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Communication Strategies in Marketing Channels: A Theoretical Perspective

Author(s): Jakki Mohr and John R. Nevin


Source: Journal of Marketing, Vol. 54, No. 4 (Oct., 1990), pp. 36-51
Published by: American Marketing Association
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1251758 .
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Jakki Mohr & John R. Nevin

Communication Strategies
in MarketingChannels:
A TheoreticalPerspective
Though the marketing literature acknowledges that communication plays a vital role in channel func-
tioning, it provides no integrated theory for channel communication. The authors build a theoretical model
to help understand the role of communication in marketing channels. They propose a contingency theory
in which communication strategy moderates the impact of channel conditions (structure, climate, and
power) on channel outcomes (coordination, satisfaction, commitment, and performance). When a com-
munication strategy matches the channel conditions, channel outcomes will be enhanced in comparison
with the outcomes when a communication strategy mismatches channel conditions.

OMMUNICATIONcan be described as the glue out of the decision-makingprocess on programsthat


that holds togethera channel of distribution.The directly affect their businesses (Cooper 1988). Deal-
role of communicationwithin marketingchannels is ers say that by involving them in planningand by so-
an importantissue from both a managerialand a the- liciting their input, manufacturerscould overcome this
oretical perspective. Communication in marketing problem (which dealers say is caused by manufactur-
channelscan serve as the process by which persuasive ers who issue one-way directives). Additionally, Et-
informationis transmitted(Frazierand Summers1984), gar (1979, p. 65) suggests that conflict is caused by
participativedecision making is fostered (Anderson, ineffective communication, which leads to "misun-
Lodish, and Weitz 1987), programsare coordinated derstandings,incorrectstrategies, and mutualfeelings
(Guiltinan, Rejab, and Rodgers 1980), power is ex- of frustration."
ercised (Gaski 1984), and commitmentand loyalty are The lack of relevant theoreticaland empirical re-
encouraged. search on channel communication makes it difficult
The managerialimportancestems from the fact that to suggest effective and efficient communicationstrat-
communicationdifficulties are a prime cause of chan- egies for channelmanagers.Currentheuristicsandrules
nel problems. Many currentproblemsin dealer chan- of thumb-such as "more communication," "im-
nels could be resolved by developing appropriate proved communication,"and "open communication"
strategies for communicationbetween manufacturers (cf. Eliashbergand Michie 1984)-that are proferred
and resellers. For instance, a recent problemcited by for channel managementare not only simplistic but
computerdealersis thatdealersfeel they are being left probablyinaccurate. For instance, if distrust or con-
flict is presentbetween channel members, the call for
JakkiMohris Assistant
Professor
of Marketing, open communicationmay be deleterious to the rela-
Collegeof Businessand
Administration, Boulder.
of-Colorado,
University JohnR.Nevinis Grain- tionshipif the open communicationconveys threatsor
ger Wisconsin Graduate
Professor,
Distinguished Schoolof Business, other forms of coercive power.
of Wisconsin-Madison.
University Theauthors gratefully
acknowledge Though the marketingliteratureacknowledgesthat
theinsightful
commentsof JamesDillard,
AssociateProfessorof Com- communicationplays a vital role in channel function-
municationArts,andAnneMiner,Assistant
Professorof Management,
of Wisconsin-Madison,
University as wellas the helpfulsuggestions ing (Grabnerand Rosenberg 1969; Stern and El-An-
fromanonymous JMreviewers. sary 1988), it provides no integratedtheory for chan-
nel communication. Communicationhas been linked

36 / Journalof Marketing,
October1990

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conceptually to both structural issues (e.g., the pattern and Churchill 1984).2 The first step (as shown in Fig-
of exchange relationships) and behavioral issues (e.g., ure 1) consists of the impact of channel conditions on
power and climate) in the channel, yet empirical re- qualitative outcomes such as satisfaction, whereas the
search on channel communication is sparse. The role second step links the qualitative outcomes to quanti-
of channel communication as a moderator between tative outcomes such as performance. Thus, the im-
structural/behavioral conditions and channel out- pact of the interaction between channel conditions and
comes (e.g., channel member coordination, satisfac- communication strategy on outcomes also may be a
tion, commitment levels, and performance) has been two-step process.
largely ignored by marketing academicians. After we more fully develop facets of communi-
For example, the literature has not acknowledged cation, we discuss the relationships between the facets
the moderating role of channel communication when of communication and the various channel conditions.
linking the following channel conditions' to channel The implicit assumption in developing the ties be-
outcomes: tighter contractual relationships to higher tween channel conditions and communication facets
performance (Reve and Ster 1986), the use of power is that no interactions occur between channel condi-
sources to dealer satisfaction and performance (Gaski tions. We define combinations of the facets of com-
and Nevin 1985), and climate to satisfaction levels munication as communication strategies, then explore
(Schul, Little, and Pride 1985). The process by which the channel outcome implications of channel condi-
these linkages between channel conditions and chan- tions and communication strategies. Next, we relax
nel outcomes occur is communication-the tool by the initial assumption of no interactions and examine
which channel structureis implemented (Brown 1981), the effect of interactions on communication strategy.
climate is expressed (Anderson, Lodish, and Weitz Finally, we discuss the managerial implications and
1987), and power is exercised (Gaski 1984). offer suggestions for future research.
The major purpose of our article is to address the
gap in channel theory, both in understanding channel
communication and in prescribing communication Facets of Communication
strategies. By using organizational theories and re- The two bodies of knowledge that guide development
search, as well as communication theories and. re- of our model for channel communication are organi-
search, we build a model for channel communication. zational theory and communications theory. These
This model can be used to draw managerial implica- theories not only guide the selection of the facets of
tions that go beyond the simple rules of thumb cur- communication for the model, but also ground the de-
rently in use and that more accurately reflect the di- velopment of the underlying theory for the model.
versity of a channel setting. Moreover, the model The facets of communication we explore come from
specifies how communication can be used to attain the mechanistic perspective of communication theory
enhanced levels of channel outcomes. (Krone, Jablin, and Putnam 1987), in which com-
Figure 1 is a graphic representation of the model munication is viewed as a transmission process through
of channel communication developed here. As shown a channel (mode). Important facets of the communi-
in the figure, the model explores communication fac- cation process include the message (content), the
ets of frequency, direction, modality, and content; channel (mode), feedback (bidirectional communica-
channel conditions of structure, climate, and power; tion), and communication effects. Furthermore, the
and channel outcomes of coordination, satisfaction, message is concrete and has properties of frequency
commitment, and performance. We develop a contin- and/or duration.3
gency theory in which the level of channel outcomes We note parenthetically that communication has
obtained is contingent upon interaction between com-
munication strategy and given channel conditions. To
the extent that these specific combinations of com- 2However, other literature bases, including the sales management
literature and two articles from organizational communication, indi-
munication facets match the extant channel condi- cate a different type of process. The sales management literature
tions, channel outcomes will be enhanced. (Bagozzi 1980) suggests that performance affects the level of satis-
The channels literature suggests that channel out- faction (rather than the reverse). The articles in organizational com-
munication suggest that the impact of communication on organiza-
comes may consist of two steps, first a qualitative and tional performance variables can be assessed as a direct path (Kapp
then a quantitative step (John, Ruekert, and Churchill and Barnett 1983; Snyder and Morris 1984).
1983; Robicheaux and El Ansary 1976-1977; Ruekert 3Inresearching communication, an attempt can be made to measure
facets "objectively" through observation or counting the frequency
with which messages or particular types of messages are sent. Alter-
natively, perceptual data could be gathered from participants of com-
munication. The perceptual approach is adopted here; because com-
munication is a social process, perceptions of interaction typically
'The term "channel conditions" in this article refers to both struc- determine behavior (e.g., Anderson, Lodish, and Weitz 1987; Roberts
tural conditions and behavioral conditions. and O'Reilly 1974).

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FIGURE 1
Model of Communication for Marketing Channels

EXTANT
CHANNEL CONDITIONS
- Structure
- Climate
- Power

QUALITATIVE QUANTITATIVE
CHANNEL OUTCOMES CHANNEL OUTCOMES

40 - Coordination -p - Performance
- Satisfaction
- Commitment
.

COMMUNICATION
STRATEGYa

- Frequency
- Direction
- Modality
- Content

'A communication strategy is the use of a combination of communication facets (frequency, direction,
modality, and content). For
example, one communication strategy might be frequent bidirectional communication through informal modes, with indirect con-
tent.

been studied as both a dependent(cf. Tjosvold 1985) in which written rules and regulationsare communi-
and an independent(cf. Kappand Barnett1983; Snyder cated downward.
and Morris 1984) variable (O'Reilly, Chatman, and Thus, both communicationstheory and organiza-
Anderson 1987). Many researchersavoid making di- tional theorysuggest a focus on variousfacets of com-
rect causal statementsabout the effects of communi- munication,includingfrequency, direction, modality,
cation and the effects on communication (and they and content (Farace, Monge, and Russell 1977;
conduct simple correlationalanalyses to avoid the im- Guetzkow 1965; Jablin et al. 1987; Rogers and
plicit treatmentof variablesas dependentor indepen- Agarwala-Rogers1976). Furthermore,these four fac-
dent); however, Porter and Roberts (1976, p. 1570) ets have been studied extensively by empirical re-
state that the treatmentof communicationas a depen- searchers in organizationalcommunication. We ex-
dent variableis supportedby the notion that "the total
plore each of these facets in more detail, briefly
configurationof the organizationundoubtedlyexerts summarizingpertinentfindingsfrom both channelsand
a strong influence on the characteristicsof commu-
organizationalcommunicationresearch.4
nication within it."
Communications theory focuses explicitly on Frequency
communication and which facets are appropriately The amountof communicationrefers to the frequency
studied, but organizationaltheory does not. Rather, it and/or duration of contact between organizational
generallyaddressesthe natureof organizationsand their
role in society (Euske and Roberts 1987). Despite this
lack of specific attentionto communicationby orga- 4Though the organizational communication literature describes in-
nizational theorists, a close examination of orga- traorganizational communication, communication between channel
nizational theory uncovers implications for com- members is interorganizational. Phillips (1960) suggests that sets of
firms collectively constitute one large organization, which he termed
munication research. For example, the classical an "inter-firmorganization:" "firms . . that are members of a group
organizationaltheoristMax Weber suggested that the which has an identity apart from the individuals of which it is com-
ideal authority structureor bureaucracyhas, among prised" (p. 604). To the extent that channels of distribution constitute
an interfirm organization, the organizational communication literature
other characteristics,formal lines of communication is transferable to a channels context, albeit with caution.

38 / Journalof Marketing,October1990

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members(Farace, Monge, and Russell 1977). Though mit "rich"information,or a variety of cues including
a minimal amount of contact is necessary to ensure feedback, facial cues, language variety, and person-
adequatecoordination,too much contact can overload alization (Lengel and Daft 1985). "Each medium is
organizationalmembers and have dysfunctionalcon- not just an informationsource, but is also a complex
sequences (Guetzkow 1965). Therefore, in assessing information-conveying channel"(Huberand Daft 1987,
the frequencyof communication,one should examine p. 153). Thus, the authorscited posit a hierarchyof
the amountof contactin relationto the amountof con- media richness, with face-to-face being the most rich,
tact necessary to conduct activities adequately. Be- followed by video-phone, video-conference, tele-
cause most empirical researchin organizationalcom- phone, electronic mail, personally addressed docu-
municationhas used frequencyas the indicatorof the ments (i.e., memos and letters), and, finally, formal
amount of communication, we use the frequency of unaddresseddocuments.
communicationratherthan the durationof contact. Other researchershave distinguishedmodality in
a four-way(2 by 2) classificationof commercial/non-
Direction commercialand personal/impersonalmodes (Moriarty
Direction refers to the vertical and horizontal move- and Spekman 1984).5 Commercial modes are con-
ment of communicationwithin the organizationalhi- trolled by the party, such as the manufacturer,who
erarchy(Farace, Monge, and Russell 1977). When di- has an advocacy interestin the message. Such modes
rectional flows of communication are studied in an includeadvertising,sales calls, and tradeshows, among
intraorganizationalcontext, the typical focus is on su- others. Noncommercialmodes are those in which in-
perior-subordinate interactionpatterns(Dansereauand formationis controlledby a thirdpartyotherthanthose
Markham1987). Such relationshipsinvolve clear lines with an advocacy interest(tradejournal articles, trade
of authorityand status. Because of the clear power of association reports, and consultants). The personal/
the superior over the subordinate,the literaturedis- impersonal distinction corresponds to one-on-one
cusses "downward"communicationas flowing from contact versus mass communication.
the more powerful member to the weaker member. A final way to categorizemodalityhas been to use
In an interorganizationalcontext, the focus is on a formal/informal dichotomy. Though researchers
patternsof contact between organizations.The orga- sometimes fail to define explicitly what is meant by
nizational structurein a channel specifies roles and formal versus informal modes, Stohl and Redding
tasks of channelmembers,but authorityand statusmay (1987) clarified a plethora of distinctions. A general
be less clear. Depending on the situation, the manu- difference is that formal modes are those somehow
facturer(the upstreamchannelmember)or the reseller connected with the organizationin a structured,rou-
(the downstreamchannelmember)may be more pow- tinized manner. Formal communicationgenerally re-
erful. Hence, a strict analogy to the intraorganiza- fers to communication that flows through written
tional setting, where communicationfrom the pow- modes, though"formal"meetings(Ruekertand Walker
erful memberflows "downward,"would hold only if 1987) also may be considered a formal mode. Infor-
the manufactureris more powerful; if the reseller is mal modes are more personalized, such as word-of-
more powerful, communicationfrom the more pow- mouth contacts, which may be spontaneousand can
erful member would be "upward." occur outside the organizationalchart or premises.
To account for these two possibilities, our discus- We define modality according to the formal/in-
sions involving communicationdirection are phrased formal distinctionbecause it has been widely used in
in terms of "unidirectionality"(upwardor downward, empiricaland conceptualresearch. Formalmodes are
depending on the specific channel context) and "bi- those perceived by organizationalmembers as regu-
directionality"(both upward and downward). Nota- larized and structured;informal modes are those per-
bly, however, the literaturefrom which the discussion ceived as more spontaneousand nonregularized.
is drawnrepresentsthe more powerful party as being
higher in the organizationalhierarchy than the less Content
powerful party. Content of communicationrefers to the message that
is transmitted-or what is said. Communicationin-
Modality teractionscan be analyzed for content by using pre-
The medium of communication, or its modality, re- determinedcategories (cf. Anglemar and Stern 1978)
fers to the method used to transmitinformation.Mo- or by asking the parties in an interactionwhat their
dality has been operationalizedin a variety of ways
(Stohl and Redding 1987). One straightforwardway
has been to categorize modality as face-to-face, writ-
5This categorization corresponds to the direct/indirect dichotomy
ten, telephone,or othermodes. A second way has been of Gross (1968). Direct modes correspond to commercial modes and
to categorize accordingto the mode's ability to trans- indirect modes correspond to noncommercial modes.

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perceptionsof the natureof the contentare (cf. Frazier compliancewith informationexchangeor requests,for
and Summers 1984). Like modality, content can be example, occur without the source providing addi-
categorized in a variety of ways. Two common cat- tional reinforcement.To extend the empiricalwork by
egorizationsare based on the type of informationex- Frazier and Summers (1984), we categorize content
changed and the type of influence strategy embedded accordingto their direct/indirect scheme.
in the exchangedinformation.Gross (1968) examined
five different types of marketing information ex-
Channel Conditions and
changed between parties:physical inventory, promo-
tional activities, productcharacteristics,pricing struc- Communication Facets
tures, and marketconditions. He examined these five The contingentthesis we proposeis thatthe individual
content areas in isolation from other channel issues communicationfacets, as well as aggregate commu-
(such as conflict, coordination,or performance).Re- nication strategies, moderatethe relationshipbetween
search in channel communicationthat has looked be- channel conditions and outcomes. We use both the
yond the contentof informationexchanged to the type congruenceand the consonance approachesto contin-
of influence strategyembeddedin the communication gency analysis. Initiallywe follow the congruenceap-
messages has focused primarilyon the content of in- proach (Mahajanand Churchill 1988), in which the
fluence strategies (Anglemar and Ster 1978; Frazier relationship between two factors (i.e., between a
and Sheth 1985; Frazierand Summers 1984). channel condition and a facet of communication)is
Frazier and Summers (1984) distinguished be- described.As used here, the congruenceapproachde-
tween direct and indirect influence strategies. Direct scribes the relationshipbetween each channel condi-
communicationstrategies are designed to change be- tion (channel structure,channel climate, and power
haviors of the target by implying or requesting the symmetry) and each communication facet. The un-
specific action thatthe source wants the targetto take. derlying, albeit implicit, assumption of the congru-
Examplesof directcommunicationcontent include re- ence approachis that when the two factors "match,"
quests, recommendations,promises, and appeals to outcome levels will be enhancedor made greaterthan
legal obligations. Indirectcommunicationis designed when the two factors do not match. (The consonance
to change the target's beliefs and attitudes about the approachto contingency analysis is discussed subse-
desirabilityof the intended behavior; no specific ac- quently in the section on Channel Outcomes.)
tion is requested directly. An example of indirect
communication content is information exchange, Channel Structure
whereby the source uses discussions on general busi- One way to view channel structureis in terms of how
ness issues and operatingproceduresto alter the tar- exchangesbetweenpartiesare patterned(Stem and El-
get's attitudeabout desirable behaviors. Ansary 1988, ch. 7). Channel structurescan be dis-
In their study of the usage frequency of particular tinguishedby the natureof the exchange relationship
influencestrategies,Frazierand Summers(1984) found betweenparties-relational or discrete. Relationalex-
that the strategies of information exchange and re- changes involve joint planning between parties; the
quests(indirectand direct,respectively)were used most relationshiphas a long-term orientationand interde-
frequently within a channel of car dealers, followed pendenceis high. Discrete exchanges, in contrast,oc-
by recommendations,promises, threats, and legalistic cur on an ad hoc basis-the relationshipbetween par-
pleas. Informationexchange and requests were inter- ties has a short-termorientationand interdependence
correlatedpositively and their use was correlatedneg- is low (Macneil 1981).
atively with promises, threats, and legalistic pleas. Truly discrete exchanges are unlikely in a chan-
Frazierand Sheth (1985) added a finer distinction nels setting, but if the distinction between relational
to the categorizationand provide a conceptual, nor- and discreteexchange is viewed as a continuum,some
mative framework on appropriatestrategies to use, channel relationshipsare more relationalthan others.
depending on the prior attitude of the target toward We use the term "marketstructure"to describe chan-
the desired behavior. Their categorizationis based on nel relationshipstoward the discrete end of the con-
whetherthe consequencesof acceptingor rejectingthe tinuumand the term "relationalstructure"to describe
influence attemptare mediated or unmediatedby the channel relationshipstoward the relationalend of the
source. Strategiesmediatedby the source are those in continuum.
which the source, contingentupon compliance or non- Following the congruence approach of contin-
compliance, gives either positive or negative rein- gency theory, we posit that communicationin rela-
forcement (such as rewardor punishment)to the tar- tional channel structuresdiffers from communication
get. Unmediatedstrategiesare those in which the source in marketchannel structures.More specifically, com-
does not intervenebetween the target's action and the municationin a relationalchannel structurehas higher
outcome. Thus, consequences of compliance or non- frequency and more bidirectional flows, informal

40 / Journalof Marketing,October1990

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modes, and indirect content. Conversely, communi- uncertainty prevails, more informal communication
cation in market channel structures has lower fre- contactsmay occur. Williamson(1981) says thatwhere
quency and more unidirectionalflows, formal modes, uncertaintyprevails and transactioncosts are present,
and direct content. Support for these ideas is devel- the appropriatestructureis relational.Thus, as struc-
oped in the following paragraphs. tures are more relational, communicationmodes may
Because channel members under relational chan- be more informal. In contrast, in market structures,
nel structuresshare activities that are more interde- parties may have no opportunityto interacton an in-
pendent than those under market channel structures formalbasis and, as a result, communicationbetween
(Macneil 1981), a higher level of communicationfre- manufacturerand resellermay flow throughmore for-
quency may be necessary. Channel members interact mal modes.
more underthese conditionsbecausethey need to share Relational structuresalso use different communi-
more informationin order to coordinatemore closely cation content than marketstructures.Partiesin these
sharedactivities. Huberand Daft (1987) provide sup- longer term relationships are more willing to share
port for the relationshipbetween higher frequency of benefits and burdens(Macneil 1981). Hence influence
communication and relational structures; (for high strategies are more indirect than direct. Merely pro-
performingunits) the greaterthe interdependence,the viding informationto other channel membersmay be
greaterthe frequency of communication.Presumably sufficient to encourage them to participate in pro-
task interdependencecauses messages to be more rel- grams. Stohl and Redding (1987) also suggest that
evant and thus communicationmore frequent(Huber mutualdependencereduces the use of tough, distrib-
and Daft 1987). Moreover, for better coordinationof utive bargainingtactics.
activities, communicationwill flow both upwardand Furthermore,communication in relational struc-
downward in relational channel structures. Dwyer, tures is likely to reflect relationshipmaintenancecon-
Schurr, and Oh (1987, p. 17) suggest that "a rela- tent (i.e., content aimed at furtheringa supportivecli-
tionshipseems unlikely to form withoutbilateralcom- mate) as well as instrumentalcontent (e.g., content
municationof wants, issues, inputs, and priorities." aimed at consumatinga transaction).Because direct
In contrast,undermarketchannel structureschan- communicationstrategiesare associatedmore strongly
nel membersact more autonomously.Thoughthey are with conflict (Frazierand Summers 1984), their use
still interdependentin the sense that they share the directlycountersthe goal of relationshipmaintenance.
task of moving products from manufacturerto the Therefore,indirectinfluencestrategiesare more likely
consumer, members of market channels are com- to be used when channel membersattemptto nurture
monly more independentthanthose in relationalchan- a supportivetradingatmosphere.
nel structures.Because of the autonomy in decision Marketchannel structures,in contrast,tend to use
making and their independentnature, communication directratherthanindirectcontent(Frazierand Summers
frequency is lower in these market channels and is 1984). Such a strategymay be used in these channel
likely to be primarily unidirectional. Etgar (1976) structuresbecause direct content takes less time and
suggests that conventional or market channel mem- effort to implement;when the link between members
bers contact each other only for specific transactions is perceived to be short-term,the more expeditious
and usually drift away after the terminationof each strategymay be preferred.
transaction. Moreover, in conventional channels, The preceding congruence predictions about the
members may reject common communicativeproce- relationshipbetween channel structureand the facets
dures as infringementson their independence. of communicationare summarizedin Table 1 and stated
Channel structure is related to the modality of formally in the first proposition.
communicationin that channels with relationalstruc- P1: Under relational channel structures(in comparisonwith
tures tend to rely on informal modes, whereas those market channel structures), communication has:
with marketstructurestend to use more formalmodes. a. higher frequency,
Again, because the partiesin a relationalstructureare b. more bidirectional flows,
more intimately linked, communicationbetween the c. more informal modes, and
d. more indirect content.
manufacturerand the reseller is commonly more in-
formal. This is not to say that formal communication Channel Climate
modes are not used. The point is that the tighterlink- Organizationalclimate has been defined in a variety
ages between members allow for more informal in- of ways, depending on the perspective of the re-
teractions. searcher(Falcione, Sussman, and Herden 1987 offer
Support for more informal modes of communi- further reading in this area). Climate sometimes is
cation under relationalchannel structuresis found in viewed as being similar to culture. In fact, Smircich
the environmentaluncertaintyand transactioncost lit- and Calas (1987) suggest that culture is simply cli-
eratures.According to Huber and Daft (1987), when mate reborn.

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TABLE1
Relationships Between Channel Conditions and the Facets of Communication
Communication Facets
Conditions Frequency Direction Content Modality
Structure
Relational Higher More bidirectional More indirect More informal
Market Lower More unidirectional More direct More formal
Climate
Supportive Higher More bidirectional More indirect More informal
Unsupportive Lower More unidirectional More direct More formal
Power
Symmetrical Higher More bidirectional More indirect More informal
Asymmetrical Lower More unidirectional More direct More formal

In general, climate is viewed as a representation climate domain, dependingon the way climate is de-
of the organizationalmember'sperceptionsof the work fined.
environment,including such aspects as characteristics The four factors most commonly associated with
of the organizationand the nature of the member's measuresof perceivedorganizationalclimateare leader
relationships with others (cf. Churchill, Ford, and initiating structure(leadership), leader consideration
Walker 1976). Climate develops characteristicsdi- (trust,mutualrespect), autonomy, and the rewardori-
rectly reflecting norms, leadership, and membership entation of management(i.e., how to motivate em-
composition and provides a context for interpersonal ployees) (Schul, Little, and Pride 1985; Stern and El-
communication(Falcione,Sussman,andHerden1987). Ansary 1988).
Climate has importantimplications for organiza- Despite the problem in conceptual clarity, the re-
tional behavior (and, by extension, channel member lationshipbetweenclimateand structureappearsto vary
behavior) because of its ties to motivation and per- greatly(Falcioneand Kaplan1984). Wilkinsand Ouchi
formance(Wilkinsand Ouchi 1983). Climatehas been (1983) suggest that culture is distinct from hierarchy
exploredin marketingin conjunctionwith salesperson (structure)in that culturecan substitutefor marketor
motivation(Tyagi 1982), satisfaction(Churchill,Ford, bureaucracy(relationalism) as a form of economic
and Walker 1976), attractivenessof rewards (Tyagi control. Additionally, Muchinsky (1977) argues that
1985), channelmembersatisfaction(Schul, Little, and no singularrelationshipoccurs between organizational
Pride1985), andresourceallocation(Anderson,Lodish, communicationand climate, and that this relationship
and Weitz 1987). Channels researcherswho adopt a remains virtually unexplored (Falcione and Kaplan
political economy perspective also have viewed 1984). Churchill,Ford, and Walker(1976) argue that
"transactionclimate" as an importantdeterminantof climate is conceptuallydistinctfrom satisfaction, with
performance(Reve 1982). satisfaction being an evaluative outcome. Finally,
The problems in defining organizationalclimate Muchinsky(1977) suggests that trustis the most con-
are exemplified by the statementthat "climate is po- sistent predictorof organizationalclimate.
tentially inclusive of almost all organizationalchar- To avoid confoundswith otherconstructs,our def-
acteristics"(Jablin 1980, p. 329). Some of the char- inition of climate centers on the dimension of leader
acteristics that have been studied as part of climate consideration. Anderson, Lodish, and Weitz (1987)
are leadership style, job variety, job autonomy, or- used a similar definition in their researchon climate.
ganizationalidentification(Tyagi 1985), psychologi- They took measures of trust and goal compatibility
cal environment, attitude toward management and developed a measure of climate that was psy-
(Muchinsky 1977), goal compatibility, domain con- chometricallydistinct from both communicationand
sensus, evaluation of accomplishment, norms of power. Climate is defined here as the feelings of
exchange (Reve 1982), mutual trust, and goal com- channel members about the level of trust and mutual
patibility(Anderson,Lodish, and Weitz 1987). Char- supportivenessin the interorganizationalrelationship
acteristics of climate, such as autonomy and job va- (Anderson, Lodish, and Weitz 1987).
riety, overlapwith other organizationalvariables,such Again, our model predictsthat communicationwill
as structure. Other confounds may arise from lead- vary, dependingon whetherthe channelclimateis high
ership and communication. Falcione, Sussman, and or low in trust and mutual supportiveness. Specifi-
Herden (1987) report that climate may overlap with cally, communicationwith higherfrequencyand more
other variables that may or may not be unique to the bidirectionalflows, informalmodes, and indirectcon-

42/ Journalof Marketing,


October1990

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tent is used in a channel with a high degree of trust. are productiveand pleasurable, such interactionmay
In contrast,communicationwith lower frequencyand furtherfoster the supportiveatmosphere.
more unidirectionalflows, formal modes, and direct To the extent that the climate lacks mutualsupport
content is used in climates lower in trust and mutual and trust,formalcommunicationchannelswill be used
supportiveness.Supportfor these ideas is drawnfrom (Phillips 1960). When members have little in com-
the culture/climate literature. mon, and perhapshave little trustin each other, cred-
The cultureliteraturesuggests that when members ible modes of informationthat are more noncommer-
experience trust and supportivenessin the organiza- cial and formalized(i.e., nonadvocacyoriented, such
tion, they develop a sense of sharedidentity with the as articlesin the press) may be useful. Informalmodes
organization.A feeling of sharedidentitycan serve as of contact with a distant or untrustworthymanufac-
a consensual paradigmthat structuresinformationac- turermay lead to informationbeing discounted.
quisition and decision making for organizational Frazier and Summers (1984) suggest that com-
members (Wilkins and Ouchi 1983). As a feeling of municationcontentutilizing indirectstrategiesis most
identificationwith the channelgoals is established,the effective if behavioris relatedto a common goal. One
length of communicationpieces declines (because of can use more informational influence strategies if
a shared foundation of knowledge and similarity of common groundor trust is present. If trustis absent,
language usage), whereas the frequency of commu- informationalinfluence strategiesmay be viewed sus-
nication may increase (O'Reilly, Chatman, and piciously by the target, who may inaccurately per-
Anderson 1987; Pfeffer 1981a). ceive or distort the message. Therefore, under con-
When channel membershave no feeling of shared ditions of distrust,indirectinfluence strategiesmay be
identity or the climate is low in trust, they may not unsuccessful and direct strategies are employed.
want or need a high level of communication fre- These congruence predictions about the relation-
quency; hence the level is lower (Lengel and Daft ship between channel climate and the facets of com-
1985). A lower level of communicationfrequencymay municationare summarizedin Table 1 and stated for-
suffice to keep them informedof channel happenings mally in the second proposition.
but, without a sharedidentity, membersmay have no
P2: In mutuallysupportiveand trustingclimates(in com-
desire for more than minimal interactions.Moreover,
parison with unsupportive, distrustful climates), com-
Triandis and Albert (1987), in their work on cross- munication has:
culturalperspectives, suggest that the more different a. higher frequency,
two cultures are, the more difficult communication b. more bidirectional flows,
becomes. Thus, by extension, as values are more dis- c. more informal modes, and
d. more indirect content.
parate, communicationis less frequent.
The presenceof trustin workingrelationshipsalso
affects the directionof communication(Blair, Roberts, Power
and McKechnie1985; Fulk and Mani 1986; Guetzkow Power conditions within the channel can be either
1965; Read 1962; Roberts and O'Reilly 1974), and symmetrical,with power balancedbetween parties, or
empirical findings support more upward communi- asymmetrical, with a power imbalance (Dwyer and
cation in high trustrelationships.This aspect of com- Walker 1981). The model of channel communication
municationis a manifestationof the relationshipbe- developed here predicts that communication under
tween the parties.Underconditionsof trustand support, symmetricalpowerwill have higherfrequencyandmore
organizational members more willingly pass infor- bidirectionalflows, informalmodes, and indirectcon-
mation upward (especially if communication is en- tent. Conversely, for asymmetricalpower conditions,
couraged). Thus, the increase in upward communi- communicationwill have lower frequency, primarily
cation adds to the informationflowing downwardand unidirectionalflows, formal modes, and direct con-
communication is more bidirectional where trust is tent.
present.When trustis low, channelmembersare more Under conditions of symmetrical power, a high
unwilling to pass informationupward. Thus, in low frequencyof communicationoccurs and flow is both
trust climates, communicationis primarilyunidirec- up and down. As power is dispersed, the volume of
tional. communicationincreases(Bacharachand Aiken 1977;
Channel members commonly rely on informal Jablin 1987). Because decentralized communication
modes of communicationwhen they have a feeling of patternsare associated with the ability to cope with
sharedidentityand high trust.Because of the positive, uncertainty,which in turn is associated with greater
supportiveatmospherebetween them, channel mem- message generation,symmetricalpower conditionsare
bers may seek informationfrom one-on-oneand group associated with higher frequency of communication
verbalmodes (Huberand Daft 1987); by giving mem- (Stohl and Redding 1987). Moreover,because the two
bers the opportunityfor informal conversations that partieshave equal footing in the relationship,each will

Communication inMarketing
Strategies / 43
Channels

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try to stay abreastof the other's actions and send mes- suggests that an equal distributionof power is accom-
sages as they try to implement their respective pro- paniedby informalcommunicationnetworks.Another
grams and policies. reason for the use of informalmodes under symmet-
Conversely,underconditionsof unbalancedpower, rical power conditionsis that, because the partiesmay
communicationfrequency is low, with primarilyuni- be jockeying for position, communicationthroughun-
directional flows. Authority, or the centralizationof planned modes may be met with less resistance. If
decision making, serves to economize on the trans- formal modes were used, especially for persuasive
mission and handling of information, and thus com- messages, the recipientmay disregardthe message as
municationis less frequent (Scott 1981). Dwyer and inappropriate.
Walker (1981) provide evidence that, under condi- Indirect communication content is used under
tions of unequalpower, communicationfrequencyde- symmetricalpower conditions. Because neither party
clines slightly. Furthermore,Etgar(1976) suggests that has more power than the other, informationexchange
centralized decision making, by routinizing the op- allows both parties to make their own decisions. In
erations of the channel, can reduce the number of contrast,when power conditionsare asymmetrical,the
communicative messages. (These findings apply to more powerful party can use direct communication
participationin strategic decisions ratherthan work- content. The more powerfulmembercan indicatespe-
related decisions.) Additionally, when contact occurs cifically what actions the less powerful party should
between individuals at different hierarchical levels adopt. Jablin (1987) also suggests that centralization
(asymmetricalpower), communicationtakesplace more leads to open persuasion.
easily from the superiorto the subordinatethan vice These congruence predictions about the relation-
versa (Guetzkow 1965; Hage, Aiken, and Marrett ship between channel power and the facets of com-
1971). municationare summarizedin Table 1 and stated for-
When the parties are unequal in power, frequent mally in the thirdproposition.
communicationmay only createtensionsandmay cause
the less powerful member to perceive the more pow- P3: Under symmetrical power conditions (in comparison
erful partyas overbearing.The less powerful member with asymmetrical power conditions), communication
has:
may feel no need to send communicationto the other; a. higher frequency,
the more powerful membermay ignore messages and b. more bidirectional flows,
merely dictatehis or her own ideas. The less powerful c. more informal modes, and
membermay even actively withhold informationas a d. more indirect content.
way to gain countervailingpower. Blair, Roberts, and
McKechnie (1985) summarizeresearch showing that
the effect of power is to restrictcommunicationflow- Communication Strategies
ing from the less powerful memberto the more pow-
erful member. Additionally, less need for feedback The facets of communicationare combined to form
arises when power is concentrated,because the role communication strategies. We use the term "com-
of the subordinate(less powerful member) is to im- munication strategy" to refer to a particularcombi-
plement decisions ratherthan to participatein shaping nation of the facets of communication.For example,
decisions (Jablin 1987). a possible communicationstrategymight consist of a
Phillips (1960) suggests that informal modes of higher frequency of communication,with more bidi-
communication are used under conditions of asym- rectionalflows, informalmodes, and indirectcontent.
metricalpowerbecausethe powerfulmembercan nearly Table 1 shows that two specific combinationsof
always engendercompliance with his or her requests; communicationfacets emerge. The first combination
however, we suggest that formalmodes would be used includeshigherfrequencyand morebidirectionalflows,
under conditions of asymmetricalpower. The reason informal modes, and indirect content. This combi-
for this proposition is that, if power conditions are nation is likely to occur in channel conditions of re-
unbalanced, modes that serve to institutionalizeand lational structures,supportiveclimates, or symmetri-
legitimate the power of the more powerful member cal power. Use of this combinationof communication
would be preferred(Pfeffer 1981b); such modes are elements is called "collaborativecommunicationstrat-
likely to be formalin the sense that they are structured egy." The second combinationof communicationele-
(Salancikand Pfeffer 1977). Moreover,the use of for- ments includes lower frequency and more unidirec-
mal modes to convey messages, especially persuasive tional communication, formal modes, and direct
messages, may cause the less powerfulmemberto view content. This combination is likely to appear with
them as legitimate, acceptablerequests. channel conditionsof marketstructures,unsupportive
Under symmetrical power conditions, informal climates, or asymmetricalpower. Its use is labeled
modes are used. The work of Burnsand Stalker(1961) "autonomouscommunicationstrategy."

44 / Journalof Marketing,October1990

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Channel Outcomes However, Figure 1 shows that communication
strategy may moderate these relationships between
One of the critical aspects of the congruenceapproach channel conditions and outcomes. Relationships in
(Mahajanand Churchill 1988) is that it operates on which a channelconditionis associatedwith enhanced
the untestedassumptionthatwhen communication"fits" outcomelevels may be foundonly in situationsin which
the channel conditions, outcomes will be enhanced. communication strategy "matches" channel condi-
Thus, the contributionof the second approachto con- tions.
tingency analysis, the consonance approach, is that it Figure 2 illustratesthe notion that channels with
explicitly considers how the "fit" between channel enhanced outcomes are ones in which the communi-
conditions and communication affects channel out- cation strategymatchesor fits the extantchannelcon-
comes. In the consonance approachthe assumptionis ditions (shaded areas), whereas those without en-
that communicationstrategy "interacts"with a given hancedoutcomesare ones in which the communication
channel condition (i.e., channel structure)to deter- strategy mismatches those same channel conditions
mine levels of outcome variables (i.e., channel out- (unshadedareas). "Fit" is determinedby the theoret-
comes). Phraseddifferently,enhancedoutcome levels ical developmentof PI throughP3, and thus is present
are contingent on the match of communicationstrat- when (1) collaborativecommunicationstrategies are
egy to channel conditions. used with channel conditionsof relationalgovernance
The channel outcomes explored here are coordi- structures,supportiveclimates, or symmetricalpower
nation, satisfaction, commitment, and performance. and (2) autonomouscommunicationstrategiesare used
Coordinationrefers to the integrationof the different with channel conditions of marketgovernance struc-
partsof the organizationto accomplisha collective set tures, unsupportiveclimates, or asymmetricalpower.6
of tasks (Van de Ven, Delbecq, and Koenig 1976). Cells A and D are the so-called "match"cells. In
Channel coordinationcan be viewed as the synchro- cell A, increasedneeds for communicationwithin the
nization of activities and flows by channel members. channel are met by the collaborativecommunication
Channelsatisfactionrefers to eitherthe affective eval- strategy. Because channel members are provided the
uation (Schul, Little, and Pride 1985) or cognitive necessary and expected communication for channel
evaluation(Frazier 1983) of the characteristicsof the conditions, as explicated in the preceding discussion
channel relationship(see also Ruekert and Churchill of congruencepropositions,memberswill experience
1984). Commitmentis a multidimensionalconstruct enhanced or greater coordination, satisfaction, and
reflected by the belief in and acceptance of the or- commitment levels. As a result of these greater af-
ganization's goals and values, a willingness to exert fective responses, more effort may be expended on
effort on behalf of the organization,and a strong de- behalf of the manufacturer'sproduct and enhanced
sire to maintainmembershipin the organization(Porter performanceoutcomes will obtain.
et al. 1974). Channel commitment implies a behav- In cell D, needs for lower frequency of commu-
ioral component that reflects an allegiance to a chan- nication and differenttypes of content are met by the
nel relationship(Ulrich 1989). Channel performance autonomousstrategy. Justificationfor an autonomous
is a multidimensionaloutcome measure that can be strategyis given throughoutthe section on congruence
assessed by consideringseveral dimensions including propositions. Additionaljustification for autonomous
effectiveness, equity, productivity (efficiency), and strategies comes from a consideration of costs and
profitability(Bennett 1988). benefits. Because collaborativecommunicationcosts
Current theory suggests that different types of more in terms of time, effort, and money, it may not
channel conditionsare associated with differentlevels be beneficial under conditions of market structures,
of outcomes. In termsof structure,centralizedvertical unsupportive climates, or asymmetrical power. A
marketingsystems (i.e., relationalstructures)are as- manufactureruses autonomouscommunicationunder
sociated with greater levels of coordination (Brown such conditions to get the best outcomes possible at
1981) and greaterefficiency (i.e., a performancemea- the least cost. In this cell, the autonomousstrategyis
sure) (Etgar 1976; Reve and Ster 1986). As to the the best "match"and enhancedoutcomes obtainin the
channel condition of climate, more supportive cli-
mates are associated with higher levels of satisfaction
(Schul, Little, and Pride 1985). In terms of power, 6An implicit assumption to this point is that relational structures,
symmetricalpower is associated with more favorable supportive climates, and symmetrical power are isomorphic, as are
attitudes(i.e., greatersatisfaction)of the partiesin the market structures, unsupportive climates, and asymmetrical power.
However, it is also plausible that these three constructs do not covary
relationship (Dwyer and Walker 1981). Gaski and isomorphically. For example, in relational structures such as suc-
Nevin (1985) found that higher levels of power in cessful franchise systems (e.g., McDonald's), power asymmetry may
prevail. The section Interactions Between Channel Conditions ex-
general are associated with higher satisfaction and plores combinations such as relational structures and power asym-
performance. metry.

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Channels
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FIGURE2 inventory turnover)for the manufacturer'sproduct.
Proposed Relationships Between Communication Similarly, in cell B, the collaborative communi-
Strategies and Channel Conditions: Implications cation strategy mismatches the needs of the channel
for Outcome Levelsa conditions. High frequency of communicationis un-
COMMUNICATION
necessary under these channel conditions. Also, the
STRATEGY use of informal modes and indirect content is a mis-
Collaborative
match for market structures. The nonenhanced out-
Auto
comes in this cell are not due to communicationin-
CHANNEL CONDITIONS
adequacies (as in cell C), but to communication
overload and higher expectationsfrom channel mem-
Relational Structures,
Supportive Climates, or
bers about the response of other members to com-
Symmetrical Power municationmessages. For instance, if channel mem-
bers are burdenedwith informationoverload and are
given what they perceive to be vague content (i.e.,
indirectmessages), coordinationlevels will be lower,
Market Structures,
satisfactionwill be stifled, and less commitmentwill
Unsupportive Climates, or occur.
Asymmetrical Power The two-stepprocessimpliesthat, eventually,lower
levels of qualitativeoutcomes will have an impact on
performanceoutcomes. The excess energy expended
by channel members on communicationactivities is
"The shaded areas represent enhanced outcome levels, or where in essence a misuse of resources.
communication strategies fit channel conditions. The un-
shaded areas represent nonenhanced outcome levels, or where
A suggestedrank-ordering of the four cells in terms
communication strategies do not fit channel conditions. of relativelevels of channeloutcomes is, from highest
bAutonomous communication strategy: lower frequency, more to lowest: cell A, cell D, cell B, and cell C. This
unidirectional flows, more formal modality, more direct con-
tent. Collaborative communication strategy: higher frequency, suggested rank-orderingof cells A throughD is based
more bidirectional flows, more informal modality, more in- on two assumptions. First, it is based on the basic
direct content. premise of contingency analysis that "fit" or "match"
CRecall that the enhanced outcomes may be manifested ini-
tially in enhanced qualitative outcomes, with the impact on
results in enhanced outcomes. Hence, matching cells
quantitative outcomes following. A and D are expected to be associated with relatively
higher outcome levels than mismatchingcells B and
C. Second, the rank-orderingis based on the assump-
tion that the presence (match) or lack (mismatch) of
sense that they are the best possible outcomes given an appropriatecommunicationstrategyhas a stronger
the cost/benefit considerations. effect on channel outcome levels under relational
Cells B and C are the so-called "mismatch"cells. channel structures, supportive climates, or symmet-
In cell C, the autonomouscommunicationstrategydoes rical power than under market structures,unsuppor-
not match the channel conditions. Under relational tive climates, or asymmetricalpower. Hence, match-
channel structures,channel membersneed to interact ing cell A is expected to be associated with relatively
more because of the need to share informationand greater outcome levels than matching cell D. Like-
coordinateclosely shared activities. The autonomous wise, mismatchingcell C is expected to be associated
strategy, which includes lower frequency of com- with relatively lower outcome levels than mismatch-
munication, unidirectionalflows, and formal modes, ing cell B. This proposed strongereffect under rela-
is not adequatein meeting the needs of channel mem- tional structuring,for example, is suggested by the
bers in a relational structure. Because of this mis- dramaticallyhigher interactionexpectations (fulfilled
match of communication strategy to the conditions, or unfulfilled) that channel members have under re-
the coordinationlevels, satisfaction levels, and com- lationalas opposed to marketstructures.For example,
mitmentlevels are lower than in the match condition. unfulfilled interactionexpectations are likely to lead
Lower levels of these qualitativeoutcomes in turn to relatively lower outcome levels under the higher
can lead to lower levels of quantitativeoutcomes. As expectationsinherentin a relationalchannel structure.
channel activities are uncoordinated, members are P4 through P6 summarize more specifically the
dissatisfied, and commitment levels decline, less ef- consonance ideas developed in this section.
fort may be expended on behalf of the manufacturer's
P4: Communication strategy and channel structure interact
product. Efforts are uncoordinated,resulting eventu- to influence the level of channel outcomes.
ally in decreasedperformance(i.e., sales volume and a. When relational structures are present, collabo-

46 / Journalof Marketing,
October1990

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rative communication strategies are associated with in communications and organizational theory. Though
enhanced outcome levels in comparison with au- the two-way interactions8 between channel conditions
tonomousstrategies. are less solidly grounded in theory, they are a vital
b. When market structures are present, collaborative,
communication strategies are associated with non- area of concern and warrant individual attention.
enhanced outcome levels in comparison with au-
tonomousstrategies. Structure/Climate Interactions
P5: Communication strategy and channel climate interact In this two-by-two interaction, four conditions are
to influence the level of channel outcomes.
a. When supportive climates are present, collabora- compared: (1) relational structures and supportive cli-
tive communication strategies are associated with mates, (2) relational structures and unsupportive cli-
enhanced outcome levels in comparison with au- mates, (3) market structures and supportive climates,
tonomous strategies. and (4) market structures and unsupportive climates.
b. When unsupportive climates are present, collabo- In general, parties are expected to enter into re-
rative communication strategies are associated with lational exchanges when a basic element of trust
nonenhanced outcome levels in comparison with
autonomous strategies. is present (Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987; Frazier,
P6: Communication strategy and channel power interact to Spekman, and O'Neal 1988). Because of this notion,
influence the level of channel outcomes. channel structure and climate might be expected to
a. When symmetrical power is present, collaborative interact to produce more exaggerated effects on com-
communication strategies are associated with en- munication under relational structures and supportive
hanced outcome levels in comparison with auton-
climates. In other words, when relational structures
omous strategies.
b. When asymmetrical power exists, collaborative and supportive climates are both present, communi-
communication strategies are associated with non- cation is more frequent, bidirectional, informal, and
enhanced outcome levels in comparison with au- indirect. When trust is absent in a relational exchange,
tonomous strategies. however, communication is less frequent and more
unidirectional, formal, and direct.
Interactions Between Channel In market structures, communication is less au-
tonomous under supportive than under unsupportive
Conditions climates. For instance, when market structures have
All prior propositions are based on the assumption of a supportive climate, communication may have slightly
no interactions between channel conditions. Hence,
higher frequency, slightly more bidirectionality, and
they posit "main effects." Possibly, however, the so on, than when the market structure has an unsup-
channel conditions may interact with each other. The portive climate. This interaction is shown in Figure
political economy framework proposed by Stern and 3A and expressed in the following proposition:
Reve (1980) provides some justification for examin-
P7: Structure and climate have an interactive effect on
ing potential interactions among channel structure, communication.
power, and sentiments (climate) within a channel set- a. When structures are relational, communication
ting.7 As indicated by Ster and Reve (1980, p. 59): strategy is significantly more collaborative if cli-
mates are supportive rather than unsupportive.
The essence of the political economy framework . . . b. When structures are market, communication strat-
is that economic and sociopolitical forces are not ana-
egy is slightly less autonomous if climates are sup-
lyzed in isolation... it is imperative to examine
the interactions .. portive rather than unsupportive.

This possibility of interactions indicates that the chan- Climate/Power Interactions


nel conditions may have an interactive effect on com- Several authors have argued that the effects of power
munication strategy. depend on the context in which the power is exer-
The conceptual exploration of the effects of inter- cised. For instance, Tjosvold (1985) examined the im-
actions among channel conditions on communication pact of low versus high power supervisors within co-
strategies is more speculative than the preceding dis- operative, individualistic, or competitive settings. His
cussion, in which the propositions are well grounded findings indicate that the negative effects of exercis-
ing power are mitigated by a cooperative setting. Bon-
oma (1976) argues that ignoring the social episode, or
7These interaction propositions are congruence propositions that de-
scribe the relationships between the two-way interactions and com-
munication strategy. As before, in the development of these propo- 8Speculation is possible on the three-way interaction of structure,
sitions we implicitly assume that outcomes will be enhanced when climate, and power, but until the relationship between each of the
they are followed. The consonance predictions would address the im- three channel conditions (and the two-way interactions between them)
pact on channel outcomes of the interaction between the two-way in- and communication is better understood, such speculation lacks
teractions and communication strategy. grounding.

Communication
Strategiesin MarketingChannels/47

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the context of the power system (unilateral/unequal FIGURE3
power, mixed power/bargaining situations, or bilat- Effect of Interactions Between Channel
eral power/high mutualitysettings), has hinderedre- Conditions on Communication Strategy
searchon power and conflict. He suggests thatcontext
of power must be considered in order to understand A. Structure/Climate Interaction
its effects.
Other researchershave shown that upward com- Communication
Strategy
municationin the organizationis a function not only
of the influence (i.e., power) of the superior,but also Collaborative Relational
of the trust the subordinate has in the superior
(Athanassiades1973; Fulk and Mani 1986; Read 1962; Market
Robertsand O'Reilly 1974). Though the general con-
clusion of the authors is that "influence [of the su- Autonomous
perior] does not seem to be as strongly related to
[communication]as is trust" (Roberts and O'Reilly Unsupportive Supportive
1974, p. 209), the effects of the difference in power
between parties may not be independentof those of B. Power/Climate Interaction
trust (Read 1962; Roberts and O'Reilly 1974). Communication
Thus, in examining the interactionof power and Strategy
climate, we comparefour cells: (1) symmetricalpower Collaborative Symmetrical
and supportiveclimates, (2) symmetricalpower and
unsupportiveclimates, (3) asymmetrical power and
Asymmetrical
supportiveclimates, and (4) asymmetricalpower and
unsupportiveclimates.
Fromthe findings of Bonoma (1976) and Tjosvold Autonomous

(1985), one would expect communicationto be more Unsupportive Supportive


frequent, bidirectional, informal, and indirect when
power is symmetrical and climates are supportive. C. Structure/Power Interaction
However, when power is symmetrical and climates
are unsupportive,communicationwould probablynot Communication
Strategy
be as collaborative. A supportiveclimate might mit-
igate the effects of power asymmetry on communi- Collaborative Symmetrical
cation. For instance, underasymmetricalpower, com-
municationmay be more frequent, bidirectional,and Asymmetrical
so on if climates are supportive rather than unsup-
portive. This interactionis shown in Figure 3B and Autonomous
expressed in the following proposition.
Market Relational
P8: Power and climate have an interactive effect on com-
munication.
a. When power is symmetrical, communication is
slightly more collaborative in supportive climates
than in unsupportive climates.
b. When power is asymmetrical, communication formal) planning and programming may occur to
strategy is significantly more autonomous in un- overcome opportunistictendencies and to cope with
supportive climates than in supportive climates. bounded rationality. This interactionsuggests that if
power is asymmetrical, communication strategy is
Structure/Power Interactions significantly more autonomous under market struc-
Stern and Reve (1980) suggest that the type of chan- turesthanunderrelationalstructures.If power is sym-
nel structuremay interactwith power conditionsin the metrical, however, communication strategy is rela-
channel. The four cells of this interactionare (1) re- tively collaborative in both market and relational
lational structureswith symmetricalpower, (2) rela- structures. This interaction is shown graphically in
tional structureswith asymmetricalpower, (3) market Figure 3C and expressedin the following proposition.
structureswith symmetrical power, and (4) market P9: Power and structure have an interactive effect on com-
structureswith asymmetricalpower. munication.
In channels with market structuresand in which a. When power is symmetrical, communication strat-
egy is slightly more collaborative in relational
power is centralized (asymmetrical), centralized (or structures than in market structures.

48 / Journalof Marketing,October1990

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b. When power is asymmetrical, communication using communication to increase the level of channel
strategy is significantly more autonomous in mar- outcomes.
ket structures than in relational structures. Further theoretical work could expand the model
by adding other channel conditions. For instance, the
Managerial Implications and structural aspect of channel complexity (the number
Suggestions for Future Research of levels and intermediaries at each level) and the be-
Our integrative model of channel communication ad- havioral aspects of the bases of power and conflict
dresses the current gap in theory on channel com- levels could be added to the model. One postulation
munication. The model matches communication fac- might be that under conditions of high conflict, au-
ets to channel conditions and develops the notion of tonomous communication strategies are used. Con-
communication strategy as a moderator between chan- ditions outside the channel, such as competition or
nel conditions and outcomes. Looking at combina- regulation, may affect the type of communication. Other
tions of communication facets under various channel variables such as the type of product sold (i.e., in-
conditions affords an understanding of the process by dustrial, consumer, or service) may change commu-
which channel outcomes occur. The link between nication strategies.
channel conditions and channel outcomes is expli- Other communication facets, such as communi-
cated more fully by modeling the complex role of cation style, distortion of communication messages,
communication. and asymmetry of information possession, also could
The model of channel communication developed be added to the model. For instance, different com-
here can provide useful managerial insight. If we as- munication styles may be used under various channel
sume that empirical support for the model can be found, conditions. Also, interactions between the facets of
normative statements can be made about what com- communication could be explored in future research.
munication strategy managers should use to obtain en- The causal link between communication and chan-
hanced outcomes. Managers also can use the model nel structure, channel behavior, and channel out-
to understand how communication facets are linked to comes could be investigated. The model developed
channel conditions. They can use the model to un- here is based on the notion that channel conditions
derstand how to improve channel outcomes. By de- constrain communication strategies. Communication
scribing the impact on outcomes of the match between strategies, over the long run, may influence channel
communication strategies and channel conditions, the conditions. By proactively using communication strat-
model leads to improved managerial decision making. egies to change channel conditions, manufacturersmay
Work is necessary in the area of channel com- be able to influence the channel conditions they face.
munication. Empirical testing of the propositions de- A longitudinal analysis of communication may reveal
veloped here would be an important first step. Testing how communication affects the evolution of channel
the model might lead to normative prescriptions for structure and behavior.

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