Mapping the Pathway to Emotional Engagement

 

A methodology to create The Emotional Engagement Model

 
Dr. Eliane Karsaklian – LARGEPA – Sorbonne
Cav. Alessandro Sorbello – New Realm
 
 
 Journal of Academy of Business and Economics™, 17(1), 47-56.
 
Abstract
 
The research presented in this article benefitted from an interpretive perspective so as to understand the experiences of the participants. Several methods of data collection methods such as photos, videos and interviews were used in this research in order to understand the emotional engagement created by a cultural festival in Australia - Italian Week - and its impact on consumption behavior. We studied the experiential meaning and subsequent emotional engagement created by the festival and its role as a service provided to attendees whether they have Italian origins or not. The data collected enabled us to understand the festival’s ability to trigger a shift in attendees’ buying patterns and to develop The Emotional Engagement Model (TEEM).
 
Keywords: Emotional engagement, Fest-Vibe, identification, stereotypes, consumer behavior
 
1. Introduction 
 
We created The Emotional Engagement Model (TEEM) to develop the research into the Italian Week Festival. The event commenced in 2007 and is an initiative of the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The model evolved as a consequence of the methodology we utilized in order to interpret the event and understand the underlying reasons for increasing attendance and changes to consumer behavior (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016b).
 
We created to models prior to getting to TEEM and they were all based on both previous scientific research articulated with field observation and data collection. Our theoretical models were based on extensive literature review associated with eclectic methodology applied to a case study.  The specific case studied here was the Italian Week event held in the city of Brisbane in Australia. The longitudinal approach of our research consolidated data collected during the ten years of the events existence.
 
In order to develop an understanding of the Italian Week, the research paradigms sought enabled the researchers to explore the systems of beliefs and perceptions specific to the festival in the Australian city of Brisbane context (Foucault, 1970). The researchers sought to gain insight and understanding of the festival development and outcomes from the perspectives of the attendees and this in turn guided our choices for the methodology (Sorbello, 2013). We aimed at understanding the emotional engagement phenomenon from the festival attendees point of view through intensive participation in the event and consequent decisions influencing their lives (Mills, 1997). 
 
The interpretive methodology used in the research enabled the understanding of human beings within the context of cultural and multi-ethnic backgrounds, and social diversity by interpreting and explaining a social reality like the Italian Week festival as a process that is individual and specific to time and place. The circular and iterative, inductive research approach consisted of preliminary observations and assumptions together with action learning which created a process of curiosity, reflection and inquiry (Revans, 1980). 
 
2. Methodology 
 
Our research methodology combined qualitative and quantitative methods. The research was conducted in several phases and evolved throughout the research time. The qualitative interviews aimed at understanding the past participants’ of the festival relationship to Italy and to Italian Week. We also looked at exploring their consumption habits of Italian products and brands. The method chosen to conduct the first phase was based on narratives (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2015). This exploratory phase of our qualitative study led to the generation of the first version of our construct, as demonstrated in Figure 1.
 
Figure 1 - First construct to represent emotional engagement created by Italian Week
 
 First construct to represent emotional engagement created by Italian Week
 
Our first construct was inspired by the former editions of Italian Week, the variables interacting with each other suggest that perception of stereotypes along with the Country of Origin effect stimulated participants to attend the cultural festival. Affective country of origin has symbolic and emotional value to consumers generating curiosity about what Italy represents. This country of origin effect was expected to mobilize customers to attend the Festival in order to experience a little piece of Italy in Brisbane. Other factors would also stimulate them to attend the Festival such as social identification, hedonistic motivation, focal point, symbolism and of course, the former edition of the festival for those who had already attended in the past.  The event captivates attendees by generating warm feelings towards Italian culture and thus triggers emotional engagement to the country which would generate interaction with self-identification. As one respondent put it; “…you see yourself through another person’s eyes.”
 
Indeed, through emotions, people would identify themselves as being part of the Italian culture. But the festival is a service rather than a good and as such it involves active participation from the attendees and an experience that would change their consumption habits either by reinforcing loyalty to already consumed Italian brands and/or initiating the consumption of new Italian brands.
 
In order to validate our construct, we conducted a qualitative study. The qualitative study was an exploratory research based on narratives with an ethnographic approach. The initial script was pretested with two respondents having attended Italian Week in past years. After having proceeded with some minor adjustments, the final script was used to interview 12 informants asked to describe their feelings about Italy and Italian stimuli, thanks to pictures of famous landmarks such as Fontana di Trevi in Rome and footage of advertisements featuring Italian products. They were also presented with pictures from Italian Week featuring some Italian brands. Participants could openly talk about their experiences and feelings about Italy, the festival and Italian products and brands. As a result, once half of our exploratory interviews were analyzed, we realized that some variables of our model should be changed as they did not fit in with the respondent narratives. Indeed some concepts looked useless and some other were aggregated (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2015). Moreover, the links between the different variables were either confirmed or reorganized; this led to the development of the second construct, as depicted in Figure 2.
 
Figure 2 - Second construct to represent emotional engagement created by Italian Week
 
Second construct to represent emotional engagement
 
 
The second construct suggests that when associated with symbolism of the country of origin, stereotypes would lure participants to the festival for hedonic motivations. The curiosity about Italy would be stimulated by the stereotypes linked to this culture and all the symbols it represents and participants would attend the Festival to enjoy the pleasant atmosphere, activities and meals that are offered.  Captivated by the Festival, attendees would experience Italian Week as a high quality service, which would trigger emotional engagement. One of the main alterations in this construct is the aggregation of the three types of identification. Indeed, narratives from the study indicated that it was not possible to dissociate them in the context of our study. Social, cultural and self-identification are thus merged into one form of identification (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016e). 
 
The quantitative phase of our research was conducted through an online survey operationalized thanks to a structured questionnaire. The questionnaire enabled us to interview 282 respondents during the Italian Festival commencing on May 13, 2014 and running until the 3rd of June 2014. Among these, 62.87% of the respondents had attended Italian Week in the past 8 years. These 177 people represented our final sample.
 
Although participants’ nationalities were not among the demographics examined in our research, the descriptive data showed that 56.98% of the respondents (101 people) were of Italian origin. The remainder of the respondents (43.02%) identified as being of non-Italian background. 
 
The online survey aimed at deepening our understanding of the consumer habits of festival attendee’s. Our goal with the quantitative survey was twofold: a) we wanted to explore participants’’ behavior from the perspective of consumption of brands and products; b) to further examine relevant changes in consumption of services associated to the Italian culture. 
 
As a matter of fact, outcomes of our research showed that people wanted to extend the Festival experience by consuming several services linked to Italy: (1) Learn to speak Italian, (2) Travel to Italy, (3) Cook Italian food or learn to cook Italian Food, (4) Activities linked to art such as music, films, opera, art exhibitions. The main lesson we took out from this research was that participants are more inclined to purchase services associated with Italy than goods. This residual effect of the emotional engagement created by Italian week also demonstrated a longer term extension of the festival as the services they bought will last much longer that goods that they would buy and consume readily (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016f). 
 
One of our main conclusions was that emotional engagement created by Italian Week motivates participants to extend the experiences encountered at the festival as an expression of experiential meaning. As stated in our construct Italian Week does have an impact on consumption patterns thanks to the stimulation of the consumption of Italian products in general. Our findings demonstrated that consumption has increased as an immediate result of the experience with Italian Week. 52.97% of participants said that they are now buying more Italian goods, services and brands thanks to the willingness to do so created when attending Italian Week or seeing its promotional activities. This set of participants represented 93 people having attended Italian Week over the past 8 years. 
 
2.1 The creation of TEEM
 
Our research continued evolving and led us up to creating a most comprehensive model to be applied to all event management. The starting point for the new model which we named TEEM – The Emotional Engagement Model, was a well-known model in the academic world which has been studying the mechanisms of persuasion for at least 3 decades (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016c). The Elaboration Likelihood Model (ELM), created by Petty and Cacioppo in 1986, being key in the understanding of this process led up to the identification of two routes to persuasion and the implications for attitudinal persistence and change. These authors define attitudes ‘as general evaluations people hold in regard to themselves, other people, objects, and issues. These general evaluations can be based on a variety of behavioral, affective, and cognitive experiences, and are capable of influencing or guiding behavioral, affective, and cognitive processes’ (Petty et Cacioppo, 1986, p. 126). 
 
The ELM stipulates that in some situations, consumers are more likely to spend time elaborating on messages because the message seems relevant to them whereas in other situations, consumers’ likelihood of elaborating messages is much lower. Petty and Cacioppo (1986) explanation to this difference is based on consumer involvement. The higher the consumer involvement, the higher the likelihood to elaborate. Conversely, the lower the consumer involvement; the lower is the likelihood to elaborate. The ELM determines two routes to persuasion; central route and peripheral route, when consumers are exposed to marketing communication. The central route implies consumer high involvement in the message with consequent cognitive information processing, while the peripheral route is taken by consumers with low involvement which might not invest time and effort in cognitively processing the information to which they are exposed.   
 
The central route paves the way to attitude formation and change through several steps of a process that can be interrupted if the elaboration likelihood is low. First, consumers need to be motivated and able to cognitively process the information, which implies that the information is relevant to them and that they have the needed ability to process it (prior knowledge, message clarity, etc).  Next, consumers develop enduring favorable or unfavorable thoughts about the message which lead to the formation of positive or negative attitudes, respectively, towards the object of the message which can be predictive of consequent behavior. As such, when consumers are unlikely to elaborate on the message via central route, the message is redirected to a peripheral route which leads to temporary attitude formation and change, which cannot be predictive of consequent behavior.  
 
Our research model rests on Petty and Cacioppo (1986) ELM as the overarching construct to understand emotional engagement as a consequence of a cultural festival which functions as a catalyst of message processing. Our findings demonstrate that although consumers access the festival through the two separate routes - central and peripheral – the festival’s vibe, which we called ‘Fest-Vibe’ (Karsaklian and Sorbello, 2017), triggers high involvement from all participants independently on their initial level of involvement when arriving at the event. 
 
We define the festival’s general feel, attitude and ambiance as ‘Fest-Vibe’. Fest-Vibe is what creates emotional contagion and sets the feel-good stage for festival-goer’s enjoyment. As a matter of fact, the Fest-Vibe creates an environment able to generate engagement from all participants through emotions. By celebrating Italian culture thoroughly, Italian Week captivates participants by both their senses and reason. The emotional engagement created by the event has a transformational effect over initially low involved consumers, at the same time as it consolidates positive attitudes towards Italy amongst initially high involved consumers. 
 
The TEEM model looks into the effect of country of origin and stereotypes as antecedents of cognitive information processing and at the experiential meaning of the festival as an influencer of (self, cultural and social) consumer identification. These variables generate emotional engagement. Consequently, emotional engagement reinforces positive attitudes to Italy amongst highly involved participants as well as it stimulates positive attitude formation to the low involved consumers. These results enable us to state that whichever the route to persuasion undertaken by participants to the festival, their interaction with the Fest-Vibe harmonizes their level of involvement with the festival and with the country it celebrates thanks to emotional engagement. As a result, consumers might purchase increased number of Italian goods and services and strengthen their loyalty to Italian brands. 
 
While ELM has been used to understand attitude formation and change as a consequence of exposure to marketing communications efforts, this is the first research applying the same model to a festival. TEEM is the only model integrating the ELM model into a larger construct aimed at mapping the routes to persuasion, creation of emotional engagement and attitude and behavior change, as depicted in Figure 3.
 
Figure 3 - The Emotional Engagement Model – TEEM 
 
 
Participants arriving at the event through the central route as described by Petty and Cacioppo (1986) might be highly involved with the event because they are of Italian origins, or they like Italian culture and products and/or have been attending and enjoying Italian Week in the past years. They process the information about the event and have high expectations about what the event will provide them with in that specific edition. They participate in the festival, experience Italian culture and identify with it. These good feelings and emotions get them emotionally engaged in the event and in the country it celebrates.  The positive attitudes towards the country of origin are thus reinforced with a consequent impact on their behavior as consumers of Italian goods and services.
 
On the other hand, participants undertaking the peripheral route might attend the festival without gathering much information about it. They might just follow some friends who have talked them into attending the festival or just because they are curious about what it can be or just want to do something different provided that is fun. Once they get to the festival, they experience the same types of identification and emotions as the participants who have acceded through the central route as they are captivated by the emotions conveyed by the event. As they get emotionally engaged, their attitude towards Italy, the event and the products they represent change because now they go beyond just curiosity. They want to know more and to be part of it. They are willing to process the information they didn’t process prior to attending the event, with the consequent impact of their involvement on their behavior as consumers of Italians products. 
 
Following up on this model, we flipped our understanding of the emotional engagement phenomenon to look into it from the event management point of view. We wanted to have, and provide a better understanding of the factors enabling event managers to create emotional engagement. Our research led us to the creation of the Fest-Vibe model.
 
2.2 Creating the Fest-Vibe
 
Our final research was conducted with 1038 participants of Italian Week who have attended the event from 1 to 5 years. In depth interviews were conducted with 32 people in order to unearth their ideas, opinions and emotions relating to Italy and the festival itself. This qualitative phase of the research was followed by a quantitative survey conducted with 1006 people. Based on the results of our research, we created the model depicted in Figure 4. 
 
Figure 4 - The Fest-Vibe Model 
 
The Fest-Vibe model demonstrates that the difference between a transformational relationship and a transactional relationship between the attendees and the event resides on the existence of emotional engagement (Karsaklian & Sorbello, 2017). Emotional engagement transforms attendees’ behavior as consumers in extending the lapse of time they spend at the event and the consequent amount of their expenditures. The engagement and transformation together take attendees even a step further in motivating them to extend the Italian Week experience by continuing to consume Italian goods and services after the festival is finished, a phenomenon that has been characterized as residual effect of the festival (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016a). The quotes below illustrate the actions taken by participants to extend the Italian Week experience: 
 
“After experiencing Italian Week I wanted to visit the Milano Opera house and learn Italian as well as plan a trip to Italy, hopefully to see the giro d’Italia. I am very keen now to making my own Pasta and attend cooking classes.”
 
“Now i am motivated to watch Italian Films and eat Italian food, i am inspired to join up for an Italian cooking class and Visit the Italian Centre at Carina.”
 
“…listen to Andrea Bocelli& Eros Ramazotti 24/7 and make homemade pasta and visit Italy, and possibly live there for a while and learn how to cook Italian food by region!”
 
In addition, the transformational relationship attendees develop with the festival stimulates their willingness to renew the experience at the festival’s next edition, which also explains the yearly growing number of participants from 2,000 people in 2007 to 65,000 people in 2016. As a matter of fact, customer loyalty to Italian Week is not only represented by the same persons attending the festival every year, but also by their action as ambassadors of the event in bringing in new attendees.
 
As shown in our model, in the absence of emotional engagement, the relationship between attendees and the festival is limited to a business transaction restricted to the duration of the festival. Once the event is finished, the relationship is finished too. There is no residual effect because there is no willingness from attendees to extend the experience of the festival. The transactions effected during the event are enough to satisfy these consumers, who are motivated by amusement rather than by an experience. 
 
We argue that the key factor to generate emotional engagement is the Fest-Vibe. Thanks to its two dimensions – utilitarian and hedonic – the Fest-Vibe creates the favorable environment for emotional engagement to occur. The technical organization and the vibrant ambiance together created by the Fest-Vibe lure attendees to a unique, long lasting and unforgettable experience. Participants to Italian Week do not attend an event; they experience it. And such experiences rest on emotional engagement, which in turn transforms participants’ relationship with the festival. 
 
3. Research foundations
 
Mertens (1998), termed research as a systematic investigation in which data is collected and studied so as to be interpreted. The purpose being to describe, understand or predict the phenomenon under investigation and translate it into meaningful information (Mackenzie & Knipe, 2006).  Mills (1997), likened the concept of paradigm to that of discourse as the meaning and power of the language between people, extending beyond mere words and language. The principles that underpin theoretical beliefs of the Interpretivist, is that reality is a construct of society and is dynamic in its fluidity. Our knowledge is constructed from our interactions with others in society and cultures, and emerges from social settings in which humans interact. The Interpretivist position posits that what is accepted as truth results from negotiations and can result in a myriad of truths, all of which are subjective and distinct from an objective reality. 
 
Thus, the Interpretive Paradigm seeks to describe and explain behavior from the individual's viewpoint, understanding the subjectively created world "as it is" in terms of ongoing processes. These paradigms or mindsets emerge from people actions and conversations and are a social reality as opposed to an individual reality. It is through these paradigms and mindsets that we set up our method of interacting with others and impact social behavior (Foucault, 1970, 1980). 
 
According to Greek Mythology, Hermes, messenger of the gods made that which could not be known by humans, knowable by using language and writing. Hermeneutics evolved into a process of interpretation and was developed as a philosophy by Edmund Husserl (1859-1938), seeking to separate prejudgment from the study of phenomena and seeking to understand the quality of the experience and understand its essential nature. The perspective is sought from the participant of the lived feeling of the experience and decipher its meaning. This implies a holistic perspective approach to the research. This is very much what we aimed at accomplishing with our research. The TEEM model integrates all the process from marketing stimuli exposure to consumer behavior going through experience and emotional engagement. The Fest-Vibe model integrates all the hedonic and utilitarian factors needed to create emotional engagement. This holistic approach to our research fits in the Grounded Theory paradigm as we started from the field to get up to conceptual analysis of the phenomena we were studying (Sorbello & Karsaklian, 2016d). 
 
Humans are complex beings and thus to understand the experiences lived, it is necessary for the researchers to immerse into the phenomena and observe what may reveal itself in the process. We also an interpretive approach, which emphasizes the meaningful nature of peoples’ participation in social and cultural realms (White, 1995). With interpretivist research, qualitative methods predominate although quantitative methods may also be utilized. Research into the Italian Week festival was approached from observations, interviews, document reviews, visual data analysis and online data collection. We aimed at understanding the deeper significance, or meaning structures, of the lived experience of participants by describing objects and situations precisely as they are experienced by them. The table below summarizes the researchers approach to the research, was developed throughout the process of the research.
4. Conclusion and Limitations of the study
 
This research aimed at understanding the impact Italian Week has on creating emotional engagement and the effect it has on consumer’s buying behavior. Previous research has been conducted based on visual documentation for analysis of one single brand and its ability to build a community (Cova & Pace, 2006; Muniz Jr & O’guinn, 2001). 
 
The use of photos, videos and interviews helped in understanding the emotional engagement generated by a single festival, and Italian Week’s impact on consumption behavior. Schembri and Boyle (2013), state that key events provide a lens through which to view a culture, because cultural symbols and language indicate what the culture entails and the visual documentation reflect the cultural experience. Thus, the interpretive approach to our research was appropriate for both analyzing the experiential meaning of the festival and its role as a service provided to people attending it in Australia whether they have Italian origins or not, and its ability to trigger a shift in attendees’ buying patterns.
 
The method chosen to conduct the first phase was based on narratives. Interpretation and narratives have the ability of enabling people to make sense of the symbols, objects, individuals and situations through interaction with them (McAdams, 1993; Schembri, Merrilees, & Kristiansen, 2010; Shankar, Elliott, & Goulding, 2001). This exploratory phase of our qualitative study led to the generation of the first version of our construct and was followed by 32 in-depth interviews which led to the development of the second version of the construct. According to Schembri et al. (2010), consumers’ identity is apparent within the constructed story or narrative they present to others by making sense of who they are. By citing Ahuvia (2005), the authors suggest the emergence of the role of possessions in the construction of a coherent identity narrative.
 
All our research was based on a case study as this method is best suited when the voice of the participant is important and the study or a process action or interaction involves many individuals. Although we worked deeply in only one festival, be believe that the models our research generated can be universal and so applied to any event. Future research should apply the same models to other types of festivals and events to confirm their universalism.  
 
 
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