Digital Theses Archive


Tesi etd-09272018-221053

Type of thesis
The strategic management of the relationship between companies and consumers
Scientific disciplinary sector
relatore Prof. RIZZI, FRANCESCO
  • communication strategies
  • companies-consumers relationship
  • consumer's loyalty
  • corporate reputation
  • corporate social responsibility (CSR)
  • marketing approaches
  • stakeholder theory
  • Sustainability
  • sustainable consumption
Exam session start date
Stakeholder Theory represents one the most affirmed theory for managing the relationships between companies and their stakeholders (Freeman, 1994). By adopting such theory as guiding star, companies are able to manage the relationships with their stakeholders as an indirect profit driver, fostering a network of long-term relationships and increasing the value of the company (Garcia de Madariaga &amp; Valor, 2007). Among the companies’ stakeholders, consumers represent one of the most important, since no business would be sustained without their purchasing behaviour. According to Johnson-Cramer et al. (2002: p.149) “the essence of stakeholder dialogue is the co-creation of shared understanding by company and stakeholder”, and companies can engage in such process with consumers by using different type of communications. Since such engagement process can be carried out by communicating attributes pertaining to either the product or service companies are selling or the values and the ethical orientation they are characterised by (Brown &amp; Dacin, 1997), two theoretical fields as well as research gaps are considered. While the former can be linked to the field of marketing, the latter can be referred to the field of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR). By relying on a marketing perspective, the analysis addresses the call of additional research on the understanding of the underlying processes through which consumers react to different marketing communication strategies and tools (White &amp; Simpson, 2013; Nguyen et al., 2017; De la Rue du Can et al., 2014). By relying on a CSR perspective, the analysis addresses the call of additional research on the understanding of the mechanisms through which consumers perceive and react to CSR (Bhattacharya &amp; Sen, 2009; Su et al., 2017; Romani et al., 2013). This thesis is thus aimed at investigating how to strategically manage the relationships between companies and consumers for obtaining mutual gain through the use of different types of communications, which pertain to either the product/service companies are selling – by relying on a marketing perspective –, or the values and the ethical orientation they are characterised by – by relying on a CSR perspective. <br>The thesis comprehends Introduction, three Chapters, and Conclusion. The Introduction addresses the theoretical background and the scope of the thesis. The first chapter refers to the field of marketing while the second and the third ones refer to the field of CSR. Lastly, the Conclusion comprehends the concluding remarks, limitations and future research. <br>Chapter 1 aims at understanding the effect of different companies’ promotion strategies on consumers’ willingness to pursue energy conservation, by adopting the Theory of Planned Behaviour (TPB) as a framework. While consumers’ willingness to pursue energy conservation was divided between consumers’ intention to implement energy saving behaviours (ESBs) and to invest in energy efficient technologies (EETs) – considering lowly-diffused and highly-diffused technologies –, promotion strategies were differentiated between short-term promotion strategies – i.e. advertising appeals (SBAs) – and long-term promotion strategies – i.e. repeated exposures to information (EXP). A survey involving consumers from the metropolitan area of Pisa (Italy) was carried out and the statistical technique of Structural Equation Modelling (SEM) was adopted for analysing data. The conclusion of this chapter highlights that companies can use SBAs to promote in the short-term less-diffused technologies by either reducing the perception of difficulty of the new (less diffused) technology or stressing its social acceptability. ESBs, instead, can be promoted in the short-term by also highlighting the benefits in terms of comfort, increasing consumers’ favourability when evaluating the behaviour. EXP is effective options in the long-term for pushing consumers to invest in EETs as long as the information conveyed refers to a specific technology, that consumers can easily recognise from their daily interactions. Additionally, EXP is always an effective option in the long-term for influencing consumers’ informational basis – represented in this case by the TPB determinants.<br>Chapter 2 aims at understanding the relation between corporate associations – divided among Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) association and Corporate Abilities (CA) association – and consumer’s perceived corporate reputation (PCR), as well as the role of CA association in the relation between CSR association and PCR. An international survey among five developing countries – i.e. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) – was carried out, using the electricity supply sector as setting and adopting the statistical technique of Structural Equation Modelling (SEM). Despite their similarities, the BRICS countries can be divided into individualistic countries – i.e. Russia and India – and collectivistic countries – i.e. Brazil, China, and South Africa. The conclusion of this chapter highlights that communication and positioning strategies should be designed according to the culture-specific context in which the electricity company operates. While in countries with a more collectivistic culture an electricity company’s carefulness about societal issues could be used as a strategic diversification aspect, in countries with a more individualistic culture such carefulness is not able to diversify among competitors and influence directly reputation. Despite that, electricity companies should consider that CSR association constitutes a general landmark for consumers when evaluating companies’ products and/or services. <br>Chapter 3 aims at understanding the effect of implementing different CSR activities pertaining to different CSR domains on consumer’s loyalty. Three CSR domains – Social domain (SD), Environmental domain (ED) and Communicational domain (CU) – were identified. An international survey among five developing countries – i.e. Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa (BRICS) – was conducted, using the development of a geothermal energy facility carried out as setting and adopting the rologit model as statistical technique – since it allows to study how consumers combine different attributes into an overall evaluation of their loyalty towards the energy provider. The conclusion of this chapter highlights that SD emerged as the most important CSR domain as compared with ED and CD. Despite that, energy companies can draw strategic advantages also from CSR activities performed within ED and CD, since such activities contribute – in a respective way – indirectly and directly to consumers’ loyalty. Energy companies are thus encouraged to increase their customer base by leveraging on activities performed within the three CSR domains. <br>The conclusion of the thesis reflects the different types of communications companies can adopt to strategically manage the relationships between themselves and consumers. From the first chapter, companies can gather the following insights. On the one hand, short-term marketing communications are able to encourage business relationships between companies and consumers, and they can be used by companies to influence consumers’ intention. Moreover, their effectiveness can also be enhanced by establishing “various type of dialogues with identified [consumers]” (Grönroos, 1994) and developing “specific [marketing] plans for every stakeholder” (Garcia de Madariaga &amp; Valor, 2007). On the other hand, long-term marketing communications are only able to modify consumers’ informational foundation, and they can be used by companies as an enabler precondition for effectively adopting short-term marketing communications. Companies should thus strategically harmonise short- and long-term marketing communications in order to build a coherent marketing communication strategy. Form the second and third chapter, companies can grasp the “bivalent” nature consumers attribute to CSR when perceiving and reacting to it. In particular, consumers consider CSR as able to encourage new companies-consumers relationships and strengthen existing ones on the one hand, and able to preserve – or weaken – current companies-consumers relationships on the other. Companies can thus adopt different positioning and communication strategy in accord to how consumers consider CSR. In the first case, companies can use CSR as a differentiation aspect for their strategic positioning and communication, leveraging on the CSR importance to strengthen their competitive advantage and creating new and stronger relationships with consumers. In the second case, companies can use CSR as an aspect aimed at preserving their license to operate in market and society, preserving current companies-consumers relationships. <br>Limitations should also be recognised. While in chapter 1 only transactional relationships between companies and consumers are considered, no insights on the consequences of the strategies and the tools adopted in this thesis can be gathered. Since it was not possible to account for relational relationships and actual consumers’ and companies’ behaviours, future studies should include purely relational marketing relationships in the analysis of companies’ communications as well as longitudinal studies to focus on actual consumers’ and companies’ behaviours.<br>Future avenues of research can also be highlighted. When considering the marketing perspective, future researches could analyse the interplay between promotion strategies and the factors determining consumers’ intention-behaviour. When considering the CSR perspective, instead, future researches could analyse the coherency between what and how companies communicate and their actual CSR behaviours.<br>