Special Session Summary Another Cup of Coffee: the View From Different Frames

Donald R. Lehmann, Columbia University
J. Edward Russo, Cornell University
[ to cite ]:
Donald R. Lehmann and J. Edward Russo (1996) ,"Special Session Summary Another Cup of Coffee: the View From Different Frames", in NA - Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, eds. Kim P. Corfman and John G. Lynch Jr., Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 309-310.

Advances in Consumer Research Volume 23, 1996      Pages 309-310

SPECIAL SESSION SUMMARY

ANOTHER CUP OF COFFEE: THE VIEW FROM DIFFERENT FRAMES

Donald R. Lehmann, Columbia University

J. Edward Russo, Cornell University

The concept of applying different research approaches (paradigm frames) to the same specific problem was the subject of a special session. Inspired by some observations of Johnson and Russo (1994), the session featured six quite different talks about brand loyalty for coffee, a topic chosen because it has been widely studied. Unlike the general debates about method superiority, this "case study" both highlighted strengths and weaknesses and, due to the quality and good spirit of the presenters, produced friendly, useful interchange.

Six quite different approaches were presented. Sunil Gupta and Randy Bucklin presented a measure of brand loyalty based on scanner panel data that combined preference and price sensitivity and, using latent class analysis, segmented consumers based on their loyalty. Eric Johnson and Wes Hutchinson analyzed multiple methods, including brand recall and brand switching, for describing the structure of the mental representation of brands and found remarkable similarity across methods. Susan Fournier and Julie Yao used a structured qualitative procedure similar to Zaltman's Metaphor Elicitation Technique and drew interesting conclusions from eight consumers' brand loyalties and attitudes toward coffee. Jagmohan S. Raju used game theory to develop some consequences of promotional strategy and then demonstrated the results on actual sales data. Bill Wells described his approach to using the behavior of TV show characters to gain insight into behavior (as interpreted by writers) by showing how coffee is used in certain typical ways. Finally, Christine Wright-Isak showed how the role of coffee and ad appeals has changed in response to changes in society as a whole over a 50-year period.

A discussion highlighted the strengths and weaknesses of these methods (a.k.a., highlights and shadows; see Johnson and Russo, 1994). The six approaches were organized along an interpretivist-positivist continuum. Literary analysis anchored the interpretivist end, with clinical psychology and the case study tradition in sociology nearby. Game theory and related techniques from economics resided at the far positivist end with cognitive and social psychology adjacent and quantitative sociology nearby. This continuum was then used to place and contrast four major characteristics of the scientific enterprise (Table 1).

The discussion, both prepared and interactive, combined to yield distinctions in terms of emphasis on (1) causes vs. measurement vs. consequences, (2) use of existing vs. specially-collected data, (3) inferred vs. revealed behavior and attitudes, and (4) focus on individual vs. segment vs. aggregate. Perhaps surprisingly to some, not only did the methods complement each other but the authors from quite different traditions were able to both present and talk to each other in an understandable way. Moreover, some generalizations/consistencies emerged which suggest that, for coffee, loyalty is mainly a category phenomenon (and an addictive one at that). The segment of brand loyals, however, is quite strongly brand loyal.

One other conclusion seems worth preserving in the record of the session. Taking the debate between different paradigm frames down to a specific case was valuable as much for what seems to have been precluded as for the complementarity and convergence of findings that occurred. The focus on a particular problem of applied science, understanding consumers' purchase of brands of coffee, altered the nature of the sometimes acrimonious debate between advocates of the interpretivist and positivist approaches. When the scope of this debate remains general, there is often a presumed competition between the paradigms that is supported by selected, non-overlapping case illustrations. Focusing on a specific problem emphasized what everyone knows but often forgets in the heat of debate, that different valid methods are complementary. No single approach can claim a monopoly on good science. Finally, the focus on scientific insight and contribution also serves to shift the focus away from a pernicious competition for supremacy based on political power. In stead of which side has more JCR articles or research awards, the basis of discussion was contribution to knowledge. All this said, however, we acknowledge again that this salutary shift of the terms of the debate required not only the focus on a specific problem but also the goodwill of the six presenters.

We think this type of session is important, especially for doctoral students, and hope something like it continues at future meetings.

TABLE 1

HIGHLIGHTED ELEMENTS OF THE INTERPRETIVIST AND POSITIVIST PARADIGM FRAMES

REFERENCE

Johnson, Eric J. and J. Edward Russo (1994) "Competitive Decision Making: Two and a Half Frames," Marketing Letters, 5, July, 289-302.

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