Big name brands are an integral part of our lives, says Davide Ravasi, associate professor in the Institute of Strategic Management of Bocconi University, Italy. Whether its Levi jeans, BMW cars or Nokia phones, we know the brands we like. These are more than products; they are symbols, or in other words, they are objects carrying meaning.
In a recent ESF Exploratory Workshop convened by Ravasi, scholars of various disciplines within the social sciences discussed how symbolic attributes of products affect their adoption and evolution.
The idea that goods and services hold symbolic as well as functional value has been recognised for decades, but is still poorly understood in the context of business management. Management theory and practice tends to focus on business processes: the most efficient and economic way to deliver good quality, functional products. Indeed, management studies prefer to shy away from "wishy-washy" topics like branding, considering it more of a sloppy marketing concept.
"Branding is just one way of endowing products with meanings. But there are others, such as product design or even process innovation." explains Ravasi, "However, little research has been done on how business processes and activities, like customer service and production, can systematically create symbolic value in products. This is such an unexplored field that we don't even have our terms and definitions and methodologies agreed on yet. The workshop was just the beginning of researchers in this field to come together and start work on developing a common language and concepts."
The importance of this research agenda cannot be underestimated. Europe has already lost its competitive advantage in terms of cost, quality or product innovation. Goods from China and other emerging economies are now cheap and of high quality. Moreover, manufacturers in these countries are beginning to develop new products and innovate, not just copy western goods.
Major technological breakthroughs and cheaper manufacturing are not the only way to grab market share. The mere redesign of the outer shells of hearing aids - introducing sleek lines, translucent plastics and a range of colours and patterns instead of the usual flesh colour - helped Oticon, a Danish leader in the production of hearing aids, relieve hearing-impaired children from the psychological burden associated with carrying a hearing aid. Ten years after its launch, OtiKids were still the hearing aid of choice of most support groups for parents of hearing impaired children.
Many European companies evidently know about good design - design that goes beyond ergonomics. Consequently European goods and services can still compete at the symbolic level, offering prestige, social status and fulfilling experiences to consumers. "You can encode meaning into products through careful design that will elicit certain interpretations in people," says Ravasi," and we want to understand the business processes that enable this encoding to happen and how to increase the likelihood that certain forms will be decoded in particular ways."
One of the first avenues of research will investigate the role of "cultural capital", one of the first technical terms agreed on by the researchers. Cultural capital is a special knowledge that some companies have about how goods are embedded in cultural conventions and expressions, and how they relate to consumers' lifestyles. It seems to play a critical role in how businesses understand the connections between objects and their meanings. But no-one really understands how cultural capital is accumulated or deployed in organisations when designing new products.
Another idea that was considered during the workshop was the crucial role of consumers in shaping symbolic value and at the importance of incorporating more explicitly consumers and consumption in managerial models.
"As a group of scholars we are trying to generate new forms of management knowledge, giving enterprises more awareness of the importance of symbolic value so they do not underestimate the resources and competitive advantage they have," Ravasi concludes.
The workshop titled Exploring Symbolic Value Creation In Organizations was held on 6-9 September 2007 in Milano, Italy. Each year, ESF supports approximately 50 Exploratory Workshops across all scientific domains. These small, interactive group sessions are aimed at opening up new directions in research to explore new fields with a potential impact on developments in science.
Thomas Lau | alfa
Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology
Internet use in class tied to lower test scores
16.12.2016 | Michigan State University
Astronomers from Bonn and Tautenburg in Thuringia (Germany) used the 100-m radio telescope at Effelsberg to observe several galaxy clusters. At the edges of these large accumulations of dark matter, stellar systems (galaxies), hot gas, and charged particles, they found magnetic fields that are exceptionally ordered over distances of many million light years. This makes them the most extended magnetic fields in the universe known so far.
The results will be published on March 22 in the journal „Astronomy & Astrophysics“.
Galaxy clusters are the largest gravitationally bound structures in the universe. With a typical extent of about 10 million light years, i.e. 100 times the...
Researchers at the Goethe University Frankfurt, together with partners from the University of Tübingen in Germany and Queen Mary University as well as Francis Crick Institute from London (UK) have developed a novel technology to decipher the secret ubiquitin code.
Ubiquitin is a small protein that can be linked to other cellular proteins, thereby controlling and modulating their functions. The attachment occurs in many...
In the eternal search for next generation high-efficiency solar cells and LEDs, scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory and their partners are creating...
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are less stable. Now researchers at the Technical University of Munich (TUM) have, for the first time ever, produced a composite material combining silicon nanosheets and a polymer that is both UV-resistant and easy to process. This brings the scientists a significant step closer to industrial applications like flexible displays and photosensors.
Silicon nanosheets are thin, two-dimensional layers with exceptional optoelectronic properties very similar to those of graphene. Albeit, the nanosheets are...
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to simulate these confined natural conditions in artificial vesicles for the first time. As reported in the academic journal Small, the results are offering better insight into the development of nanoreactors and artificial organelles.
Enzymes behave differently in a test tube compared with the molecular scrum of a living cell. Chemists from the University of Basel have now been able to...
20.03.2017 | Event News
14.03.2017 | Event News
07.03.2017 | Event News
24.03.2017 | Materials Sciences
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy
24.03.2017 | Physics and Astronomy