Sigge Birkenfalk: “Marketing communication follows old, and rigid habits”

Sigge Birkenfalk: “Marketing communication follows old, and rigid habits”

My Research is a series of articles presenting the work of doctoral students, working at CERS, Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management at Hanken School of Economics.

 

“We don’t see with our eyes, we just use them them for seeing”, Sigge Birkenfalk answers, quite mysteriously, in a question about the topic of his dissertation. “Think about a pregnant woman. Wherever she goes, she sees other pregnant women. This is what I mean: We see with our brain, but it is a very selective organ. And that causes problems also in marketing.”

In recent years, many scholars have been curious about different logics that are used in marketing, but Sigge’s interest is about different logics in marketing communication. The dominant logic is still the one where marketers decide what they want to say, how they want to say it and through which channel to say it. This can be called a Message Logic. Its roots go back to very early 1900’s when behaviorism and mechanical thinking were the dominant thought in marketing and marketing communication. We now know so much more about communicative and learning man, but still behaviorism is the dominant logic in marketing communication.

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Sigge has studied pedagogics, and draws from learning theories and social psychology, in his study. He has been interviewing marketing managers in national and international b-to-b and b-to-c companies in Sweden and Finland and asking about their marketing practices: Why do they do what they do? The answer is usually the same. The marketers are used to work in a certain way, and changing these habits is difficult. It is not a conscious decision but they just see the world in a way they have used to see it.

Since the dominant Message Logic is unarticulated and implicitly embedded in the practice, it is not possible to reflect and meta-reflect on the logic that dominates marketing communication practice, it just continues. That is why Sigge is tracing the theories and logics behind present practice, to make them visible and possible to reflect upon. Sigge has conducted 23 interviews in grounded theory manner for his study in two phases, first in the shift of the last decade, 7-9 years ago, and now again during this winter.

A striking notion in his research is that nothing has changed with the mental models of marketing communication between the two interview phases: “The interviewees realize during the interviews that almost everything is treated exact the same way as before, albeit with some new channels added. The logic behind is still the same, the Message Logic.”

Another interesting observation is that marketers’ time frame is significantly short nowadays. “Most interviewees tell me that ‘everything’ has to ‘pay off’ immediately. No long-term thinking, and very little strategic thinking, it is mostly tactical, they say. And measuring is the key, measuring as in natural science, although the correlation between measured results and profitability is far from obvious. The natural science way of evaluating marketing efforts is still dominant, in spite of that marketing communication could be located within the humanities”, Sigge explains.

He has been running a communications consultancy company with his wife Birgitta since 1998. The name of their company, Communicans, refers to homo communican, the communicating and learning human, as a form of homo sapiens, the wise human. Sigge says he sees marketing and marketing communication as a learning task: “On many other fields, we already know that it is not possible to mechanically teach something to others, they have to learn, but marketers still try to do so.”

Sigge lives in Stockholm with his family but travels to Helsinki every now and then to meet CERS researchers and his supervisors. He tells he wanted to write his dissertation at Hanken, because the research center CERS is known for its open thinking. “Curiosity and questioning are valued high at CERS, and I knew I could get high-quality supervision here.”

Annamari Huovinen

 

My Research is a series of articles presenting the work of doctoral students at CERS, Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management at Hanken School of Economics. CERS is one of the leading institutions for research within services, and a founding member of the Nordic School of thought within Marketing.

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