Internalization, Objectivation and Externalization: Formation of HyperLoyal Brand Communities


D. Selcen O. Aykac2

Building bloc ks of br and loyalt y ha ve be en appealing to mar keters for decades . The search for the ‘one-fi ts -all strategy’ has unintentionally i mpaire d the exploration of the deeper phenomenological processes consumers enga ge in. Consumer loyalt y for brands includes various de gre es (Aa ker 1996; Rowl ey 2005). One for m of intense brand loyalt y is the communities (Muniz and O'Guinn 2001) created around and directed by particular brands. These brand c ommunities ha ve been known to yield to hyper -loyalt y (Mc Alexa nder and Schouten 1998; Ebstein, Betou et al. 1999). Therefore, it is crucial to better understand the for mation sta ges of brand communities, which ca n then shed t he li ght to the dyna mi cs of sustainable long-ter m competiti ve advanta ge the y often inherit. This paper proposes t hat deeper understanding of c onsumer hyper -l oyalt y and its for mat ion process needs to be integrated with the inf a mous advanta geous r esources (Hunt 2002).

First draft of this paper was presented at the 2nd Annual Management Congress at Mugla University (Turkey) on February 17, 2005. An earlier version of this manuscript has been published as a chapter in “Making of Cult Brands” edited by Swapna Gopalan. 2 Özyeğin University, The Faculty of Economics and Administrative Sciences, Istanbul, Turkey. <>



Fournier (1998) has initiated the research on brand communities, yet the research on consumer loyalty has long been looking for a better explanation than the repeat purchase (J acoby and Chestnut 1978). Howe ver , the “talismanic relations hips consumers form with that which is consumed” (Belk, Wallendorf et al. 1989), and their “religious moments of discovery” (McAlexa nder and Schouten 1998) ha ve not been unpac ked as most loyalt y beha vior has been acc epted as part of a “ narrowly cogniti ve utilitarian decision-ma king”. As this paper explains in the upcoming secti ons, the sociology of r eligion, together with the field of rhetoric, offe rs the field of resear ch an alternati ve a pproach. The for mation and maintenance of cultur es is central to this approach. Therefore, the theory of culture and society (Ber ger 1967) from the sociology of religion a nd the theor y of ide ntification (Burke 1969) from the field of rhetoric provide the basis. As a result, the phenomenologi cal reasons and methods e mployed by c onsume rs in aligning the mselves with particular brands are unpac ked.

Theoretical Grounds
“Persuasion is only possible with identification” (Burke 1969). Brand identity posses a crucial role in profane consumption be ha vior. The influence of brand identity de pe nds on the de gree of perceived identification between the self and the brand i ma ges. The more the percei ved ident ification is, the intens ive the influence gets in persuasion. On anothe r note, a consumer’s l evel of identification (Kim, Han et al. 2001) for various brands also provides a differing s ense of belonging to the group of consumers (Ashforth and Mael 1989; Bhattachar ya, Ra o et al. 1995) that he / she associates with the those brands. This identification process is a dialectic relationship process (Ber ger 1967) that effects the for ma tion and perpetuation of consumption cult ures. The si milarities of

identification between the for mations of bra nd communit y and cul ture offers a novel the ory 2

enrichment possibility

( Bhattachar ya, Ra o et al. 1995) . Li ke wise, Miller (1998) has

compared shopping with religious sacrifice, particularly the sa vi ng efforts which usua lly cause more s hopping items than what would be the case generous s pending attitude. As a result of the vas t number of tas ks that needed to be tackle d for survi val, the “unfinished at birth” man for med societies (Ber ger 1967) . Onc e anybody discovered “a better, easy, less cost ly etc. wa y / method of handling a certain task”, he / she neede d to share this knowledge with others in his / her sociality. As social beings, humans socia lly construct societies e ve n toda y. Si milarly, the social order of handli ng a variet y of acti vities is socially deter mi ned. As ti me passes, such social order starts to define the nor m methods. Eventually, the nor ms for activities for m what we refer to as culture. Yet, once for me d a culture is not finished. Construction of a culture is a never ending dialectic relationship process a mong social ani mal, man, and soci ety. A culture needs t o be reconstructed for an indefinite a mount of loops. One of the cr ucial components of any gi ven culture is the religion. Inte gration of religion to the cul ture follows a si mila r evolution phase. Of ten, religion ser ves as the basis for le giti mation of social order as well as the relations of the man. Release of a ne w idea to the societ y by a me mber is c onsidered as externalized. Next , by the objectivation phase, the retention and recall of this new i dea is ensured since i t is now labeled. For exa mple, while car can infer numer ous things to a consumer; once it is labeled as “Saab” others aside from the launcher of this car ca n infer the specific vehi cle meant. Lastl y, when the society accepts t he new idea as “the proper mean” and s tart practicing it, internal ization is achie ved (Figure 1). In the exa mple gi ven for “Saab”, the society of Saab brand communit y start cons idering this vehicle a s the appropriate one for their transportation needs.


Objectivation / Externalization



Internalization Fig. 1 Dialectic Relationship (Berger 1967)

There is a certain aspect of identification linked with "consubs tantiality". Humans for m connections with one another through their shared experiences or goals. In the marke t place, the de gree that individual possessions and ideas are s hare d s ymbolically influe nces identification. A soci al bond bet ween a s pecific car brand owne r group and a cons umer is required for him / her identify with. Shared rituals facilitate this social bond. For exa mple, Saab owners beep or f lash to other personall y unknown Saab dri ve rs on the road (Muni z and O'Guinn 2001). Si mil ar rituals also ta ke place a mong Volks wa ge n TDI c ommunit y, whose me mbers range for m a irline pilots to professors of mass communic ations (Yost 2002). Goals and s hared experiences are ke ys to construction of culture, as identification with the culture relies hea vily on these . ‘ Sur vival tas ks’ and ‘i nternalization’ proces s of Ber ger reflect on the ‘goals’ and ‘shared e xperiences’ of Bur ke , respectivel y. On another note, hedonic cons umption school vie ws the discourse of cons umption as cultural with shared meanings invol ved (Slater 1997).


Unpacking Marketing Reflections
Tremendous a mounts of new products a nd ser vices are intr oduced to mar kets ever yda y. Though ofte n launched by collective entities, most innovations a nd ne w products / services ste m from human creativit y. Ne w product / ser vice la unch is an externalization process quite si milar to the introduction of new ideas to societie s. Crucial for the faith of such a launc h, many mar keters see k wa ys for establishing brand equity. ABCs of mar keting strategies indicate the importance of achie ving hi gh brand awareness to help consumers in recalling what to buy for their specific need / want. Labels, that were once used to assist society me mbers to re call a collection of proposed wa ys and met hods of action, ha ve now been transfor med to brands that aid shoppers to recall brands in their consideration sets. As a result, a Saab community me mber bears in mind a different vehi cle, than a Vol kswa ge n or Harley Da vidson c ommunity me mber (McAlexander and Sc houten 1998), when a new vehicle purchase is considered. Acquiring a certain brand i nvolves the decision of appropriateness. Inter nalization of the bra nd is pr ocessed during the acquisition. Most consumer subcultures and / or brand communities impose the poss ession of a certain brand as the single access cr iteria. This possession serves as the identifie r of the extended s ocia l – self of the indi vidual . Howe ver, this inter nalization is not vali d fore ver. Its life span depends on the e ndurance of the match with the customer’s life style (McAlexa nder, Schouten et al. 2002). Fashion classifies individuals as (1) i mitat ive, followers of fashion for satisfying urge to adapt, and (2) teleological, investigators for satisfying urge to innovate (Si mmel 1957). These cate gor ies reflect on internalizers and externalizers, respecti vel y. In the mi ddle of these, obje ctivation locates itself through labeling, hence around a partic ular brand. As a result, a single social status system (Veblen 1994) is facilitated by instead of suggesting Ber ger and Bur ke as two polar ends (Store y 1999) . For exa mple , white c ollar wome n’s choice of adopting their male colleagues dressing codes and further preference s of Se ville Row-UK suits (McCracken 1990) involves a short hand communication of who they


are. As a hidde n a genda, this action of inte rnalization ai ms to wi n acceptance, approva l, or at the ver y least, in some cases, a void disapproval (Langer 1997). Consumers and brands interact with each other through a dialect ic relationship that follows “a cycle of e xternalization, objectivation, and internalization”. Internalization is followed by objectivation to discover means of sustaining and/or a dva ncing the initial brand internalization. This practice seeks for wa ys to achieve hi gher le vels of brand loyalt y. All together, brands are c onsidered as social obj ects which are socially created in the dialectic relationship cycle ta ki ng place at the cons umer -brand-consumer t riad (Muniz and O'Guinn 2001). Finall y, the complete process yields to formation of brand communit y (McAlexander, Schouten et al. 2002). Consumers not onl y shop for their utilitarian moti ves, but also seek for wa ys to introduce various me aning to the msel ves. Brands stand as ans wer ke ys to this searc h of meaning. Most brands are ‘choices of a certain life style’, rather than j ust brands. Modernity brought “the disenchantment of the world” (Weber [1922] 1978) with itself. As a result of modernit y, c ommunities gather around brands in an atte mpt to satisfy the de mand for a “rec onstructed and re-mystified community” (Barber 1995). The capability to manage the inherent tension between hi ghl y st yli zed consumer lifestyles ( Si mmel [1903] 1964) and the underl ying confor mit y (Firat 1991) de mand provides some bra nds a e xceptional posi tion (Muniz and O'Guinn 2001). Accordingl y, the higher the le vel of internalization gets, ti ghter is the inte gration of i ndividual with the bra nd communit y, hence, hi gher the le vel of his / her brand loyalt y. “Consumers choice of possessing a particular brand also involves the choice of subscribing to the related consumption communit y (Friedman, Vanden Abeele et al. 1993). Evaluation stage of the decision ma king process includes the identification control with the brand i ma ge and its user ima ge . Positive e valuation and identification with the brand (and its user) ima ge(s) assi st individuals in expr essing and / or i mproving their sel ves (towards their ideal selves). The level of brand identification determi nes the de gree a br and expresses and enha nc es the consumer’s identity (Ki m, Han et al. 2001). As cons umers 6

identify the msel ves wi th the brand ima ge more, the level of loyalty increases (Oliver 1999). Therefore, brand ima ge and supporting promotional activities should be aligned to maint ain higher le vels of identi fication. In addition, mar keting communications about a brand should (1) carefully wei ght consistent congruity (M cAlexander and Schouten 1998) and (2) provide assistance to brand community prospects during their “i mple ment ation intention” ( Ba gozzi and Dhlokia 1999). For example, the perfect fit between Range Rover’s tar get audience and range of acti vities included in “A Country Affair” mar keting progra m achie ved 82% participation rate a mongst invitees, 24% of who e ve ntually purc hased a new Range Rove r (Keller 1998). More over, an adva nced s tage of ide ntification mi ght e ven result in commit ment rather tha n a brand loyalty (Oli ver 1999; McAlexa nde r, Schouten et al. 2002).

Huma n perception of reality and use of s ymbols are manipulations of reality (Bur ke 1969). Besides the opposing thumb, another contrast bet ween ani mal kingdom and humans is reflected in symbol ma king. Symbols filter huma ns’ perception of the real world, and introduce a detachment from the ‘realit y’. Yet, s ymbols also help humans to comprehend the world around the m. Symbols si mpl y represent reality rather than the reality representing itself. By the labeling practiced during objectivation process, social r eality is not onl y specified to be ‘there’, but also ‘there for e ver yone’. Through int ernalization, the s ocially constructed world that is looked upon as being ‘there’ for e ver yone transforms to ‘there in me’. This transfor mati on of from ‘out there’ to ‘in here’ is endless since what’s “out the re” is continuousl y reproduced by the dialectic relationship. Man tends to enj oy s ocial reality as a facticit y free f rom internalization; howe ver, it is coope rativel y c onstructed and consequentl y adapted. As strong confir mati on, when a n indi vidual is remove d from social reality through incarc eration or a nomie, he / she “los es his / her orientation in experience” and, in s ome extre me cases, he / she mi ght “lose his / her sense of reality and identit y”, eventuall y “ becoming anomic in the sense of becoming world-less” (Ber ger 1967) . 7

The ga p between act ual and ideal self is a mong the ke y moti ves of the mar ket de mand. Social reality c onstantly enhance s ideal self, intensifying the mar ket de mand. Inclusi ve with any ne w brand communit y subscription (Langer 1997), indi vidual’s ideal self inherits various fresh di mensions from ne w communit y. Consumer s buy products to exte nd their selves and enhance their self -este e m (Bel k, Wallendor f et al. 1989). Cert ain possessions are essential to maintain colle ctive sense, and a voi d “becoming world-le ss” (Berger 1967) . The fe ar of “becoming world-less” ( Ber ger 1967), and the practices that are readily perfor me d to avoid distancing from social reality should be considered to better comprehend identification with brand i ma ge.

As oppose d to products, brands do not necessarily practice a predeter mined life cycle. For s ome brands like Le vi’s a nd Coca Cola, value incre ases over ti me . Building brand loyalt y contributes to this type of value increase as well as profitable growth (Palumbo and Herbi g 2000). Therefore, bra nding polic y should be treated as an i mport ant part of the overall bus iness policy. The approach set forward in this paper contributes to research on active roles of consumers in constructing ‘ modern culture’ (Holt 1995; Miller 1995; Fournier 1998; Mi ck and Fournier 1998). The ‘reality’ – tha t consumers experience with brands is often phenome nologically di stinct from that is expected by the mana gers who tend the m ( Fournier 1998). Both the s ocial classification and the le vel of li ved e xper iences contribute to t he conceptualization of c onsumer’s ‘social real ity’. All indi viduals are not equall y faithful to the nor ms of a c ulture. Si milarly, all consumers are not equally brand loyal. What man ta kes to be fa ith is a proj ection of his social relationships – in this paper’s context ‘the shopping choices’ – in deed, that are different wa ys of stabilizing relationships (Arnould 2000). The level of identification between a brand and a particular social group deter mines the t ype and the de gree of mut ual 8

commit ment. Identification is a mongst the ke y deter miners of brand loyalt y. Therefore, integration of theor y of culture and societ y (Ber ger 1967) with rhetoric (Bur ke 1969) to better comprehend br and communit y const ruction and maintena nce provides the field of Marketing an alternative novel approac h.

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