Using personal communication technologies for commercial communications: A cross-country investigation of email and sms

Chuan Hoo Tan, Juliana Sutanto, Chee Wei Phang, Anar Gasimov

Research output: Journal PublicationArticlepeer-review

36 Citations (Scopus)


The widespread use of personal communication technologies (PCTs) for commercial message dissemination necessitates understanding that PCTs might lead to better commercial performance in different situations. Building primarily on apparatgeist and social construction theories, this research proposes that consumer responses to PCT-disseminated commercial messages are jointly influenced by the PCT (i.e., technology) that carries general symbolic meanings about its nature and purpose (its "spirit"), and the context culture (i.e., the cultural milieu) in which it is used. We began with focus groups' assessments of two commonly utilized PCTs-email and short message service-which revealed their comparative symbolic meanings in terms of intimacy or formality of communication-to be in line with extant literature. Then, in a commercial setting where retailers leverage PCTs to disseminate product discount coupons, we examined the difference between two distinct environments that differed in their context-cultural dimensions (their cultural milieus of social interaction and communication)-i.e., China (an environment of high context-cultural dimension) and Switzerland (an environment of low context-cultural dimension). To do so, we first validated the context-cultural differences through a survey (study 1) and conducted two matching field experiments in the two countries involving more than one thousand consumers (study 2). Results support our propositions, demonstrating favorable commercial performance for SMS use in the high context-cultural environment and for email use in the low context-cultural environment. Follow-up surveys (study 3) corroborated the results and provided deeper insights into how both PCTs' general meanings and pertinent values in the cultural milieus we studied led to consumer responses. Besides presenting empirical evidence to inform the selection of appropriate PCTs for commercial communications, this research contributes to the theoretical development of apparatgeist and social construction theories via its joint examination of technologies and consumers' environments.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-327
Number of pages21
JournalInformation Systems Research
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - Jun 2014
Externally publishedYes


  • Apparatgeist theory
  • Context-cultural dimension
  • Field experiment
  • Multimethod investigation
  • Personal communication technology
  • Social construction

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Management Information Systems
  • Information Systems
  • Computer Networks and Communications
  • Information Systems and Management
  • Library and Information Sciences


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