Category Archives: Marketing Science

Spreading the Word, II: Netnography in Portuguese

Our Ph.D. students are truly amazing. They are go-getters, free-thinkers, evangelists, and hard workers. I think so highly of all of them and it is a genuine honor to be working with them.

Yikun Zhao was kind enough in a past posting to have translated my netnography white paper for NetBase into Mandarin Chinese. Now, Daiane Scaraboto has translated it into Portuguese. This is very significant because, as some of you already know, there is a major following for netnography in Brazil, and has been for some time. That is one of the reasons Daiane has come here as a student, to work on the technique and for us to learn from one another.

I have also been working with Debora and Bernardo, two excellent researchers and thinkers from the advertising planning side in an alliance in Brazil that will bring a high-quality of netnography to Brazilian companies that are interested. The firm is called “Folks-Netnografica” and it is growing in influence, with some exciting large new clients. As well, I’ve been talking to a very interesting marketing reseacher who is very interested in the technique. Perhaps this document will help to spread the word among those who speak Protuguese.

Again, if spreading the word around the world is important, then keeping netnography texts as mainly “English-only” is silly. So here comes the “spreadability” Henry J.

Here we go. Netnography 101 and the Listerine brand example. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese

Again, I’d like to thank NetBase for agreeing to allow us to do this with that paper. They asked me to note that the NetBase semantic search engine does not read and analyze  Portuguese–yet. It is currently an English-only search and analysis tool.So here, without further ado, is the Portuguese version of the Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon White Paper. Netnography White Paper in Portuguese. It is presented as a pdf file. I hope that our Brazilian readers and those who are interested in Netnography find it useful. Thank you once again, Daiane Scaraboto and Michael O.

Netnography White Paper in Portuguese

Promoting a New Research Method: Netnography Considered (Part 1)

This is true. On March 26 of last year, a woman I had never heard of before named Maria Xenitidou, or just “Maria X” contacted me. She is a British post-doc, a Ph.D., and so I feel justified in calling her “Professor X”. Or perhaps, since the X-Men are Legend, “The Young, Female Professor X.”

Not Maria XSo, Maria, the Young, Female, Professor X, contacted me out of the blue with an email. She began by telling me that she had “recently undertaken a project with colleagues at the University of Surrey in which we are trying to locate innovations in social science research methods.” Her purpose? They were interested in identifying innovative research practices in the social sciences outside the UK, in other words, research practices that had not  yet filtered through to typical research methods courses. And, the reason she was contacting me was that my work “had been identified as involving innovative research practices especially with reference to netnography.”

That was pretty exciting. A completely non-marketing, non-consumer research group of scholars was interested in my work. These were sociologists and cultural scholars for the most part.

I wrote Maria back. We talked. We interviewed (on Skype of course). And on the basis of the material I sent her and our interview, she wrote up a very interesting document about innovative research practices that included netnography. The document was published. And then she invited me to a Research Methods Festival in Oxford at the University of Oxford on July 5th. In particular, to a smaller Workshop at the beginning of the Festival called “The Process of Methodological Innovation Workshop.”

The Festival was timed to directly follow EACR. By “coincidence.” Or, perhaps, if you are a Jungian, by synchronicity. That amazing synchronicity.

So of course, thinking that I would already be in England, and that I’d never been to Oxford before, I said yes. And I am very glad I did.Here is the University of Oxford

The session she assigned me to was called “Promulgating New Methods” and my mission (PhD students and post-docs like to hand professors missions, by the way) was to offer ideas and experiences about “Concentrated Activity, Networks and Diffusion Mechanisms of Methodological Innovations.”

That sounded heavy. Weighty. Meaty. I like heavy.

So I put on my Thinking Hat and started to ponder what I had learned in 15 years developing, tooling-up, and blabbing about this new methodological approach of netnography. What I came up with, and what I presented, was a way of thinking about what I do, about my approach to scholarship that I wanted to share with you here in blogglyand. But first, we continue the Oxford thing. I had to write something to present.

 In one of those annoyingly parenthetical postmodern fragments of titling, I named the presentation: “Netnography: Prom/ot(ulgat)ing a New Method.” The idea was that Promulgation, Professor X’s mandate to presenters in my slot, is always also Promotion. Science is always marketing.

Gratuitous Wisconsin Badgers Shot…That observation of course must be credited to J. Paul Peter (my department Chair when I was at the University of Wisconsin) and Jerry Olson, who wrote a wonderful, now-classic article in the Fall of 1983, during the dark depths of Marketing’s Crisis of Legitimacy. Under apparent attack from the challenge of qualitative methods, and like many of the academic business fields that were undergoing scientific rationalization in the face of the Gordon-Howell Report and the Pierson Reports, the field of Marketing “Science” was defending its legitimacy and honor by insisting that it was, indeed, as scientific as any other field, thank you very much. While so many people were writing and debating about whether Marketing was a Science, Peter and Olson came around the back door with a big rubber Foucaldian hammer and bonked those “positivist/empiricist” dumbbells on the head, arguing very convincingly that we were asking the wrong question.

It is not “Is Marketing a Science?” that is the interesting question, their 1983 article in the Journal of Marketing asserted. It is “Is Science Marketing?” And of course, it was and it is.

This inversion is what makes that article so interesting and, indeed, timeless. They showed how scientists regularly:

  • use marketing strategy to target their theories and their work (where will this fit?),
  • use positioning to show differentiation from extant scholarship (how is this new?),
  • and employ marketing mix variables (the good old 4 Ps of product, place, price, and promotions) to effectively “sell” their theoretical innovations and their new view of the world (how do we get people to read and cite this work?).

So it was drawing upon this perspective that I decided to think about how I had Promoted the approach of netnography on an unsuspecting and obstinately ambivalent world over the last 15 years. (I didn’t need to recap Peter and Olson very much, since it is 2010 and of course no one believe that science is “the truth” anymore, everyone knows it is just a language game and a social construction. Right? Um, not.)

Waves that Overlap…like Metaphors that SinkAfter a brief introduction to the method, I introduced the four waves or strategies that I used. They overlap and still overlap. They are not exclusive discrete steps. They are not a how-to. They are merely observations collected and organized for the format of the talk about how I can in retrospect think about sharing and diffusing a new qualitative approach.

The first wave, perhaps the most obvious one, I called “Legitimation Through Academia.” I will provide the details on that Wave in the next blog posting, as the context stuff goes into full swing.

How do you promote and promulgate a new research method? In four fuzzy sets of initiatives or four overlapping waves, as we will see. And these sets will set the stage for me to make some new declarations for this blog, and open the door to some new envisioning of what the heck it is that I am trying to do.

Thanks, at least in part, to the Mysterious Young Female Professor X.


Spreading the Word: Netnography is 网络志 in Mandarin Chinese

From Word-of-mouth marketing to spreading the word on the method or approach of netnography. I was surprised that there were no comments yet on the marketing versus PR post. Actually, people seem to comment more on my Facebook page postings about these blog postings than they do on the blog itself, which is interesting. Because I know you’re out there…you keep coming up to me, and emailing me, and you show up on my Google Analytics radar pretty clear. And I thank you for your loyalty and interest, and hope to keep on writing for you for a long, long time.

Last post was my 400th blog post, by the way. That’s pretty exciting. To me at least. A bit. Maybe not so much to you. Probably not, actually.

In this post, I wanted to come back to the topic of Netnography that has been a major area of interest lately. I’ll blog more about how I have been presenting the topic in my next post, but for this one I wanted to share an exciting initiative.

Because (1) we have such a global culture, (2) the Internet has attained such global impact, and (3) because my work as an educator makes me very aware of what is happening outside my little North American bubble, it has become obvious to me that Netnography has been written about by me exclusively in the English language. And although English is important, it is certainly not the only game in town (at least, not any more).

And if spreading the word around the world is important, then keeping netnography texts as mainly “English-only” is not only counterproductive and Anglo-centric, it’s downright stupid.

I’ve been seeing a lot of non-English texts written about netnography showing up in Google searches of the term netnography. For the most part, I have no idea what those texts say. I do know that I didn’t write them.

So for the last year or so I have been very “subtly” floating the idea of offering translated versions of some of my writing of Netnography for non-English speakers over the Internet. A few of the languages I’ve considered are  Japanese, German, Spanish, and Portugese.

But the first one to come through is Mandarin Chinese. Did you know that about 23% of all Internet use takes place in Chinese (versus about 28% in English) according to recent stats by the excellent and helpful Internet World Stats?

A smart and kind Ph.D. student at our school, Yikun Zhao, generously offered to translate my work into Chinese. We decided to use the White Paper I recently wrote for NetBase, as that document is clearly written, accessible, aimed at academics and business audiences, and it is current and not yet outdated.

I’d like to thank NetBase for agreeing to allow us to do this with that paper. They asked me to note that the NetBase semantic search engine does not read and analyze Chinese at this point. It is currently an English-only search and analysis tool.

So here, without further ado, is the Mandarin Chinese version of the Netnography: The Marketer’s Secret Weapon White Paper. Netnography White Paper in Mandarin Chinese. It is presented as a pdf file. I hope that our Chinese readers and those who are interested in Netnography find it useful. Thank you once again, Yikun and Michael O.

Netnography White Paper in Mandarin Chinese

The Social Media Turf Wars: Are Marketing and PR on a Collision Course?

Marketing Versus Public RelationsI have been presenting for the last couple of years about The Future of Marketing and PR for a number of different audiences. It’s a topic that fascinates me no end because it is deeply related to the topic of social media and its impact on industry and organization in general.

In my presentation, I use a slide adapted from iPressroom’s “Digital Readiness Report” survey in 2009 that shows which “Departments” (really, I think the PR side of this is often outsourced) handle which elements of the business. It’s a bit surprising. More than a bit, actually.

According to Diagram 6 on p. 8 of that report (have a look, it’s definitely worth reading), it turns out that PR is way ahead of marketing in terms of who “manages” working with bloggers, podcasting and RSS feed. It’s way ahead in managing microblogging (i.e., Twitter), social networking sites, and social search. Marketing and PR are pretty much neck-and-neck in managing SEO and the management of “web content” (that’s a pretty major category). The only category where marketing is completely, definitively in the lead, is…guess.

email marketing: is that all marketers can do right?Yep. It’s email marketing. Whoah. There’s a real red-hot category for the future for you corporate marketers. Leave social media to the PR firms. You get to be the spambots. Happiness and high fives all around.

If we believe that these results are generalizable and representative and applicable to the present day (three big ifs, I will grant you that), then I’d say Marketing as a field is in big trouble. It’s being seriously threatened and undermined in the rapidly emerging and incredibly important areas of social media by Public Relations.

So it was with some interest that responded to a recent request from Paolo Debellini who is an avid reader of this blog. Paolo is an Italian Master’s student in Public Relations from the Dublin Institute of Technology who has a prior degree in Marketing. His dissertation research looks at consumer public relations and how it is evolving since the wake of WOM marketing. He is looking at how WOM Marketing impacts the practice of consumer public relations.

The basic idea, which I have explored many times, is that the approach of marketing is switching from a primarily persuasive unidirectional broadcast mode to a more multidimensional, multimodal form that also incorporates conversation. So WOM marketing essentially oversteps into PR terrain. The big question in that case becomes one of understanding how the communications landscape is changing and what kind of challenges different communications practitioners will be facing.

Of course, there’s a whole reptilian territoriality to the exercise. If I’m hunting here, and you start hunting here, even though maybe you aren’t quite eating my lunch, not yet, are you threatening my food supply?

“Marketers,” say the PR peeps, “Stay away from PR kinds of activities. Stick to what you know: advertising and sales. Broadcasty kinds of stuff. Leave the subtle influencing and the conversationalizing to the professionals.”

“Are you kidding?” say the Marketing mafia, “You guys are the ones who are out of your element. Don’t start a conversation you can’t finish. The social media revolution simply underscores the fact that marketing is evolving into something much bigger than any single set of conversations. This is exactly what marketing needs to do, and the tactically minded PR people have no business interfering in anything that is so central to general management and strategy.”

Let the games begin. As always, I’d love to hear what you think.

If you’re interested, here’s an edited version of my interview with Paolo.

Paolo Debellini: According to your experience, what is the difference between “Online PR” and “Social Media Marketing”? Do you think the roles of Consumer PR and Marketing are overlapping each other nowadays?

Rob Kozinets: Yes, they overlap. But PR is still about managing and manipulating communications—its communications focused. Marketing is much broader. It’s about the entire interface of company with consumer group, including innovation, new products, channels, and everything else. Marketing is developing into an aspect of general management, or general management is recognizing the centrality, as Peter Drucker had it, of marketing mission and innovation to the successful enterprise. In my view, marketing overrides PR. PR should probably never have separated from marketing. It’s the same game. And PR will always be subservient to marketing because marketing is strategic and linked to general management. Sorry PR, but right now that’s the way I see it.

PD: How do you think the commercial-communal tensions mentioned in your article (2010) are going to shape the communication landscape?

Public RelationsRK: The March 2010 Journal of Marketing article is pretty explicit (and it’s worth unpacking and sharing on the blog, for sure). We are moving to a world of networked communications, where the voice of the marketer is just one voice among many. It is not “management” anymore, in the sense of controlling or even directing, but a type of spontaneous, dynamic, evolving relationship. It’s a set of constant adjustments and compromises, a slow merging and emergence from an old system into a new one.

PD: How do you perceive the relationship between WOMM and traditional marketing and what kind of challenges are communications professionals going to face in the future?

RK: Traditional and WOMM media feed on each other in complex ways. Each channel, each medium, has it particular sets of messages and forms. Social media feeds off of the legitimacy and power of consensual traditional media. Traditional media feeds off of the authenticity, freshness, and groundedness of social media. They are one ecosystem, but its an ecosystem that, sort of like many of the worlds ecosystems, is constantly reeling as resource supplies and territorial hunting grounds change. It’s a great avenue to investigate and theorize further. New and open-minded scholars—take note.

PD: From my research it emerged that the role of marketing has been switching from “persuasion” to “conversation”, and therefore from a “one-way asymmetrical”  to “ two-way symmetrical” communication. In other words, the role of marketing is now somehow tracing the role of public relations. Would you agree with that statement? Is this evolution going to revolutionize the communications landscape in the near future?

RK: But the marketing conversations are still persuasive! Marketers have only taken tiny little steps towards where they need to be going. They recognize the need to have relationships, but they don’t know how. How do I have a conversation with you that doesn’t involve me telling you my needs and trying to manipulate you into doing what I want to do. Marketers have been conversational pick up artists for sixty years, and now we expect them to stop being players, settle down, and have honest heartfelt conversations. Good luck with that transition, because it’s not going to come easy. And PP. PR is just as persuasive, but it’s a lot subtler. That’s its edge, its advantage. The problem is that PR has spent a lot of time learning how to convince people that increasingly less people listen to, like newspaper reporters. They have to learn a new game, too.  Neither one really recognizes the power of Consumer Tribes (see the intro chapter to the book for many more details on this relationship). Not yet. But some do, and they will soon.

PD: How should Marketing and PR roles and competencies be inserted in this particular context?

RK: Yow. That’s a big fat hairy question. It all depends on the particular contexts (see JM article from some ideas about some details to examine).

Conversational ConsumersPD: What kind of challenge will Online PR, and WOM Marketing agencies be facing over the next couple of years?

RK: Vast ones. The growth and corresponding legitimacy of alternative, social media based forms of marketing will bring major integration challenges with traditional channels. How to manage the complexity of the overall marketing environment, the mediascape, the retailscape. How to be accountable to the various constituents involved. What metrics to use to measure success—click throughs and other short-term measures are just silly if we’re talking about brand-building. Ethical issues around how to do this stuff. The FTC was starting with the most obvious breaches, but there are plenty of subtle manipulations going on all the time. It’s a brand new game in many ways.

PD: Consumers are becoming more and more sophisticated; How do you think they will perceive, in the near future, this sort of “latent persuasion” generated by WOMM campaigns?

RK: They are already skeptical. It is going to require a lot more than a Facebook fan page to convince people that you “get” social media. The idea of incorporating consumers into corporate decisions, giving away more and more decision power, is growing and seductive. How can that power balance re-equilibrate? It will take decades to work this through. It’s not a question of chance this tactic and make more sales. This is a fundamental shift that will recalibrate the whole economy and ramify for decades.

PD: Last question (not strictly correlated with my research topic, just feel free to answer):In Gibbon’s “The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” the decline was associated with the elevation of the private domain over the public domain, and therefore the focus on personal happiness was correlated with the decline of a nation or civilization. In addition the research company Mintel (2009) has highlighted the fact that the current economic climate has provoked a context whereby people tend to spend more time with their friends/family and less time pursuing consumerism; do you see any correlation with the current social media trend? How do you think social media are going to evolve?

RK: It’s a fascinating question. But in many ways I see social media as an element of this general reversal of our decline of community or “civilization”. In my upcoming chapter on social media for social change for the Transformative Consumer Research volume, we see how social media allow communities to take on social issues, to gather and create new public spaces. If you look at all of my work, from e-Tribalized (written in 1998) marketing forward, you will see this theme repeated—we are seeing a renaissance of a new public space and public consciousness building online, beginning from the consumer sphere but inexorably spreading outwards. This is an awakening of a mass mind. It’s often, like many mobs and crowds, a very stupid mind. But it also has moments of shining potential, shining brilliance. I’d love to see marketers and PR people stop and recognize that what is emerging with this world of interconnected consumers is potentially something very special, not just a resource to be tapped, but a fundamentally new way that culture and community are opening to us and beckoning us to grow.

Thanks to Paolo for initiating this conversation, and for kindly permitting me to share it on the blog. And thanks to the people at leading PR firm Environics, especially Bruce MacLellan who invited me in, new age PR firm Environics Sequentia and its guru Jen Evans, Matchstick & Patrick Thoburn,  & friend and colleague Chris Irwin, all of you for the long-standing and fascinating conversations around these very important topics.

Reflections on CCT2010: The Final Posting

I had hoped to do a long, detailed, involved set of postings on CCT 2010. But that’s not going to happen.Time just keeps marching on, and this is busy season for academic conferences. It’s already almost time for the next one.I’ll be presenting virtually in Marseilles on the weekend at ICAR/NACRE, the Symposium dedicated to anti-consumption issues. And I’ll be in London next week for the 2010 European ACR Conference. And after that I will be presenting at the workshop and New Research Methods Festival in Oxford England on July 5 and 6.

To close off my entries on CCT, I would like to offer some impressionistic jottings about some wonderful sessions.  I enjoyed the session on Consumer Resistance during which Tim Dewhirst and I presented some of our new anti-smoking culture jamming research. Holland Wilde presented a wild bit of “cultural farming” a type of critical commentary montage of video clips from ads, movies and the news about the BP oil disaster. Sofia Ulver-Sneistrup, Soren Askegaard, and Dorthe Brogard Kristensen presented a fascinating and complex model about how we could rethink brand resistance.

The posters were very high quality, too. And on Saturday there was a magnificent session about “place” in consumer culture theory which presented three wonderful studies of our “hobbit holes” and what we do with them. Jeppe Linnet of the U of Southern Denmark led off with a detailed explanation of the complex Danish social-place concept of “hygge” (did I spell that right?).  Yesim Ozalp presented her work on the gentrification of Toronto’s retail spaces. And Zeynep Arsel and Jonathan Bean finished off this very stimulating session by talking about “Apartment Therapy” and online and media narrative of fashioning space and place.

Bryant Simon, our plenary guest speaker historian, gave a very intriguing talk about work policies, race, and branding in the Starbucks chain. After lunch there was another great session on co-creation, culture and consumption(Matthias Bode’s work on created Danish Christmas beer rituals; Robert Harrison on Black Friday and its internal role in helping form corporate rituals; and of course Daiane Scaraboto’s work on the geocaching subculture and its grassroots opportunism; all were outstanding).

The afternoon session on The Mediatized Body and Healthism also gave me plenty to think about. Can you hear how breathless I am recounting all of this to you? It was 2 weeks ago and I”m still incredibly enthusiastic about it.

That evening was extremely memorable to me because of our poetry reading session. John Sherry, Hilary Downey, and Sidney Levy, among others, read some wonderful poems. And then, thanks to the openness of the CCT organizers (thanks Craig and Dave), and the incredibly helpful work of dub-master Risto Roman from Helsinki, Finland, I was able to perform my poem Marketing Life 101 to the CCT group. I had such a great time, and I was so pleased with how the entire poetry session went this year. It was even collected and published in a book called “Canaries Coalmines Thunderstones” by Roel Wijland.

I am hoping to have a video of the poem performance up on YouTube at some point soon. When I do, I’ll flag it and maybe expand on it in this blog. For now, if you are interested you can listen to this earlier production of the  Marketing Life 101 poem I created in GarageBand. If you are interested in seeing the written version of the poem too, leave a comment and I’ll post it.

I hope to see many of you in Europe this coming week. If we haven’t met yet, don’t be shy, come on up and introduce yourself.

Reflections on CCT 2010, Part 3–Publics and Professionalization

russ_belk_and-megan-fox-kinect-at_cct.jpgIn my review of CCT 2010, we’re now up to 10:30am on the morning of Friday, the first day. I chose the session “Who is in Charge Here? Contesting Public Goods.” This was an All-Star session with some of the biggest, most established names in CCT presenting. As well, the topic of the session, public space and public goods, was of great interest to me.

The session started with research presented by Linda Scott of Oxford University on the Goddess Pageant in Glastonbury. Using maps and a lot of on-the-ground video, Linda’s work with Pauline Maclaran showed how the annual Goddess Pageant subverted traditional patriarchal and religious patterns, traversing a traditional Catholic parade path in reverse and temporarily claiming and public space for ancient pagan rituals and modes of being. She also nicely tied success in the ritual to commercial action on the retail strip of the city.

Next was work on street artists across a number of cities in North America and Europe by Luca Visconti and Stefania Borghini of Boconni University in Milan, Laurie Anderson of ASU in Phoenix, and John Sherry of Notre Dame in South Bend, Indiana. This fascinating presentation examined how street art is emphasizing the role of public participation in art and in civic life, showing how what seems a trivial act (painting or spraying on city walls) can be seen as an empowerment of citizenry to claim public space as their own, and to beatify and improve it (or use it as a place to comment on how society could be made better).

Finally Russ Belk of the Schulich School at York University spoke about the tension between private and commercial ownership. Providing a dizzying array of thought-provoking examples (water, eggs and sperm, the military, higher education) Russ expanded upon the ideas in his recent article on sharing in JCR to talk about why privatization was occurring around the world, and what its consequences might be. He linked the Internet to a resurgence of sharing activity and new forms for that sharing to take place. He also sounded a call for more research in this area that could be directed at policy-making in the public interest, rather than simply following the blind path of laissez faire, a social slippage in which everything become commoditized.

john_deighton_or_tiger-woods-at_cct.jpgThis theme of the moral and intellectual bankruptcy of the models of moderns Economics was picked up quite explicitly in the lunch speech by John Deighton, the current Chief Editor of the Journal of Consumer Research.

John began his talk, which I found inspiring, pretty much where the last talk, from the 2008 ACR in San Francisco, began. He spoke about the opportunity we had before us in marketing, and perhaps in CCT especially, to institutionalize CCT from a bankrupt economics. He must have said several times during the presentation that he believed the people in the field of consumer culture theory were doing the most interesting and most important work being published in JCR, and in the field of consumer research, today.

That seemed like going out on a limb, sort of like Jacob giving Joseph the magnificent coat of many colors. I am fully expecting our field to thus be abandoned by its sibling disciplines and sold into slavery (perhaps to Sociology or, gasp!, Urban Studies). Well, we haven’t actually got the coat yet.

But John did say that we are over-represented in JCR. If you count the percentage of the ACR membership who are CCT researchers it is twelve percent. And if you count the page space in JCR devoted to CCT articles it comes out to about sixteen percent of all of the articles. So, as John pointed out, that is an extra four over twelve percent, a thirty-three percent over-representation.

So when people tell you not to do cultural research, you can tell them you crunched the numbers and it automatically gives you a thirty-three percent edge. True.

John was asking what made us impactful as scholars. It’s a matter that I have thought about, talked about, and presented on a lot lately. John said he thought that we were publishing the best stuff because this is the stuff that would be remembered in forty years. That’s a pretty high bar. And quite difficult to judge in advance, for certain.

Then, John’s powerful talk challenged us to move beyond journal publications for our legitimacy. He asked “Who among you will have an impact on the way that not just marketing, but management will be done?” As I do, John sees the Field of Marketing changing. Changing into what is anyone’s guess.

But he also said that Harvard Business School did a study of its courses over an, I believe, 80- year or so history. He said many courses and names and disciplines for business education came and went, fashion and fad, boom and bust. On the bottom were two sets of lines that were constant and unwavering. Finance and Marketing. The two core disciplines of all business schools. The rests come and go.

 So the question became how can you do work that will impact management, how management is done?

And from that or interrelated with its answer, another question: how will we, CCT, as a field, professionalize? John highly recommended a book: Andrew Abbott’s The System of Professions: An Essay on the Division of Expert Labor

The book was drawn from Abbott’s research about how the American Medical Association had taken over so many disparate disciplines and associated itself with so many phenomena. The example John used was alcoholism (a very appropriate example for our little group), which used to be treated by the clergy and by the police (the former, spiritually, and the latter, punitively). Using “science” and “medicalization,” the AMA declared and pushed the idea that alcoholism is a “condition,” something that required medical treatment by a licensed physician, rather than spiritual guidance. To consolidate power, they got the police on board.

So, what did this book tell us about what we need to do as a field? Again, see my blog post about Gokcen Coskuner-Balli’s excellent opening presentation-the topic is a hot one and the ideas dovetail. I used an article by Andrew Abbott called “The Order of Professionalization: An Empirical Analysis” to get a sense of Abbott’s work, while my book is on order from Amazon.

Abbott’s work argues that there are various stages to professionalization, but that they usually include the following:

  • The rise of association and an Association
  • Control of Work (through, e.g., certification, reviews, fees)
  • Interest in Professional education
  • Pursuit of professional knowledge, and the “Scientific” transformation of knowledge
  • Tangential knowledge
  • Profession dominated work sites

I won’t offer details on these just yet because they are rich concepts that deserve their own posting and further unpacking. However, what seems clear to me after reading Abbott’s work and after hearing John’s interpretation of it is that we do not yet offer ourselves up to relevant decision-makers as offering any kind of advantage. We certainly could, because I think that activities like ethnography or netnography put companies at an advantage. But we do not.

The way that John put it was to ask which areas we, as consumer culture theorists, we could could own. Which practical areas of business or policy-making could we stake out a claim to be better at informing.? I think Grant McCracken has already begun doing this with his work in Chief Culture Officer: How to Create a Living, Breathing Corporation and of course beyond. And so have Rita Denny and Patti Sunderland with the Practica group and their work.

The bigger question is what jurisdictions or practical areas can we own or make a play for? 

From what I saw at the CCT conference this year, I think we have excellent claims to understand holistically the following areas:

  1. Branding and Brand Management;
  2. Social media in marketing and management;
  3. Retailing;
  4. Consumer Subcultures, Cultures, and Communities;
  5. Consumption Rituals and Marketing
  6. Sustainability;
  7. Consumer Insight, Innovation, and Ideas. 

For starters. 

The key is to find and solve the right problems for the right people. Another nice turn of phrase John offered up was that we need to move from micro explication to macro proscription. We are good as a field at analyzing problems and providing nuanced explanations of what is going on. But we are weak at offering normative proscriptions after that of what to do. What should managers and decision-makers, those who act on the work, do with our knowledge? That is key.

Another incredibly interesting set of sessions. And more review to come (although perhaps not so detailed or it might take until next year to recount them all to you…).

State of the Craft: Reflections on the 2010 CCT Conference, Part 2

cct_logo.jpgSo where we left off was in the CCT’s Future presentation that was the middle of the kick-off session of CCT5 2010′s conference on cultural consumer research

The presenter called for “please no more stand alone case studies.”

John Deighton, the editor of our flagship journal the Journal of Consumer Research, JCR, said in the session that he thought that statement was “provocative” and asked for other opinions in the room.

I asked for a clarification. I was wondering if the statement meant that we needed more integrative conceptual thought work that integrated across multiple domains. This is something John Deighton has called for recently, and it’s a great move because it is big thought pieces-of the kind that Russ Belk is known to write, or which Susan Fournier has done-that move the field to a new and more integrative level.

reconciliation_web.jpgSo, for example, if we were to write about contemporary consumer’s relationships with nature, we might integrate individual empirical research articles and pieces on river-rafting, camping, sky-diving, hiking, scuba diving, gardening, surfing, Mountain Man rendezvous and even Burning Man into a conceptual piece that looks at the various contexts and meanings that surround the contemporary “consumption” of nature. No extra empirical research needed. Just add deep though. Integrate. Build theory.

Eric used the American Girl research written by Nina Diamond, Stefania Borhini, Mary Ann McGrath, Al Muniz, john Sherry, and myself as an example. He talked about how it didn’t simply study the American Girl Place retail store and leave it at that, but also did the ethnography out on Michigan Avenue in Chicago, in people’s homes, in some other American Girl stores, online in the web store and through analysis of the books, printed magazine, and the catalogs. That makes great sense to me. And it also seems like it studies a single phenomenon, but does it in a relatively sophisticated way.

  • This is actually a pretty minor controversy, I think, based more on statement that needed some elaboration than any genuine conflict in the field. Eric’s statement makes this clear, and I second his call for more quality ethnographies.

So we can see that a sharing of different opinions in the field is certainly not always bad. Questioning assumptions and having a bold oppositional vision can move a field forward. If there really is something seriously wrong with the field that needs fixing, pragmatic considerations need to be weighed against how much potential there is in the new vision. The weight of the past shouldn’t keep us back from changing if there is great potential in changing or great error in continuing.

But change of this type can also have the effect of creating the appearance that people in a field have unclear or shifting standards. That certainly does not inspire confidence, especially for junior people who need clear guidelines so that they can get their careers going with some confidence that their work will be published.kumbayah.jpg

  • So I want to use this blog entry to assure junior people that I think, for the time being, nothing about ethnographic acceptance in CCT has changed. And for the foreseeable future nothing will change. The standards we enjoyed, and that you probably toil under very diligently right now are, at least if I have anything to say about it, very much intact.

This was not a discussion about ethnography so much as it was about case study it seems, as Eric, in his “Popeye” persona (see comment) offers.

One big confusion was between “stand alone case studies” and “single site ethnographies.” So I will go on a little bit of a tangent here, and talk about why there are at least six reasons why I think doing away with individual ethnographic studies as discrete empirical journal article contributions would be a very bad idea. And, conversely, why we should continue on our present course. This may not have been what Eric said, or meant, but there was enough confusion in the room and beyond it into other venues and sites that I think it is worth defusing that ticking bomb in public. And here are my points.

  1. First, context is good, going deep into a single context is also good, and ethnography leave unclear what the difference is between “single” and “not-single”. Context is our business-that’s what we do and do best. And “single-sited” does not have a very precise meaning. I think the American Girl piece was still single-sited. It dealt with a single, albeit very complex, brand. We just followed it around and noticed where it went. The same with my work on Burning Man (online and offline, at the airport, at stores, in different cities along the way, at regional meetings), and Star Trek (conventions, fan clubs, Star Trek parties, Halloween, people’s homes, and so on). Culture lives in many locations, that is why it can be borne. Good ethnographies rarely stay in one GPS location—this is part of the translocal consumer culture phenomenon that our colleague Joonas Rokka is writing about.
  2. Second, people are always going to label ethnographic pieces by their context. Who cares? As long as we actually do a good job of developing theory and building on it when you read the articles, should we focus on what the people who only read the titles call them? Did I write the Burning Man ethnography? Yep. And if you read it you know I developed some theory from it, too.
  3. Third, and most importantly, it’s very very difficult to do a good ethnography across many different sites or phenomena. It is hard enough, time-consuming enough, and challenging enough to do a good ethnography that looks in a focused way at only one cogently defined phenomenon. Will it be seen as more generalizable if we look at three sites? I seriously doubt someone trained in generalizability would see an N = 3 as really more significant than an N = 1. What if we just said, as I have been wont to do, that we talked to 5,231 Star Trek fans across 26 countries. Doesn’t that have a better ring to it?
  4. Fourth, we need to stay the course. We have gotten where we are as a field largely on the strength of ethnography as we have been doing it. That’s why ethnography is recognized as the gold standard of consumer research by designers and by many forward-thinking firms like Intel and P&G. Why would we abandon the techniques that have gotten us, and our colleagues in industry like Grant McCracken and Rita Denny, so far?
  5. Fifth, who is going to teach these new forms of ethnography? If this is an emerging trend, then let it emerge with powerful examples that illustrate the benefits. Perhaps, as Eric’s comment suggests, examples are already emerging (I also thank him for suggesting that my work is exemplary in this regard). If so, junior scholars should attend to this work by staying tuned with it, but, I think, no changes in the immediate present are required. Keep the discussion in mind, and continue to watch as quality standards becomes clearer and evolve, gradually, as they always do.
  6. Finally, and just as importantly, the strength of complex cultural work is never to verify its own theories in other sites. Never had been and never will be. We are not equipped in the scientific rhetoric knowledge game that way. Let me explain.

 Ethnographies are great for generating theories from the field, from real life. Real life is highly complex, requiring us to look at and consider many different possible constructs, categories, and relationships before we settle on a greatly reduced set that we find to be important.

 We should not do things like social psychology, which deals with micro-individual processes, using cultural methods. Sample sizes are for counting individuals-we don’t focus on the study of individuals. We look at meanings, rituals, and cultures. Sample sizes of sites does not make sense to me, since sites are social construction and, if we are to note and understand the networked nature of social reality, they are all interconnected in complex ways.

  • If we go back to ontology and epistemology, the root level of philosophy of science and ask about what kinds of knowledge we are after and whether we are working inductively or deductively, for the most part, the answers become clearer.
  • Are we focused on the dynamism, complexity, and multifaceted nature of actual human cultural reality, or are we seeking universally generalizable propositions and then verifying them? The former, of course. That’s our ontology and it guides our epistemology.

How many discrete, separate, ethnographies do we need to do to be seen as theoretically relevant? One, I would say. One good one. One good one with rich, thick, theoretical ideas.

Could they be with strange, odd, marginal groups? Definitely. Stuff that I found studying Star Trek fans and Burning Man burners is becoming increasingly mainstream now. I found phenomena sketched out in high relief in these “weird” field sites that help me to understand the emerging mainstream. And they are fun to study, to boot. How they look to others as “weird science” actually doesn’t bother me much. It may be bad P.R., but it’s perfectly fine as science.

Similarly, we could get great theory from interviewing one single person, if it was a real good interview. Recall what Susan Fournier did with brand relationship theory (based on a sample of N=3). How many of Craig Thompson’s masterpieces were written based on samples of three? My Ideology of Technology article in JCR last year used a sample of six. But all of them had, I think, big, valuable, intriguing, useful theoretical ideas. The field will sort the value of the theory out. It sure doesn’t come from the sample size. Reading Eric’s comments, his point seems directed more at the quality and attentiveness of the ethnography (vs. “case study”)—a point I wholeheartedly embrace. Maybe we need more clear delineations of the differences between case studies and ethnographies, then.

  • As Denzin, Lincoln and Guba have all written extensively about, if we can be persuasive and novel and suggest new things then what we contribute has the potential to be valuable and useful to other scholars, other writers, and people in general.
  •  We are theory generators. Not theory testers. Not theory verifiers. Quantity is not a quality of quality ethnography.

 Now, having written this, I am grateful for the provocation, because it is an opportunity for discussion and clarification. I wanted to write this blog post to assure everyone involved that there is no lasting confusion. The ground is not shifting. I believe completely that ethnographies of single phenomena are here to stay in our field and beyond.

I welcome comment and continuing commentary from anyone, including of course all those involved at the conference and interested in it, using this blog or through other means. And my coverage of the intriguing events and presentations of CCT 2010 will continue in the next blog posting…