Collaboratively Learning Marketing: How Organizations Jointly Develop and Appropriate Marketing Knowledge

University dissertation from Lund Business Press, Institute of Economic Research, P O Box 7080, SE-220 07 Lund, Sweden

Abstract: Business organizations increasingly face the problem of how to generate and share knowledge in collaboration with other, separate, business organizations. Researchers in the field of inter-organizational learning have started to study the partner-characteristic, partner-dynamic, and partner-situational factors that influence the process and outcome of such strategic learning collaboration. However, the special knowledge content of this learning has so far not been in focus. Thus, this thesis stresses the importance of the content for the collaborative learning effort. Deregulation is chosen as a comparatively strong example of a trigger for learning needs by organizations. Marketing knowledge is suggested to be the knowledge content that becomes the most needed in the context of deregulation. Both examples mutually highlight the learning need, which can be expected to be greater than what many individual organizations in deregulating industries are able to learn alone. This is the empirical context in which the thesis pursues the problem of how organizations collaboratively learn through co-producing marketing knowledge and distributing this jointly created knowledge among the collaborating partners. In order to better understand the joint development and distribution of marketing knowledge, the thesis develops and empirically confronts a framework for collaboratively learning marketing. The conceptual framework integrates parts of organizational learning, strategic collaboration, and marketing. The empirical confrontation of the framework is based on five collaborative marketing learning projects in the electrical energy industry. Field data is collected mainly through participant observations and interviews, taking an interpretively informed systems approach. The study shows that partner-specific explanations of problems in collaborative learning enable only a partial understanding of the dynamics in collaborative marketing learning. The consideration of the factors introduced by the content of the collaborative learning effort reveals that consideration of the content contributes to the understanding of the collaborative learning dynamics. In addition to specific marketing content, two more relevant factors – internal organizational stability, and business environment changes – emerged empirically. As a result, the framework reflects more of the complexity of collaborative learning efforts. Contrary to popular beliefs of simplicity facilitating implementation, the thesis concludes that simple approaches to collaboratively learning marketing rather tend to hinder the co-production and distribution of marketing knowledge by overly limited considerations of these complex processes.

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