A consortium of researchers dedicated to improving the understanding of the human causes and consequences of terrorism

START researchers awarded top honors for applying marketing framework to violent groups

University of Nebraska Omaha-based team succeeds across disciplines

Though START researchers are known to take the coveted top paper award in disciplines such as criminology, political science and psychology, START recently celebrated a first when a team won the Best Paper Award and research stipends at an international marketing conference.

The University of Nebraska Omaha-based START team -- Gina Ligon, Mackenzie Harms, JoDee Friedly, and Dan Harris -- partnered with a marketing faculty member Mike Braezeale to examine organizational and leadership factors that relate to the notoriety of violent extremist organizations (VEO). The team found that VEOs use marketing vehicles in similar ways that for profit organizations use them, however, they use very different strategies (cruelty of attacks, allying with other notable VEOs, etc.).

Using a marketing theory of "Brand Reputation," the START researchers showed that VEOs who gained attention from other VEOs (i.e., "Third Party Endorsements") and countries were able to garner more diverse sources of fundraising and recruit for more diverse talent in subsequent years. The notoriety that the VEOs gained through unusually cruel attacks and other promotional efforts was related to subsequent performance and capacity for violence.

"This paper articulates how the constructs from organizational psychology and marketing are predicting the 'performance' of VEOs in their fundraising, recruiting and lethality," said Ligon, principal investigator of the START project, "Organizational Determinants for Violence and Performance."

Ligon's team presented award-winning paper, "Applying a Marketing Framework to VEOs: How Notoriety Predicts Performance in Violent Groups" at the Annual Consumer Brand Relationships Conference in Boston in May 2013. The paper was based on a study funded through START by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate's Office of University Programs. Early findings from that study are also summarized in the new START Research Brief "The Organization of Leadership and Violence."

Team members (Ligon, Harms and Harris) worked with START Researcher Pete Simi to publish, "Putting the 'O' in VEOs: What makes and Organization," in Dynamics of Asymmetric Conflict: Pathways toward Terrorism and Genocide Journal. The article applies organizational theory to white supremacists groups, finding that VEOs different from other ideologically based groups, different organizational/group structures are best suited for certain strategies, leadership matters a great deal in the context of VEOs, and organizations are not static.

The team is continuing to explore VEOs in a variety of ways and expand its work with START through the LEADIR (Leadership of the Extreme and Dangerous for Innovative Results) study at University of Nebraska Omaha (UNO). Harris, the lead graduate assistant on the study recently won a START Terrorism Research Award (TRA) to examine deradicalization in white supremacists using theories from organizational psychology and biometric markers of arousal.

JoDee Friedly, a Graduate Research Assistant on the LEADIR study, recently won a Graduate Research and Creative Activity (GRACA) grant from the university to examine VEO performance using a standard metric to assess for-profit organizational performance. She will be assessing the recruiting, fundraising and promotional efforts used by VEOs and will rely on the LEADIR dataset to examine her research questions.

Mackenzie Harms, Graduate Research Assistant on the LEADIR study also won a Graduate Research and Creative Activity (GRACA) scholarship from the university to examine VEO notoriety. She will examine 40 violent groups' mission statement and subsequent media attention and notoriety.