The Marketing Archipelago – a reflection on how we understand the concept of marketing

Photo: Pixabay

If somebody would ask you to explain marketing what would you say? Those of you who are marketing students, scholars, or professionals probably have an understanding of what marketing is, grounded in your own experiences and use of marketing. But marketing has some meaning for many others too, including consumers. Here is the problem: marketing means different things to different people. The end result is a diversity of meanings of marketing that we do not easily recognize but hinders communication.

For some, marketing comes in size S (small): it is equal to marketing communication managed by a marketing department in a commercial setting with the intent to acquire and keep customers. Earlier, this meant focusing on advertising campaigns, nowadays it is based on digital and social media. Marketing is in other words what the marketing department does. Some argue according to this view that sales is not marketing, neither are the other well-known Ps, product development, pricing and distribution (place) in Philip Kotler’s Marketing Management book.

In contrast, marketing in L (large) size considers marketing not as a function but more as a business perspective positioned on a strategic level. This is how marketing has been seen at Hanken since I started my studies in marketing about fifty years ago.  Ironically, then it was the Department of Market Economy and we changed the name in the 80’s to Department of Marketing to align with current thinking. Marketing in L size also comes in the shapes of service marketing and management, customer relationship management, business-to-business marketing; all of these still retaining the idea that marketing mainly has to do with commercial goals and interests, starting from business model design and corporate strategy. These perspectives have been the foundation for Hanken’s research institute CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service management.

Marketing is currently expanding its scope to a XL size: a responsibility perspective where systems in many layers are in focus, sustainability and wellbeing are goals beyond company profitability and success and recognizing all the organization’s stakeholders is considered essential. Transformative Service Research has emerged as movement within service research to address the well-being of individuals and communities, often recognizing those that are in a vulnerable situation. Similarly, the American Marketing Association has recently initiated discussion groups about BMBW (Better Marketing for a Better World) resulting in thematic sessions at conferences and special issues (such as the recent issue in Journal of Marketing). In service and business marketing theorizing about ecosystems are increasingly in focus rather than the focal company. Technology developments have inspired to broaden the perspective on marketing.

In fact, it would be fair to put “marketing” within citation marks to indicate that there is almost no shared meaning of what “marketing” is, although the term is commonly used by many. Depending on whether you apply a S, L or XL perspective on marketing you end up in discussing completely different issues.

To be very practical: how do you describe to a new student at Hanken what marketing is and what you can become by studying marketing, how do you explain marketing to those in organizations that do not have a formal marketing training, and how do you describe to those that have a marketing training that the term is the same but the content has completely changed?

In my view, based on my observations in the last decades, there is metaphorically no single Marketing Island where all marketing people live. Instead, it seems more to be a big archipelago consisting of bigger and smaller islands down to skerries that barely rise above the water. The islands represent different understandings of “marketing”, like business-to-business marketing, service management, service design, branding, consumer behaviour, digital marketing, customer relationship management, macromarketing, social marketing; many populated by several scholarly tribes with different language and gurus. As marketing had a specific meaning when the concept was invented decades ago the relevant question today would be: what is the essence of “marketing” as a phenomenon today, and is marketing the most appropriate term anymore?  

Perhaps one way forward is to reconsider the American Marketing Association’s current definition of marketing from 2017, which is essentially a satellite picture of the proposed Marketing Archipelago; it might be inclusive but not very informative on the ground level: “Marketing is the activity, set of institutions, and processes for creating, communicating, delivering, and exchanging offerings that have value for customers, clients, partners, and society at large.”

In increasingly dynamic environments where “offerings that have value” is a moving target and organizations continuously struggle to meet emerging challenges, a proactive exploration of new islands might be necessary. In practice this means taking the risk of trying out new perspectives, conceptual frameworks, and concepts to understand emerging changes. Fortunately, CERS is an excellent home base for such expeditions.  

Tore Strandvik
Professor Emeritus

The service robot may watch you when you do bad things


More robots are expected in the not too distant future and this includes service robots sharing the same environment with humans. My personal prediction is that they are more likely to appear in workplace environments, such as offices, before they enter our homes; the coming generations of such robots will be expensive and, unfortunately, unable to do many of the things in our homes that we wish that they should do – such as washing clothes, cleaning the kitchen and perhaps cooking food for us.

When they do appear, they are likely to be – at least to some degree – autonomous. This aspect has created much concern among those who think that autonomous entities can make decisions that are harmful to humans. Such decisions have been discussed, for example, when it comes to self-driving cars, weapon systems and credit evaluations. And there are indeed many suggestions about how to restrict the potential of robot transgressions. It is almost a field of research on its own, in which researchers discuss concepts such as artificial morality, machine morality and roboethics. Some say that robots should be programmed so that there are things that they never would do; others, who are more optimistic about what is possible, have suggested that robots should be developed so that they have morality – that is to say, the ability to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong and an ability to choose what is right.

As I see it, however, the main transgressors will still be humans. In our lives, there are so many norms to know, they are sometimes conflicting, subject to debate, and they often serve as barriers in relation to our needs and wants, so that it is simply inevitable that all of us, every now and then, will be transgressors. This, in turns, raises an additional but less well-researched issue about robot morality and transgressions: what happens when we, the humans, are the transgressors and when the robots understand that what we do is wrong? Would this reduce the number of transgressions and thereby make the world a better place? Or would it add to the feeling that we are often monitored? That is to say, robots with artificial morality that watch over us may create a deeply disturbing Orwellian environment. It may be noted that several major corporation do engage in electronic surveillance of employees by other means than robots and that this typically has a strong negative charge for employees.

Anyway, I had a chance to examine this issue experimentally by having an employee in an office conduct norm violations while a service robot was watching. I used my own robot, which has 16 degrees of freedom, meaning that it can do amazing things with its body, and it can be made to appear as highly autonomous by the way it talks – in human language – to humans. In one experiment, the robot discovered that the employee was not doing what he said he was doing with his laptop; he said that he was preparing a presentation of a sales strategy – instead, however, he was watching porn online. And in the other experiment, the employee, who was about to take an apple in the office kitchen, coughed heavily without covering his mouth so that all the fruits in a bowl got a full shower of potentially contagious material (you can see what it looked like here).

Since these were experiments, the robot was manipulated so that it either did not understand that the employee was violating norms or it did understand this, which it indicated by condemning the human for the wrongdoings. Then, the robot-employee interactions were shown to participants whose task it was to answer questions about the robot. In a typical experiment of this type, the participants see only one of the manipulated versions and the researcher’s indication of an effect comes from comparing the responses from those who saw different versions and this is how my robot experiments were made, too. In any event, the result was unambiguous: when the robot indicated that it had understood that the human violated a norm, the robot was more positively evaluated and was perceived as delivering a higher level of service quality.

This is perhaps not so surprising, because to build a robot that understands that a violation of human norms has occurred is quite a remarkable engineering and programming feat. Yet some part of me had expected that such an understanding is eerie, something that can potentially result in the unwelcome omnipresence of electronic besserwissers eager to be judges of what we do, and that this would have attenuated the impressions of the norm-savvy robot. But such sentiments did not materialize in my experiments. Presumably, then, the results reflect a very human aspect: we typically react very negatively to norm violations, also in cases in which we are not personally victimized, and this ability facilitates stable relationships with others as well as all those cooperation activities that made Homo sapiens special.    

Magnus Söderlund

Professor of Marketing and Head of the Center for Consumer Marketing (CCM), Stockholm School of Economics

Senior Fellow Researcher at CERS, Hanken


Why do people not get along with technology? – an unpopular opinion

A while ago, one of my colleagues asked me if I could give her some references about the “threats” of artificial intelligence (AI). It was a pleasure to share thoughts and materials about the so-called dark side of this unprecedented phenomenon. However, as someone who is into AI and smart technologies and usually thinks about their potential and beauty, it made me think more in-depth. In fact, it reminded me of an executive manager in my country who happened to be an academic professional, too:

Two years ago, labor robots appeared in the market that assisted personnel in moving boxes in the warehouse. He refused to buy the robots, as he was not sure how they would impact productivity and was concerned about the potential side effects. A few months ago, I saw him giving a long instructive speech in praise of using intelligent robots and how great they can perform in the workplace.

… it made me think, why is it that, despite the fast growth of technological developments -including AI- and the demonstrated opportunities they bring, people do not “buy” it in the first place? In this blog post, I will share a somewhat unpopular opinion that explains what I see as the problematic point.

That’s not me!

You may have experienced planning to buy a handbag or taking part in a dance class and wondered how the exact relevant ad content pops up in your smartphone. Or sometimes, you may think that an ad is not relevant at all and you are not looking for such a product. Various users across the web have claimed that something fishy is going on with their phones (1). They say that the ads they get are not personalized and do not relate to their interests. On the other hand, ad algorithms and targeted marketing are becoming more intelligent. What is going wrong then?

One assumption is that we are not fully aware of our selves. One famous example is the teenage girl who was surprised by receiving an advertisement about maternity products in the mail. While she was not aware of her pregnancy yet, her consumption pattern analysis predicted it (2). Technologies may be able to predict our biological states, but do they reveal about our personalities?

Gabriella Harari, Assistant Professor at the Stanford Media and Personality Lab, said this:

“… people’s personalities influence their digital media use; the technologies themselves are just a medium through which they engage in various behaviors.”

It is obvious that smartphones have changed our behavior, but our behaviors are still driven by the kinds of activities we like to engage in. For instance, people who tend to engage in more calls and texts also tend to be the people who engage in more face-to-face conversation (3). So, people’s phone use reflects who they are; it’s not just the technology that drives behavior, our psychological dispositions influence the ways in which we use our devices.

Image by Timo Elliot

Another resistance to technology is the idea that people will lose their jobs. Huang and Rust’s “AI job replacement theory” specifies four intelligences required for service tasks—mechanical, analytical, intuitive, and empathetic (4). Machines are taking job roles that require mechanical and analytical skills. Firms should decide between humans and machines to accomplish those tasks.

Technology brings out our inner fear that machines can do the same activities as we do. But should an employee feel bad toward a robot in her workplace if she is capable of doing activities beyond that mechanical/ basic skill? It seems to be promising news, though, that job replacement makes the workforce learn to perform their tasks at a higher intellectual/technical level. Isn’t it a good thing that as more repetitive jobs are assigned to machines, people have more freedom for solving complicated problems, creativity, and innovation?

Technology is the mirror

There are plenty of explanations and ongoing studies about why people –be they consumers or service providers- are opposed to technology and its unprecedented dominance in the business. Technology’s imperfections and failures have brought many types of considerations; ethical issues, environmental effects, and privacy concerns, to name a few, that make the acceptance situation of this phenomenon even more complicated. Although, the message is crystal clear, considering all the mentioned points, technology is rapidly growing, and contemporary history shows us “ignoring” is not the solution.

There is no doubt that technology can grow through people’s engagements and nourish from human knowledge. Therefore, a various range of opportunities for a better, more sustainable world will be released. The purpose of writing this text was to bring up another point of view toward technology and to ask you, the next time that you encounter a new technological advancement, try to look at is as an opportunity and scratch your head on how you can contribute to it as an academic, a developer or a user!

Kimia Aghayi
Doctoral Candidate


References:

  1. https://www.makeuseof.com/tag/your-smartphone-listening-or-coincidence/
  2. https://www.forbes.com/sites/kashmirhill/2012/02/16/how-target-figured-out-a-teen-girl-was-pregnant-before-her-father-did/?sh=701fa4166686
  3. https://maplab.stanford.edu/pubs/2019/sensing-sociability/
  4. Huang and Rust, 2018, Artificial Intelligence in Service, Journal of Service Research, Vol. 21(2) 155-172.

What do you mean, “consume less”?

Image by 3888952 from Pixabay

Our high levels of consumption in Western, affluent countries is contributing to environmental problems, such as climate change and biodiversity loss. Efforts to make consumption “greener” have so far been unable to halt environmental degradation, spurring a growing number of researchers to argue for a need for substantial change in consumption patterns for high-consuming classes, including reducing the amount of consumption. To “consume less” may seem like a straight-forward idea, but it is often used as an abstract concept without specifying what it entails in practice. When arguing for “consuming less”, what does that actually mean?

In my recently published review article, I suggest distinguishing between four different types of consumption changes that consuming less can entail. First, consuming less can of course mean to literally consume less, that is, to reduce the quantity of consumption. For example, not owning a television or not spending the holiday vacationing in a far-away destination that requires a flight reduces the absolute amount of consumption.

However, such reductions in consumption levels are not always possible. In many cases consuming less doesn’t mean not consuming at all. For instance, consuming less of one product may result in shifting to a less environmentally harmful alternative. For example, much research indicates that we should consume less meat and dairy products. This of course does not mean that we eat less; rather, we replace the meat and dairy products in our diets with plant-based alternatives that have a smaller ecological footprint. Similarly, research has argued for the need to reduce private car use.  It is difficult to demand people travel shorter distances; rather, we can shift to alternative modes of transportation, such as public transport or biking.

In addition, sometimes consuming less may mean that we buy less new things and keep using what we already own. For example, it is not realistic to demand that we not wear clothes or own a phone, but if we extend the lifespan of the clothes and the electronics that we already own, we don’t need to buy as many new products.

Finally, sometimes we only have occasional use for a product, such as a drill or a book. In these instances, it may make the most sense to not buy these products for ourselves, but to borrow, rent, or in other ways share them with others. That way, we collectively consume less, as we are sharing products among us instead of everyone owning their own.

Thus, “consuming less” is not as simple an idea as it may first appear. It can actually entail a variety of ways of changing our consumption patterns: absolute reductions in the amount of consumption, changing modes of consumption, extending product lifespans, or sharing products. Understanding the variety of consumption changes that we can make to reduce ecological footprints can help us be more successful in our efforts to address environmental degradation.

Maria Sandberg,
Doctoral student


To read more about different ways of consuming less, see my recently published article, in which I develop a typology to differentiate between types of consumption changes and discuss consumption changes in housing, nutrition, mobility and other categories of consumption:

Sandberg, Maria (2021), “Sufficiency transitions: A review of consumption changes for environmental sustainability”, Journal of Cleaner Production, 293 (15 April 2021), 126097. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jclepro.2021.126097

Photo: Pixabay


CERS Research Seminar with Magnus Söderlund: Student Perspectives

The human-to-robot service encounter (and robot-to-robot encounters) 

On Tuesday, the 2nd of March 2021, Magnus Söderlund, Senior CERS Fellow, and Professor at Stockholm School of Economics held a seminar on recent empirical findings in human-to-robot and robot-to-robot interaction in the service sector. During this seminar, Söderlund talked about how such research can be conducted, some of the results from recent studies, and his view of the publishing opportunities.

Photo: Unsplash

As Master’s Marketing students, we were incredibly excited to attend this research seminar. This blog will provide a description of the seminar as well as our individual perspectives.

Interaction with robots in the service sector

Robots are already making appearances in different service industries. For instance, a robot helping customers in supermarkets in Sweden and service robots in the Seoul Airport. However, according to Professor Söderlund, these instances appear to be more promotional stunts than integrated service experiences.

Professor Söderlund owns three robots with a range of functions. Currently under COVID-19 restrictions, Professor Söderlund has been getting creative with his experimental methods. Using his own robots and himself as actor, he’s been creating videos for the purpose of measuring viewer impressions on varying dimensions of robot interactions.

His video experiments are guided by theories of anthropomorphism and are designed to gauge viewer participants’ judgements of privacy violations, perceived service effort, and service politeness. Theories of anthropomorphism explore the imbuing of non-humans with human-like characteristics.

Distinct from Söderlund’s previous work on virtual agents, service robots will move within physical environments in which there are humans while collecting, storing, processing, interpreting—and possibly sharing—data about humans. To Söderlund, movement is necessary feature in service robots.

Professor Söderlund gave seminar attendees a preview of the preliminary results of his studies. Each examines different scenarios in which participants watch videos and give their immediate impressions. Here is a recap of the studies and their research implications:

Study 1 (Privacy Violation)

In this video, participants are introduced to a robot who records everything around it. One employee (played by Söderlund) is anxiously awaiting feedback from his manager on a project. The robot, who can access and share information it has recorded, is asked by the employee to reveal the feedback the robot overheard from the manager.

According to viewing participants’ reactions, the robot was evaluated as a human, based on whether he violated the manager’s privacy. Even when the robot revealed positive feedback—it was still considered to violate the manager’s privacy. 

Implications: Anthropomorphism is clearly demonstrated here in ethical judgements on violations of privacy. The scenario indicates that robots in the workplace will be held accountable to the same moral standards as humans.

Study 2 (Privacy Violation)

In a twist on study 1, participants were shown scenarios comparing a human counsellor and a robot counsellor. After an employee had privately confided to the counsellor, a manager asks for the counsellor (human or robot) to reveal confidential information about the employee. As in study 1, the robot’s violation of the employee’s privacy is perceived the same as if a human did it. 

Implications: Again, the robot’s behaviour is held to human schemes of moral judgement. In the case of violating privacy, participants notably placed human-based ethical concerns on the robot.

Study 3 (Perceived Effort)

According to previous research, employees seen doing effortful activities are perceived as providing better service. Söderlund was interested in whether this phenomenon also applied to robots. When viewing a robot struggling to complete a task, the robot was NOT viewed as providing “better service” when it struggled more, unlike humans.

Implications: While high-effort human activity is usually perceived as contributing to better service, the opposite is true for robots. This suggests that for humans to perceive service robots as performing high-quality service, the activity must appear easy. Perhaps this expectation of perfection from robots will limit the adoption of service robots until they are sufficiently capable to make it “look easy”.

Study 4 (Robot-to-Robot interactions)

Söderlund showed participants a video of a little robot instructed to go the kitchen and complete a task. However, when it gets there, it must first interact with the “kitchen robot” who has authority over the whole kitchen. Two scenarios played out: one in which the kitchen robot was polite to its subordinate, and one in which it was rude. Not only did participants agree that between the two videos the robots differed in their level of politeness, but also judged the rude robot as providing poor service.

Implications: Like Söderlund’s research on the perception of the happiness of virtual agents, future service robots will be interpreted based on their behaviour as though they were human. This will carry over into the judgement of their service politeness, even when serving another robot.

Conclusion

According to Professor Söderlund, service robots will be most likely start out as information storing devices or simple communication machines. However, their possibilities include processing and interpreting data as well. While many human jobs are not at risk, robotics and technology threaten jobs in the same way that farming equipment replaced animals. His current studies lead him to conclude, “we evaluate robots similarly to how we evaluate humans in similar situations”.

Concluding the seminar were some final thoughts from participants. Professor Mahr pondered potential “rage against the robot” in discussing frustrated behaviour towards service robots. Professor Ciuchita commented, “let’s make them smart, but not too smart” in reference to claims that Spotify’s shuffle feature appeared not random enough to many users. In conclusion, Professor Söderlund urged interested researchers to contribute to future service robot research. Currently, Söderlund is exploring the publishing landscape and looking for publishing opportunities in service or robotics journals.

Student perspectives

Karolina Jensen (Master’s Students at Hanken, Project Assistant at CERS):

“The opportunity to attend Magnus Söderlund’s seminar was a chance to experience the world of research in action. I found the research itself, and the results of the empirical studies conducted by Professor Söderlund thought provoking and inspiring. How far can we go with robot – human interaction in the service sector? And where will we be in 5- or 10-years’ time? I think being in the midst of an ongoing conversation on current research is incredibly motivating for a student, makes you want to learn more and maybe even find out for yourself.”  

Erkki Paunonen (Master’s Students at Hanken, Project Assistant at CERS):

“This seminar provided a new perspective to research methodology during COVID-19 related distancing. Professor Söderlund introduced his methodological choices for these studies by jokingly referring to the ‘what would you do’ scenarios that researchers often describe to participants. If you can simply show them that scenario rather than describe it, why not? Using his own robots and self as actor, the methodology really struck me as a clever adaptation to remote research. Finally, as a student, it can often feel like academic articles are finished works that descend from the skies. It’s nice to hear about works in progress and realize that a lot of the research process is about doing, not just analysing.”

By Karolina Jensen and Erkki Paunonen

Master’s Student at Hanken, Project Assistants at CERS

Why I squat every day – and why you should too

Upon reading that title, you might think that I will use this post to explain how squatting daily will give you a butt hard as stone. Although that is indeed a nice benefit, it is not the main idea. Because it is good for your health? Nice bonus. Because it is the most badass exercise you can do in a gym? True, but not the main reason. Because it is an effective way to lose weight if done properly? Frankly that just leads in my case to eating more.

No, the real reason why I urge you to get under a heavy bar and squat all the way down is because it will prepare you for life.

“Let me tell you something you already know. The world ain’t all sunshine and rainbows. It is a very mean and nasty place and it will beat you to your knees and keep you there permanently if you let it. You, me, or nobody is gonna hit as hard as life. But it ain’t how hard you hit; it’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward. How much you can take and keep moving forward. That’s how winning is done. Now, if you know what you’re worth, then go out and get what you’re worth. But you gotta be willing to take the hit, and not pointing fingers saying you ain’t where you are because of him, or her, or anybody. Cowards do that and that ain’t you. You’re better than that!” – Sylvester Stallone in his role as Rocky.

Don’t escape the squat, use the squat to escape

Life is tough and there is no escaping from it: no matter how hard you run away from your problems, they will catch up sooner or later. In my opinion, facing your problems should not be a problem. You need to find the strength to tackle whatever issue needs to be resolved but you cannot “just do it”. For many things the first step is the most difficult one and there is a way to prepare for that step.

Every time I bring someone new in for a squat session, they become nervous, unsure if they can do it. “But I’m not strong…” No worries, we all have to take the first step. No one was born being able to squat heavy without training. Slowly and steadily mastering the movement under supervision, we gradually increase the weight. There will be a moment where I will tell you: “Let’s see how strong you really are” and then we prepare for that day.

The point of no return…

What goes through your head when you are about to test your limit? The minutes before you get under that bar? Fear. Anxiety. Doubt. Whatever weight is on that bar it is more than you have ever lifted before. You know that the previous attempt a couple of minutes ago already felt like carrying a car on your back then there is the point of no return. Especially in a competition there is no going back, you stand in line and see your fellow lifters barely making or even failing their lifts. The announcer tells the audience that it’s your turn, your coach hits you on the back while he screams into your ear. Not that you hear anything. You are sucked up in a mental void where you see your own feet moving forward and hear a voice in your head asking you how the hell we got into this situation and why we didn’t choose something easier, like bowling. Directed by autopilot you grab the bar, bring your body underneath and lift the weight out of the rack. There is only one thing going through your mind at that moment: “F*ck, this is heavy…”

It’s too late now, you cannot put it back before you attempt your lift. With wobbling legs, you step backwards and wait for the signal of the referee. “Squat!” A big breath of air, your hands pulling the bar as hard as you can into your back and the butt moving downwards as you go. It is as if time stands still. The sounds of the audience fade away. Your vision becomes blurred. You wonder: “am I deep enough already?” When your body feels like you cannot possibly go down further without tipping over, it pushes your back into the bar again. On a good day you will end up upright with the bar on your shoulders. On a bad day you will lose the battle and bend through your knees – no worries, the spotters are there to help you on your feet.

What squats taught me

If you have made it this far you might wonder something along the lines of “why the hell should I care about all of this” or “so what’s the reason now that I have to squat?” Because this experience, knowing that you gave everything you had, will make you stronger. Not just physically, but mentally. For months, if not years (trust me, I’ve been there), you have worked day in and day out for this goal you had. A squat teaches you something in life that not a lot of things can teach you: you will only be successful if you put in the thought and effort. A strong squat will say something about you as a person. You cannot buy a good squat. You cannot inherit it from your family. You cannot borrow it. You cannot fake it. You can only earn it. It will teach you work ethic. It will teach you resilience. It will teach you to face your problems head on. It will teach you that you cannot climb the ladder of success with your hands in your pockets. Of course, my squat does not have to be your squat, it is just a metaphor for life. Perhaps your squat is running (ultra)marathons, climbing mountains or stepping into the ring for a boxing match.

Every day you will go out there and take something that is heavy on your back. Something that does nothing but bring you down to your lowest point, and you will rise. Do it every day, and you know that no problem in life is too big for you to handle. Or as I have told my athletes so often that they can dream the words: “Squat every day and one day you will be able to carry the weight of the world on your shoulders.”

By Steven MGP Schoenmaker, Doctoral student at Hanken, Marketing deparment

Are virtual conferences any good?

2020 was the year when everything went online, including academic workshops, colloquiums, and conferences. And opinions about such online events differ. I have heard about academics’ varying experiences of virtual conferences, and have attended a few smaller online seminars myself. But I have yet to experience a full-scale international virtual academic conference. However, my curiosity in such virtual conferences will soon be satisfied as I plan to attend and present at the 30th RESER (The European Association for REsearch on SERvices) International Conference, which due to COVID-19 will take place virtually on January 21st-22nd 2021. Meanwhile, I thought I should have a look at the pros and cons of virtual conferences.

The major advantages of virtual conferences are of course their smaller environmental impact and greater inclusiveness. If we start with the environment, different calculations of the carbon footprint of conference travel exist and I will not recite the numbers here. Let’s just conclude that academic conferences are a big source of CO2 emissions, with some estimates even suggesting a carbon footprint equivalent to that of some small nations. Virtual conferences reduce this environmental impact to almost zero. Taking conferences online also make them available to a much larger group of academics. It is much easier for researchers with small children or disabilities to attend virtual conferences from home, than flying around the world to participate in traditional in-person conferences. Similarly, economically disadvantaged academics, or researchers from specific countries, often find it difficult to attend international conferences, due to the high costs and visa restrictions. With virtual conferences, the playing field is levelled.  

But what are the main downsides of virtual conferences? Well, aside from being stuck behind a computer for hours and missing out on the (often but not always) exciting travel destination, the major disadvantage of such online events is of course the lack of in-person interaction. In academia, networking is vital, especially for PhD students and postdoctoral researchers. But also for senior academics, meeting and discussing things of common interest with fellow scholars is a critical part of a flourishing academic environment. As many who have attended academic conferences know, even a short lunch or drink in the evening with other researchers of similar interests can stimulate the most interesting ideas, and lay the ground for new exciting collaborations. Also, the wonderful randomness of who you will meet and interact with during traditional conferences and the quality of these experiences are, understandably, not on the same level during online events.

My own final opinion about virtual academic conferences has to wait until after the 30th RESER Conference later this month, but it is obvious that both online and offline conferences have their pros and cons. If I was to speculate, I think both these forms of conferences will co-exist post-COVID-19. And academic conferences of the future might very well try to capture the main strengths of the two formats. For example, I would not be surprised if we will see hybrid conferences in which some of the participants attend in-person and others online. Maybe that would be the best of two worlds?

Gustav Medberg
Postdoctoral Researcher

On conceptualizing ‘alignment with customers’

I share with you, the reader, a part of my journey as I am working on one conceptual paper for my PhD related to customers and ecosystems. This article is also on the meaning of words, especially high-mileage words that we frequently take for granted.

Being immersed in the practice of service design, and now in literature anchoring customers as starting points for business, I frequently encounter the commercial imperative of ‘aligning with customers’, or the quasi-theoretic propulsion to understand and align with the customer’s logic – the logic implicating “the interconnectedness of customer activities, customer reasoning and the idiosyncratic patterns of customer behaviour”; “the basis of value-in-use, offerings and, in essence, business success”  (Heinonen & Strandvik, 2015).

In my imagination, ‘aligning with the customer’ sounded quite complex, perhaps as intricate as our human experience can be, and so the concept had to be multi-dimensional and operating at multiple levels. My reasoning was that as individuals, we have our ever-shifting, ‘inner’ mental-emotional and embodied worlds, as well as our ‘outward’ behavioural worlds. We also find ourselves embedded in a dynamic world of people, nature, and things. And so to align with an individual potentially implicates the whole lot, particularly that which is relevant to the individual in a given context.

Complex customer ecosystems

Taking the example of a healthcare service, the customer context may involve a wide array of actors consequential to the health service: professional caregivers, other coordinating actors and the systems supporting the service journey; the patient’s close ones, a rehabilitation facility, a nutritionist, in addition to various collectives that the patient participates in and which may significantly interact with the health service process. We can call this configuration the patient or ‘customer ecosystem’, a term spearheaded by our colleagues at Hanken (Customer-Dominant Logic, Heinonen et al., 2010), and which is very helpful for understanding how a customer actually derives value out of an offering.

But aligning with the customer is not only about taking stock of the actors influencing the customer’s world (i.e. the customer ecosystem), it also means aligning with the all-encompassing ‘customer logic’ which unfolds within that ecosystem of actors. This includes aligning with the institutional backdrop underlying the customer experience (e.g. culture, norms, values, and roles), the customer’s resources and capabilities, her expectations and desires, activities, practices, etc.

As I envisioned the customer logic to be embedded in the customer ecosystem, my first challenge was to find a way to research and organize the various dimensions of this logic, while situating it in the appropriate locus, and from the customer’s point of view. The second challenge was to tie the customer logic into the focal service system; in other words, to connect ‘aligning with the customer’ from the micro (customer) level to the service provider and wider levels (meso and macro).

I hope to further develop my alignment framework and share it soon enough! It should represent the multi-dimensionality of alignment with customers and capture some facilitators of alignment, helping to expand one’s thinking about the complex inter-dependence of actors and services. For now, I continue this article with a fundamental question I have yet to fully resolve. The question pertains to the alignment ‘mechanism’ itself – i.e. what does ‘alignment’ actually mean?

What does alignment mean?

As a starting point, here are some definitions and synonyms for alignment: to bring into cooperation or agreement with (politics); arrangement in a straight line or the proper positioning or state of adjustment of parts in relation to each other; congruence, coextension, adjustment, alliance.

Alignment has been used in diverse literature. One example is organizational strategic alignment which looks at the fit between external market conditions, and an organization’s internal resources and functional units (Goepp & Avila, 2015). Another example is Carl Rogers’s self-congruency theory in psychology which describes the alignment between a person’s ideal self and their actual experience. The latter is also adapted to marketing as self-congruity theory (Sirgy, 2018) describing the comparison between a consumer’s brand perceptions with their social ideals and self-concept; this has been found to be a useful predictor of consumer attitudes and purchase intention (e.g. Aaker, 1999).

As it appears, even though the concept is quite general, alignment has been useful in describing a wide range of strategic, perceptive, and cognitive ‘matching or fitting’. This may exist between a customer and a brand, between a company and its market, between a company’s internal or external parts (e.g. inter-functional units; networks), or even alignment within one’s own experience (ideal vs. actual self).

Attunement, a complementary concept

To add further nuance, the phenomologist’s concept of ‘attunement’ was suggested to me during a presentation of my topic, and indeed I have found it quite insightful. German philosopher Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) referred to phenomenological attunement (Befindlichkeit) as a fundamental way of being-in-the-world that filters any experience by ‘moods’ – all human experience, thinking included, is attuned by moods (from DeLancey’s (2014) analysis). In other words, “certain moods or emotions shape what matters to a human being, and as a result shape the very way that the world is revealed.” (DeLancey, 2014). Counter to a homo-rationalis view, this suggests that human experience is always affective, never simply representational – what is experienced somehow always matters to us, thanks to moods.

Phenomenological attunement was applied by Ashworth et al. (1992) to the context of healthcare participation. They expanded on dynamics for the attunement of health professionals and patients to one other, favourable for patient participation. Specifically, they argue for: both parties sharing in a mutual stock of knowledge – a sort of information symmetry and sense-making mechanism; both attuning emotionally and motivationally to the other’s concern which “entails awareness of, and empathy for, the other’s personal investments” in the situation (p. 1434); attaining a state where each party takes for granted that one’s contribution will be received as worthy of consideration by the other, regardless of agreement or disagreement; and that one does not feel that their identity is under threat, because of fitting poorly into some role expectations. Talk about an ideal state for inter-relating!

Fisk et al. (2019) nicely capture the essence of this with their call for ‘transformational collaboration’ which “occurs when all participants are able to make contributions at their full human potential… It is the highest form of co-creation” (p. 198). Under such an inclusive or holistic imperative, aligning with customers, or humans really, carries forth an inspirational overtone echoing a call for higher awareness to transform our services for more inclusion, well-being and societal welfare (Fisk et al., 2018).

What I learned from this is that aspiring theoretically and planning strategically to engage a stakeholder and garner participation is not enough. It is vital to be open to considering their psychological processes which, often times, are rooted in their socio-economic and educational background. Proper attunement instils feelings of safety and trust which may produce “taken for granted” feelings that one is a worthy human being. From a phenomenological sense, alignment may thus contribute to an evolving collective paradigm of connectedness and mutualism (Fisk et al., 2019).

Of course, there are other dimensions for alignment such as alignment of values and morals, alignment with respect to worldviews and desired outcomes, alignment of processes, personal preferences and idiosyncrasies, etc.  But to wrap up here, hesitantly, I now have my customer, going about her daily life, forming some value out of a service, through an array of mental-emotional and socially-situated embodied experiences. And to be aligned with my customer, the panopticon of my service has to open up to truly consider her multi-dimensionality; to have it integrated throughout my business so that my mental models, my business logic, my processes and resources are attuned accordingly to what can be described as the customer logic. This attunement should, in theory, and in practice, be conducive to a satisfactory win-together state of affairs.

Thank you for accompanying me thus far and allowing me to share on this journey!

Fares Khalil
Doctoral student

References

  • Aaker, D.A. (1999). The malleable self: the role of self‐expression in persuasion. Journal of Marketing Research, 36(2), 45‐57.
  • Ashworth, P. D., Longmate, M. A., & Morrison, P. (1992). Patient participation: its meaning and significance in the context of caring. Journal of advanced nursing, 17(12), 1430–1439.
  • DeLancey, C. (2014). Commitment and attunement. Phenom Cogn Sci, 13, 579–594.
  • Fisk, R., Fuessel, A., Laszlo, C., Struebi, P., Valera, A. and Weiss, C. (2019). Systemic social innovation: Co-creating a future where humans and all life thrive. Humanistic Management Journal, 4(2), 191-214.
  • Fisk, R.P., Dean, A.M., Alkire (née Nasr), L., Joubert, A., Previte, J., Robertson, N. and Rosenbaum, M.S. (2018). Design for service inclusion: creating inclusive service systems by 2050. Journal of Service Management, 29(5), 834-858.
  • Goepp, V. & Avila, O. (2015). An Extended-Strategic Alignment Model for technical information system alignment. International Journal of Computer Integrated Manufacturing, 28(12), 1275-1290.
  • Heinonen, K., Strandvik, T., Mickelsson, K., Edvardsson, B., Sundstrom, E., & Andersson, P. (2010). A customer-dominant logic of service. Journal of Service Management, 21(4), 531-548. 
  • Heinonen, K., & Strandvik, T. (2015). Customer-dominant logic: foundations and implications. Journal of Services Marketing, 29(6/7), 472-484.
  • Sirgy, M. J. (2018). Self-congruity theory in consumer behavior: A little history. Journal of Global Scholars of Marketing Science, 28(2), 197-207.

Photos: Unshplash

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