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Wilfrid Laurier University School of Business & Economics
July 30, 2014
Canadian Excellence

Wilner - abstract

Date: Friday January 13, 2012
Time: 10:30am-Noon
Location: 1E1 (Arts Building)
Speaker: Dr. Sarah Wilner
Topic: Can I See Some Identification? An Examination of Product Development Managers’ Relationships with Their Target Consumers

More than two decades ago Hoch (1988) noted, “consumer researchers have focused almost exclusively on understanding consumers…however, product and service offerings are the result of managerial decisions; the marketplace is an open system based on reciprocal relations between marketers and consumers” (p.316). It is not that the interplay among consumers and brands, products and organizations has been ignored, but rather that studies have remained largely indifferent to the perspective of the managers who produce the objects, symbols and experiences with which consumers interact.

This research addresses this gap by examining individual managers’ relationships with their targeted consumers in the context of product development. Product development is a rich context for investigating the relationships producers construe with consumers, for it is during this process that managers actively explore and address the fundamental nature of consumers’ motivations, desires and behaviors before deciding how to respond in product form.

A study of five firms creating consumer products reveals that product development managers relate to the consumers for whom they develop based on the managers’ 1.) readings of constructed consumer representations; 2.) their personal characteristics, experiences, beliefs and values and finally, 3.) the beliefs and values of the organization that employs them. Employing the construct of “identification,” I argue that managers’ ability (or failure) to identify with their target consumer is an essential element of their relationship with that consumer and provide evidence suggesting a link between the producer’s identification with an imagined consumer and the kind of consumer research she is likely to value.