Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

How to imbue products with symbolic meaning

07.01.2008
Many people pay silly money to wear a particular logo or a designer brand. Of course, a designer outfit doesn't keep you any warmer or dryer than an unbranded one, but functionality is only part of the story. Designer products say something about you -you are a trendy, sexy or sophisticated person. Brands help us to express who we think we are and who we want to be.

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
Further information:
http://www.esf.org/activities/exploratory-workshops.html

More articles from Social Sciences:

nachricht Fixating on faces
26.01.2017 | California Institute of Technology

nachricht Internet use in class tied to lower test scores
16.12.2016 | Michigan State University

All articles from Social Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: Turmoil in sluggish electrons’ existence

An international team of physicists has monitored the scattering behaviour of electrons in a non-conducting material in real-time. Their insights could be beneficial for radiotherapy.

We can refer to electrons in non-conducting materials as ‘sluggish’. Typically, they remain fixed in a location, deep inside an atomic composite. It is hence...

Im Focus: Wafer-thin Magnetic Materials Developed for Future Quantum Technologies

Two-dimensional magnetic structures are regarded as a promising material for new types of data storage, since the magnetic properties of individual molecular building blocks can be investigated and modified. For the first time, researchers have now produced a wafer-thin ferrimagnet, in which molecules with different magnetic centers arrange themselves on a gold surface to form a checkerboard pattern. Scientists at the Swiss Nanoscience Institute at the University of Basel and the Paul Scherrer Institute published their findings in the journal Nature Communications.

Ferrimagnets are composed of two centers which are magnetized at different strengths and point in opposing directions. Two-dimensional, quasi-flat ferrimagnets...

Im Focus: World's thinnest hologram paves path to new 3-D world

Nano-hologram paves way for integration of 3-D holography into everyday electronics

An Australian-Chinese research team has created the world's thinnest hologram, paving the way towards the integration of 3D holography into everyday...

Im Focus: Using graphene to create quantum bits

In the race to produce a quantum computer, a number of projects are seeking a way to create quantum bits -- or qubits -- that are stable, meaning they are not much affected by changes in their environment. This normally needs highly nonlinear non-dissipative elements capable of functioning at very low temperatures.

In pursuit of this goal, researchers at EPFL's Laboratory of Photonics and Quantum Measurements LPQM (STI/SB), have investigated a nonlinear graphene-based...

Im Focus: Bacteria harness the lotus effect to protect themselves

Biofilms: Researchers find the causes of water-repelling properties

Dental plaque and the viscous brown slime in drainpipes are two familiar examples of bacterial biofilms. Removing such bacterial depositions from surfaces is...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

Event News

AWK Aachen Machine Tool Colloquium 2017: Internet of Production for Agile Enterprises

23.05.2017 | Event News

Dortmund MST Conference presents Individualized Healthcare Solutions with micro and nanotechnology

22.05.2017 | Event News

Innovation 4.0: Shaping a humane fourth industrial revolution

17.05.2017 | Event News

 
Latest News

Scientists propose synestia, a new type of planetary object

23.05.2017 | Physics and Astronomy

Zap! Graphene is bad news for bacteria

23.05.2017 | Life Sciences

Medical gamma-ray camera is now palm-sized

23.05.2017 | Medical Engineering

VideoLinks
B2B-VideoLinks
More VideoLinks >>>