Consumption and consumers are interwoven into contemporary society. Therefore, marketers, journalists, policymakers, and members of the public all have a stake in the topics that consumer researchers study. So why doesn’t this work have a broader impact on these marketplace stakeholders as well as on academics in other disciplines? Consumer researchers tend to cite scholars in other fields (e.g., psychology, anthropology, sociology) far more than scholars in other fields cite their work. Similarly, most business practitioners turn to accessible, business-related popular writers before they seek the advice of consumer researchers. In the policy realm, consumer researchers’ influence is often dwarfed by that of economists and legal professionals.
The relatively narrow impact of consumer research is not due to a lack of talent or commitment of individual researchers, the quality or rigor of the work, or its potential to offer insights. Rather, in our new Journal of Marketing article, our research team argues that the majority of consumer researchers handicap themselves by adhering to implicit boundaries or defaults about what they study, why they study it, and how they communicate their findings. We believe that adhering to such defaults can limit the thinking of consumer researchers, the knowledge they produce, how they execute research, and the range of stakeholders they reach with their findings.
As a consequence of these implicit boundaries, our team believes that most consumer research yields limited cross-fertilization of ideas and diversity in knowledge and is often perceived to lack significance, despite its interdisciplinary and multi-stakeholder potential. Our research team urges consumer researchers to break these boundaries in order to broaden their impact, lest they become irrelevant to non-academic marketing stakeholders and cede influence to non-marketing academic disciplines.
How can consumer researchers engage in boundary-breaking marketing-relevant consumer research? To begin, our team presents a conceptual framework that distinguishes the implicit boundaries that characterize most researchers’ choices about marketing-relevant consumer research from boundary-breaking alternatives. Using this framework, our team argues that a key way consumer researchers limit their influence has to do with why the research is done in the first place. Rather than attempting to influence like-minded academics in marketing and consumer research, we make the case for why and how to influence academics in other disciplines, but also industry, government and nongovernmental organizations trying to help protect consumers, and society more broadly. We argue for looking outward for generating the ideas to be tested, and looking to emerging real-world phenomena rather than relying so heavily on other academic articles for idea generation. We argue that an important way that consumer researchers can contribute new and general theory is by explaining observations from these emerging real-world phenomena in terms of very general and basic concepts that have not yet been recognized by academic and practitioner experts.
Our team also provides guidance to the ambitious consumer researcher seeking to contribute in this way. Specifically, we describe five published articles that exemplify boundary-breaking marketing-relevant consumer research. These articles offered fresh and novel insights for academics in marketing and related disciplines. They also have had tangible and significant effects on other relevant marketplace stakeholders, including business, government, and society. We articulate concrete lessons from these cases to guide authors. Whereas these case studies illustrate our core ideas, we further guide researchers through other examples of boundary-breaking consumer research. We also offer specific strategies designed to help researchers, faculty members who train Ph.D. students, and other gatekeepers identify actions that can facilitate and accelerate boundary-breaking consumer research. We hope that this guidance will reduce the perception that the field’s disciplinary norms and instructional practices make it too risky to have broader impact on stakeholders outside of academic marketing and consumer research.
We believe that boundary-breaking consumer research can have rewarding outcomes to individual consumer researchers and the field as a whole. Boundary-breaking research enhances the credibility of consumer research scholars as substantive (real-world) experts. Such research also makes salient the novel and important research questions that are often the product of challenging the field’s boundaries.
From: Deborah J. MacInnis, Vicki G. Morwitz, Simona Botti, Donna Hoffman, Robert V. Kozinets, Donald R. Lehmann, John G. Lynch, Jr., and Cornelia (Connie) Pechmann, “Creating Boundary-Breaking Marketing-Relevant Consumer Research,” Journal of Marketing, 84 (March).
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