Strategic destigmatisation in market entry – case analysis of online communication in the pelvic health market

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School of Business | Master's thesis
Degree programme
Creative Sustainability
Stress urinary incontinence (SUI) is a stigmatising medical and social problem suffered in silence by millions of people globally. The worldwide market for adult incontinence protection is larger than the mobile phone market in the United Kingdom, which means that this consumer group has significant purchasing power. Companies planning to enter the market with exercise products for pelvic floor muscles face barriers to entry related to the stigma of incontinence. This thesis shows how three companies, which have entered the market in recent years strategically use stigma related multimodal discourse, and especially stigma removal (destigmatisation) in their public online communication. New destigmatising discursive practices such as devictimisation, empowerment, anonymisation and medicalisation were discovered. Rationalisation, scientification and conformisation were recognized, in line with previous studies’ findings. Devictimisation, empowerment and anonymisation were targeted to relieve the client stigma. Medicalisation is used in a new context for raising awareness about the incontinence problem and building legitimacy for the products. A combination of the stigma removal practises was used for product differentiation and positioning. Destigmatisation was used also for risk management purposes; to affect client purchasing behaviour by highlighting positive and minimising negative risk factors. A stigmatising discursive practice such as shaming was actively used by one company to attack a competitor. Anonymising was intended to be used for destigmatising clients yet it could be interpreted as maintaining a stigma related to female body. This thesis expands the research of stigmatised markets into a new industry and adds to the theory of strategies for entering them. It develops the dimensions of strategy by taking into consideration the hidden stakeholder communication as well as the active stigmatisation aspects. It builds upon the research by empirically revealing a “sleeper” strategy -previously theorised but not proven. For managerial implications this thesis brings out the systemic nature of the stigma related challenges in strategy formulation, as well as the criticality of consistent implementation of the entry plans in stigmatized markets. Future research proposals include exploring the interface between corporate social responsibility and business ethics, and further exploring a customer’s role in stigmatised markets. An interesting research topic would be to attempt to quantify the role of for-profit companies in contributing to a positive affect in treating the root causes of SUI .
Thesis advisor
Juntunen, Jouni
strategic destigmatisation, market entry strategy, pelvic health, stigma
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