June 25, 2009

MORI or Edelman?

Follow-up to Trust: Is it declining? from Schrodinger's C(h)at

According to the regular MORI poll on trust, trust remains relatively constant over time. The percentage of people claiming to trust (say) businesses remains within a + or - 2-3% margin year on year. MORI's is an absolute measure of trust - it asks people the extent to which they trust various groups and organisations.

However, the Edelman Trust Barometer, which is based on a relative measure -  the extent to which people feel they trust (say) businesses more than last year or less than last year, indicates that, in the UK, 67% of people trust companies less (global average is 62).

The Barometer also indicates that there appears to be a link between respondents' trust in businesses to 'do the right thing' and the state of the economy in their respective countries.

A further, regular trust oriented survey from Reader's Digest agrees with the MORI findings: that trust (in absolute terms) remains relatively static. They found little if any change in the extent to which we trust the various professions and in the five years of their 'trusted brand' survey, in 14 of the 20 categories, the most trusted brand has remained static. While in most categories, lower ranked brands switch places, the accolade of 'most trusted' seems to be a hard thing to shift. The categories where the 'most trusted' accolade varies most are, as might be expected, in the more volatile and dynamic markets (e.g. mobile service providers and internet service providers) and in the service markets (where the opportunity for quality variance is highest, e.g. credit cards).

For those familiar with branding research, this 'trusted brand' stability will not come as a major surprise - leading brands remain leading brands because they are leading brands (see the Double Jeopardy theory - which hypotheses that loyalty is lower in less well known brands - e.g. Martin, JAMS, 1973 or Ehrenberg, Goodhardt and Barwise, JM, 1990). And business' current obsession with branding and becoming the leading brand is one result.

Hence, is trust increasing or decreasing? And if there is a strong correlation with the stockmarket or with national economic indicators, is it then more a measure of confidence in the national economy as opposed to a true measure of trust? And is the RD measure more one of 'brand loyalty' as opposed to 'trust'?

Or is this a simple case of semantic error in which several researchers use the same term (trust) to mean different things? And even if they are all using the term trust in a valid, if different (dictionary) sense of the word, how can we (or a business) trust the trust research if the results are incomparable and incompatible?

What, exactly, is being measured?

Can all claim to be measuring trust?

To what extent are the measures 'valid and reliable' (a pre-requisite for any quantitative research)?

Is 'trust in a brand' or 'trust in a profession' a meaningful construct?

MMMMmmmm ....?

June 18, 2009

Trust: Is it declining?

When asked about whether we are a less trusting nation than we used to be, our response, typically is yes. After all, were not things always better in the 'old days'. Research (MORI) suggests otherwise (and for those interested in trust research, the MORI organisation offers a barometer of opinions via its regular studies of trust in the professions).

It appears that trust, in people like politicians and journalists, and in people in general is relatively stable over time (but then trust in politicians is low and remains low -  there isn't much room for it to fall further - and our trust in people in general (in the UK) hovers around the 50% mark).

When we are bombarded with bad news (politicians fiddling expenses, breaches of trust by businesses, failures in duty of care in social workers and hospitals, etc, etc.) it seems that we surmise that, on the whole, society is becoming less trustworthy. In reality, when making a judgement about whether things are getting better or worse, we are making assumptions about the past (of which we have but a sketchy recollection) biased by our perceptions of what is happening in the present. So the more bad news we hear the more likely we are to make an assumption that things must be getting worse, but it is just that, an assumption but one that then becomes a belief because of its constant presence.

But there is another question worth exploring. When dealing with subjects or people at arms length or being asked about professions in general, we might question whether what is being measured is trust, per se, or some measure of confidence in the professions ability to perform their function or simply their propensity to lie.

Trust, within the literature is (in short) a belief or the placing of faith in the reliability of a third party, particularly when there is an element of personal risk. Hence one might, legitimately, claim to trust ones babysitter (the downside risks do not bear thinking about), one might trust a friend with a secret and develop a level of confidence in that persons integrity and discretion, and one might trust one's own doctor based on a series of interactions. One might also trust an unknown doctor because when ill we have little choice until we have more information. But if we say we trust a profession, what are we actually saying. There is, at this level of interaction, little or no 'element of personal risk' (at least not in the short term) and hence the conceptualization of trust should differ.

This poses a question. Is the construct of trust as measured by MORI (trust in a corporate) the same construct of trust as that measured in the many research papers on trust (mostly trust in direct dyadic interactions - see trust_a_bibliography_may09.docx)?  To what extent are integrity, benevolence and credibility, Zand's (1972) three antecedents of interpersonal trust, transferrable to a conceptualisation of trust in a corporate? To what extent can we legitimately discuss the cognitive or affective form of trust in a corporate without reconceptualising the trust construct to remove the 'personal risk' factor? Or is the proximity of personal risk merely a moderator of the interaction.

If personal risk is removed, then it is no great surprise that there is little change in the perceptions of trust in corporates. What is really being measured may be an assessment of our belief in the likelihood that the average member of that profession would lie to use, a measure that might be more stable, but a measure that is not a  measure of trust.

Thoughts and comments welcome


Hybrid methods in communications research

Fascinating. This is the only word to describe yesterday's seminar delivered by Prof Debra Roter of John Hopkins University under the auspices of Warwick's Institute of Health Short Term Fellow programme and a part of Warwick's Festival of Social Sciences.

Debra, one of the most cited researchers in her field (physician-patient communication) and in fact in the top 250 most cited of all social scientists, delivered a paper on hybrid research methods (the merging of quantitative and qualitative - perhaps we should give it a name ?quantalitive or qualantitive). The context of the research was the oral communication between clinician and patient and the role of 'oral literacy'. Debra's framework for assessing the oral literacy burden (the impact of the use of jargon, complexity of language usage, the informational context and the interactive structural characteristics of dyadic exchanges) required the development of a new technique.

Simulated consultancy sessions between genuine clinicians and 'patients' (played by briefed actors) were taped. The 'patient' was asked for a post event assessment of how the session went and how satisfied they were with the encounter, the whole encounter was transcribed and analyzed for items such as use of jargon, language complexity (e.g. Fleisch-Kincaid scores) and interactivity (e.g. who spoke when and for how long), and the sessions were then viewed by 'analogue clients' (subjects recruited to watch, view and evaluate the sessions imagining that they were the client in the session and thus to objectively evaluate the interaction as an interested observer).

The output from this combinatorial approach produced quantifiable data (e.g. frequency of specific jargon, ratings of demeanour, interactivity, turn-taking, etc., ) that then permitted use of statistical tools (Debra only reported correlations within the seminar but more sophisticated analytical tools would be possible) to test for significant factors. As Debra stated, if, in a study, some main effects show up as significant despite being unable to account for all of the complexities in a research context, then something worth studying is present in the research.

The hybrid merging of quatitative and qualitative methods is not wholly original. In the management field there are many papers (e.g. Harrigan, 1983) and research methods texts (e.g. Bryman & Bell, 2007, where it is termed mixed methods) that advocate its possible usefulness. Most published research in the marketing field uses both as a matter of course (although it must be admitted that the range of qualitative techniques used is limited). Churchill's 'paradigm for development of better marketing measures' (Journal of Marketing, 1981) advocates the use of 'insight stimulating examples' and 'in depth interviews' (inter alia) as foundations in the building of robust questionaires. And content analysis is a well known technique for quantifying oral, textual and visual data to permit statistical analysis.

However, most of the previous work is triangulation (the use of different methods to investigate the same phenomenon to enable a cross-check and validity assessment) as opposed to a true hybridisation (the cross-pollinated and integrated use of methodologies to produce new insights into the phenomenon). What appears to be unique and interesting about Debra's approach is the simultaneous and multimethod extraction of information along both qualitative and quantitative lines of enquiry, leading to a richer interpretation and understanding of the phenomenon.

There is clear potential for a similar approach in the fields of marketing or business. For example, this technique applied to a study of buyer-seller interactions might prove extremely interesting and here the outcome - sale or no sale - could be even more certainly measured.

Thoughts and views on hybrid methods are welcome.


Marketing Education (1)

Last Friday saw most of WBS' marketing and strategic management group at an 'away day' (actually on campus, in Milburn House, but far enough away to be below the telephone and door knocking radar) discussing a range of issues relating to the teaching of the Groups subject matter. Topics ranged from the issues common to all Univeristy lecturers and professors (e.g. the balancing of teaching, administrative and research duties) through the exciting and challenging issues of blended learning and the roll out of wbsLive, new ways of teaching and the role of Warwick's teaching grid in developing and experimenting with new modes of teacher/student interaction, the role and value of simulations in teaching, the development of PhDs, to the challenges and opportunities for pedagogic research. Newer members of staff and those recently entering the academic world found it particularly useful and the level of collegiality (a phenomenon that wanes so easily as we get bogged down in the day to day delivery of courses and exection of research) was mesurably higher at the end of the day.

The fullness of the agenda, the enthuiasm for the subjects, and the valuable discussions generated meant the last item (pedagogic research) was but briefly discussed but has been placed on the MSM group's upcoming Research away day.

June 10, 2009

Pet peeve #2

People who do not realise that the Union flag does have a right way up and that flying it upside down is an indication that they are in distress.

Does it matter? Well if other minorities can take offence at the slightest and most innocent of remarks and expect redress (see pet peeve #1 - political correctness) am I not permitted to express offence at the frequent abuse of a nation's symbol that is over 200 years old.

FYI: this is the wrong way up

Incidentally, this one was on the table in front of
Peter Mandelson and Gordon Brown at the public signing
of a trade deal with China in Feb this year.
Perhaps they meant it ... or perhaps, it was made in ...
Nah! Couldn't be

And the website of that party renowned
for its tolerance (the BNP) in their extolling
the virtues of being British, also proudly displays
an image of an inverted flag.


upside down flag

And FYI this is the right way up.

And yes, I was a boy scout.

right way up flag

Marketing education vs Apprenticeship

Despite the number of people engaged in marketing (or for that matter business) education (there are, for example, over 50 taught MScs in Marketing in the UK alone (including WBS' MSc in Marketing & Strategy, of which the author is currently the Academic Director) and despite the fact that many universities (globally) have either a business school or a department of education or both, there is, relatively speaking, little research into the application of learning theory in marketing education.

Within the field of management, there are a few (all relatively recent) journals dedicated to management education, teaching and learning, but none in the 4* category (at least not in the 2009 ABS journal rankings . The highest ranked is the 3* Academy of Management Learning and Education journal. Marketing education does have its own journals (e.g. Journal of Marketing Education and Marketing Education Reviewinter alia) but these are ranked lower down the ABS scale.

What is telling is that, despite the clear importance of understanding a subject's pedagogy to both an educational establishment purporting to teach the subject and/or to the thousands practioners in the field itself, a review of the top marketing journals reveals a dearth of articles on marketing pedagogy.

The recognised leader in marketing journals, the Journal of Marketing, in the several decades of its existence, has published just 30 articles on marketing education, teaching &/or learning, the last of which was in 1981!!! And the Journal of Marketing Management (for many years the official academic journal of the Marketing Educators Group, now the Academy of Marketing) yields only 20 substantive articles that are related to marketing education in its 30 year history.

It seems that marketing educators are not interested in research relating to the pedagogy of their own subject. This suggests that either there is little to research (but the mass of published pedagocially oriented research in other fields and the growth of interest and research in business knowledge transfer suggests otherwise) or that marketing educators are arrogant to the point of believing that such research matters little to them or that they know best or that knowledge about teaching best practice is gained osmotically or that marketing teachers are born not made or ... . Studying how organizations learn (an oxymoron if ever there was, since an organization is a socially constructed abstract concept?) is a valid topic for research, but how individual marketers learn or how learning theory can be best utilised in the teaching of marketing seems to be of little interest. 

Of course it could be that few have yet produced research of the appropriate calibre!

Thoughts, comments, ideas, research, pointers, tips, etc., etc., that relate to pedogogy in the fields of marketing &/or strategy are welcome, but particulalry those, given other strands in this blog, relating to technology in teaching and learning.

Research Methods: Useful knowledge or wasting time?

In this blog strand the emphasis is on ontological, epistemological, and methodological issues, ideas, and examples relating to empirical and interpretative research in the disciplines of marketing and/or strategy.

All HE taught business modules (especially in leading business schools such as Warwick) are (or should be) research led. Without robust research that explores or seeks to understand the conceptual underpinnings of business success and failure (whether qualitative or quantitative, positivist or constructionist), the teaching of business in higher education would be little more than either training in a particular technique (and that could be learned from a book) or a series of interesting business stories, anecdotes and experiences from which any learning would be wholly reliant on serendipity.

This is not to denigrate the role of experience, anecdotes or serendipity: spotting opportunities or insights drawn from stimulating examples is a major part of what business, and business research, is about. To paraphrase Machiavelli ('The Prince', 1532) we are all presented with opportunities but for them to be real opportunities we must a) recognise them as opportunities and then b) be in a position (i.e. have access to the knowledge and the resources) to take advantage of them as and when the opportunities are presented.

Business research is about conceptualising, understanding and/or categorising, and then making available and accessible, the knowledge needed to recognise opportunities and then to understand how the available resources can be best deployed to take advantage of those opportunities. However, unless such research is built on solid, robust, reliable and valid foundations the danger (?) is that business edifices are built on sand. For example, if more market researchers and users of market research understood the strengths and limitations of the various data collection and analysis methods, better and more robust research might emerge and better business decisions might result. My witness: the 'New Coke' debacle, in which, in essence, the wrong question was being investigated.

Thoughts, comments, ideas, examples and discussions relating to business (but particularly marketing and strategy) research methods are most welcome.

Online Marketing

Internet or e- marketing has become a very broad topic and it is not my intent to solve all possible problems. Suffice it to say that this field is already densly populated with thousands if not millions of sites and blogs on the subject. Hence my goal is to add value to, as opposed to replicating, such content.

My interest in the marketing/technology interface stems from a very long-standing love-hate relationship with information and communications technology and its usefulness to businesses. My role in the energy industry in the 1970's and 80's involved the use of technology to monitor and log oil and gas wells as they were drilled and then to transmit that information back to the companies' geologists and HQs (and that included full frame video links from remote areas of Alaska back to Denver as long ago as 1980).

My primary interests here (and the foci of this blog strand) are on marketers' practical uses of the technology and the integration of that technology into their marketing strategies and and on consumers' adoption of technologies in their search for and purchase of goods and services. Topics such as online buying and switching behaviour, development of online communities, viral and buzz marketing, and marketing in virtual worlds all fall into this category.

Thoughts, ideas, comments, research, examples and experiences on these topics are most welcome.

The concept of trust

I refer here to trust in all its socially constructed manifestations, but this bloggers interests lean towards the role of trust in both an online (see Zone B) and a consumer marketing context.

Trust (or lack of it) is at the heart of any and all relationships and business transactions. The whole banking system is built on the faith and trust of its depositors and participants in the system (and the US federal reserve goes one step further - its bank notes bear the inscription "In God We Trust" ). The very existence of a bank note (or its virtual equivalent) is to permit transactions that are based on trust and that the implicit 'promise to pay' will be honoured. The present credit crunch crisis developed after a loss of faith in and trust in the financial system.


And fugu enthusiasts put their ultimate trust in the fugu chef - one unwitting slip of the knife into the poison sac during preparation and death is a high probability.

Serious research into the concept of trust emerged in the 1960's and 1970's (e.g. Zand, 1972) and occurs in many disciplines (Sociology, Psychology, Information Systems, Medicine, and, more recently, Management and Marketing) as Arnott's (2009) trust_a_bibliography_may09.docxattests.

The goal in this zone is to explore and discuss the trust construct.

Thoughts, ideas, research, pointers to articles about and examples of trust (and mistrust or distrust) are welcome.

June 08, 2009

Growth in a recession

The only noticable growth in a recession is in politicians' use of euphemisms!

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