partner organizations.

My thesis shows that stakeholders have diverse perceptions of companies for many reasons. Employees’ perceptions of a company’s identity may vary depending on their professional background or culture. It further depends on the clients they interact with on a daily basis. Likewise, customers’ perceptions of companies vary depending on their experiences with companies; for instance, the length of the relationship with the company and what services they have bought specifically. While these insights may apply in many different companies, the findings are specifically drawn from a business-to-business context, where companies market their services towards other companies.

Importantly, the thesis shows that it can be hard for stakeholders to identify with corporate brand that is too uniform. A brand that is too uniform may even be considered irrelevant, as stakeholders may ask: ”how does my identity, and how do my perceptions fit together with this brand?”

Then what should companies do about this?

Listening to and learning from multiple stakeholders

A first step could be to listen and learn about this perceptual diversity among stakeholders. This could be done, for example, by adopting a mentality of co-creation, meaning that the brand is developed together with stakeholders. For example, companies could invite their employees or customers into different branding processes to voice their opinions on topical matters. As another example, companies could facilitate brand communities where stakeholders can interact – internally or externally. New ideas for the brand may emerge from these communities that companies can learn from.

Evaluating diversity and stakeholder representation in the corporate identity

Another step could be to consider how the company presents itself, and its corporate identity. Is there something in the current branding processes, such as brand communications, that could be changed? For instance, a company can consider how their strategies and values are communicated, and whether they adequately represent a multitude of stakeholders. Does the company present itself as a uniform entity that provides uniform services, or as a network of people with varying skills, together providing a variety of services that can be tailored as unique solutions to customers?

Evaluating the diversification of the product or service portfolio

The company could also have a look at their product or service portfolio, which can be seen as part of their corporate identity. Does the company choose to be a generalist or a specialist? Do all offerings complement each other, or does the company diversify its portfolio by offering multiple independent products or services (i.e., service diversification)? My thesis suggests that all services do not necessarily have to complement each other or interest all customers, but service diversification typically requires maintaining sufficient service quality for each individual service.

Regardless of the specific path that a company chooses to take with their brand, identity-related questions remain important for all companies, including ”who do we want to be as a company?”, and what do we promise towards or stakeholders?”. These questions are not answered in a day, nor are they meant to be. When branding occurs as a continuous process of company-stakeholder interaction, there is room for minds and directions to change along the way.

Sonja Sarasvuo

Sonja Sarasvuo defended her thesis titled ”Coherence or diversity in corporate branding – Varying perceptions of the company as sources for corporate branding” at Hanken on March 18th 2022.

Students as customers – what would service researchers say?

A marketing logic is becoming more common in universities, as higher education is becoming increasingly competitive and marketized. Universities develop strategies for differentiation, compete in rankings, and seek to attract the best and brightest students. As a result, concepts that are familiar to us service researchers, such as value, experience, and customer orientation, have become popular in the field of education. There are even increasing tendencies to refer to students as customers. In this view, universities are seen to provide service to their customers.

However, the creeping of marketing thought into universities has faced a lot of criticism – often for good reasons. Critics have pointed out that education is not something that can be measured through customer satisfaction. Studies have also shown that a consumerist approach can promote passive learning and threaten academic standards (Naidoo, Shankar & Veer 2011). Learning is demanding. It requires hard work and questioning one’s prejudices and preconceptions. In other words, it’s not a night at the Ritz-Carlton. This got me thinking whether we should ignore what marketers can say about education, or could service and marketing research have something more to give?

Education as a service

University administrators and policy makers can surely gain from looking at education as a service, but a broader and more nuanced understanding of modern service research is needed. Here’s two examples of how current service thinking relates to important developments in universities:

  1. Finnish universities are required to plan and monitor the promotion of equality and diversity. Among other things, this means that the university – as a physical and social space – has to ensure equal and safe access and treatment for its students. During the past years, service researchers have explored questions of service inclusion, and showed how service design methods can be useful in pursuing these goals (Fisk, Dean, Alkire et al. 2018). A wide range of tools and methods, such as customer journey maps, empathy maps, or cocreation workshops, can help universities in becoming aware of structures and processes that hinder equality and diversity (see e.g. Vink and Koskela-Huotari 2021).
  2. Universities are also expected to engage in tackling societal and environmental challenges. Two good examples of commitments here at Hanken are the UN Principles of Responsible Management Education initiative, and the Climate University collaboration between Finnish higher education institutions. Instead of value in the traditional marketing sense, these commitments represent a social dimension of value, or transformative value, in service research terminology(Blocker & Barrios 2015). In this perspective, education as a service can facilitate social awareness and inspire action. This is, in fact, very compatible with some fundamental pedagogical ideas and philosophies. The European university tradition, with its heritage of bildung and the education of civilized, critically thinking individuals, resembles this view of agentic and reflexive consumers in current service thinking. 

“Education is, and always has been, a service with transformative outcomes”

Education is, and always has been, a service with transformative outcomes. Universities enact change in society through each individual student that passes through their doors. From a service research perspective, viewing students as customers means much more than measuring satisfaction or value. It means ensuring them equal access and treatment. It means providing them with the capabilities to build a better society, as informed citizens, entrepreneurs, employees, and employers.

Hannu Tikkanen
Doctoral candidate

References

Blocker, C. & Barrios, A. (2015) The Transformative Value of a Service Experience. Journal of Service Research, vol. 18, no. 3, pp. 265-283

Fisk, R. P., Dean, A. M., Alkire, L., Joubert, A., Previte, J. & Rosenbaum, M. S. (2018). Design for service inclusion: creating inclusive service systems by 2050. Journal of Service Management, vol. 29, no. 5, pp. 834-858

Naidoo, R., Shankar, A. & Veer, E. (2011) The consumerist turn in higher education: Policy aspirations and outcomes. Journal of Marketing Management, vol. 27, no. 11/12, pp. 1142-1162


The survival guide to the conference journey

From Hanken to the QUIS17 symposium (and back)

Before getting further, I wish to share some tips for reading this blog text. The following provides key learnings from my first academic conference presentation at the 17th International research symposium on service excellence in management (QUIS17) in Valencia. Take this as a subjective journey and self-reflection on how small things make a difference. In case you chose this as a survival guide to make the best out of your first presentation and make your journey exceptional, the responsibility lies with the reader (as it does with all self-help guides). Also, there are three key points you should keep in mind:

  • First, the journey is divided into three stages: pre-stage, on the stage and post-stage. The first two stages are about being “in the factory”. Not to mention that a lot needs to be done already before the journey begins. The post-stage describes how to fix the puzzle. In the long run, this is the stage that makes the difference between… well, puzzles. But before you can get there, you have to go through the journey with all its stages.
  • Second, the following findings are not what I found useful, but what I found I should have done during my journey. In my case, learned my lesson a day too late.
  • Third, you cannot fully control your journey on the stage as it is a performance and thus an interplay between you, the audience and many other variables. However, both pre-stage and post-stage processes can make you a stronger performer on stage.

If you wish to read more, take a step further and let the conference journey begin.

The pre-stage

Assuming you have done all your homework – you are familiar with the script, you have mentally warmed up to your role, and you have prepared a visually appealing presentation – there is not much to do but enjoy and try to get to know the people in the conference (professors, postdocs and other doctoral students). If you are determined and make friends during the pre-stage, you might get the opportunity to share your thoughts on your topic before your presentation. This will most probably provide you some good discussions and even questions about your research that may be helpful during the actual presentation. Listen to them carefully!

Also, ask your new friends to come to listen to your presentation. It is always nice to have familiar faces in the audience. Some with whom you may have had a drink or two during the precious conference nights.

On the stage

Think of your presentation as storytelling. If you’ll find familiar faces in the audience, you can tell them your story and set the focus on those audience members with whom you already have an emotional bound. It often helps you to get rid of the feeling of butterflies in belly. It also makes storytelling more personal if you can adapt to the audience or at least some of them.

Now, be confident and enjoy. The people in the audience might be celebrities. They might have great publications and bright minds. But remember, they still share the same planet earth with you. Some of them watch the same Netflix series, listen to the same music, share the same worries, daily routines and worldview with you. They have just had a different journey, and now your paths have crossed.

“The first conference is always a once-in-a-lifetime experience”

Although the first conference is always a once-in-a-lifetime experience, and your topic is apparently the most interesting of all, do not take it too seriously. You most probably cannot change the world (yet), neither break it (which is also good). The day after, you still enjoy the very same hotel breakfast, watch Seinfeld on Netflix, your partner is sending you goodnight kisses and the kids are asking for more money (if you happen to have any… money or kids).

What comes to the feedback, it is good to remember the audience’s position as well. The performance is always built on the Maussian “potlatch” (if you have read Marcell Mauss you may have heard of the double-obligation of giving and repaying). As a performer you have an obligation to give (the presentation). At the same time your audience feels obligated to pay back (the feedback). Try to focus and dig deeper into the comments you feel are the most essential to your research. But do not take it too personally! Sometimes feedback is not fully relevant because it is an obligation that must be fulfilled.

And most likely you already have more conceptual or empirical understanding of your topic than most of your audience. But still, do not try to be more than you are. If something on your paper is conceptually fuzzy and you get questions about it, you can always remind the audience that it is a work-in-progress, and you will pay more attention to it as soon as you get back to your hotel. And it is always good if there are some bright-minded participants in the audience. Tricky questions will make you, your research, and your next presentation much stronger.

The post-stage

Congratulations! You have survived this far! As you already know, observing others, sharing thoughts, making presentations, and evaluating the feedback you receive are great ways to learn and clarify your research focus and conceptual thinking. But this was only the easiest part. The most challenging of all is self-reflection and how to find your way up from the pitfall. Remember to be kind to yourself. Based on your findings, focus on the things you want to improve in your future performances. Create or enhance your own “stage power” or “performative self” (whatever it will be). Giving a presentation is a performance (like it or not) like all human interactions are. If you have any teaching experience, you already know that you have your role to play, and you may have some tricks to get people engaged. Use them!

And what comes to your research after your first presentation: start weaponizing your key thoughts! But do not start it immediately. Sleep one night first and then write a reflection paper, blog text or diary page. Putting your thoughts and findings on paper, gives you all the answers you would have needed already during your first presentation.

Don’t worry! There is more to come. The journey has just begun.

From failure to mastery (and back).

Pekka Saarikorpi
Doctoral candidate (since August 2020)

with plenty of experience in various arts performance settings but little experience in academic presentations

Impressions from the QUIS symposium on Service Excellence in Management

The 17th International research symposium on service excellence in management (QUIS17) was arranged on 12-15 January in Valencia, Spain.

In 1988 a small group of researchers from Sweden and US decided that they would meet and talk about their challenges in terms of research on service organizations. Service was, back then, a niche topic with only a smaller number of scholars and companies interested. Few of them, I believe, visualized that this international meeting still would be going on, and even defy a worldwide pandemic, for the 17th time in the beginning of 2022. (Read about the history of QUIS here.) The 17th International research symposium on service excellence in management (QUIS17), originally scheduled for 18-21 June 2021 at VinUniversity, Hanoi, Vietnam, was arranged on 12-15 January in Valencia, Spain.

QUIS17 venue

For obvious reasons, QUIS17 was a smaller conference in terms of numbers in comparison to the normal QUIS-conferences that we have had. I estimate that we were around 80-90 persons this time and that approximately 30-40 persons participated online during the two-day conference.

The venue of QUIS17 was the beautiful city of Valencia and more precisely the Universitat Politècnico de València (UPV) with Mariaval Segarra-Oña and Angel Peiro Signes as local hosts. Rohit Verma and myself (Per Kristensson) participated as co-hosts for QUIS as Cornell University and Karlstad University (and Arizona State University) represent the founding universities of QUIS.

The experience of QUIS17

The conference was, as always, a perfect combination of people who wanted to share their research, but also support in terms of ideas and affirmation, to other researchers. The welcoming and open climate has always been a hallmark of QUIS. Another important hallmark, a reoccurring characteristic of QUIS, regards the mix of business and public organizations and researchers. Unlike other conferences, service conferences have always been careful about the situation that research should do the wider society a service, namely by helping various organizations with the challenges they are facing. This year, we therefore took part of how Covid-19 had affected the hotel industry and the airline business in the region, and also how new jeans are produced in an ecological and sustainable way.

In terms of research presentations, my choice many times fell on the many interesting cases of ecosystems and sustainability. These two concepts, that also fit well together, were the more prominent ones that I remember from listening to concurrent sessions. Ecosystems implies a systemic view where value is cocreated within multi-actor exchange systems. The meaning of ecosystems, examples of it in different sectors, and its relevance for a sustainable future was discussed at the presentations I attended. In terms of sustainability, the feeling is that this area, for a number of years to come, will play the same importance for service researchers as concepts as loyalty or encounters previously has played.

“Service is not a niche field anymore”

Summing up I note that service research really has made the move that was called out by Steve Vargo and Bob Lusch in 2004. Service is not a niche field anymore, the number of sectors that was researched, the influence of different academic perspectives, the plethora of scientific methods, all point to the fact that service today is a perspective on how individuals, organizations and societies create value. With these impressions in mind, I left the beautiful city of Valencia with feeling very good.

Per Kristensson
Professor and director of Service Research Center, Karlstad University CERS Senior fellow, Hanken School of Economics