Discovering the unfolding of service innovations

Catharina von Koskull (CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)
Tore Strandvik (CERS Centre for Relationship Marketing and Service Management, Hanken School of Economics, Helsinki, Finland)

Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing

ISSN: 0885-8624

Publication date: 28 January 2014



This paper aims to explore and demonstrate how an ethnographic research approach can reveal new aspects of the dynamics of service innovation processes. In contrast to the retrospective research approach found in most service innovation research, the ethnographic approach captures the innovation process as it unfolds.


An ethnographical investigation of an incremental service innovation at a bank was conducted. The innovation activities were performed jointly by a team of bank members from various functions and external business partners. This was a formal project with a pre-specified plan, budget, and timetable.


The ethnographical approach, capitalizing on its real-time, multi-methods, longitudinal, and up-close characteristics, made it possible to capture unforeseen events and issues at the micro level. The authors suggest that such critical events determine what direction the innovation process takes. The initial intentions and plans were partly realized; new issues emerged during the innovation work and were realized, while other emergent issues were finally not realized.

Research limitations/implications

The study suggests a framework that can be used to identify four categories of micro-level processes. Critical events in the micro-level processes represent potential turning points and are important foci in practice and remain issues for further research.

Practical implications

Managers may benefit from being open to including emergent issues and understanding the micro-level dynamics of the innovation process.


This study illustrates how the ethnographic research approach captures the dynamics of innovation processes and the potential challenges and possibilities for innovation managers. This finding suggests the need to address micro-level dynamics.



von Koskull, C. and Strandvik, T. (2014), "Discovering the unfolding of service innovations", Journal of Business & Industrial Marketing, Vol. 29 No. 2, pp. 143-150.

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