What is passed around as conventional wisdom in the marketing sphere is often subjective or anecdotal. Marketers are easily seduced by the latest digital trends, which may fizzle, and embrace buzzwords, which can ring hollow. In marketing, it can be hard to know what’s worthwhile and what’s fluff, to know what’s effective and what’s hype.
The American Marketing Association, of which I’m a member, sends me print publications on marketing topics, and one of the publications I receive is the Journal of Marketing. The publication is targeted for an academic audience with several articles each issue that methodically seek to prove a particular facet of marketing.
I chose to receive the Journal of Marketing out of a list of several options, because I welcome the ideal of provable concepts in an industry where so much knowledge is squishy. But the academic benefits of this publication arrive hand in hand with baffling academic writing. The articles are filled with convoluted jargon, stilted phrasing, and impenetrable equations of Greek letters and coefficients. Beach reading, it ain’t.
This blog post is the first in a series where I examine one of these academic articles and break it down for a non-academic audience (myself included) to see what gems of marketing wisdom might be unearthed.
Engaging Customers in Coproduction Processes: How Value-Enhancing and Intensity-Reducing Communication Strategies Mitigate the Negative Effects of Coproduction Intensity
What that title even mean?
The article explains that “coproduction” refers to instances where a company and consumer both have a role in creating a finished product or service. Coproduction seems to be a broad term encompassing anything from ready-to-assemble furniture and cooking kits to self-service kiosks. Then, “coproduction intensity” refers to the amount of work or effort the consumer has to do. This article is about using communication to mitigate any “negative effects” of compelling consumers to work before being able to use the item they purchased.
The article’s hypothesis is that “coproduction intensity decreases satisfaction.” In other words, consumers get annoyed when they have to put in a lot of effort and time into building what they bought. You came home with an Ikea bookshelf? You don’t want to tear out your hair putting it together.
The researchers conducted a study of 802 people where they had them put together ready-to-assemble furniture (brand or brands not mentioned), with subsets of these subjects being given different sorts of communications or experiencing some sort of variation in the process. Afterwards, they filled out web-based surveys.
The findings showed that indeed “coproduction intensity negatively affects customers’ satisfaction with the coproduction process.” In other words, yes, people don’t like trying to figure out poorly written instructions or taking forever to build a bookshelf. But you can try to convince people that building something is not all that bad in the end.
To lessen feelings of annoyance, companies should emphasize that by taking part in building the item customers are getting a better value than when buying something ready-made. By having lots of support options, such as toll-free numbers or online message boards to help them through any difficulties, customers won’t feel despairing. If the product can be customized in some way during its building, consumers may feel some extra gratification. In any case, companies should be careful about making the tasks too difficult and about how much of the work they put in the consumers’ laps.
My take on the article
This article rates a big “so what?” with me. The conclusions seem already quite obvious, and they seem to already be in wide practice.
When I buy a ready-to-assemble item, the instructions often say in bold letters: “Do not return to the store!” They urge you to call a toll-free number. I assume that when an item is returned, the company will have trouble re-selling it. In a few cases, I think I have called a toll-free number and received adequate support.
And yes, people in general don’t like putting stuff together. There are many other ways we’d prefer to spend our free time than puzzling over diagrams and trying to figure out which piece of wood is considered “J” by the instructions. The article even included a mention that companies could stress in their communications the “relational” aspects of coproduction. Was it saying that if you put together a piece of furniture with a partner or spouse, the experience can be a bonding one? If true, that idea seems ridiculous. Spouses are more likely to snap at each other when working on putting together furniture than feel brought together by teamwork.
Another criticism I have is that the “coproduction” of the title seems overly general when this article really just dealt with ready-to-assemble furniture. In some cases, people do like being involved in coproduction. For example, when boxed Betty Crocker cake mixes first came out, consumers didn’t need to add their own eggs. But people wanted to do a little work and to feel that the finished product was fresh, so the company changed the ingredients so that consumers had to use a real egg. In other examples, the modern practice of encouraging consumers to be involved in marketing campaigns by sharing pictures and messages on social media also seems to run counter to the idea that all coproduction is negative.
Lastly, for a marketing journal, this article didn’t seem to have too much to do with marketing. For the next article I summarize, I’ll try to look for something both more revelatory and relevant.
Till Haumann, Pascal Güntürkün, Laura Marie Schons, and Jan Wieseke (2015) Engaging Customers in Coproduction Processes: How Value-Enhancing and Intensity-Reducing Communication Strategies Mitigate the Negative Effects of Coproduction Intensity. Journal of Marketing: November 2015, Vol. 79, No. 6, pp. 17-33.