Research - 04.06.2024 - 10:32 

“Marketing has a starting point for almost all social issues”

Johanna Gollnhofer researches marketing and sustainability at the HSG - and addresses topics such as food waste, influencers and minimalism in this field of tension. At the HSG Institute for Marketing and Customer Insight, she is also in close contact with professional practice.

Medellín was once a hotspot of organised crime and social problems. However, the Colombian city has since won several innovation awards – “and digitalisation is at a higher level than here,” says HSG marketing professor Johanna Gollnhofer. In spring 2024, she spent a research semester at the Universidad EAFIT in Medellín. This is one of around 215 partner universities of  HSG worldwide. Gollenhofer saw it also as a inspiring work environment. Her work is at the interface of customer behaviour, consumer trends and sustainability. “There are clear differences between Latin America and Europe in these areas. For example, communication between customers and companies here largely takes place via WhatsApp and chatbots. This speeds up the exchange enormously compared to emails.”

She researches food waste, minimalism and influencers

During her stay, Gollnhofer researched digital consumer behaviour in Latin America for a study. She also worked on her new book ‘Das 60%-Potenzial: Mit Marketing die breite Masse für grünen Konsum begeistern’, which will be published this September. “So that people are not afraid, but excited about tomorrow!” says the book's online blurb. 

Gollnhofer is also keen on tomorrow and therefore on topics that affect a wide range of social issues. For example, she has already researched and published on food waste, minimalism and decluttering as well as influencer communication on social media. “We all live in a consumer society and therefore also in a marketing society. That's why marketing has a starting point for almost all issues,” says Gollnhofer. 

Picking up current topics from professionals

She works as a marketing expert specialising in sustainability. There is a tension between marketing and sustainability, says the 37-year-old. “‘On the one hand, there is marketing: the fundamental aim here is to sell more and therefore use more resources. On the other side is sustainability: the aim here is to use fewer resources.” In research, but also in companies, there are currently many unanswered questions about how the sustainable transformation of our economy can succeed. ‘That's what appeals to me as a researcher.’

In addition to teaching at the University, Gollnhofer is also involved in continuing education: she teaches on various part-time courses offered by the Institute of Marketing and Customer Insight (IMC-HSG) and is co-director of the institute and says, “In the continuing education courses, I am in contact with professionals who confront me with burning questions from their practice.” This provides her with input for her research.

Journalists ask her about Barbie, Birkenstocks and more

Journalists also repeatedly confront Gollnhofer with current issues. She is regularly quoted in German-language media, for example talking about Birkenstock's IPO, the hype surrounding the Barbie film or the decluttering trend. “I see it as a central task of science to communicate the knowledge and expertise it produces to the outside world,” she says. “We must not be satisfied with publishing in scientific journals, as these are difficult to access for a broad audience.”

Gollnhofer sometimes resorts to journalistic methods herself in order to find research objects. For her study on ‘dumpster diving’ - the rescue of food from supermarket containers - she tracked down activists at a Green Party conference. Or, for a study on influencers, she wrote to 90 people who have at least 1 million followers on social media until she received their consent for five in-depth interviews. And for another study on decluttering, she accompanied several people as an observer when they were clearing out their homes. “It took a lot of discussions beforehand to gain their trust,” she says. 

The institutes set us apart from other universities

The proximity to people, their behaviour and their motivations is characteristic of Gollnhofer's research approach. She often relies on ethnography, i.e. the observation and description of individual groups or (sub-cultures). In doing so, she observes and asks questions - for Johanna Gollnhofer, marketing research is always an exploration of people. 

The IMC-HSG, of which Gollnhofer is director, is one of 36 institutes at the HSG and has around 25 employees. “The institutes make us agile as researchers. For example, we can more easily establish research focuses on specialised topics. And if we want to realise projects with practice partners such as companies or institutions, there is a process that quickly and precisely regulates the possibilities for collaboration.” 

At other universities where she has worked, she would not have known straight away how to deal with an enquiry from professional practice. “This flexibility and the entrepreneurship that the institutes enable us to have set us apart from other universities as HSG.”


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