Last week I was invited as one of the speakers to hold a session on sales and customer experience for a group of talented international participants of the Integration Programme Business Lead, run by Hanken & SSE Executive Education. When I arrived to the classroom, I found a folder with an agenda for the day on my table. The text on the folder said: “We build the leaders of tomorrow for business impact”. It got me thinking which dialogue I, as a researcher, should bring from the academic world into the classroom. Obviously, it had to be relevant for the participants of the program in their future work life and have a business impact.
The Business Lead Programme is an integration programme, providing a fast-track into Finnish working life for refugees and immigrants who have degrees from abroad. First, the students attend four live modules addressing the Finnish and European business landscape and organizational culture, strategic leadership, finance, and a sales and service mindset. Then, the classroom sessions are followed by a 3-month internship where the participants have an opportunity to apply the new knowledge.
As a foreigner myself, I particularly enjoyed being a part of this integration programme. Having experienced what it is like to establish oneself as an expert in a new country, I was happy to get onboard. Together with my CERS colleague, Pia Polsa, we shared CERS’s customer-focused perspective on doing marketing and sales with the students within one of the four live modules.
Emergent and marginal market trends have the potential to teach us something about more general socio-cultural developments which, in turn, may have far-reaching consequences for companies and consumers alike. However, such marginal phenomena are often dismissed as mere flukes not worthy of serious attention. Sometimes such dismissals are, in retrospect, arguably justifiable. In other cases, they turn out to be misjudged. Therefore, surprising developments that challenge conventional wisdom and that seem to contradict our best predictions may very well be worthy of our attention, regardless of their marginality.
Around 2006 a peculiar trend increasingly got the attention of music lovers and record companies alike. Sales of the already declared dead vinyl record were surprisingly on the rise while sales of CDs, i.e. the reigning physical format for music reproduction, continued to diminish. Since 2006, sales of vinyl records in Finland have increased yearly with around 30%, making it by far the fastest growing physical format for music reproduction (IFPI). This trend has year after year been dismissed as a bubble about to burst. Year after year, however, the sales numbers have contradicted these predictions (IFPI). Record presses are being reopened around the world as the demand for new vinyl is far greater than the present output capacity. Simultaneously, the prices of used vinyl are rising as especially millennials are starting to explore this alternative way of consuming music.
A recently published report by, among others, researchers at Aalto University and Sitra points to the need for drastic changes in our consumption patterns if we want to meet the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement. The study highlights the magnitude of the required change, calculating a required reduction in greenhouse gas emissions of 86-93% for Finland by 2050.
Such a massive reduction can only be achieved by fundamentally changing our consumption patterns. The study identifies a wide range of changes that need to be implemented if we are to reach the target, including shifting from meat and dairy consumption to plant-based diets and minimizing private car use and airplane travel.
Research has long documented the environmental degradation stemming from our current ways of living. It is also becoming more widely acknowledged that our efforts to mitigate environmental problems to date, focusing on improving the efficiency of production, will not suffice. Calls for changes in the ways we consume are moving from the margins of the discussion to center stage.
However, even if we know what change is needed, the perhaps most challenging question is yet to be answered. How are we going to achieve this change? This is the million-dollar question that we need to turn our attention to.
Imagine a time when there were no loyalty programs. Imagine also that you were the person who invented the first loyalty program. That is to say, you persuade customers to register by disclosing their names and contact information, and then you build something that captures their purchasing activities over time. As a reward for allowing you to do this, you give the customers points, for example 1 point for each 10 euro of purchases. And then you offer the customers something in return for their points so that the net outcome is that their costs are reduced. This type of program, you think, may foster loyalty, but it will also create a database that can be used for market communications purposes and perhaps also for analyzing customer behavior. Who knows, you may even be able to sell information in the database to various vendors.
Anyway, in the process of inventing this program, you need to make a decision regarding what to call the customers who decide to participate. Essentially, the program will reduce their costs, so it may be cherished by people with little money or those who are stingy. Not everyone of with such characteristic, however, would like to be explicitly classified as such. Therefore, you may want to avoid labels that draw attention to being poor or concerned with money. Similarly, you may wish to avoid labels signaling that those who join the program give up parts of their privacy and that they may receive heavy doses of unwelcome commercial messages. So, what label should you use for those who choose to participate in your program?
Our current world faces problems that are so complicated that not one party, may that party be a company, a university, an NGO, a government and so on, will ever alone solve such problems. One such a problem is global warming, or more broadly environmental crises in form of pollution, extinction of species, a threat to habitats, and debilitation of soil. Given the latest global warming reports, the general public has raised its awareness to issues of environment and faced the fear of losing our habitat.
To provide a fraction of solutions to environmental issues, Strategic Research Council (SCR) at the Academy of Finland have granted funds for a consortium that “studies and develops collaborative action in environmental planning and decision-making”. To find collaborative solutions, the project also involves research collaboration with several universities (University of Eastern Finland, HANKEN, Tampere University of Technology, and University of Jyväskylä) and organizations (Suomen Ympäristökeskus and Linnunmaa), and in several disciplines: business management, law, environmental sciences, geographical and historical studies, and sociology.
CORE seeks solutions and theoretical understanding for environmental conflicts such as should we keep or kill wolfs, how should we use forest, should we allow an international mining company to start its operations in Finland, what kind of renewable energy should we invest in, and so on. One of the theoretical concepts used in the project is value. What values different parties gain if and when an environmental solution is provided?
As a doctoral student, part of the work is to be comfortable in navigating the intellectual space of academic discourse and conceptual thinking. And for a new student, this isn’t necessarily an easy domain to master, as the terrain is rife with competing philosophical ideas and pre-suppositions. And even when some schools of thought are more or less closely related, it may still be a challenge to discern between them, or map out the relation between them, with different names such as ‘scientific realism’ or ‘pragmatism’, each credited to a particular thinker(s), and arising in a particular place and time.
Although an average person would likely be unaware of the ontological and epistemological underpinnings of a popular theory such as supply and demand in economics, academically-oriented minds are expected to be more adept at navigating the theoretical space and to be more comfortable in juxtaposing ideas onto their corresponding intellectual categories. For one thing, academics are expected to be scientific, or at the very least, know about science and its various presuppositions upon which they lay their ideas and precious theories.
In an attempt to orient oneself in this murky space, constructing a sort of a simple compass would prove quite useful to an aspiring student. This idea was indeed facilitated by an early PhD seminar course titled Quality in Research, delivered eloquently by Professor Janne Tienari at Hanken. A central dichotomy quickly surfaces when exploring the various ontologies in social sciences, serving as an axis of reference when pondering the philosophical underworld of academic thought.
Innovation, design and strategy play an important role in the age of disruption as we embrace the discomfort of current market conditions. We need to develop new ideas and experiences to support a sustainable lifestyle including not only the technological possibilities but also the social and environmental changes in the global markets. Change in mundane tasks such as how we travel from one place to another, or what, how and with whom we eat is subtle but evident.
Trends such as ecological, ethically and locally produced food as well as food waste reduction have received a lot of attention in the media recently. Finland was ranked fourth in the Food Sustainability Index among high-income countries in 2018, by The Economist Intelligence unit. Overall, we are doing well, but could still do better. Despite the growing number of e.g. food circles, customers’ preferences are not currently met with existing agricultural producer structures, distribution and marketing channels.
This is the case especially for urban clean eat customers, who lack direct channels to agricultural producers. For hotels, restaurants, and catering professionals ordering local ingredients should be easier, but even for them it is not self-evident how to get access to seasonal delicacies such as fresh local game meat (e.g. white-tailed deer, moose, and mountain hare). Simultaneously with the growing demands for clean eat products, rural livelihood faces severe challenges, as traditional business opportunities for actors in regional settings are scarce.
It was about a year ago when we were moving to a new neighborhood. We fitted everything in a van and set off for the new home. The driver of the van, for some reason, started to talk about burglaries in Helsinki and Vantaa. Evidently, he did not believe in the true value of silence. Anyway, among other things, he advised me against buying the commercial anti-burglar light bulbs – those that randomly turn on and off while you are getting a tan.
When I asked why, he gave me a rather detailed explanation, specific to each major one, of how to detect whether the house is on an anti-burglar lamp or not. “When you see this, sir, you know it is safe to go in. The house with all lights off is a gamble, not good sir. They go to sleep really early here, you never know…” I wish him, of course, to be wrong. People still pay for these devices to pretend to be at home, by some random consumption. That is, to hide the true pattern of consumption (and non-consumption) from the passers-by.
In recent years, the popularity of Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have literally exploded and today over 900 universities in the world offer more than 11.000 MOOCs on every imaginable topic. Equally impressing, over a 100 million students from all around the world are enrolled in these courses. At Hanken, we have joined the MOOC train by launching Principles of Service Management; the first ever MOOC on service management and marketing, taught by Professor Emeritus Christian Grönroos. We are currently in the middle of our second official run of the course (the first was in the autumn 2018), and it is super exciting to see over 1.000 learners with diverse backgrounds and experiences from almost 130 countries explore a service-based approach to business.
MOOCs have several advantages over traditional classroom education (disadvantages as well, but that’s a topic for another time). For example, they give excellent professors from highly ranked universities, such our own Christian Grönroos, access to thousands of students with no extra marginal cost per individual. And many of these students would never otherwise have the opportunity to study under these professors. Moreover, MOOCs allow students to learn at their own pace and go back and review lecture videos and materials whenever they want, as much as they want. Lastly, these courses can be accessed by anyone anywhere with an internet connection. You don’t even need a computer as most MOOC platforms are optimized for smartphones and tablets as well.