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Customer Engagement Research Revolution

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News created: 26 Mar 2010

Researching the Dynamics of Customer-Brand Engagement

The brand experience is often the make or break of our decision to purchase from and stay loyal to the brands we buy. We have all experienced it – a brand experience so outstanding that it has left us gob smacked and wanting more. Unfortunately we have most likely experienced the reverse too, a brand experience so substandard that we are left infuriated vowing never to return or repurchase.

Photo of Jana Bowden preferredDespite the importance of getting the customer-brand relationship right, many organizations still adopt a transactional approach to managing the customer. The belief is that we need to ‘service’ the customer to make the sale. Unfortunately, it’s not about the sale per se. It’s about the nature of the relationship that the customer has with the brand. In today’s highly competitive, globalised environment, organizations need to look beyond meeting customers basic expectations, to engaging them in a deeply committed, passionate, almost evangelical brand relationship. It is only these strong customer-brand relationships that lead to enduring loyalty outcomes like positive recommendation and repeat purchase. Satisfying the customer alone is simply not enough. Just like dating is different to marriage. The two states are qualitatively different.

Dr Jana Bowden, a Lecturer in Marketing in the Department of Business is at the forefront of the customer engagement research revolution. Adopting a relationship marketing perspective, Jana is investigating the way in which customers become engaged and remain engaged with the brands they purchase. Jana defines customer engagement as the psychological process by which customers develop deeply entrenched rational and emotional bonds with a brand that ultimately results in strong attitudinal loyalty towards that brand. This she suggests involves more than a simple focus on the common business objective of customer satisfaction. It involves developing and fostering a sense of trust, emotional commitment and an ongoing involvement with the brand. The brand is not just viewed therefore as a functional benefit to be purchased for a price rather, the brand is a relationship partner in the customers life.

During her doctoral qualifications, Jana initially developed and tested a model of customer engagement in the hospitality sector. By listening to customers talk about their brand experiences in a phenomenological sense, Jana developed a sense of how engagement operated for customers in the sector. She also pinpointed some of the key constructs that drove customer loyalty beyond simple satisfaction which were then placed into a model of customer engagement and empirically tested using structural equation modeling. She found for example, that along with ensuring high levels of trust and a psychological attachment to the brand, customers were often driven to repurchase because they experienced a sense of delight during their brand experience. In other words, aside from the utilitarian benefits of brands, customers often had highly positive emotional reactions during their consumption experiences which ultimately led them to repurchase. Surprisingly, the same relational determinants were found to drive the engagement process for both new and repeat customer segments. This suggests that the process through which customers become engaged with a brand does not necessarily differ with experience.

Jana has recently expanded her research on customer engagement into a broader brand universe by studying student engagement in the higher education sector. The first stage of this research has already been conducted with a sample of undergraduate students from Macquarie University. The purpose is to examine the way in which students, as customers of Macquarie University become engaged with the brand. This research will go on to examine issues such as; the meaning of engagement in the higher education sector and the determinants of engagement in the sector from a relationship marketing viewpoint. Given that Macquarie University has a strong international student base, this research will also explore whether differences exist in the way in which different segments of students, in this case, international versus local students become engaged with the Macquarie University brand. There is scope also to investigate the extent of engagement across Faculties to see if, how and why differences in student engagement occur. Higher education is a unique, high involvement service with an interesting set of idiosyncrasies. Research regarding student engagement is also very pertinent and current given the need to retain our international student base and general student mix.

If you are interested in Jana’s research and if you are looking to undertake your Doctoral studies in the area of customer engagement or student engagement, and if you require a supervisor for your project, please contact Jana on the details listed below.

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