PhD Thesis Description
As a scientific discipline, Consumer Behavior incorporates the study of individuals, groups, or organizations and the processes they use to select, secure, use and dispose of products, services, experiences, or ideas to satisfy needs and the impacts that these processes have on the consumer and society (Hawkins et al., 2007, p.6). Marketers approach consumer research in a variety of ways, as these consumers grow in experience and alter their behavioral characteristics with respect to the evolution of markets, technology and society. Thus, our research interest is intrigued by the aspect of people responding to present expectations of the digital convergence in systems, services and devices. Specifically, we wish to incorporate the alternate situation of consumers’ behavioral responses with the evolution of the Media reality, as this is expressed by the transformation of Television to a digital, social and interactive medium.
Following Anthony Giddens’ (1991) line of thinking, we start from the standpoint that people in late modernity wants to, and needs to tell their own stories, create their own experiences in order to gain an identity and a sense of belonging. Not that people have to create order out of chaos, but they need recognition and to feel in charge of their own life. So, we regard Interactive Television as a vehicle for bringing people to a satisfactory level of their current needs’ fulfillment, because it incorporates the abilities to serve as a medium of self-expression, communication, and involvement with a community. Our effort is focused on identifying how this transformed medium can become part of consumers’ everyday life and how it can influence their behaviors, while understanding and explaining the implications for the academic and business world. So far, researchers have placed their attention mainly on the possibilities and extentions of interactive services in digital television. Also, extensive work is done on the technological aspects of Interactive digital television and on their adoption by the market –including both business partners and consumers-, as well as to the ways they can affect communication patterns and consumer behaviors. Our research also considers the technological standards of IDTV and the characteristics of its applications, but wishes to approach the issue from a marketing perspective. This effort is not focused on consumers’ behavior as a designing basis for better adopted systems or platforms, but as a theoretical instrument to further develop and understand marketing strategies.
Thus, our approach brings as closer to the examination of Social Television, as this is regarded to represent the next phase of Interactive Digital Television, when it will be able to fully support communication among viewers and interaction with the medium, the business providers or other people in the context of watching television, or related to TV content (Geerts et al. 2007). The interest for innovation with the use of interactive services in TV is gradually shifting from the business producers to users, and a change has been slowly observed from early models of technology and content based around individual use of media to one that integrates the existing collective use of media and the social practices that surround media products and technologies in everyday use (Stewart, 1998). Furthermore, this aspect of television is core to our research, because it includes the study of television-related social behavior and offers us the opportunity to draw a clearer picture of consumer behavior in the 21st century.
Especially for our research, the benefits seem even greater, because we investigate this phenomenon in Greece, where all this TV-related technology and its offering is still in a premature phase and not yet completely adopted. Thus, its impact on consumers is expected to be more outstanding as they pass through the adoption process.
Accordingly, the history of the 21st century reveals a disintegration of traditional communities, which on the one hand are declining in size caused by individualization and on the other hand are extending as they become more diffused (Couldry, 2006). Thus, a discussion on the internet based technology’s potential to reinforce social participation (Deuze, 2006) or generate new forms of social organization a.k.a “virtual communities” (Van Dijk, 2006) accompanies this shift from organic to virtual communities. Participation then involves not only the actual production and distribution of content by the user, but also the possibility of the user controlling the communication channel and assuming both the role of the sender and the receiver (Damasio and Quico, 2007). In this dissertation, this evolution of society is represented by the incorporation of virtual communities in our research of TV-related behavior. In more detail, we set out to examine how the parallel existence of virtual communities that are in someway connected to television – in content or in context – can influence viewer’s reactions by functioning as reference groups.
The Theory of Reference Groups is widely accepted in the consumer behavior literature, but its effects have not been fully covered yet, due to the constant changes of the technological and business environment. While many have already used this theory for the design of promotional and advertising methods, the development of the World Wide Web and the appearance of Virtual Communities, provide more extensions to it. Moreover, the vast adoption of the Web and the success of electronic marketing have sophisticated the consumers by offering access to detailed information regardless of their economic, geographical or social boundaries, and have influenced the marketing practices in emphasizing on the individual’s bargaining power, on the gathering of as much precise and complete information as possible and on the recognition of consumers’ ability and desire to communicate extensively with others and even create -virtual- communities of common interest. So, this fact creates a new area of examination for the application of reference group theory as the underlying factor for the success of virtual communities in the modern business arena.
Finally, our scope is based on the effort of combining Individual Media Dependency Theory with the Reference Group Theory, with respect to the power they have to further explain Consumer’s Behavior in the specific context of Social TV. This is a road less traveled in our scientific area, due to the complexity of the research field and the plurality of dimensions. However, there has been previous work (Ball-Rokeach et al., 1984; Ball-Rokeach, 1985, 1989; Defleur and Ball-Rokeach, 1989; Grant and Ball- Rokeach, 1989; Ball-Rokeach et al., 1993) on extending the theory of Media Dependency, which expresses the consumers’ behavioral influence in relation to their exposure to the medium, with a social and behavioral theory – for example Uses and Gratifications Theory. The introduction of social theories – in our case, Reference Group and Uses and Gratifications theories- are expected to provide a better insight on the reasons and the ways consumers’ behavior is formulated, so as to present a fuller and more complete method of understanding people in this new digital frontier.