Sensemaking or sensegiving? : a content analysis on companies’ strategic approaches to consumers as stakeholders

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Title: Sensemaking or sensegiving? : a content analysis on companies’ strategic approaches to consumers as stakeholders
Author: Rydberg, Mikaela
Other contributor: Helsingin yliopisto, Valtiotieteellinen tiedekunta
University of Helsinki, Faculty of Social Sciences
Helsingfors universitet, Statsvetenskapliga fakulteten
Publisher: Helsingin yliopisto
Date: 2021
Language: eng
Thesis level: master's thesis
Degree program: Politiikan ja viestinnän maisteriohjelma
Master's Programme in Politics, Media and Communication
Magisterprogrammet i politik, medier och kommunikation
Specialisation: Viestintä
Media and Communication
Medier och kommunikation
Abstract: This study is focused on creating a wholesome picture of the strategic measures utilized by companies when referring to consumers in sustainability reports. The goal of this study is to find out the type of strategic value placed on interaction with consumers as stakeholders and to find out if they have a fundamental influence on CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) communication or not. Studies show, that consumers are becoming increasingly aware of the effects their consumption might have on the environment. Hence, communicating about sustainability and responsible actions play an integral part of image building and value creation for companies. This increased awareness has also changed consumption patterns and ways of addressing value and legitimacy to companies. By focusing on the ways companies connect sustainability communication and ways of communicating about consumers, this study aims to create a wholesome picture of how companies connect society and consumers to their sustainability communication and what strategic measures are used. This study uses content analysis to map out What is the role of consumers in the communicative strategy presented in sustainability reports and to scope what kind of communicative strategies regarding consumers can be identified from sustainability reports. The material for this study consists of 16 sustainability reports from four Finnish companies, Marimekko, Stockmann, Fiskars and Kesko. Sustainability reports by these companies have been analyzed by identifying all mentions of consumers and stakeholders. These mentions or quotes have then been placed under themes that signify the degree of consumer interaction in communication. Quotes are identified as either stakeholder information strategy, stakeholder response strategy or stakeholder involvement strategy. From under these themes, clusters of quote types have been identified. These clusters underline the diversity of stakeholders, the effects of society and the long-term goals companies have. The results of this study show that companies have included consumers into their communication and are using communicative strategies that take dialogue into account. This indicates that communicative strategies are created in dialogue with consumers and society and that companies find these influences important. However, companies included in this study have not fully adopted a consumer centric communication strategy, as most of the mentions fit the description of the stakeholder response strategy. From the content placed under the themes, clusters show how there are multiple ways with which communication is connected to consumers and society and how there are various viewpoints on the benefits of interactive communication. Social media also proves to play an important role in this dynamic. Based on this study it can be concluded that companies take consumers changing interest and current trends into account in their communicative processes. The results of this study provide a focused view on the inclusivity of communication by these Finnish companies but also shows how, on a greater scope, there is a clear link between society, consumers and the strategic communicative choices made by companies.

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