B-Corps & Promotion

May 30, 2013

Why do B-corporations vary in their promotional intensity of the B-corporation certification?  Given that these organizations have opted into this new category of organizations with a shared mission to do more than maximize profits, we might expect some amount of similarity in their efforts to associate with the new category.  What we observe is quite different – these companies tend to differ across the board in their promotion rates.  Upon first blush, however, the reasons for this variation are unclear.  As such, my colleague, Joel Gehman, and I have gathered industry and geographic data for each of these companies, to understand if the contextual differences of these companies might help us explain why we such significant variation in promotion.  Our hypothesis, in other words, is that companies may experience regional and industrial pressures to promote or not promote their category memberships.  Link and abstract follow:

Hidden badge of honor: how contextual distinctiveness affects category promotion among certified B corporations

Why would an organization pursue membership in an organizational category, yet forego opportunities to subsequently promote that membership? Drawing on prior research, we develop a theoretical model that distinguishes between basic and subordinate categories and highlights how organizations may differ in their promotion of the same subordinate category. We hypothesize that a subordinate category’s contextual distinctiveness within different basic categories increases promotion, and that these effects are amplified in relatively larger subordinate category peer groups. To test our hypotheses, we developed a proprietary web-based software toolset and gathered textual and graphical data regarding B Corporations’ web-based promotion of their certification. We supplemented our statistical analysis with interviews of Certified B Corporation entrepreneurs and executives. Our findings challenge prior assumptions about the causes of promotional forbearance, while extending our understanding of category distinctiveness within contexts as well as sources of intra-category variation.

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