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Systems constellations:

A better way to identify

branding opportunities?
Received (in revised form): 1st July, 2007

is a PhD candidate at the Radboud University, Nijmegen, where he is completing his thesis on the usefulness of
systems constellations to identify branding opportunities. He was born in 1957 and holds a Masters in Econometrics
and a Bachelor in Psychology. He has been working as an assistant marketing professor at the Open University of the
Netherlands for 15 years, and has been a part-time brand advisor for 20 years.

is Professor of Business Administration, especially Market Analysis and Relationship Management, and Head of the
Strategy and Marketing Department at the Radboud University, Nijmegen. Born in 1961, she got her PhD in 1993
at Maastricht University. As a consultant, she has worked for different national and international organisations.

is Professor of Organization Development at the Nijmegen School of Management, Radboud University, Nijmegen
since 1999. His educational and research interests include human resource management, emotions in organisations,
gender in organisations, power in organisations, organisational change, team based work and research methodology.

is Professor of Marketing at Nyenrode Business University. He was born in 1960, got his PhD at Erasmus University
Rotterdam and is specialised in Customer Relationship Management. At Nyenrode, he is Director of the Cluster for
Marketing & Supply Chain Management and responsible for executive programmes.

is a former student of the Open University of the Netherlands, who examined a case study on the systems
constellation technique as his marketing dissertation: the identification of a name logo opportunity by a Dutch
marketing director of a global franchise services company. He was born in 1970 and holds Master in Electrical
Engineering and in Business Management. He has been working for over ten years in IT and telecommunications in
various technical and commercial positions.

Keywords Abstract
branding constellation; Building strong brands has become one of the main marketing priorities for brand-supportive
paradigm; phenomenology; companies. The leading positivist paradigm in marketing may not be, however, the most-effective
problem identification; soft perspective in identifying branding opportunities. This paper offers an alternative phenomenological
systems methodology; point of view by applying the innovative systems constellation technique within the soft systems
systems constellation methodology to identify new branding opportunities. A case study illustrates its content validity but
also shows there is limited support for its reliability, which is in line with the positivists’ reservation
on phenomenological methods and techniques.
Journal of Brand Management (2008) 15, 239–257. doi:10.1057/;
published online 17 August 2007

INTRODUCTION are characterised by brand decision makers

Wim Jurg
Hofakkers 14, 9468 EE Annen,
The Netherlands
Building strong brands has become a (in short ‘branders’) who continuously
Tel: + 31 592271048 marketing priority for many companies.1–3 need to identify and predict effects of
Fax: + 31 455762103
E-mail: These so-called brand-supportive companies alternative branding programme options

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to enhance brand equity.4 It is generally paradigm within marketing is positivism,

recognised that the problem of identifying assuming that the social world exists
opportunities (generally named problem externally, and that its properties can and
identification in marketing research litera- should be measured through objective
ture) is the most important phase in marketing techniques within objective methodolo-
(research). In addition, it is generally gies. An important alternative paradigm is
agreed that marketing—and especially generally termed the phenomenological
branding—problems are fuzzy, ill-struc- perspective, which is also referred to as
tured, messy, open mismatches between the constructivist view. Marketing literature
what is and what might be, and that a generally views them as similar and for this
systems perspective is needed. The atten- paper it is not necessary to differentiate
tion paid by companies and academics to them. This phenomenological alternative
identify branding opportunities is, however, advocates the investigation of direct expe-
mostly done in a conscious, rational, closed rience through sensation, reflection and
and hard way, leaving branders’ noncon- intuition.Where positivists assume a reality
scious and emotional experiences out.5–13 that is external and objective, the phenom-
But unless the nonconscious, emotional enological point of view presumes an
experiences of branders are taken into interaction between an internal, subjective
account to identify branding opportuni- world and an outside, objective world.14–18
ties, it is hardly likely that sound market As the truth of these paradigms cannot be
research can be done. evaluated, brand-supportive companies
An innovative soft systems technique to and academics should not limit themselves
assist in identifying effects of managerial to the positivist perspective, but should also
decisions—called the systems constella- take the alternative phenomenological
tion—seems to offer a useful way to point of view into account to identify
identify branding opportunities from a branding opportunities. The next section
nonconscious, emotional point of view. covers the well-established SSM within
This application of the systems constella- this phenomenological point of view,
tion was termed branding constellation in the which provides a structured set of guide-
research project. The next section opposes lines and activities to assist in identifying
rather extensively the current positivist branding opportunities.
paradigm and the alternative phenomeno-
logical perspective. Then, more intensively,
the soft systems methodology (SSM) and SOFT SYSTEMS METHODOLOGY
the systems constellation technique are (SSM)
introduced, followed by the research project
and a case study illustration to enhance the SSM origin
reader’s understanding. Finally, a discussion Since the 1960s, several alternative systems
on the findings and suggestions for further methodologies have been developed to
research close this paper. deal with fuzzy, ill-structured, messy, open
problems within the field of operations
research such as interactive planning, sys-
PARADIGM: AN UNPROVEN ems administrator simulation trainer and
PERSPECTIVE SSM.15 This paper focusses on the latter,
A paradigm is an unproven way to help as it is generally considered the leading
understand part of reality. The leading example of a research contribution to the

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field of real-world problem solving. SSM improvements. Today, SSM has a strong
originated at Lancaster University (UK) position in operations research,21–28 is well
from the work of Professor Checkland established in information and organisa-
and a team of systems analysts.19,20 Initially, tional management science,29–34 and has
they examined the possibilities for well- been successfully applied in marketing
developed positivist methods of systems research as well.35,36
engineering in managerial problem situ-
ations. This transfer attempt failed. They
concluded that these positivist methods SSM procedure
are not effective in tackling human problem SSM has been described in various ways
situations.Viewing managers as conscious, throughout its existence, a period of more
rational objects with clear one-dimen- than 40 years. The seven-stage model is
sional objectives does not work; managers an early presentation, but remains the
are intentional subjects with multiple most common for explaining the meth-
nonconscious goals. Checkland and his odology. It contains seven interacting,
analysts began to address the principles of spiral states suitable for its description:
action research. They became participants perceived problem, expressed problem,
who tried to assist managers in developing definition of relevant system, conceptual
both as-is models and can-be models of model, real-world comparison, definition
perceived problem situations.The ‘systems’ of change and implementation of change.
construct stopped referring to literal Figure 1 presents a pictorial overview of
objects in the real world but became these seven stages.37–39
employed as a metaphor; a particular way Applying SSM to the identification
of organising managers’ thoughts about problem of branding opportunities as the
the situation. The essence of the soft first phase in marketing research means
systems analysis is in finding potential posi- that in SSM stage 1, branders perceive
tive feedback factors, for which is character- brand equity as problematic: they have a
istic that small changes result in big systems feeling of mismatch between current and

Figure 1 The seven-stage model in SSM37,40

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potential brand equity. In stage 2, they personal drama. Psychodrama includes the
express the perceived branding problem observers, some of whom are assigned to
situation in terms of opportunities, poten- participate in the drama.The core assump-
tial changes in the branding programme tion of psychodrama is that people who
or at the higher level of brand portfolio are constellated by clients on a stage in an
strategy. In stage 3, they name and define ‘embodied representation’ are capable of
about seven root definitions concerning the making these clients more aware of the
core brand elements on the perceived relationships between the persons in the
problem. In stage 4, branders test their perceived problem situation these humans
thoughts on these root definitions and the stand for. Constellating stand-ins for arte-
operating positive and negative feedback facts makes it possible to clarify the role
loops between them, usually by using of these artefacts in human relationships.
cognitive mapping techniques. In stage 5, Approaching artefacts as human-like is
branders generate insights in the oppor- termed anthropomorphises and is generally
tunities by comparing the findings from accepted within marketing theory as facil-
stage 4 to the ‘real world’. In stage 6, they itating human interactions with the
formulate the intuitive feasibility of the nonhuman world.46–48 The brand-as-a-
perceived branding opportunity and in person projection is a special case of this
stage 7, they ‘act’—in terms of marketing anthropomorphises and is generally used
research—to improve the perceived problem in brand theory.49–53
situation by briefing a marketing agency The innovative assumption of the
on this opportunity or repeat the cycle. systems constellation is that people, who
The innovation of the systems constella- are set up by a client in this embodied
tions technique within SSM is that it representation, are capable of showing
elicits the nonconscious, emotional expe- hidden, deeper relationships between the
riences of branders on perceived prob- persons and artefacts of the client’s problem
lems. The next section takes a closer look they represent.54–56 This phenomenon is
at the systems constellation technique. called representative perception. Stand-ins
develop distinct emotions that are presumed
to replicate the reality of the person or
SYSTEMS CONSTELLATION artefacts they are representing. One expla-
TECHNIQUE nation of this phenomenon is found in
the work of Merleau-Ponty57–65 and
Systems constellation origin Lakoff and Johnson66,67 who argue that
The systems constellation is developed people think in embodied metaphors. As
from psychodrama,41,42 a technique that stand-ins think in the same human way
is regularly used in qualitative market as branders, it might be ‘just’ a matter of
research.43–45 Psychodrama originates back-translation of the nonconscious
from Moreno (in the 1920s) and devel- emotions put into the constellations by
oped out of role-play as a form of group the brander’s choice of the stand-ins and
therapy where problems are transferred to their positions towards each other. For
a real stage in movement and action. understanding this representative percep-
Like psychoanalysis, psychodrama is tion, Sheldrake68,69 and others44,59,70 refer
meant to deal with perceived problems, to Sheldrake’s field theory, while Laszlo71
but in psychodrama clients set out to find and others72–75 theoretically validate this
a resolution by living it through in a phenomenon by extending it to the

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general quantum theory and its direct the people who were set up, might have
connection between internal human been influenced by their personal image
reality and the outer world. of the brand and thus may have been
Explorative PhD studies on the systems reflecting their own thoughts rather than
constellation have shown a high content the brander’s projections. In the second
validity in identifying managerial oppor- constellation of the case study described
tunities.59,76 In addition, these studies in this paper, this step results in the brand-
have indicated its low construct validity, er’s question whether the current brand
indicating that the system constellation name limits the enhancement of brand
technique is only at the beginning of a equity. Step 2 continues the dialogue with
methodological discussion, and every an opportunity to deal with this problem;
systems analyst has his own way of in this example, how a new brand name
performing the technique without hardly might enhance the brand. Step 3 discusses
any rigorous evaluation. One positivist the root definitions: the brand elements
PhD experiment—containing several that are perceived to play a key role in
configurations with statues in which this problem. Step 3 in the second constel-
people were positioned on the same lation of the case study resulted in the
place—reports high stand-in reliability, identification of the brand name, the service,
signifying that experiences of stand-ins on the franchiser, the franchisees and the
positions in constellation configurations customers as the core brand system elements
are significantly independent of the in the brand name problem. In Step 4, the
gender, age and other personal character- brander intuitively chooses people from the
istics of the humans who stand for audience to represent these key brand
the represented persons and abstract elements. These embodied human repre-
constructs.75 There is one single PhD case sentatives of the core elements in the
study report on the positive content branding problem are called stand-ins.
validity of the systems constellation to The selected persons are positioned by
identify branding problems in which the the brander in the conference room on
researcher was also the systems analyst.59 places that feel intuitively right for the
brander. This process results in the so-
called projection constellation that shows the
Systems constellation procedure brander an embodied spatial metaphor of
In Step 1 of the system constellation his/her brand systems perspective on the
procedure, the brander—in the case study experienced branding problem. Subse-
described in this paper, the European quently, the analyst questions stand-ins on
marketing director from a leading global how they feel, to whom they feel attracted
franchise brand—has a dialogue with a and whom they want to turn away from.
systems analyst on his feeling of mismatch Next, the brander constellates the stand-
between the current and the potential ins for the considered branding opportu-
brand equity. This dialogue is held before nity; in the second constellation of the
an audience some of whom are assigned case study by replacing the current brand
to participate in the branding constella- name by a new name. This is followed by
tion. In this step, the brand name is not another questioning of the stand-ins on
mentioned as previous branding constel- whether their emotions have changed
lations showed that most participating and—if so—how. Then, the analyst and
brand experts thought that the analyst and the brander find out its instigation causality

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(German: ‘Anstosskausalität’): under what were invited to join the conference. The
conditions this change triggers a positive expert sample method was a combination
feedback loop between stand-ins, resulting of purposeful, experiential and snowball
in a vision constellation showing a solution sampling.76 Every brand manager, advisor,
direction. Step 5 generates verbal insights researcher and academic who applied was
in the opportunity by comparing the welcome to join the expert forum, but
emotions generated among the stand-ins acknowledged brand experts were invited
in step 4 to the ‘real world’, and in Step personally by e-mail and at branding
6 the brander decides on the intuitive conferences. All were asked to bring
feasibility of the opportunity. In the brand colleagues and to ask brand responsible
name example, the brander decided that managers of acknowledged brands if they
a brand name change would not solve the were prepared to use this technique to
real problem: the relationship between the identify one of their branding opportuni-
franchiser and the franchisees. Finally, ties. For new techniques should demon-
Step 7 briefs a marketing agency on chal- strate their relevance on real-life problems
lenging the intuitive feasible opportunity. within the SSM.21 The first brand-expert
In the brand name example (ie the second conference, in which three branders
constellation of the case study), the performed a branding constellation, took
briefing was now directed at improving place in November 2002, the second in
the relationship rather than finding a new October 2003 and the third in November
brand name. To enhance the intuitive 2004. Two branders participated in these
understanding of the reader on the branding 2003 and 2004 sessions. The brand
constellation proceedings, the develop- expert forums consisted of 18–25 brand
ments in the two branding constellations experts.
of the case study are illustrated in the The branders and brand expert opin-
appendices. Next, we explain the branding ions on the usefulness of the branding
constellation research project. constellation were triangularly generated
by a transcription of the branding constel-
lation, a questionnaire issued directly after
BRANDING CONSTELLATION the constellation, a transcription of the
RESEARCH PROJECT evaluation round and an e-mail question-
The systems constellations that were naire the day after. In addition, the 2002
performed in the research project to iden- and 2003 branders reflected on their
tify branding opportunities were called branding constellation during the 2003 or
branding constellations and the research 2004 marketing-expert conference, respec-
project was named the branding constellation tively. The direct questionnaire focussed
research project. The core of the research on the opinions concerning the content
project covered three branding constella- validity of each constellation separately,
tion conferences with brand experts as new while the e-mail questionnaire covered the
topics ask for support from experts in the opinions on all distinguished aspects of
field,17 scientific ‘objectivity’ is often validity and reliability.The direct question-
thought of as agreement among expert naires depended on the role within the
judges77 and expert audiences are thought branding constellation: there were separate
to inspire and to validate innovations.78 questionnaires for the branders, the brand
As experiencing generates a better under- experts in the audience who were asked
standing than reading,79 brand experts as stand-ins and the brand experts who

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stayed in the audience and witnessed the project studied the usefulness of these
constellation process from the outside. branding constellations by examining two
As the presence of brand experts might generally accepted dimensions of useful-
influence the findings,80 three alternate ness: validity and reliability.18,80,82, This
settings were considered to account for paper focusses on the aspects of content
this ecological validity effect.The first vari- validity and test–retest reliability within
ation was the brander-setting. This confer- these two dimensions. Content validity83,84
ence covered only branders and brand was conceptualised as the degree to which
advisors who wanted to identify a branding branders and the present brand experts
opportunity themselves; thus, this setting thought the branding constellations to
did not contain people who just wanted identify the perceived branding opportu-
to observe the technique. The second nity. It was operationalised by the gener-
distinction employed another systems ated insights, the intuitive truth of these
analyst. In this other-analyst-setting, branders insights and their actionability. Test–retest
were asked to bring their colleagues and reliability85–87,80 was measured holistically
their brand advisors. To have enough by comparing the storylines and insights
choice of stand-ins, marketing students of two constellations on the same brand
were invited who were doing a case study and analytically by contrasting stand-ins’
thesis as part of the branding constellation relationships between two constellations
research project.The third variant consisted on a five-point scale.
of branders in a brand-lay-setting. Here
people joined the conference because they
were interested in experiencing the systems CASE STUDY FINDINGS
constellation technique as performed by
the systems analyst rather for their interest Case study
in branding issues.Table 1 presents the four To enhance the reader’s intuitive under-
different settings of the branding constel- standing, we will illustrate the findings of
lation research project and the audience the research project by discussing the
(the stand-in population) from which the application on one brander: the European
stand-ins were picked. As the brand- marketing director from a leading global
expert-setting formed the core of the franchise brand. In June 2002, this
research project it is printed in italic. marketing director performed a branding
Thus, the research method was an constellation in the brand-lay-setting of
explorative multiple case study design,81 the research project, while in November
consisting of 32 branders who performed 2002 he performed one in the brand-
a branding constellation. The research expert-setting. In the brand-lay-setting of

Table 1 Overview of branding constellation research project settings

Setting Number of cases Stand-in audience

Brand expert 7 Nonfamiliar branders and brand experts

Brander 9 Nonfamiliar branders and brand advisors who wanted to do a
constellation too
Other-analyst 8 Nonfamiliar branders, other branders’ colleagues and brand
advisors, and marketing thesis students
Brand-lay 8 Strangers who were interested in the systems constellation
technique rather than brands.

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June 2002, he formulated a strap-line Concerning intuitive truth, he recog-

opportunity regarding his brand and in the nised—to his astonishment—the state-
brand-expert-setting of November 2002 ments made by the stand-ins of the brand
he came up with a brand name opportu- elements in both constellations as in line
nity. The similarity of these opportunities with reality. In his reflection during the
makes this case especially interesting 2004 expert conference (two years after
for this paper as the test–retest reliability the constellations), he reported that the
of both branding constellations can be relationship between the franchiser and
measured, which the branders as well as the franchisees had improved and that
the brand experts thought of as essential changing one of the strap-line elements
in the research project. Moreover, the had supported this process. The marketing
marketing director reflected on both director compared the branding constel-
his 2002 constellations two years later lation to a city map: ‘branding constella-
during the 2004 forum of brand experts, tions do not tell you what the streets look
enabling a long-term perspective on like, but they give you an overall picture
content validity. of the town that enables you to decide
where you are and how to come from
one place to another’.
Content validity The present brand experts generally
Content validity was measured by the confirmed that in their opinion the
generated insights, the intuitive truth of the marketing director generated actionable
branding constellation happenings and the and true insights. They mentioned basi-
actionability of the generated insights. Both cally the same insights as the brander and
constellations generated many insights, most of them also thought of these insights
which were hard to verbalise all according as true. One brand expert, however, argued
to the marketing director. His main actionable that the idea of the branding constellation
insight, however, was that both branding generating intuitively true information
constellation showed him that first of all was a dangerous thought. In his opinion,
the interaction with the franchisees needed the branding constellation should be seen
improvement. On the first branding as a lateral marketing technique, which
constellation, he especially concluded that generates insights on the basis of the human
changing one of the strap-line elements mind to ‘recognise’ patterns in coinci-
might support this improvement and on dences. Concerning the complementary
the second that a change of brand name value of the branding constellation all were
would not enhance the brand. positive. Table 2 presents a quantitative

Table 2 Overview of ten witness brand experts’ content validity opinions

Questions on content validity Very Rather Neutral Rather Very

positive positive or no negative negative
answer answer answer answer answer

Please formulate the answer to the 6 3 1 0 0

brander’s research question as indicated by
the branding constellation
Do you agree with this answer? 3 3 2 2 0
Do you think the technique has 6 4 0 0 0
complementary value to existing ones?

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overview of the content validity opinions: from the stand-in of the franchiser, while
a five-point scale was applied to measure in the November 2002 constellation no
the content validity items in the direct harmony was reached in which the stand-
witness questionnaire.88 This questionnaire in of the franchisees asked for the assist-
was filled out by the ten brand experts who ance of the franchiser. This difference
were not chosen as stand-in and witnessed made that the marketing director gener-
the branding constellation process from the ated in the June 2002 constellation on the
outside. Eight brand experts filled out a strap-line the additional insight which
questionnaire concerning their experiences strap-line element to change and how,
as stand-in. while in the November 2002 constella-
Table 2 shows that most brand experts tion he ‘just’ concluded that a brand name
were (very) positive on content validity. change would not bring anything. More
They were especially positive on the extensive descriptions of the development
complementary value of the branding of these two constellations are presented
constellation as well as on the insights in the appendices.
generated on the branding opportunity, Concerning the analytical test–retest reli-
operationalised as the degree in which ability analysis on element level, first the
they could formulate a clear answer on similar elements were determined. The
the brander’s question. The opinions on June and November constellation were
intuitive truth, operationalised as agree- found to contain three similar elements;
ment with the self-constructed ‘answer’, brand name, franchiser and franchisees.
were still positive, but less than on the The comparisons were again made on a
other two items of content validity. five-point scale ( + 2;− 2), where ‘ + 2’
indicated that the statements of the stand-
ins on their relationships in the two
Test–retest reliability constellations really matched and ‘ − 2’ that
Test–retest reliability examined holistically the statements of the stand-ins on their
the storyline and core insight similarity, relationships really differed. The results are
and analytically the resemblance of the presented in Table 3.
relationships between similar constellated Table 3 indicates that little similarity
brand elements in two constellations. was found between the statements of the
Concerning the holistic test–retest reliability, stand-ins on their relationships regarding
both in the June 2002 brand-lay-setting the three brand elements in the two
as in the November 2002 brand-expert- constellations. Exceptions were the well-
setting, the instigation causality—the posi- resembling relationship statements of the
tive feedback aspect in the branding franchisees stand-ins, and the rather well-
constellation to enhance the brand—was resembling statements of the franchiser
found in improving the relationship stand-ins regarding the name stand-ins
between the franchiser and the franchisees. and the name stand-ins concerning the
In both constellations, the systems analyst franchisees stand-ins.
set aside the ‘bossy’ franchiser stand-in to As a resolution, namely an improved
improve the overall atmosphere in the relationship between franchisees and fran-
constellation. The essential difference was chiser, was not found in the November
that in the June 2002 constellation, after constellation on the name opportunity,
a new strap-line was introduced, the one might argue that the harmony part
stand-in of the franchisees wanted support of the June constellation should not be

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Table 3 Test–retest reliability scores—overall

Element name Brand name Franchisees Franchiser Mean Range

Brand name 1 −2 − 0.5 3

Franchisees 2 −2 0 4
Franchiser 1 −2 − 0.5 3
Mean 1.5 − 0.5 −2 − 0.3

Range 1 3 0

Table 4 Test–retest reliability scores—up to the return of franchiser in the June constellation

Element name Brand name Franchisees Franchiser Mean Range

Brand name 0 0 0 0
Franchisees −1 2 0.5 3
Franchiser −1 2 0.5 3

Mean −1 1 1 0.3
Range 0 2 2

taken into account in the analytical true insights. In addition, they were judged
comparison. Indeed, the analysis up to the as holistically test–retest reliable as the
moment the franchiser returned in the evoked insights by the marketing director
June constellation gives a different picture and the present brand experts matched
as shown in Table 4. really well. They were, however, clearly
Table 4 indicates that there is a slight not analytically test–retest reliable as the
positive similarity between the statements relationships between the stand-ins in the
on the relationships of the three elements two constellations did not match. More-
in the two constellations up to the moment over, the two differentiated measurements
that the resolution was found in the June differed very much. The brand expert
constellation. Again, the relationships of the who was dissident on the intuitive truth
stand-ins of the franchisees and franchisers of the branding constellation may be right
regarding the stand-in of the brand name that it should be seen as a lateral marketing
are the exception, but now the other way technique. His argument was that meas-
around: the stand-ins of the franchisers and uring analytical reliability ‘by comparing
franchisees in the two constellations now the stand-in statements’ is vertical, posi-
react differently to the name. It is remark- tivist thinking while lateral techniques
able how the findings differ on these two should be measured on their output rather
measurements of test–retest reliability. than their throughput.80,88–91 Thus
concluding that from a lateral perspective
only the holistic test–retest reliability
DISCUSSION should be measured.
The branding constellations in this Most brand experts were rather aston-
presented explorative case study were ished about the emotions they experi-
evaluated as content valid by the marketing enced as stand-ins and the big emotional
director and the present brand experts, effects of small changes in the positions
meaning that they evoked actionable and of other stand-ins. In line with this, many

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thought that a certain degree of emotional branders who were less positive often
intelligence is essential to function well as seemed to have done a branding constel-
stand-in. Furthermore, they associated the lation partly as favour to a colleague.
constellation with projective techniques The ecological validity95 of the findings
and referred to the controversial reputa- was high as the brand-expert-setting
tion concerning its reliability.45,92,93 They generated similar findings on content
argued that the branders’ interpretations validity and test–retest reliability as the
should be leading in the research project alternative brander-, other-analyst- and
rather than the opinions of the systems brand-lay-setting. The facts that seven
analysts, the researcher or the brand branders spontaneously applied twice,
experts, as subjectivity of the interpreta- eight out of the 18 observing November
tion is what makes using projective tech- 2002 experts joined another conference,
niques unreliable.The high inter-subjective and five others have developed into key-
brand expert agreement on the interpre- informants in the research project, are
tation of the branding constellation in the behavioural indicators of the experienced
explorative case study was opposite to the value.
expectations of most brand experts. In The presented findings are also in line
addition, many referred to the frequently with the findings on the explorative PhD
reported ‘lack of repeatability’ criticism on systems constellation studies referred to at
the SSM and action research, and hence the end of the systems constellation origin
their deficiency of rigour.94 Remarkably, section. There is, however, one big theo-
the common argument against test–retest retical difference. Systems constellation
reliability measurement—that the percep- literature generally presumes that it does
tion is changed by content valid problem not make a difference that person problem
identification techniques—did not fit the owners choose as stand-ins.This presump-
presented case study as the trigger was the tion was considered theoretically nonvalid
same in both branding constellations: the by the present brand experts. Instead, the
relationship between franchiser and fran- brand experts thought the choice and
chisees. The argument that ‘a new kid in positioning of stand-ins as fitting projec-
the block’ changes the configuration and tion theory well, regardless of their
thus the identity of the brand elements opinion on the usefulness of projection
might, however, be valid and burdens the techniques.
test–retest reliability measurement. The practical acceptance of branding
The findings on the presented case constellations will probably take time as
study are similar to the ones found in the today most companies and academics pay
31 other case studies. All 32 branders little attention to the subjective percep-
thought of the branding constellation as tions of branders and preach analytical
content valid, although some more than (vertical, positivist) reliability. The constel-
others. The very positive branders could lation perspective requires branders and
be portrayed as extravert, prepared to look researchers to give up the ‘illusion’ of full
at the larger picture—which is often control. Problems that in ‘regular’ market
messy and complex—and in particular at research would be viewed as ‘independent
their own role within the branding system. and separate’ need to be seen from the
Last but not the least, they were more constellation perspective as‘inter-dependent
open to being involved with processes and connected’. It seems, however, that
they could not fully understand. The more and more branders are open to this

© 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008 249

kind of approach. Constellations seem to generate more scientific insights about

fit the action-oriented type of manager branders’ minds on messy branding prob-
who experiences high ambiguity and is lems.11,95,102 For instance, the branding
used to reducing it by taking action constellation research project clarifies the
to see what works. In addition, it is role of the brander as a spider—or fly—in
generally acknowledged within—posi- an internal and external web.103,104 As the
tivist—marketing science that branders’ frontiers of scientific knowledge are found
perceptions can be a valuable source for especially at the intersections between
improving opportunity identification.96–99 fields48,105 connecting the branding con-
Moreover, projection techniques for stud- stellation to scientific know-how on, for
ying consumers’ nonconscious percep- instance brain theory, brainstorming, cogni-
tions are common practice in qualitative tive mapping, embodied metaphors,
marketing research47 and recent neuro- emotional intelligence, lateral thinking,
scientific studies have offered this projection techniques and quantum thinking
practice a sound theoretical founda- may broaden its theoretical validity.106,107
tion.13,47,97,100,101 To conclude, given the challenges and
A follow-up study within the positivist opportunities affecting brand manage-
paradigm should focus on the reliability of ment,104,108 it seems worthwhile for
the branding constellation by systematically academics and brand-supportive companies
comparing independently perfor med to explore the usefulness of systems constel-
constellations by different members of lations to identify branding opportunities
brand teams on the generated insights, their from a positivist perspective as well as from
intuitive truth and their actionability. In a phenomenological point of view.
addition, the constellation findings ought
to be contrasted with the findings of References and Notes
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© 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008 251

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Journal of Brand Management, Vol. 13, No. 1, 2002 the franchisees acquired 90 per cent
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line were set up: Prue, Diana and Conny.
Figure 2 shows the current June 2002
APPENDIX A franchise situation as presented by the
projection constellation.
Franchise constellation brand-lay- The stand-ins for Prue and Diana were
setting June 2002 acceptable to the other stand-ins, while
The company of the European marketing the stand-in of Conny was not. Especially,
director of the leading global franchise the stand-in of Prue is appreciated by the
brand originates from a Dutch local other stand-ins. Note that the marketing
retailer, which in the 1980s developed director is more able to see the facial reac-
into a franchise company. In the 1990s, it tions of the stand-ins of the franchiser, the
became part of the world’s largest inter- franchisees, the original owner and Diana
national chain of global franchise services than those of the others from the position
within its market. The Dutch company he has taken during the constellation.
then successfully moved from the Next, the stand-ins of the three strap-line
consumers to the business market and in elements were replaced by one stand-in

254 © 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008

O Co B : Brander (as person who observes)

Constellated branding elements:

S : SME customers
Pr C : Corporate customers
P : Problem owner (franchiser, including
B S c marketing director)
F : Franchisees
N : Brand name
Pr : Prue (coded 1st strap-line word)
Di Co : Conny (coded 2nd strap-line word)
Di : Diana (coded 3rd strap-line word)
F O : Original owner
Female, faced to the right

P Male, faced to the right

Figure 2 Franchise projection constellation in brand-lay-setting June 2002

of a new strap-line, coded as Deborah and 2002 branding constellation dialogue

positioned on the place of Diana’s stand- as follows: ‘Currently the question arises
in. She did not feel quite accepted, which whether our company name helps or is
was confirmed by the other stand-ins.The holding back our business. The Dutch
stand-in franchisees now needed support are very familiar with our name but
from the stand-in of the franchiser and according to our franchisees it is associ-
asked him to stand next to him. This ated with only one activity rather than
improved the situation to all stand-ins. the total product portfolio. In my opinion,
Figure 3 presents the June 2002 franchise it is not the name that matters here, but
vision constellation, showing the solution more the company’s charisma and
direction the June 2002 branding constel- the selling story’. He set up stand-ins
lation offers the marketing director. for the brand name, the service offering,
The branding constellation generated the customers, the franchisees and
many insights, which were hard to verbalise the franchiser. Figure 4 presents the
all according to the marketing director. His current November 2002 franchise problem
main actionable insight was it showed him situation as shown in the marketing direc-
that first of all the interaction with the tor’s November 2002 projection constel-
franchisees, however, needed improvement. lation.
In addition, he concluded that changing The position the marketing director has
one of the strap-line elements might taken showed that he was implicitly more
support this improvement. focussed on the reactions of the fran-
chisees and the name than those of the
others. The stand-in franchiser felt he was
APPENDIX B in control. The customer stand-in felt
unhappy and was allowed by the systems
Franchise constellation brand- analyst to move backwards. This brought
expert-setting Nov. 2002 commotion to the other stand-ins,
The franchise marketing director expressed including an argument between the fran-
his perceived problem in the November chiser and franchisees stand-ins who was

© 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008 255

O B : Brander (as person who observes)

Constellated branding elements:

S : SME customers
C : Corporate customers
P : Problem owner (franchiser, including
marketing director)
B S C F : Franchisees
N : Brand name
D : Deborah (coded new strap-line)
O : Original owner
Female, faced to the right
Male, faced to the right

Figure 3 Franchise vision constellation in brand-lay-setting June 2002

B : Brander (as person who observes)
Constellated branding elements:
C C : Customers
P : Problem owner (franchiser, including
marketing director)
F : Franchisees
P N : Brand name
S : Service offering
S F Female, faced to the right

Male, faced to the right

Figure 4 Franchise projection constellation in brand-expert-setting November 2002

to blame for this distancing. When the systems analyst turned him around, which
brand name stand-in was placed next to made the customer and the franchisees
customer stand-in, they felt better. It did stand-ins more relaxed. They formed a
not, however, solve the conflict between harmonic, energising circle together with
the franchiser and the franchisees, which the stand-ins for the brand name and the
made the marketing director change posi- service offering. There was even space for
tion to be more able to see the facial reac- stand-ins representing alternative services.
tions of the stand-ins of the franchiser. This franchise vision constellation is
The stand-in of the franchisees faulted the presented in Figure 5.
franchiser stand-in for not really seeing The main insight reported by the
what was needed, while the franchiser marketing director was that it again
stand-in charged the franchisees stand-in showed him that the interaction with the
for being reactive. Replacing the stand-in franchisees needed further improvement.
of the current name by a stand-in for an In addition, he concluded that the brand
alternative brand name only made the name discussion was a nonissue and he
situation worse. When the franchiser should stop wasting research money on
stand-in wanted to take control, the this nonissue.

256 © 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008

B : Brander (as person who observes)
A Constellated branding elements:
C C : Customers
S P : Problem owner (franchiser, including
B marketing director)
F : Franchisees
N : Brand name
S : Service offering
A : Alternative services 1 and 2
Female, faced to the right
Male, faced to the right

Figure 5 Franchise vision constellation in brand-expert-setting November 2002

Figure 5 shows a completely different is out of play. Thus, opposite to the

vision constellation in the brand-expert- June 2002 constellation on the franchise
setting of November 2002 than Figure 3 brand strap-line and most other branding
showed in the brand-lay-setting of June constellations, the systems analyst was not
2002. The November 2002 franchise able to reach a real-vision constellation in
‘vision constellation’ is rather astonishing the November 2002 constellation on the
as it is a situation in which the franchiser franchise brand name.

© 2008 PALGRAVE MACMILLAN LTD 1350-23IX $30.00 BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. 15, NO. 4, 239–257 MARCH 2008 257
Reproduced with permission of the copyright owner. Further reproduction prohibited without permission.