Understanding value formation A study of marketing communications practices at the food retailer ICA
Abstract: ICA AB is Sweden’s largest retail and wholesale firm, a cooperation of retail proprietors. Here it is studied as the nation’s largest media firm. It is the largest advertiser, the largest publisher of consumer magazines, and plausibly the most advanced user of household shopping data for marketing purposes. ICA’s marketing media system is operated by a constellation of different professional groups, and the study at hand asks questions about how practitioners in different professional communities relate to the idea of value and value creation, how their social practices pushes them towards divergent understandings and priorities, and what such differences do to their opportunities to collaborate within ICA’s marketing processes.We are all ‘practitioners’ in the sense that we go about our daily lives conducting various practices that create value for ourselves and for others. We act in routinized fashions surrounded by social codes that guides us in how to combine and integrate tools, skills and products in different combinations. Since they seem to capture the very purpose of marketing, ‘value’ and ‘value creation’ are concepts which long have been central to the academic debate. However, if our value-creating practices are guided by social codes, this has consequences for marketers and marketing that has been largely left aside in the mainstream marketing theory.Over two years, 2007-2008, through qualitative interviewing and participant observation, the study follows ICA’s marketing communications process and some of its most central practitioners – marketing managers, media agency specialists, editorial staff, and TV network sales representatives. It describes their involvement in TV advertising campaigns, in the customer magazine Buffé, and in the introduction of mass-customized direct marketing in the project Mina varor.Combining some of the most widely cited marketing theories on value creation with a sociological view on activity forwarded by Practice Theory, this thesis suggests that value is best seen as being formed along two intertwined processes – value creation which is the process of physical activity, and value construction which is a social process of understanding what is to be regarded valuable. The findings provide firstly a detailed mapping of how practitioners articulate marketing communications value, what aspects they emphasize, and how they interpret the objective of their practices. Secondly, the study links the articulations of value to 16 value-forming marketing communications practices. Marketing managers, media agency specialists, editorial staff, and TV network sales representatives are all described as acting according to a ‘practical logic’ of their respective professional communities. These logics combine practices for marketing communications production, for mutual interaction, and for valuation of processes, products and outcomes.The benefits of coordination and collaboration have been forwarded in marketing (relationships and networks) and marketing communications (integrated marketing communications) literature over the past decades. The concluding discussion concerns how and to which extent practical logics can be altered, changed, or aligned towards mutually rewarding goals. In other words, how can two parties work together if they have divergent understandings of value, and conversely how can two parties learn to understand value by working together? It thereby puts focus on marketing communications management, and contrary to many textbooks in the field, this study does not describe marketing communications as a de-humanized instrument in the marketer’s toolbox, but as a challenge of coordinating practitioners, practices, and understandings.
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