Areas of expertise

We combine interpretive, critical, socio-historical and cultural approaches to understand consumer actions on multiple levels.

Our research is underpinned by a different approach, where we combine deep thinking and impact. This means we not only look at the immediate insights they provide, but also the longer-term societal impacts.

We focus our insights on value, beliefs, practices and underlying cultural tensions that exist in the marketplace. To do this, we examine consumer culture phenomena from a variety of perspectives, including micro, macro, systemic, and managerial.

Macro focus

Focusing on inequalities in consumer culture that stem from age, gender, ethnicity, social class, religion and subcultures; and understanding how consumers identify, and are identified, through exclusion, stigma(s), stereotypes, prejudice, resistance and migration, we seek to improve lives by guiding theory, policy and marketing practice.

Macro case study: The Lord’s Business: Understanding the Global Growth of Pentecostal Charismatic Christianity

Situation

Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity (PCC) is a religious movement, emanating from the US that has grown rapidly globally in the last half century, especially in places like Africa. PCC uses strong marketing techniques, advances in ideology that venerate materialism, and religious services that are dramatic – promising extra-ordinary consumer experiences.

Some researchers have touted PCCs as the most successful evidence of cultural globalization, Today, one in four Christians belongs to Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity (PCC). What has accounted for their dramatic success and growth in the last half century?

Approach

A 2-year ethnographic study of PCC churches in Ghana involved analysis of the activities of many PCC churches, a 7-month participant observation of two PCCs across the two years as well as 48 in-depth interviews.

Findings

The movement’s ability to successfully create and market an ideal consumer helped position them as an important source of an ideal life.

Research also showed how the fluidity of a religious movement’s ideology enables it to thrive, especially when adapting to local problems and conditions.

And through selective acceptance and rejection of different aspects of local culture, PCC constantly engage local culture and stay relevant to local cultural issues.

Micro/agentic focus

With a focus on issues relating to consumer identity, practices and values, we seek to improve consumer lifestyle, health and wellbeing.

Micro case study: An Exploration into the Curatorial Practices of Consumers as Collectors

Situation

Existing literature suggests objects in a collection are unlikely to serve their original function. However some objects, in particular fashion, continue to be utilised whilst simultaneously being cherished as part of a collection. And the impact of digital technologies has changed collecting practices?

Approach

To explore how consumers as collectors relate to and curate their wearable collected objects – and the implications of wearing them to serve their original functional capacity – we analysed 111 YouTube videos created by collectors of plastic shoe brand ‘Melissa’ (also known as “Melisseiras”). 

This analysis used methods borrowed from the field of visual anthropology, identifying curatorial practices in relation to acquiring, organising, displaying, storing and caring for the shoes (which includes cleaning, restoring, and customizing), as well as wearing, trading, and disposing of them.

Findings

Maintaining a collection of ‘Melissa’ shoes that retain its utilitarian function requires such an effort that consumers interact deeply not only with the finished object but also with its materials and design.

Melissa fans display near-fanatical devotion in their cleaning rituals and a lack of care is severely criticised by other Melisseiras.

Such findings help us theorise on other aspects of consumer behaviour - such as the relations consumers have with their possessions, consumption practices, and consumer participation in brand communities. 

See the RMIT Research Repository for more information about this study.

Systemic focus

By focusing on cultural phenomena that spreads at a consumer level, locally and globally, we seek to improve lives by understanding issues related to the sharing economy, consumer innovation, value co-creation and collaborative networks.

Systemic case study: Understanding how value is created in collaborative networks situation

Despite extensive research on value, none has shown how it is created in collaborative consumer networks (eg airbnb and Geocaching). This is a new but important concept because it is through systemic value that businesses gain a competitive advantage.

Approach 

Using ethnographic and netnographic (online) research, we examined value creation in the collaborative network of Geocaching, an outdoor treasure-hunting game facilitated by an online platform with more than 15 million active players.

Ultimately, the study was to develop a framework that explains the systemic creation of value in collaborative consumer networks.

Findings

The study detailed how value is not produced by one consumer only, but by interconnected participants, in a loosely organised fashion – where one person’s valuable action builds upon another person’s valuable action through the objects that circulate in the network.

This value is found in various forms, including enjoyment, knowledge, and new social connections. These forms aggregate to constitute systemic value. And as a fundamentally new conception of how value is created in consumer collectives, it provides an important insight into the role of technology in sustaining consumer networks and engagement in meaningful practices.

Read the whole study published in the Journal of Consumer Research.

Managerial focus

Examining various business levels, we aim to enable businesses to make better decisions by understanding reasoning, practicality, influences and connections within existing business networks. 

Managerial case study: A typology of brand position and innovation effort

Situation

Product innovation has been responsible for revitalizing many brands. And while several scholars have noted the relationship between a brand's position and the form of innovation available to them, the broader, managerial question is how should they organise their innovation efforts?

Approach  

A multiple case-study approach was used, with thirty-five interviews across 12 cases grouped by their different approach to innovation. They included:

  1. incremental and market driven (follower brands)
  2. radical and market driven (category leader brands)
  3. incremental and driving market (craft-design-driven brands)
  4. radical and driving markets (product leader brands)

Finding

The study identified that failed new products or brand extensions stem from a mismatch between the desired strategy and capabilities.

For follower brands, new product success is contingent upon the quality of their marketing and speed to market. Category leaders need bold, appealing initiatives. Craft-designer-driven brands should maintain an aura of authenticity, while product leader brands seek to reaffirm their status as industry pioneers.

As such, managers should carefully attend to brand perceptions when developing innovation strategies, particularly in relation to brand extensions.

See the RMIT Research Repository for more information about this study.

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Acknowledgement of country

RMIT University acknowledges the people of the Woi wurrung and Boon wurrung language groups of the eastern Kulin Nations on whose unceded lands we conduct the business of the University. RMIT University respectfully acknowledges their Ancestors and Elders, past and present. RMIT also acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Ancestors of the lands and waters across Australia where we conduct our business.

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