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Journal of Promotion Management

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A New Consumer Relationship Model: The Marketing Communications Application


Alkis Thrassou a; Demetris Vrontis a a University of Nicosia, Nicosia, Cyprus

To cite this Article Thrassou, Alkis and Vrontis, Demetris(2009) 'A New Consumer Relationship Model: The Marketing

Communications Application', Journal of Promotion Management, 15: 4, 499 521 To link to this Article: DOI: 10.1080/10496490903281270 URL: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/10496490903281270

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Journal of Promotion Management, 15:499521, 2009 Copyright Taylor & Francis Group, LLC ISSN: 1049-6491 print / 1540-7594 online DOI: 10.1080/10496490903281270

A New Consumer Relationship Model: The Marketing Communications Application


ALKIS THRASSOU and DEMETRIS VRONTIS
University of Nicosia, Nicosia, Cyprus

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The article investigates empowered consumer behavior and explores its evolutionary nature and contemporary contexts in developed countries. Through a comprehensive literature review multiperspective analysis, it nally develops a prescriptive marketing communication model in the context of an evolving businessconsumer relationship and its corresponding marketing philosophy. The ndings identify a rising symbiotic equilibrium between consumers power and businesses inuence on consumers perceptions. Consumer needs are found to be increasingly manifested into wants which are intangible, of obscure value, affective in nature and vulnerable to marketing communications; the latter being increasingly oriented towards perception management and with branding as a primary vehicle. KEYWORDS consumer behavior, consumer empowerment, customer relationship, developed countries, marketing, marketing communications

INTRODUCTION
Tracing the patterns of consumer activity, preferences, beliefs, attitudes, and affections has allowed marketers to adapt their strategies and communications accordingly and, thus, successfully compete in the business arena of developed countries. In parallel, the extent and intensity of competition, and the strict, complex legal and regulatory environments together with the knowledgeable and demanding business and consumer markets of these countries, largely ensure that the organizations that do succeed are truly worthy of the many and great benets granted by their success.
Address correspondence to Alkis Thrassou, Associate Professor of Marketing at the School of Business, University of Nicosia, 46 Makedonitissas Avenue, Nicosia, Cyprus. E-mail: thrassou.a@unic.ac.cy 499

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Embarking on business in developed countries therefore demands the ability to cope with a multitude of factors and forces simultaneously, plus the wisdom to acknowledge that all segments of any organization form a chain that binds and supports it. A chain which is, however, only as strong as its weakest link. While retaining a spherical perspective that reveals the vital interrelationship of the forces involved, this research studies and analyzes them as interwoven threads that make up the fabric of modern marketing theory. This research deals with macroenvironmental subjects only in the context of marketing, explores their effect on consumer behavior, and necessitates their prioritization according to the relative weight of each in relation to business. Additionally, this research utilizes the theoretical ndings toward the construction of a marketing communications model in the context of an evolving symbiotic business-consumer relationship. The model positions the various ndings in their corresponding strategic marketing relationship, acting both as a marketing philosophy framework and as a practical implementation guide. A general assumption is that the term developed countries refers to those nations that are widely accepted as being the most advanced; not measured merely by wealth and/or economic output, but also by their corresponding social organization and consumer behavioral complexity and development.

Research BackgroundA Changing Global Marketing Environment


Change in the marketing environment is the consequence of events caused by historical forces or streams of related events such as the industrial revolution, the impact of dominant ideologies, the inequality of human circumstances, science and technology, the rise of the nation-states, great leaders, and chance (Steiner & Steiner, 2000). This rst decade of the third millennium nds the world changing at a once unimaginable pace, with organizations struggling to keep up and consequently experiencing severe difculties with their longer-term planning. Globalization is shrinking, even eradicating distances and bringing down physical and cultural frontiers. Technological advances, cultural diversity, economic integration, political change, and root-depth human social evolution are forcing the business world to add a new word to its dictionary: globality (Ball, McCulloch, Frantz, Geringer, & Minor, 2002, pp. 1114). The developed countries lie at the heart of these changes, being the main originators and driving forces behind the incessant reorganization of our world andequally importantlyour view of it. Through their combined power, ability, inuence, and weight on the world stage they have now lured, pulled, or pushed almost every country and nation into the dance of change and integration. A dance unknowingly choreographed, perhaps for the rst

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time, not by elite powerful individuals or nations, but by the spontaneous improvization of the combined elements of investment, technology, information, politics, and militia. It is choreography with strong means but no conscious or visible ends; choreography for the dance and the dance alone. These countries differentiate themselves as a group through attributes relating to wealth, educational levels, technology penetration, and more. In the business context, these macro-environmental factors come together to form a single-most-important and unique force, the consumer, that demands a marketing philosophy re-orientation in these countries.

Research Aims, Methodology, and Limitations


This research undertakes a comprehensive literature review and performs a multi-perspective analysis toward (a) depicting consumer behavior in developed countries, (b) identifying its underlying causes and motivators, and (c) distilling contemporary issues relating to contemporary marketing communications beyond classical theory and practice. The ndings are ultimately brought together to (d) construct a marketing communications model in the context of an evolving symbiotic business-consumer relationship and its corresponding marketing philosophy. The extensive scope of elements reviewed and incorporated is demanded by the very nature of the subject; which necessitates a comprehensive approach involving all potential factors affecting consumer behavior, as well as the elements concerning marketing communications. This fact, in its turn, stipulates the conceptual nature of the research as the only methodologically viable means to studying the complex interrelation of the elements involved. While this methodological approach is undeniably the right one so early in the development of a contextually new theory, it is also its limitation. It is claried, therefore, that this research considers the model produced to be a preliminary one and that substantial primary research is further required to test and rene the individual model components and to provide the necessary validity to the framework in its entirety. This research is conceptual and ultimately aims to provide a challenge to traditional marketing communications and to reposition them in a new marketing philosophy context. At this premature stage in its development, the new concept aims for nothing more and nothing less than to provoke thought, and stimulate further research and analysis.

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DEVELOPED COUNTRIES CONSUMER BEHAVIOR ROLE AND DIFFERENCES


Consumer behavior is dened as the activities people undertake when obtaining, consuming, and disposing of products and services (Blackwell,

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Miniard, & Engel, 2006). The signicance of consumer behavior knowledge rests on the foundation of modern marketing philosophy which recognizes the consumer as being the focus of marketing activity. In developed countries, consumers inuence on business has been steadily increasing over the past few decades, empowering and crowning them sovereigns among the forces shaping business environments (Kotler et al., 2005; Blackwell et al., 2006). Developed countries are characterized by: high economic productivity and prosperity, the freedom that largely characterizes business activity, high education and administration levels, technological superiority, the comparative importance of knowledge and information versus other economic factors, and a socio-cultural environment that supports personal and collective development and expression (Steiner & Steiner, 2000; Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001; Chan & Chui, 2004; Thrassou, 2007a, 2007b). Furthermore, the usual cultural diversity of their population, the high per-capita-income and low ination, the high labor costs and quality, the organisation of labor into powerful groups and the increased regulation of working conditions, the increasingly strengthening role of services in their economy versus manufacturing and agriculture (Fitzsimmons & Fitzsimmons, 2001; Keegan & Schlegelmilch, 2001; Paladino, 2005), the excellent infrastructure for transportation and communication, the comparatively low/stable ination and their stability and law supremacy are other characteristics that should be highlighted. The effect of these on behavior is profound in every step of the consumer decision process, which distinguishes itself from the reciprocal ones in other countries on a number of factors (Laroche, Papadopoulos, Heslop, & Bergeron, 2003; Teng, Laroche, & Zhu, 2007). Prior to investigating these factors, nevertheless, one needs to comprehend the conceptual basis of these differences, and in order to do that, the very personal, internal, psychological underlying motivation must be understood. The use of Maslows Theory of Motivation is one way to achieve this understanding. While the theory bears a number of faults that diminish its reliability as a process of understanding motivation at an individual consumer level (Robbins, 2003), it is a more appropriate approach to use at a collective level. The primary differentiating factor, therefore, in consumer behavior in developed countries, is the average position where the population of these countries stand in the hierarchy of needs. Referring to the Maslow scale, while the minority of people are still preoccupied with the rst two levels (physiological and safety needs), the majority has moved on to satisfy higher needs (esteem, cognition, aesthetics, etc.). Although this is something expected, and it theoretically explains consumer behavior within all countries, developed or not, at the collective level, there are forces that give a parallel push upwards and relate not to the individual situation but to macroenvironmental elements. The combined effect of person and macroenvironmental

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FIGURE 1 A more detailed representation of the consumer decision process. Adapted from Blackwell et al., 2006.

situation allows the average individual in a developed country to be motivated toward higher needs than people with a similar personal situation in another country. The characteristics that differentiate developed countries (economic prosperity, etc.), are therefore the ones that push the average individual motivation level disproportionately higher on the scale, primarily through the application of higher collective expectations on individual performance. This does not only result in different motivators (Rayner & Easthope, 2001), but also in considerably more complex motivational processes, themselves resulting in both quantitative and qualitative upgrades in the decisionmaking process of a developed-country consumer (Yi & Baumgartner, 2004; Esch, Langner, Schmitt, & Geus, 2006). The consumer decision process includes the mental and physical steps taken by the consumers from the point of realization that they want a certain product up to their divestment of it. A theoretical model is used to understand their behavior and the parameters that affect it. Figure 1 portrays the characteristics of each step of the model and subsequently (in Table 1) the underlying specic-to-developedcountries causal factors of differentiation are summarily presented as they surfaced from the literature review.

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TABLE 1 Developed Countries Consumer Decision Process Differences (Literature Review Findings) Bibliography Rayner & Easthope, 2001; Blackwell et al., 2006; Zeithaml et al., 2006 Developed countries consumer decision process differences GENERIC -Upgraded signicance of CDP -Majority of consumption relating to the satisfaction of higher needs

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NEED RECOGNITION STAGE Hawkins et al., 2004; Schiffman Need recognition, although authentic in the sense that it & Kanuk, 2004; Blackwell et requires the satisfaction of fundamental human al., 2006; Zeithaml et al., requirements, it can be directed toward specic branded 2006; Solomon, 2007; products, ideas or positions. Due to: Thrassou, 2007a, 2007bb -High average income level -Large number of marketing communication channels with high reach and impact -A general social (perceived) correlation between consumerism and quality of life -An actual need for new products/ideas, consequential of the high rates of social and technological changes. INFORMATION SEARCH STAGE Feldwick, 2002; Hawkins et al., Though non-marketer dominated sources are extremely important, there is comparatively greater information 2004; Schiffman & Kanuk, provision through marketer-dominated channels. The 2004; Solomon, 2007; difference is probably due to: Thrassou, 2007a, 2007bb -The number and array of channels used -The potentialities offered by technological advancement -The level of public education -The availability of many types and brands of products/ideas that often largely rely on intense communication to succeed -Value of time diminishing attention spans ALTERNATIVES EVALUATION STAGE Kapferer, 1997; Feldwick, 2002; -Consumers are more educated with easier access to Brassington & Pettitt, 2003; valuable information Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004; -Abundance of marketing channels and intensive competition allows direct comparison of information Thrassou, 2007a, 2007bb -Stricter regulatory environments provide relative assurance against improper practices -Relative value placed on branded products which representsamong other elementsthe appreciation, trust and loyalty towards products and organizations -Value of time diminishing cognitive processing. CHOICE (PURCHASING) STAGE Hawkins et al., 2004; Reedy & -Better infrastructure, greater competition and more Schullo, 2004; Solomon, 2007 distribution channels -Personal and social motives play a proportionally greater role since people place considerable value on the experience of the CDP itself (Continued on next page)

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TABLE 1 Developed Countries Consumer Decision Process Differences (Literature Review Findings) (Continued) Bibliography Developed countries consumer decision process differences

CONSUMPTION STAGE POST-CONSUMPTION STAGES -Comparatively less consumption takes place in relation Kapferer, 1997; Feldwick, 2002; to immediate practical (lower order) needs, and more Brassington & Pettitt, 2003; Hawkins et al., 2004; Schiffman in relation to cognitive, social and aesthetic (higher & Kanuk, 2004; Blackwell et al., order) ones. 2006; Thrassou, 2007a, 2007bb -Consumption experience bears an increasing relative weight POST-CONSUMPTION STAGE Kapferer, 1997; Feldwick, 2002; -In spite of the expanded diversity of consumer needs Brassington & Pettitt, 2003; and wants the fundamental question of satisfaction or Hawkins et al., 2004; Schiffman dissatisfaction is very similar. & Kanuk, 2004; Blackwell et al., -Its evaluation is subjective though and portrays 2006 comparatively greater reliance on shopping and product experience, and higher order factors (Blackwell et al., 2001; Blackwell et al., 2006; Fraj & Martinez, 2006; Zeithaml et al., 2006; Thrassou, 2007a, 2007bb DIVESTMENT STAGE -Divestment is often made due to social, not practical reasons -Social shift of consumers and consequently businesses towards environmentalism with choice of products often inuenced by their effect during and after divestment

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DEVELOPED COUNTRIES DIFFERENCES IN THE DETERMINANTS OF CONSUMER BEHAVIOR


Behavior, is a result of a combination of factors. Some belong to the wider consumer environment such as culture, social context, and family, and some are specic to the individual like personality, values, attitudes, psychographic prole, and lifestyle. Developed countries differ with regards to personality inuence on consumer behavior chiey in terms of attitudes and values in relation to social and personal freedom and dignity, respect toward the natural and built environments, the drive for achievement, and others (Cronin, Brady, & Hult, 2000; Mukherjee & Hoyer, 2001; Laroche, 2002; Maniyiwa & Crawford, 2002; Laroche et al., 2003; Robbins, 2003; McEachern, Schr der, o Willock, Whitelock, & Mason, 2007; Thrassou, 2007a). Cultural and social factors are equally important as, among developed countries, there are commonly shared characteristics. Family inuences are diminishing due to decreasing time spent together by members, increased divorce rates changing family structure, and nuclear families becoming the norm. This alters both the actual family and the perception of its meaning and leads to a lack of heritage and continuity (Kotler et al., 2005; Blackwell et al., 2006; Thrassou, 2007a). Religious inuences are also diminishing in

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effect due to an array of reasons including education levels, freedom of expression in combination with increased cultural diversity, liberalization of economic activities, and increased questioning of religions role in modern societies. This pattern, though, is neither absolute clear, nor constant, as in the case of early 21st century United States, where religious inuence on behavior is actually increasing for various historical/political reasons (Solomon, 2007). In developed countries, national culture is another factor with diminishing inuences. (This being a distinctly separate phenomenon to nationalist feelings/tendencies and their observable increase or decrease). Globalization, diversity, improved knowledge of history, media inuences, practicality, and even at times, a conscious direction by the nation-state, have contributed to this phenomenon. Cultural diversity within developed countries has, in fact, increased the effect on behavior of nationality-based subcultures (Schiffman & Kanuk, 2004; Angelis, Lymperopoulos, & Dimaki, 2005). The inuence of education appears to be increasing, not only because of rising standards, but also because of the nature of education in developed countries. It is often becoming more liberal in context. It promotes diversity. It concentrates on individual rather than collective national and religious values. It provokes and rewards critical thinking, and it relies more and more on technologies such as the internet, that are difcult to control by the state or individuals. Education walks hand-in-hand with consumer empowerment and the perception that citizens self-develop both as individuals and in their capacity as consumers (Vittell, 2003; Henry, 2005; Blackwell et al., 2006; Vrontis & Thrassou, 2007). Finally, reference groups tend to signicantly inuence an individuals behavior through socialization, self-concept, comparison, conformity, and role models (Maniyiwa & Crawford, 2002; Laroche et al., 2003; Kotler et al., 2005; Zeithaml, Bitner, & Gremler, 2006). In the course of understanding consumer behavior in developed countries, business social responsibility and ethics arise as a characteristic contemporary trend. Societal marketing is dened as the idea that organizations should determine the needs, wants, and interests of target markets and deliver the desired satisfactions more effectively and efciently than competitors in a way that maintains or improves the consumers and societys well-being (Kotler et al., 2005). However, if one would retain a more pragmatic perspective on this frame of thinking, it would not be difcult to observe an underlying fact: that this denition does not substantially differ to the orthodox marketing concept which does not include the concept of maintaining or improving the consumers and societys well-being (Kotler et al., 2005). So where does the ingenuity and philosophical innovation lie? It is the change in the demands of consumers and their overall behavior that has necessitated the introduction of this extra phrase in the concept. Consumers require businesses to act in an ethically and socially responsible manner (Carrigan, Szmigin, & Wright, 2004). Businesses, in their turn,

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FIGURE 2 The cycle of increasing business social responsibility.

understand this requirement and deliver accordingly. Enhancing factors cyclically and incessantly evolve into health factors, thus constantly raising the level of acceptable business responsibility as perceived by consumers, to effectively end up with a dynamically self-improving system (see Figure 2). For this reason, in developed countries, the regulatory environment, although much stricter on businesses than elsewhere, is not the driving force behind social responsibility, but simply a catalyst that reinforces the conviction of consumers as to what to expect from businesses, solidifying the minimum acceptable standards. This is enhanced in developed countries by unrestricted competition, increased social awareness, education, and freedom of expression which makes it difcult for organizations to build perceptions of being socially responsible (Weiner, 2000; Palmer & Ponsonby, 2002; Sullivan & Strongman, 2003) without really being so. Having identied the various parameters of consumer behavior in developed countries, it will be equally important to consider how businesses are presently affected by the outcomes. This will be done by extrapolating from the discussion in the previous sections. Todays severely competitive business environment does not allow much room for manoeuvre between producer supply and consumer demand. This necessitates both a sound

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understanding of consumer wants and the wherewithal to satisfy them. It also renders it increasingly rare for businesses to offer truly good value through visibly higher quality, lower price, or the best combination of the two. Consequently, value is frequently offered in other ways, such as innovation (Mukherjee & Hoyer, 2001), extended products or services, better customer care, personal attention, and increased convenience (Naumann, Jackson, & Rosenbaum, 2001; Thogersen & Olander, 2002). Simply meeting customer expectations is generally not enough. Businesses have to surpass expectations to meet the prerequisites of quality (Foreman, 2000; Blackwell et al., 2001; Naumann et al., 2001; Gupta & Lehmann, 2002). Another option for the creation of value is the building of a strong brand image that communicates it to the consumer. This process is often articial, in the sense that it relies more on perceptions than on reality. In a developed world dominated by information multimedia, the perceptions in question become more critical parameter than objective reality (Naumann et al., 2001; Palmer & Ponsonby, 2002; McCullough, Tsang, & Emmons, 2004). Realizing this, businesses spend a large percentage of their income to shape perceptions (and therefore preferences) through all the varieties of marketing communications at their disposal. The result is that audiences are constantly exposed to commercial messages, and become cognitively saturated with information. This in turn reduces ability of producers to inuence consumers, unless considerable extra effort is put into increasing the qualitative or quantitative intensity of their communication (Blackwell et al., 2006), or both. For a developed world with few concerns for immediate needs towards survival, consumerism appears to have become an end in itself and, through it, consumers nd a voice of expression, the way to promote their understanding of a better society, an abstract escape from the predetermined, and the means to build an identity for themselves. The choice belongs to the consumer and the consumer alone, but the context and content belongs to the businesses.

MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS WITHIN THE NEW FRAMEWORK


The subject of marketing communications both in classical literature and in terms of its developments and contemporary applications has been reviewed and presented extensively. This research deems that more of such work is superuous and consequently will concentrate only on the aspects of marketing communications that add value in the context of the proposed new framework. In view of the increasing value of intangible, higher order product attributes in developed countries, the new framework proportionately adopts more elements that relate to services marketing communications theory.

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From authors such as Kotler et al. (2005), Lovelock & Wright (2002), Thrassou & Vrontis (2006), and Zeithaml et al. (2006) three valuable elements arise: differences in the perception of the environment as physical and non-physical with the latter naturally presenting complications both in its denition and analysis, an upgraded value of internal marketing stemming from the relative weight of People in the marketing mix, and the importance placed on quality and the clients perception of quality with the latter differentiated form the former. Lovelock & Wright (2002), in fact, emphasized the importance of physical evidence To further add to the actual product, they also included other real evidence such as ofces and equipment, as well as mental evidence such as symbols. Zeithaml & Bitner (2003) identifed the key reasons for service communication problems as being: inadequate management of service promises, inadequate management of customer expectations, inadequate customer education, and inadequate internal marketing communications. They subsequently presented a strategy for each toward matching service promises with delivery. Earlier, McArthur & Grifn (1997) identied the need to respect the differences of various types of marketers in planning marketing communication activities. Thrassou & Vrontis (2006) linked the intangibility and complexity of contemporary consumer behavior with the increased need for customer education and consultation. Furthermore, they observe through these consumer behavior attributes an opportunity for businesses to affect not only client knowledge but also elements such as client attitudes, beliefs, and feelings towards the service. Marketing communications are viewed as the means of both receiving the necessary information and transmitting it successfully toward controlling these elements. The aforementioned indicate the imperative of marketing communications mix design in parallel to the implementation of the methods and analyses that will allow the measurement and understanding of the previous elements. Of interest to this research are the various means of stimulating word-of-mouth and targeting opinion leaders. Word-of-mouth has been shown by previous reviews to be relatively more important to small construction consultants whereas the reliance on opinion leaders appears to also be more frequent in the specic industry. Similar conclusions were drawn through the review of work by Hawkins, Best, & Coney, (2004), Schiffman & Kanuk (2004), and Solomon (2007). In reference to small rms marketing communications, Longenecker, Moore, & Petty (2003) emphasized personal communications, the limitations of their budget, the critical role of the manager, and the need for a marketing communications focus. Similar ndings are noted by Said (2000) and Thrassou (2005), with the latter being consistent also with Kotler et al. (2005) in doubting the necessity of formalized marketing communications processes for small rms and in stressing the importance of adopting and adapting marketing communications to resources availability.

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Finally, Thrassou & Vrontis (2006) brought together the work of various authors on the subject and combined it with their own primary data ndings to develop an integrated marketing communications model for small rms, relying also on the work of Kitchen (2001), Fill (2002), Pickton & Broderick (2001), and Smith & Taylor (2002). Their work corroborated the previous ndings and provided three more valuable observations: the need to address the structure and consistency of the competitive environment (SME concentration, competition on market share vs. total market growth etc.), the need to consider collective marketing communications through collaborations, and the consideration of adapting strategy to marketing communications capabilities. Perhaps the single most important element of change within the new marketing communications framework is electronic marketing. The subject is consequently and subsequently paid greater relative attention to by this research, primarily owing to the importance of its contemporary nature. Reedy & Schullo (2004) through their work on electronic marketing, demonstrated the continuously growing spectrum of communication means available to businesses and their multiple implications. With the effort for gaining competitive advantage shifted towards non-price factors, new electronic forms of communication and distribution channels are invaluable for professional services, since they provide the opportunity for raising quality or cutting costs without diminishing the existing service standards. The future of customer service is multi-channel and its benets plentiful: it cuts costs, it develops deeper relationships with customers, it increases sales, and it reduces risk by spreading it over multiple channels (Hobmeier, 2001). In terms of customers channel preferences, Skiera & Gensler (2003) outlined the primary inuencers as the nature of the product purchased, the stage of the transaction process, and the customer with all its characteristics. Relating to the nature of the product purchased, Peterson, Balasubramanian, & Bronnenberg (1997) concluded that customer preference over channel choice would depend on the level of outlay, frequency, the nature of its tangible aspects, and the physical/informational elements. Finally, considering customer proles, Rollo (2003) suggested that the demographics and psychographics of customers also matter in channel preferences, with younger, more educated techno-users having a natural inclination toward channels such as M-banking. Laforet & Li (2005) stated that the delivery of technology-based services appears to be correlated with high satisfaction. This has been shown to be especially true where the product is highly important to customers (Joseph & Stone, 2003). Similarly, the literature suggested that consumers prefer a mix of rather than any one single delivery channel (Howcroft, Hamilton, & Hewer, 2002) and that it is important for providers to understand and improve each channel within the overall offering rather than concentrating efforts on improving one delivery channel in isolation (Patricio, Fisk, & Cunha, 2003).

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According to Clarke (2001) value propositions dene the relationship between supplier offerings and consumer purchases. He further outlined that value propositions specify the interdependence between the performances attributes of a product and the fullment of needs, and solidies the relationship between the customer and various dimensions of product value. Thus, customer satisfaction is merely a response to the value proposition offered by a specic product bundle. Value, in itself, is subjectively found in new electronic channels and individual customer characteristics (education, age, income, etc.) will affect evaluations of perceived risks, perceived usefulness, and perceived ease of use of electronic means (Bhattacherjee, 2002; Howcroft et al., 2002; Sarel & Marmorstein, 2003a and 2003bb; and Laforet & Li, 2005). The question of actual practical customer adoption of new technologies is largely governed by classical theories such as the Theory of Diffusion of Innovations (Rogers, 1995, see especially pp. 5, 212251). The theory views adoption as a process by which an innovation is communicated through certain channels over time among the members of a social system. It is determined by ve innovation characteristics: Relative Advantage, Complexity, Compatibility, Trialability, and Observability. The Theory of Planned Behavior (Ajzen, 1991) posited that actual, voluntary use of a technology is determined by the individuals behavioral intention, which in turn, is determined by the individuals perceptions on the presence or absence of requisite resources and opportunities to perform the behavior (Ajzen, 1991).

CONSTRUCTING A NEW MARKETING COMMUNICATIONS SYMBIOTIC MODEL


As shown in the introduction of this article, the marketing environment is changing at an increasing pace, which we can do little to control and which we are given no option to accept or reject. We have to accept that consumers and producers will continue to live through times of change, with occasional interruptions of stability. Successful business will, therefore, be the ones that accept that turbulence, living through, and for, it. Vrontis & Thrassou (2007) researched the matter extensively, with their analysis outgrowing the abstract philosophical context to touch upon a number of practical business issues. Their ndings ultimately provided the conceptual foundation for a new and balanced relationship between business and consumers. Their research approach held the question of balance of power in its epicentre and presented a rudimentary table of the primary forces affecting this balance, as well as their overall effect (see Table 2). The literature review ndings gradually form the contours of a new contemporary marketing communications model. This model is clearly shaped

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TABLE 2 List of Forces Affecting Balance of Power Between Businesses and Consumers

512 Increases Power of Consumers Increased choice, more information, ease of comparison Allows demand for more, better and customized products Neutral Most likely Overall Effect on Power: Moderate shift towards the consumer end Higher age of average consumer Minor shift towards the means more experienced consumers consumer end and therefore more difcult to control Higher purchasing power in the hands Neutral of consumers resulting in greater buyers bargaining power. These become stricter in favor of the consumers aiming for their health, safety, and nancial protection

Forces that Might Affect Balance of Power

Increases Power of Businesses

IT advances

Other science and engineering advances Demographic changes (low birth rates, increase of average age etc) Economic changes Growing services sector means growth of products with intangible nature and more subjective perception of value that makes it easier for businesses to affect. Higher purchasing power in the hands of consumers results in changing spending patterns favoring products satisfying higher order needs which again have a less objective perception of value that make it easier for businesses to affect. Higher purchasing power distributes itself also into the hands of children and teenager segments who are more vulnerable to business tactics Political/Regulatory Changes

Advanced IT allows better understanding of market needs/wants and allows more efcient marketing mix adaptation Efciency and effectiveness of production and distribution

Shift towards the consumer (degree is questionable as businesses already often impose self-restrictions which are stricter than regulatory ones)

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Forces that Might Affect Balance of Power Increases Power of Consumers

Increases Power of Businesses

Most-likely Overall Effect on Power: Minor shift towards the business end

Social and Cultural Changes

As consumers become more socially As consumers pay more attention to aware and multicultural they are social-oriented needs they become more less inuenced by fashions usually dependent on items of subjective value controlled by businesses relating to esteem, prestige, etc., and which are more easily controlled by the businesses. A changing attitude towards businesses (characterized by less apprehension) favors the identication of businesses with specic socio-cultural elements, in the minds of consumers Increased Education Higher education boosts consumer Higher education in reality and Experience with overcondence in selfs ability to defend strengthens consumers ability to Marketing against manipulative marketing defend against manipulative Techniques communications thus potentially in reality marketing communications weakening the defences

Major shift towards the consumer end

Adapted from Vrontis, D., & Thrassou, A. (2007).

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by two primary forces. The rst relates to the incessant macro- and microenvironmental changes which induce strategic marketing to focus on reex-style consumer relationships. The second is the consumers needs increasing manifestation into intangible wants, of obscure value and affective nature, and which are naturally more vulnerable to marketing communication strategies. The combined action of the two forces establishes branding as the single most effective value-adding strategy, primarily, through the construction of brand personalities and general anthropomorphic brand associations. The latter includes lifestyles, values, ideas, attitudes, and so forth. The business-consumer relationship, therefore, as it stems from the literature review, is fundamentally a co-existing one. On the one hand, the consumers are becoming more and more empowered regarding their wants and consequent demands. On the other, businesses appear able to substantially affect the crucial interface between consumers needs and wants, consequently sculpting consumer demands. The one action is not simply parallel to the other. The two actions depend on each other. The dawning business-consumer relationship, therefore, is more than a co-existing one. It is a symbiotic one. The implication for business marketing communications is grave. The new symbiotic relationship shifts marketing communications target area from the consumers environment to the consumers mind; from the external to the internal; from the tangible to the intangible. Reality is increasingly shadowed by perception with the latter being predominant for a growing number of product categories. The aforementioned have a profound effect on marketing communications practice: a transference of focus from function (awareness, knowledge, information, etc.) to perception. Consequently, perception management arises as a primary marketing communication process, and branding as its primary vehicle. Figure 3 presents a marketing communications perspective in the context of the evolving symbiotic business-consumer relationship. The marketing communications model components are in fact schematically enclosed by the business-consumer symbiotic forces, thus depicting both the context, but also the boundaries of the marketing communication process. These forces encompass the two entities of business and consumer in a system of coexistence and interdependence, prescribing that each will ensure the wellbeing of the other in the interests of its own existence. This situation evolves naturally from 21st century environmental conditions in developed countries that interweave consumer behavior with corporate strategy. The two act continuously as equal and opposite forces resulting in a dynamic equilibrium that achieves the balance and assures the durability of this new symbiosis. Within this framework, and in accordance with the aforementioned ndings, the various marketing communications components are portrayed. Firstly, the model notes the three major effects of the symbiotic framework: the Reversion Effectthat is, marketing strategy formulated based

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FIGURE 3 A business-consumer relationship model: The marketing communications application.

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on, rather than producing marketing communications resources, capacity, and competences; the Double Adaptation Effectthat is, management, organization, and culture adapted to t required marketing communications strategy and vice versa; and the Want Satisfaction Effectthat is, the call for satisfaction of wants which are intangible, of obscure value, and affective in nature. Subsequently strategic marketing planning and integrated marketing communications strategy are depicted but left un-prescribed owing to their subjective nature. The integrated marketing communications mix, nevertheless, is presented to differentiate between primary and secondary instruments and to also note the consideration of collective instruments, that is, the marketing communications collaboration of companies either to increase total product usage/market, or to competitively ock smaller companies. Perception Management is then shown to be the primary integrated marketing communications process and Branding its primary vehicle. Finally, instead of a number of potential integrated marketing communications aims (improved service, customer education, etc.) a single terminal aim is provided: shift of focus of marketing communications from the products and their attributes to the product experience, the product intangibles and, in essence, product higher-order value additions.

Implications for Managers and Final Thoughts


In reality, the model produced is a conceptual proposition for a new approach to marketing communications consequent to an evolving relationship between businesses and consumers. In spite of its conceptual nature, nevertheless, even at this stage of its development, the model does bear a number of practical implications. First, its symbiotic context allows marketing planners to comprehend contemporary consumers and to utilize that knowledge. Second, it shifts the focus of marketing communications from the products and their attributes to the products value in terms of product experience and higher-order need satisfaction. Third, it identies Perception Management as a primary aim and Branding as a primary vehicle; in effect changing the role of marketing communications from functional message transmitters and image-builders to stipulators of reality. Overall, the model demands the concentration of business activity on dynamic intervention in the processes by which consumers perceive the world and frame their expectations. This theoretical conceptualization of a new marketing communications concept has deliberately incorporated many macro- and microenvironmental elements into a unique framework, but the outcome is by no means presented as denitive or complete. Rather, it is offered as a starting point for a new and distinctive analysis and as a stimulus to intellectual discussion and further research. Though relatively generic, both the framework and

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its marketing communications implications cannot be freely applied to any business or all consumers. They have been constructed from observation of evolutionary patterns in business and consumer behavior, as described by contemporary researchers. The framework deliberately focuses on the most developed and least conservative markets and consumers. We do not suggest that developed countries are homogeneous, or experience the same external environmental forces, but the body of research does indicate patterns of consumer and business behavior in relation to similar operating environments, which probably can be generalized. In terms of the products the more intangible, abstract, and subjective the value attribute is, the greater the tness of the model. Consequently, it is possible that it will apply for one business within an industry but not for another in the same industry, or for one segment within a market but not for another. The ultimate differentiating factors are not the traditional elements of business, product, and consumer, but their respective perceptions of the others value. Marketing communications have been adapting to the evolutionary leaps of marketing philosophy: from the concept of production to the one of product, then to the selling, marketing, and societal marketing concepts. Perhaps the time is ripe for another leap.

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