Interview with Dr Ning (Chris) Chen, Associate Professor in Marketing at UC Business School, University of Canterbury, Committee Member MA Southern Region.

Chris Chen joined MA’s Southern Regional Committee in 2019, seeing it as a great opportunity to connect to the industry on behalf of his academic colleagues at UC and other institutions in the southern region. Chris was born in China and lived in Australia and the UK prior moving to Christchurch eight years ago.

While working in Australia and the UK, he maintained close contact with many professional marketing colleagues and friends outside the academic realm, which proved to be a great asset for his research and teaching. During his time on MA’s Southern Committee, he has been working on connecting academics with local practitioners from building conversations at various events, suggesting speakers from the academic realm, and sharing UC’s research findings in relation to sustainability, digital marketing, societal marketing, etc.

Chris is a strong believer that academics can learn from practitioners especially within the marketing discipline and that UC’s knowledge creation could contribute to the practice, too.

Chris teaches various marketing courses at UC from undergraduate to postgraduate levels, incl. marketing research, marketing principles, international marketing, and now with a specific focus on event marketing and management.

A Passionate Researcher: From Social Identity, Sustainability and Food Consumption to Sport Fandom and More!

Chris studies a list of consumer behaviour related topics for his research, as in word-of-mouth behaviours and motivations especially in relation to social media marketing, sport fandom in sports marketing, sponsorship, etc.

His research originates from environmental psychology studying human-place relationship, in terms of sense of place, sense of belonging, place attachment, social identity, etc.

From his own and his group’s research interests, he has been following research in using marketing for promoting social good and concepts, assisting in sustainable development, dealing with difficult issues e.g., social justice, minority groups, poverty and imbalanced distribution of resources from a global scale, in a dynamic and changing global ecosystem.

Specifically, his group at UC has been building a community to study and practice marketing in the food sector, from food waste, food locality, to food consumption in general and tourism context.

Practising What You Teach: How Chris Gained 273,500 Followers on TikTok

Social media marketing and emerging social media platforms has been another focus of his research and teaching since 2015. And Chris puts his research to the test, organising a (Chinese) Tik Tok account with over 270,000 followers!

This ties into his approach at UC, where he’s passionate about getting the students ready for the challenging real world. The goal is to shorten the time of learning before students reach the level where they can manage critical challenges in marketing and make decisions efficiently and effectively at marketing manager level.

He actively encourages students to join the Marketing Association (it’s free for tertiary students) and says that every single meeting and gathering with the committee is fun and enjoyable. To Chris, the Southern Regional Committee is a small group that feels like family. He gets to meet lots of local friends and enjoys being part of organising various events and activities for our local marketing practitioners.

Current Research: Transformative Places & Citizen Experiences in Christchurch

The Marketing department has been working on topics that are locally relevant. Since the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes, many of Chris’ colleagues worked on projects around building a resilient marketing and general business ecosystem. They recently hosted a symposium discussing the idea of ecosystem from both natural and social science perspective, and looked at environment, sustainability, well-being, food and wine sector, tourism sector, and transformative consumer service perspectives.

The key words in the marketing team at the moment include sustainability, wellbeing, transformative consumer research, societal marketing, social media marketing, etc.

Recently, they published a research article on transformative places and the citizenship experience from a dynamic perspective of disasters, transitional servicescapes, and place attachment, in the context of Christchurch post-earthquake rebuilding.

They interviewed over 100 individuals including locals, new immigrants, visitors, people leaving Christchurch due to earthquakes, as well as those who came back, following a number of years since the major earthquakes, studying their perception and consumption behaviours driven and influenced by transformative servicescapes such as the pop-up retail venue of Re:START Mall.

The team found that transitional, i.e., temporary servicescapes which are put into place until more permanent servicescapes can be rebuilt, can be transformative places in regard to co-creating novel citizenship experiences to “re-attach” residents to their city.

In other research they focused on the Imagination Station in Christchurch City as a Child Play-and-Learn Area (CPLA) in a library as a third place and investigated its relationships with visitors through the concept of place attachment. They found that community-oriented places like CPLAs and libraries should be used as social infrastructure in urban regeneration strategies.

Pinpointing the Value Academics Bring to the Marketing Industry

Chris sums it up as support on ideation, as well as critical thinking, and elaborates further.

Marketing science as a sub discipline of social science has largely been an experience-oriented discipline, which means we follow any interesting and dominating social phenomenon in the business world, and try to understand and make sense of it, so as to further provide knowledge and system of knowledge to practitioners in the industry to solve relevant or similar problems in the future.

In either sense, he feels that academics could share what they have learned in the literature and from all the brilliant marketing scholars and practitioners globally with our local industry partners, in terms of not only the knowledge and information, but also new way of thinking.

They can also advise their industry partners critically, pushing them to think more critically, to seek for evidence and debate, to examine their ideas back and forth.

UCE (UC Centre for Entrepreneurship) recently hosted the Christchurch Smart City Challenge, where Chris and several colleagues acted as mentors and reviewers for a number of participating teams, asking questions like “have you thought about this stakeholder’s reaction?”, “have you done any marketing research?”, “have you heard of this case of…”,… besides providing our recommendations and suggestions.

His hope is that industry (and marketing) practitioners see the UC academics as reliable friends whom they can always trust and seek advice from.

Working Closely with Industry Partners

Nowadays the key challenge faced by marketing professionals is the overwhelming information and technological advancements, and Chris believes that academics could provide local industry with ideas and information from the academic discussion globally, helping them bridge the gap between local focus and international benchmarking. This could include helping them make sense of new marketing scenarios, understand the implications of various new technology, and supporting their decision making.

Most of his colleagues at UC are closely collaborating with industry partners, and it is quite common for practitioners to work closely with academics. Chris would like to see more industry practitioners contributing to tertiary teaching with fresh business cases. As an example of this, local agencies Research First and Concentrate have both been working with UC’s marketing research classes for many years.

Meanwhile, Chris and his colleagues are constantly changing their philosophies of doing marketing research and building marketing knowledge. Chris believes that there will be a lot of common ground in discussing interesting and relevant marketing research questions, for both academic value and practical relevance, which he believes is what will bring everyone even closer.

Source: Marketing Association, 7 May 2024