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EMAC 2020 Annual Conference

Developing Managerial Contributions from Consumer Culture Theory Research

Published: May 28, 2019




Interpretive consumer research has had significant impact on the development of consumer research scholarship. As evidence of this impact, three of the most cited articles in the Journal of Consumer Research stem from interpretive research (Belk ,1988; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982; Fournier, 1998).

Leading marketing journals, on the lookout for strong connections between research and practice have committed to opening up to ‘all topics, methods and levels of analyses’ (Moorman et al 2019, p. 6). There have also been several calls from industry to complement sophisticated quantitative techniques that work with ever larger data sets, with an attention to sensemaking (Madjsberg, 2017). Sensemaking, defined as “wisdom grounded in the humanities” and “the exact opposite of algorithmic thinking” (p. 6), is argued to be a necessary complement to the proliferation of big data. Interpretive marketing researchers, given their focus on in situ, fine-grained studies of market actors’ practices, are ideally placed to bridge the gap between theory and practice, and contextualize consumer and marketplace actions (e.g. Workman, 1993; Gebhardt, Carpenter & Sherry, 2006).

Yet, even as interpretive research is well represented in academic consumer research, its impact in marketing scholarship and practice remains more circumscribed (i.e. seventeen interpretive papers in JCR vs. two papers in JM in the past two years). Deriving managerially-relevant insight and recommendations from interpretive research, in a way that top-tier marketing journals such as Journal of Marketing and Journal of Marketing Research expect, has been rather rare (notable exceptions, among others, are Cayla & Arnould, 2013; Fournier & Eckhardt, 2019; Schau, Muñiz & Arnould, 2009). The goal of this special session is to showcase how interpretive research can uncover much-needed managerially-relevant insight in compelling ways.

Three interpretive studies, targeted to or under review at marketing journals, shed light on the process of framing sharp research questions and building on existing theory to analyze empirical material – all to develop managerially-relevant insights and recommendations. With these interpretive research strategies, we hope to provide the larger marketing scholarly community with a glimpse into the potential for managerial insight present within interpretive research. As a corollary, we also hope for significant change in the norms and practices of non-academic marketing research.

The first paper in this session, Crafting Customer Experience in Contexts of Logic Multiplicity: Lessons from the Field of Luxury, addresses two research questions: Can a single logic be effectively enforced in a field like luxury retailing while facilitating favorable customer experiences? And can multiple logics be leveraged to enhance customer experience? Based on an analysis of extensive ethnographic fieldwork conducted in luxury stores, and on interviews with managers of luxury venues, the authors find that attempts to enforce a single logic could elicit unfavorable emotional reactions from consumers who are influenced by multiple logics. Further, they find that multiple logics can be leveraged through strategies of spatial and relational hybridization. The authors offer managers practical insights on how to instantiate this hybridity by designing hybrid spaces and adapting interactional patterns between salespeople and customers. The second paper, Utopian Consumption: New Perspectives and Managerial Implications for Marketing, suggests that the nature of contemporary modernity challenges established norms of utopian thinking, and new utopian blueprints are now shaping consumers desires in new ways. Today, consumers’ utopian visions are: immediate (not postponed to the future), hyper-individualized (not collective), endless (defined by insatiable pursuit for betterment), and are focused on an escape from something critiqued, rather a run toward something desired. We illustrate how re-conceptualizing utopian desire through a liquid lens allows marketers to decode consumers’ contemporary utopian propensities with an improved analytical focus and to build liquid utopian visions that are in sync with the unique characteristics of the present. The final paper, Employer Brands as Status Shields: Protecting Professional Identities from Social Stigma, highlights the importance of understanding the employee-brand relationship as a two-way interaction. Where previous research and practice sees the frontline employee as an embodiment of the organizational brand, especially in service firms, this study finds that frontline employees exploit their employer’s consumer-facing brand work to shield their imperilled professional identities. Workers’ identities are under twin threats, from culturally specific social stigmas associated with hotel work, and from the deskilling and routinization of scripted interactive service work. The authors offer managerially relevant recommendations to codify the employer brand so as to make it a more powerful identity-shield for newer employees.

To further elucidate how managerial insights can be derived from interpretive marketing research, Kapil Tuli from Singapore Management University will comment on the potential for interpretive marketing research to contribute to marketing practice. Professor Tuli received the Long Term Impact Award for his 2007 article published in the Journal of Marketing on customer solutions. This work mobilized qualitative research, including interviews and discussions with managers, to develop new ways of thinking about customer solutions. He is thus well positioned to comment on the merits of our strategies and share his perspective on how to successfully translate interpretive research into practitioner-relevant insights.