Advances in Consumer Research Volume 25, 1998 Page 54
SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY
THE INDIVIDUAL, THE COMPANY, AND THE PRODUCT: THE ROLE OF ORGANIZATIONAL IDENTIFICATION IN CONSUMER BEHAVIOR
C. B. Bhattacharya, Emory University
Anusree Mitra, American University
Company-related attributes are playing an increasingly important role in consumers purchasing, word-of-mouth and investment decisions. Two recent issues of the Marketing News ran articles on how, on the one hand, consumers are increasingly being "swayed by good causes" and how, on the other, exploitative working conditions used by companies such as Nike in their overseas operations "could mean trouble for even the big swoosh." Consumers today not only want a "good" product, they also want it produced by a "good" company, and companies are undertaking initiatives to respond to these changes in the marketplace.
As consumer researchers we need to understand why, how, and when individuals incorporate organizational attributes into their decision making. Recent research in organizational behavior suggests that a key mechanism underlying greater consumer reliance on company-related attributes may be that of "organizational identification." This session brought together a set of papers that investigate the role of organizational identification in influencing consumer responses to companies. Each of the three papers focused on a key link between identification and consumer behavior: the antecedents of identification and disidentification, the process through which identification affects behavior and the behavioral consequences of identification.
Bhattacharya and Elsbach conducted a series of focus groups followed by a mail survey that explored the general populations identification with the National Rifle Association. Specifically, they drew on social identity theory to investigate whether positive affiliations are formed in the same way as negative ones. Their central finding was that while identification is more a result of individuals personal experiences with the organization, disidentification stems largely from a perceived incongruence between the individuals and organizations values and the media reputation of the organization. Next, Sen, Bhattacharya and Mitra used controlled experimental settings to understand the process through which consumers associations of corporate social responsibility affect product evaluations. Their preliminary results suggest that subjects preferences within the choice sets is contingent on the degree of overlap between their self concepts and the companys identity. Finally, Brown, Unst and Barry surveyed university students to show that highly identified students exhibit loyalty to the university even in the face of relatively low satisfaction. Conversely, the loyalty of students who do not strongly identify with the organization is primarily driven by satisfactio.
Overall, the results of these studies suggest that consumers identify with organizations both in positive and negative fashion and such identification spring from consumers values and beliefs to impact their attitudes and behaviors. Moreover, we learn that in addition to material possessions that are "me" and "not me," organizational identification and disidentification may also be part of the strategy individuals use to sustain and enhance positive social identities, enlarging extant notions of the "extended self". Meme Drumwright, the discussant, raised interesting questions such as: (i) can the construct of identification be borrowed from organizational behavior and applied to consumer behavior without amendment? (ii) is identification different from an attitude? The session ended with a promising discussion involving both the audience and the participants about the role of organizational identification in consumer behavior.