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Impression Management in Services Marketing



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Centre for Marketing Working Paper

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Comparisons between theatrical performances and everyday life are embedded in our language. A person doing a good job is said to be "well suited for the role." When someone's behavior is stilted, it seems "scripted." A person behaving in unexpected ways is "acting out of character." In the academic literature, drawing links between theater and life is more formally called the "dramaturgical metaphor" and it is a cornerstone of impression management theory. Yet, despite this metaphor's common use, some researchers have argued that it provides a shaky foundation for academic progress. While recognizing the limits to simply drawing comparisons between life and theater, it is important to note that most impression management scholars seek a more substantive goal in their research: to offer an analytic framework for exploring, testing, and understanding how people manage contradictions between appearance and reality in social interaction. Given this emphasis, impression management theory has considerable potential for the study and management of services marketing. Because image control often demands that service workers act according to scripts that diverge from their actual preferences and capacities, a number of conflicts arise regarding the truthfulness or sincerity of service performances. For example, many service employees want to do a good job for their employers and yet sometimes find that performing well means being deceptive with customers. Theatrical metaphors are useful for describing conflicts between appearance and reality because theatrical personnel explicitly tackle these conflicts in crafting their performances. Thus, the language of their profession provides researchers with a useful set of commonly accepted terms for exploring sincerity and deception. However, it is important not to assume that scholars use dramaturgical terms only for metaphorical comparisons. Such an assumption misses the great promise and applicability of impression management research - a promise that, as we show, has been only partially fulfilled in services marketing research.

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Centre for Marketing

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Centre for Marketing Working Paper

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