Developments in Studies on the Relationship between Firm and Consumer: A Structurationist View

Developments in Studies on the Relationship between Firm and Consumer: A Structurationist View

Gianpaolo Basile (University of Salerno, Italy)
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-4666-2524-2.ch001
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The framework proposed provides both practitioners and researchers with a more structured model describing the dynamic existing between companies/brands and individuals/consumers and its effect on the players involved and on their reference contexts. According to such an approach, the company needs to lay down contextual behaviour plans that will allow communicating with the individual on the basis of an adequate knowledge of both his/her profile and the contextual influences affecting his/her behaviour.
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The aim of this chapter is to provide scholars and practitioners with a conceptual framework that can help analyzing the economic and social dynamic involving businesses and consumers.

The formulation of the framework will take into account not only the relations existing among the players considered and the development in learning processes and social practices caused by such relations, but also the influences that the players produce towards, and receive from, their reference contexts (Webster, 1982; Olkkonen, et al., 2000).

We think that such conceptual effort constitutes a different interpretation of the co-creator relations already modelled by other theoretical approaches like the S-D logic, the SCM or the Network Approach. Those theories, while considering the relationship between actors aimed at value co-creation, represent the actors themselves as nodes in a network, all displayed in a position of similarity characterized by structural equivalence (Di Maggio & Powell, 1983).

Those models tend therefore to describe the type of relation, either strong or weak, linking the players, and represent such dynamic at the same level of analysis (Lusch, Vargo, & Tanniru, 2010). Furthermore, scholars like Anderson et al. (2008), Araujo et al. (2008), and Kjellberg and Helgesson (2006) have developed suggestions that markets are co-created (performed) as actors engage in market and/or social practices (Storbacka & Nenonen, 2008).

Such studies are therefore milestones in marketing and management research when it comes to the evolution of the object of exchange. They argue in fact that it is no longer a mere product/function/service, but rather the opportunity for social players to establish links and relations aimed at the mutual co-creation of the value they are after (Aaker, Brumbaugh, & Grier, 2000; Deshpandé & Stayman, 1994, Grier & Brumbaugh, 1999; Grier & Deshpandé, 2001).

These considerations confirm the thesis stated by most industrial economists and in particular by Geroski who, defining markets and their boundaries, argues that

... A market exists whenever someone can dream up a set of needs that can be profitably served through production and trade, and that means that markets exist only in the eyes of their beholders. Market boundaries are imaginary lines which we impose on reality, and we draw them to isolate certain kinds of activities from others in order to make sense and think creatively about what we observe... (Geroski, 1998, pp. 692-693).

Those approaches have therefore developed the notion of market from given social creation, where the actors establish dynamic interaction necessary to their survival, to shared social creation where the actors involved actively contribute to its development and whose boundaries are not clearly definable. The notion of market has now the broader meaning of society so that marketing is evolving into societing, taking into account the whole set of social exchanges between businesses and consumers (Fabris, 2008).

Due to their focus on the notion of relationship, the above mentioned studies overlook the fact that the representation and content of such relations is communicative action (defined according to Habermas) and the social practices established and performed by the actors involved.

So much so that, according to Giddens, symbols/signs (in our case, the brand) around which social practices develop are both a way of creating and maintaining relations and the result of influences from the reference contexts, which are affected in turn by the behaviour of the actors involved.

On the basis of the above mentioned theories, one could argue that value creation takes place when consumers and businesses co-create mutual value that allows them to act and survive within their reference contexts, due to a consonance of their social practices, i.e. a capacity to develop and express a common language (Golinelli, 2001).

Action contributes to modify the structure of the context that, in turn, will affect social practices established by actors with relation to the co-creation process.

The conceptual framework presented aims therefore to display a multidimensional vision of the relational phenomenon involving the company and the individual. This model, articulated through three strictly related levels, shows that:

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