At the end of the last year, Iivi Riivits-Arkonsuo, a PhD student of the Department of Business Administration of TUT, defended her doctoral thesis "Consumer’s Journey as Ambassador of Brand Experiences".
In the doctoral thesis, the author reconstructs the consumer's journey from the first encounter with a brand to becoming a brand messenger i.e. a brand ambassador. The aim of the doctoral thesis was to provide an understanding of the consumer as a co-creator of brand value through his or her online and offline communications.
The topic is important since marketing activities can influence but not control the development of a deep consumer relationship and online and offline communications concerning a brand.
After a consumer gives his or her brand experience a particular meaning, the consumer can become an ambassador of brand experiences and thus a co-creator of brand value. It is also important that the ecological systems theory has been adapted in the context of consumer behavior. The micro-, exo-, and macrosystems surrounding the consumers provide impulses for developing a deeper relationship with a brand. Direct and indirect social networks surrounding the consumer act as filters amplifying or making less intense the diffusion of marketing cues.
The empirical data for the thesis were collected from a representative sample of Estonia, as well as through in-depth interviews with the active users of the social media channels. Iivi Riivits-Arkonsuo considers that the consumer gives a particular meaning to generating and sharing online content, which implies that the brand has used something extraordinary and memorable in its communication. This means, above all, trust-based relationship with the consumers and experience followed by their willingness to help the brand (reciprocity) on sharing the online word. Thus, the consumer's encounters with the brand in the previous journey have been such that the consumer is willing to participate in the brand-related online communication (the brand value co-creation does happen not only virtually but mainly face-to-face through consumer network).
The first encounter with the beloved brand may be influenced, besides marketing stimuli, by impulses received from inner and outer social circles. By adapting the ecological systems theory, the author of the thesis shows that such impulses are often rooted in childhood (microsystem) and are related to close family members. These are followed by impulses from schoolmates and friends and the trends accepted through them (exosystem). The impulses received from the macrosystem can be related to the consumer's well-established values (sustainable consumption, green thinking, cultural identity) and the trends accepted through them.
The consumers gain insight into their beloved brand and share it in their social network both, online and face-to-face, by adding their personal experience. This is how the consumers act as volunteer marketers, i.e. brand ambassadors, and co-create brand value.
The supervisor of the doctoral thesis Professor Anu Leppiman said: "The most important theoretical contribution of the doctoral thesis is reconstruction of the consumer's journey. The deep relationship developed with a brand makes the consumer an ambassador of brand experience and, thus, the co-creator of brand value. It is also important that the author concluded that the ecological systems that surround consumers act as filters amplifying or making less intense the consumer-oriented marketing communication. Thus, the social network, i.e. the environment to where the consumer belongs, plays an important role in his or her brand choices."
The supervisor of the doctoral thesis was Professor Anu Leppiman (TUT).
The opponents were Professor Anu Valtonen (University of Lapland) and Associate Professor Mari Kooskora (Estonian Business School).
The doctoral thesis has been published in the digital collection of TUT library at http://digi.lib.ttu.ee/i/?3849