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Beyond Reason November 9, 2010

Posted by alessiofalcohse in Blogroll.
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Imagine the following scenario: it’s evening time at the supermarket. A multitude of similar products are displayed on the shelves and the clock is ticking. Weighting up all the possibilities would be cognitively unfeasible and unrealistic. Nevertheless, choosing won’t be so challenging and in a blink of an eye the popular brand is visualized and the product bought. The choice is immediate, clear and appears rational. However, what if the brand has recently been involved in an international controversy?

In the current economy the market is saturated with products and services that overlap and competition is fierce. For the company to market on prices alone just won’t’ be enough, for the consumer with a conscience times are surely hard (C. Smith 1998).

Does the above description sound familiar? If so, common wisdom about choice decisions suddenly appears inappropriate and leaves space for the two following quotes: “reason leads to conclusion, but emotions lead to action”(Donald Calne); one might add that “love is also blind” (William Shakespeare).

My opening scenario indicates that decisions are based upon emotions, not logic. As documented by M. Lindstrom (Brand Sense 2006), these emotions represent the sum of all the minds and souls of every single person that comes into contact with your company over time (M. Lindstrom – Brand Sense 2006). In a nutshell: corporate reputation.

However, since emotional processes operate often outside awareness, it could be also assumed that specific sensorial channels could be more effective than words in shaping the buyers’ perceptions.

If specific channels and channels combinations together with emotions speak lauder than words, the relations between emotions, corporate reputation management and social networks could be re-conceptualized.

In other words: what channel(s) should be preferable to convey a positive online reputation? 

How could companies better use emotional responses in order to gain reputation?

More interesting: what channel provides a better readymade aid in case of an unexpected international controversy?

Redefining the Social Contract July 1, 2010

Posted by alessiofalcohse in Blogroll.
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Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s “social contract” theory was not based on a real tangible property, but on several idealistic concepts of justice. Nevertheless, the benefits deriving from a fair social contract are visible and tangible. Similarly, reputation and reputational components may appear to be rather intangible and idealistic concepts, although they are in some way connected to organizational efficiency, productivity and eventually success.

Although Rousseau’s terms may appear to contrast with our project at a first sight, a deeper analysis demonstrates that his theory revolves – although from another angle – around the concept of reputation and credibility. In fact, establishing and maintaining an efficient and effective positive social contract among several partners, in Rousseau’s words, could be translated into shaping and consolidating a good company’s reputation within the Digital Reputation project prospective. Therefore, all the documented benefits deriving from Jean-Jacques Rousseau are likewise achievable through the exercise of creating and maintaining a company’s reputation.

In this regard, Rousseau’s theory shows from another prospective that good reputation not only minimizes opportunistic behavior and distrust, but also enhances organizational efficiency and productivity. In a context where trade competition is becoming extremely tight, producing more knowledge about reputation and reputational components would benefit the research as a science and eventually the competitiveness of Finnish companies.

In conclusion, Rousseau’s theory provides further reasons and motivation for studying and conceptualizing reputation. However, our team conceptualizes reputation through the use of a wider concept. In this regard, our working hypothesis is that good reputation not only relates to approach tendencies (e.g. BIS/BAS), but it also relates to specific frontal alpha activity (either as trait or status). Through the use of several measures (e.g. EEG, EMG, EKG), we aim at studying not only reputation but also several cognitive and emotional processes whilst the subject is processing the news message. Additionally, we are also interested in analyzing the tone of the message (positive vs. negative) and its potential influence of the subject’s reputational attitude towards the company. Recording emotional responses and brain’s activity will provide Finnish companies with valuable knowledge and eventually long lasting competitive advantage.

Reputation and EEG Brain Research: A Sociological Reflection on What We Are Doing April 22, 2010

Posted by Antti Ainamo in Blogroll.
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Being a sociologist, I find brain research fascinating because it is much about what sociology is not about. With this mind, let me reflect on Mikko’s (Mikko Salminen’s) post, written on March  18, and shown below i n this blog.

In conducting laboratory experiments using the psychophysiological methods, Mikko writes that we (mostly Niklas, Mikko and Kaisa at CKIR/Aalto) use methods such as electroencephalography, or EEG for short. Other methods would exist such as MEG, PET, and fMRI, for example. (Incidentally, the University of Turku, which Matti and I represent in the DiRe project is the strongholds of PET research in Finland).

Research is always very much about two kinds of choices: (a) what to do and (b) what NOT to do.

The strength of EEG is its applicability to more ecologically valid settings. Mobile, light-weight, recording systems allow data collection in what as closely as possible resemble real life situations. Of course, in the real world, we are not always wired, as we are in the CKIR laboratory. Then, again, often, in what we call the real world, with our mobile phones, iPhones, etc., we in fact are wired anytime, anywhere. So, what may at first resemble a large difference in comparison to the “real world” may not in the ultimately be such a difference after all. So, Part II, we clearly are on to something in our research.

In the DiRe project, our interests focus on those responses of the individuals in our laboratory that tell something about their (and, by extension, our) emotions and motivational processes; in Dire, we aim to study which psychophysiologically observed emotional responses are related to good reputation, bad reputation, both, or neither of the above. For example – and importantly from the perspective of sociological analysis – our EEG research focuses on to what extent an individual will “avoid” or to “approach” a representation of a business firm and its reputation.

At this phase of our research, we will not be able to study “coercion” as it is called in sociology or what is, as far as I know, called “punishment” in brain research. To spell this out: in addition to social norms about what actions and thoughts are to be avoided and which models we deem worth of individual and social aspirations, there is also a third interest in addition to “avoid” and “approach”. So, in sociology, this is called “coercion”, shorthand for violence or the threat thereof. What would this research interest be called in brain research terms? Ok ok “punishment”, but that does not well with “avoidance” and “approach”. How about  “attack”? Or, “aggressiveness”? Or, “anxiety and/or fear”? or Or, “appreciation of a circumstance where we freed from anxiety and fear”?

I do now know, at this stage of our inquiry. What I do already know is that this research interest is worthy of more than passing interest. As the sociologist James G. March has shown, much of what goes in business schools is application of sociology. And, what businesses do is apply what their top managers have learned in business schools.

To make an intermediate summary: Sociological ideas are at the source of many business cases. Ok ok, we will not be studying everything at once. It has been established not only in the first part of this post that this is a bad idea; it has also been established through hundreds of years of serious inquiry in philosophy of science. The mark of good research is not to try to study all at once. To study everything in one go is a recipe for a bad study. In academia, doing such research may lead to a reputation for NOT being a good researcher. “Nobody is perfect, but I” , I used to say when I was learning English and that is when — rightly so — I got a reputation for someone who is just learning English.

Nonetheless, the goal in the next stage of our Digital Reputation research ought to be to seriously consider the business case in the case of reputation management and design ways by which we can take more of business realities and, by extension, sociological insights that often are behind those realities. The big fish is worth the pursuit, even though we may never catch it. Even if, following the line of thought of Ernest Hemingway, we need not appropriate every piece of knowledge we gain, knowledge will help keep us on the right track and track what is worthy of pursuit. Ditto for reputation, its reputation, and the study of these “social facts” and the associated psychophysiological signals.