Let's talk about R&I

Inma Rodríguez-Ardura: «Marketing studies have to help resolve consumer dissatisfaction»

Rubén Permuy
UOC R&I Talk with the principal researcher of the Digital Business Research Group

What is your academic background?

I hold a degree and a PhD in Economics and Business from the University of Barcelona (UB). My doctoral thesis explored the implications of digital technology in business decisions and particularly the marketing and commercial decisions of companies. I have always worked on issues concerning consumer behaviour in online environments and the strategic decisions of companies in the field of digital marketing and e-commerce.

What does your academic activity involve?

Since 1996 I have worked at the UOC as a Marketing and Market Research professor. I directed the former degree in Market Research and Techniques, the current bachelor's degree in Marketing and Market Research, and a master's degree in Marketing Management and Communications. I was also responsible for restructuring, reforming and internationalizing the doctoral programme and the master's degree in the Information and Knowledge Society.

In terms of research, what is your group's expertise?

I'm part of the Digital Business Research Group (DigiBiz), recognized by the Government of Catalonia, which is interdisciplinary insofar as it comprises professors from different fields, all within economics and business, focused on understanding the organizational and strategic transformations of companies as a consequence of the use of digital technology.

What have your main research projects involved?

I have developed around 30 research projects and it's difficult to choose from among them. I’ve learnt a great deal from all of them, they have helped me progress, and I think that in some ways they have all contributed to our knowledge of how people behave when we act as consumers in the online environment and the decisions companies make in digital marketing. I would particularly highlight two. One that we developed in our group and which is emblematic in our environment for Catalonia is the Internet Business Section within the Project Internet Catalonia (PIC). It enabled us to analyse the business environment and particularly the use of digital technologies and their implications in strategic and organizational decisions. And another project we are currently developing, of international scope in the field of entrepreneurship, examines the effect that personal values, culture, the society in which entrepreneurs are immersed and gender issues have on how companies are created and businesses managed. We are developing this project in three different fields by studying the entrepreneurs of the United States, China and Spain.

How has your field changed since you began?

The field of business and digital marketing is extremely dynamic. The changes take place at extraordinary speed. This puts pressure on us as researchers to keep on top of the possible implications of these transformations and, above all, to try to anticipate their consequences.

What would you highlight about your international experience?

Since I joined the UOC I've tried to establish collaborations with faculty, departments and research teams from other universities and institutions and in different fields. Not only in the field of teaching but also to pursue research projects and even to prepare educational materials for the university. Among other things, this has allowed me to carry out a few research stays at some institutions. Each institution has its own particularities and as such the objectives I establish in each case are also different. As the stays took place at different moments in my academic career, the objectives varied. But I would say they all have something in common, which is that they have enabled me to contact and get to know faculty teams, who are extraordinary people, through research and teaching, in the classroom and also as individuals, as people. As a research fellow, I spent time at the Oxford Internet Institute, an Oxford University centre. It is strictly interdisciplinary by definition, made up by a relatively young, highly dynamic, energetic and powerful group of professors and researchers, who efficiently organize their teams for each project and research initiative. All in the framework of an institution like Oxford University, which is very research-oriented. Babson College is perhaps a lesser known institution in Europe, although it is well-established in the United States, based in Boston, and I had the opportunity to work in its marketing department not only on research issues but also teaching and creating a course. This allowed me to work with extraordinary professors in both fields, as researchers and as teachers, in an environment that greatly favours the generation of ideas and creativity, which is what has made the institution number one in training entrepreneurs. I have also worked with the University of Miami and still sometimes work with its marketing department, which is one of the most prestigious American universities. I would highlight not only the University of Miami's quality faculty in this department, but also the unique platform provided by this university for inter-American collaboration. Miami is an ideal place for this.

Is there a difference between studying marketing in the United States and doing so in Barcelona?

As long as you cooperate and can collaborate with people who can work together to further knowledge in the field, the scientific discipline and work you do as a researcher is practically the same wherever you are. Another issue is whether your specific environment, from where you can extract the data, is able to change according to each case and context.

How do we deal with the distrust of users in the world of digital marketing?

Particularly in e-commerce, this is always where more trust issues emerge. This isn't because it's strictly e-commerce but because it's distance selling – in other words, an interaction between a possible client or consumer and a company that do not coincide physically in time and place. It raises doubts, uncertainties, not only for consumers but also sometimes for sellers and companies. Often in the case of e-commerce, particularly its payment systems, it is not so much a problem of security, since there are mechanisms to securely transfer personal information and enable payment for a specific purchase, as our concerns about the security of this transfer and storage of information. Perhaps the biggest problem with e-commerce is the perception of security or payment transaction rather than the existence of real difficulties in making them secure.

Does digitalization foster entrepreneurship?                                                          

Yes, absolutely. There are far fewer barriers to overcome to set up an e-shop or online business than there were just a few years ago for offline retail. That isn’t to say that there aren’t difficulties, but they are maybe not as great, which encourages entrepreneurial initiative in the field.

You are part of a research project on marketing that includes the case of China: what are its idiosyncrasies?

In this research project our focus has been on understanding the behaviour of Chinese entrepreneurs, how they make decisions, and what we have seen is that they are moved by interests, concerns and motivations that can be very different from those that drive and motivate American or Spanish entrepreneurs, for example.

What book would you recommend in your field?

One by S. Umit Kucuk called Brand Hate. It sets out how and why we digital consumers particularly feel distanced, unsatisfied and even deceived by certain brands and what the brands and companies can do to anticipate these situations and, when they do happen, try to resolve them as satisfactorily as possible, both for the company and the consumer. It is a highly recommendable book that broaches a subject that hasn't been properly explored by marketing and business studies. Research to date has yet to adequately clarity this topic, namely consumer dissatisfaction and the negative comments and responses that result that can negatively affect companies, and what these companies can do to resolve or foresee these kinds of issues.