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EJM 40,7/8

Strong brands and corporate brands
Mark J. Kay
Montclair State University, Montclair, New Jersey, USA
Abstract
Purpose – This paper aims to review the development of branding theory, particularly from the organizational context of building an effective corporate brand. Design/methodology/approach – This paper examines the literature on “strong brands” and the experience of several established brands. Findings – The study finds that no coherent theory defines brand management tasks. Instead, paradigmatic cases of successful brands have come to define branding processes – the logic of the “strong brand” has shaped management branding practices. “Difference” and “consistency” are identified as the primary means of bringing about strong brands, yet these can be difficult to apply, particularly to corporate brands. Originality/value – A new perspective of the social co-production of brands as meaningful representations, each with its own logic, is proposed as a managerially useful framework to research and frame brand development tasks. Given the development of anti-branding attacks, managers need to pay close attention to the new risks of managing corporate brands, and how they tie brands to their corporate social responsibility practices. Keywords Brands, Corporate branding, Brand management Paper type Conceptual paper

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Received October 2004 Revised March 2005 Accepted December 2005

European Journal of Marketing Vol. 40 No. 7/8, 2006 pp. 742-760 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited 0309-0566 DOI 10.1108/03090560610669973

Introduction Recent studies in the marketing literature make it appear that managers are singularly focused on the goal to build “strong” brands (Aaker, 1996; Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000; Keller, 1998). The attention to branding is warranted since, to some extent, branding activities bridge most, if not all, of the important decisions that a marketing manager can face. Having a notably “strong” brand is a considerable managerial resource – it can help establish distribution networks, enable brand extensions to aid customer acceptance of new products, and strengthen pricing flexibility. Brand “strength” certainly impresses. In the Business Week list of the top brands, for instance, the Coke brand is worth a value of about $70 billion. In this context, brand-building tasks appear to be an important priority. Managers who manage “lesser” brands may be wondering about the effectiveness of their branding activities or reconsidering their management goals and priorities. While the consensus is that every organization needs to develop strong brands as an essential part of their business strategy, the precise means for bringing this about are fraught with both conceptual ambiguities (many of these are noted by Balmer (2001)) and practical difficulties. The branding literature seems to suggest that developing strong brands is a worthy independent marketing goal, autonomous from others concerns of the organisation. But what is a “strong brand” and when is a brand “strong”? How does building “strong” brands relate to what has traditionally thought

Branding is not rooted in theory. their stories (Aaker. 1996). or other representations. Strong brands have come to define the field of branding. Corporations may have stories. in the strict sense. in effect.to be the central marketing concerns. and its relationship to product or service names can be critical component of brand communication strategies. The function of a brand is to create meaning. and the brand is not the same as the corporation that created it. to build long term value and profitability by satisfying customers? Additional issues and concerns have also recently surfaced. brands are used to explain why products and services have meaning for consumers. clearly differs from corporations as representations. allegories. and this is where the problems arise – different strong brands suggest different courses of action. namely defining what opportunities “corporate brands” offer. Yet it is not clear how corporate brands can be effectively developed or how they can be used. As associative representations. Reasoning about brand management is largely shaped by paradigmatic examples. the brand. In this sense. Anecdotal discussions of strong and powerful brands dominate the marketing literature. the story is used to explain how brands hold power or strength by creating associated meanings in the minds of consumers. The brand as a logical structure What is a strong brand? The prominent scholar of the brand. Strong brands and corporate brands 743 . Saturn. Neither are specific brand management tasks and processes described. Being names that are associated with experiences. Management principles to managing brands in the marketing literature are primarily based on analogies to strong brands. Yet the brand is not the same as a story or narrative. The role of the company name. Instead. there have been innumerable cases of “new and improved” revisions of product ingredients. as a type of logical structure or representation. Since brand strength is a matter of consumer perception. and there are myriad ways of making meaning “happen”. Instead. For example. answers this question by telling the “story” of the brand. brands can be considered logical structures that are akin to metaphors. paradigmatic examples or strong brand cases illustrate what “happens” to a brand and how it is formed. but not in terms of a specific theory that defines the brand as an entity. but the branding literature provides elusive advice to managers. The “case” for each brand and its power is described. The branding process. Nike – each are described in terms of their particulars. Kodak. Broadly stated. The evidence for the strength or power of the brand is made by the success story of the brand. the branding literature has been built in a manner that may be more akin to mythology than to science. namely. Brands are best understood in terms of a particular “logical structure” that channels consumer perceptions. While Coke had problems changing it formula. the brand’s “strength. David Aaker. different brand management principles. in the forms that they are portrayed and represented to consumers. but these stories do not necessarily create strong corporate brands. Coke tried to change its formula – that case and its aftermath singularly influenced how managers think about brands. Moreover. it can be said that corporations. branding appears to have rules.” is built on a definite “logic” for each brand.

While Coke is a long established brand. 2000. Although corporate names can certainly be easily applied to the branding of a corporation’s products and services. Furthermore. The branding literature suggests that more advertising does not always or necessarily strengthen a brand. Branding requires extensive analysis of market positioning. How to build a strong brand? If building a strong brand is a management priority. However. yet both the methods of analysis and the rules to follow in making branding decisions can be daunting tasks for managers. there could are also considerable risks in doing this. associated with inferior products and services. is to . its brand need to be “designed” – both literally as a design. but also as a symbol having memorable associations and “strong” meanings. The contingencies or alternative paths to consider in building strong brands need to be better explored. but also by distinguishing the offer from other similar products or services within an established category. The problem is that brands appear to change and develop their “power” in several different ways. or in cases where behaviors associated with products and services are thought to be in a state of change. even though both are strong brands in the beverage category. As brands are studied and brand stories proliferate. This is particularly evident in the branding literature in discussions of differentiation.EJM 40. the marketing literature on branding has raised some important new directions as to how companies can acquire brand strength. Effective branding is frequently conceived or categorized in many marketing textbooks (e. the rules behind branding decisions that have emerged can appear inconsistent or even contradictory. particularly brands that are badly positioned. and these fit within different managerial and decision frameworks. Branding is about being different. Instead. While there may be efficiencies in using the corporate name to brand a variety of products. Branding logic appears to vary for each individual brand. Kotler. Starbucks emerged only recently. brands connected to corporate names may have increased liability should negative press occur.7/8 744 seldom capture the imagination or create an immediate or meaningful connection. Perreault and McCarthy. corporate names seldom provide satisfactory solutions to the goal of communicating an effective or meaningful message about the brand. then how is this best accomplished? Developing the strength of a brand is not deemed to be easy according to Aaker (1996). There is no single approach to developing a strong brand. When products or services are initiated and introduced. with a different logic as a retailer and beverage product. Coke’s brand power is different from Starbucks. or what can be called one of the “primary logics” of branding.g. scandals such as Enron popularly suggest to the public that corporations are managed by greedy executives. The goal. branding appears to be a necessary means of building sales by identifying products and services. Rules for branding decisions have emerged from the study of the varying “logics” that create strong brands. 2003) under the rubric of a “product decision” within the marketing mix framework. Branding is the initial means to build consumer awareness by naming the offer. The logic of difference Conceptually.

Product-performance and service levels in many industries are converging. and this makes promotional tasks more difficult. they suggest that being different.. branding decisions have certainly been effectively applied to products and services for many decades. Clancy and Trout (2002) reported that brands are becoming less distinct in 40 of the 46 categories that they studied.distinguish or differentiate a product or service within its category.” in both the company and the product. it appears that strong brands are in decline in some categories. Keller et al. As the number of brands in a product category increases. particularly as the number of brands increase and promotional expenditures competitively rise. was thought to be enough of a message to communicate. many brand managers will certainly settle for this. it does not logically follow that brands are losing their meaning. Being different is inadequate if that difference is not a meaningful one. Brands are increasing in number – particularly in packaged goods categories. In fact. Brand strength is inferred from the brand’s success. the “difference” involved something other than its connection to its corporate name. and he considers this to be a problem. when brands are perceived as different. does not create a strong brand. Brands are losing their distinctiveness as brands proliferate (Aufeiter et al. it is nevertheless an important consideration. Moreover. as well as points of difference. If differentiation is not necessarily the primary goal. making it more difficult to sustain meaningful brands distinctions.” Simply a “difference. 2003). Brands now increasingly compete for attention. effectively communicating meaningful differences becomes harder in increasingly crowded markets. have quite a profound strategic impact – they make customers loyal and less price-sensitive. For example. The increasing number of brands in a category may minimally be an acceptable indirect indicator of decreases in the perceived strength of brands. By this analysis. differentiation should not be the only goal. yet there are different views concerning how managers can effectively differentiate their brands. By these measures. Yet the discussion of strong brands in the marketing literature augurs something better. in itself. Within this “product decision” framework. a different kind of car. firms avoid direct or “head to head” competition. Being perceived as different is usually an important initial goal. For example in a recent article. The prevalence of weak brands in a product category may make it easier for new brands to enter and steal market share. While it may not be “enough” to have a brand that is distinctive. The goal of developing strong brands compels managers to hold greater ambitions for their Strong brands and corporate brands 745 . In the case of Saturn. Saturn carefully avoided communicating associations with the corporate GM brand. the issue is illusive in the brand management literature since brand strength is not directly measured. or even if being distinctive is enough. Clancy (2001) notes that positioning may be disappearing among brand managers. Being different seems critical. however. Strong brands. While the strongest brands are often considered unique in their product or service category. General Motors introduced Saturn under the slogan “a different kind of company. If difference is important. (2002) interestingly suggest that “points of parity” that are important to target groups need to be considered in managing a brand. moreover.

2002. 1999). but to create or develop what is broadly conceptualized as “brand meaning. Strong brands are not simply a central consumption object of a community of loyalists.. for example. or collected on products quite apart from their original contexts. The goal is to keep consumers actively engaged with the brand and to cultivate meaning. and within other popular cultural products. music. bought. Powerful brands are culturally significant. Holt (2004) goes so far to propose that these strong brands are akin to myths. As a consequence. The goal is no longer to simply one of creating differentiation. Brand meaning seems to cross social strata. arises from association to certain social groups that are highly loyal to the brand. and provoking considerable loyalty. brand strength is due to the meaning that the brand creates. Management practices in relation to this view of powerful brands have also changed.7/8 brands. To explain this impact. popular culture. Managing the meaning of the brand has been increasingly identified as a critical management task that is essential to a successful “strong brand” strategy.” By this reasoning. Brands that are characterized by widespread consumer awareness and positive associations affect their social contexts. Muniz and O’Guinn. for example the Harley Davidson motorcycle brand. Rather. Manifest demonstrations of loyalty to the Harley Davidson brand have been explored with ethnographic tools and documented with photographs (Yates. having considerable social impact. and cultural studies.EJM 40. Strong brands become cultural symbols that are also related to a consumer’s self-identity. Analyses of brand meaning in this cultural sense can be drawn from sources such as semiotics. Strong brands do not appear to be the result of extreme behavior or marginal social groups. The meaning of certain brands. they require analysis with a different type of logic. Harley Davidson motorcycles have to shown to generate meaning and can have strength in other socioeconomic and community contexts. Armani or Chanel logos are placed on t-shirts and sold at premium prices – these products “represent” fashion 746 . however. Since brands are part of the popular imagination. The marketing literature on branding has noted that brands can be powerful symbolic products. literary criticism. they need to be cultivated in movies. managing the brand by creating meaningful associations is the central task. sociology. For example. The logic of brand meaning The branding literature increasingly suggests that the strength of a brand is not due to the strength of creating a difference in customer perceptions. a logic that considers varying social and cultural contexts and the formation of “deep” or “rich” meanings. brands can attain “power” or “strength” by developing multiple social or community associations. brands have been conceptualized in terms of “customer-centric communities” (McAlexander et al. By this logic. examines the adoption of the Harley Davidson brand and its change of meaning within a gay community context. Kates (2004). Product placement within cultural products has certainly become an important strategy in managing certain brands – product placement is much more than an alternative to traditional media advertising. brand logos are sought out. 2001). powerfully interacting with identity formation.

and these can vary in different social and cultural contexts. Brands can make emotional connections to consumers. As new brand meanings develop. Increasingly. Yet it is interesting to note that this consistency is increasingly difficult to sustain. Brown et al. Strong brands and corporate brands 747 . gives credibility to this view. managers need to develop means to handle the problems of polysemy – the mixed or multiple meanings for brands. rather than being actual fashion merchandise products. Brands appeal differently among diverse social and cultural groups in a way that may not be consistent. The problem of consistency The branding literature suggests that managers should apply a logic of “consistency” to branding decisions.” These authors argue that “social and cultural forces animate brand meanings” and these are “considerably more complex than prior conceptualizations suggest. marketing scholars speculate that brands management decisions must necessarily be constituted on a different basis. Similarly. particularly by managers of global brands. p. Strong brand responses and new marketing issues The “brand community” approach to managing brands fits well with the new logic of marketing proposed by Vargo and Lusch (2004). To manage brands effectively. and the profound negative reactions that resulted from this effort. Branding is increasingly tied to interactive and reciprocal processes. Certainly “power” brands have to be managed with extraordinary care. Disney logos and characters appear on products and to enhance services. (2003. With brands that cut across national boundaries. consistency of brand meaning across cultures becomes highly complicated. For example. putting organizations in a dilemma. The attempt by managers at Coke to alter their formula in the 1980s. managers face the problem of managing meanings across cultures that interpret brand messages differently. Brand managers have the difficult task of positioning brand images in a manner that is consistent with consumer perceptions and interpretations of their meaning. managers can lose touch with consumers. Organizations may lose control of brand identities. brand meanings are reinterpreted and change. Managers need to carefully consider the customer and other stakeholder meanings associated with their branding efforts to make appropriate marketing decisions. Managers have to cope with the development of “local” meanings that may diverge from those in the originating market. the marketing literature suggests that brands are social or cultural “property” (rather than company property) to the extent that consumers incorporate elements of “brand meaning” into their lives. making decisions about the brand rather complex.” Brands are more like discussions than they are like monologues. As brands have been recognized as vehicles that acquire a rich set of cultural meanings. Consumers may derive different meaning from brands that those intended in the home market.as brand names. When brands are introduced to new cultural contexts. Kates and Goh (2003) propose the intriguing concept of “brand morphing” to understand how managers encourage cultural meanings to develop in local community contexts. In short. quite apart from Disney’s target market in children’s toys or entertainment categories. 31) say that “Brand meanings must be managed as community brands. Yet as brands morph.

may not be typical response to a branded product or service.7/8 748 managers have to monitor the response of consumers to their branding activities (McEnally and de Chernatony. managers need to find a consistent fit with all of the business decisions that could potentially affect consumer-initiated brand meaning. Moreover. McClure et al.EJM 40. Brand meaning cannot be studied by neurological indicators alone. may not capture some of the important dimensions that managers may seek in creating strong brands. Consumers react differently to consumption of the product when they had knowledge of the brand. This represents a “new logic” in that branding decisions are constituted as much more complicated – branding is culturally connected and socially significant. Brain imaging found substantial difference in neurological response between products that were branded. Brands have value by connecting to meanings important to consumers. Strong brands have considerably more “power” to consumers than their ability to distinguish an offer from those of competitors – they show additional effects as well. Clearly there is a different type or category of response to branding to consider here. and these values are interpreted and redefined by customers. in comparison to similar consumption experiences in which consumers were unaware of the brand. Understanding the responses to strong brands involves something more than understanding the promotional decisions affecting the brand or the development of an advertising campaign. The power and effects of brands to influence consumption experiences requires further research focus. the meanings and associations that consumers connect to the cola beverages. namely branding as an experience enhancement. . Recent neurological studies of brands. The community context is now recognized as important. in fact. Every brand exists by virtue of a continuous process whereby managers specify core values. including recognition or advertising recall. 1999). Within this perspective. offer important new evidence of the power of brands. The neurological evidence suggests that strong brands can engender a complex cognitive response. namely Coke and Pepsi. brain scans revealed that neurological responses differed significantly. managers need to take a different view of their promotional activities and their efforts to promote the brand. offer a means to define strong brands. These complex responses are not likely to be the result of the a few promotional activities. These complex responses may. For example. and brand managers need to recognize that they face new challenges. The social and cultural prevalence of these products makes them atypical. 2003). Strong brands have a curious quality. Pepsi and Coke. (2004) found that when consumers are aware of a brand during a consumption experience of a cola. One can conclude from these studies that brand knowledge can affect more than product preferences or product choice alone. and consider them co-creators or co-producers of the brand. Strong brands need to be better defined – they are clearly related to more than quick recognition. Existing measures of branding derived from traditional tests of advertising copy or other promotions. Strong brands are different in that they shape consumption experiences. increasingly referred to in the business press as “neuromarketing” studies (Thompson. Brand knowledge affects the consumption experience itself.

The view of branding as providing a type of management “service” to the consumer that adds value is consistent with that view. especially important in mergers and acquisitions. Brand equity has considerable relevance to financial managers. companies have sought out brands to buy for attractive managerial opportunities that they offer. but managers may perceive and react to these opportunities differently. The brand had a managerial value in that it offered an opportunity for brand extensions in the broader category of grooming products. For example. especially the value that brands hold in being able to increase demand. Moreover. Especially relevant in the branding context is their view that marketing is focused on intangible resources. This shift in logic to intangibles such as the brand has important implications for marketing. and relationships. In fact. The immediate practical value of the Old Spice brand acquisition was that it offered P&G a quick presence in a new product category. Determining the dollar value of a brand is not likely to become an exact science given that opportunities in managing brands are interpreted quite differently. As brands have been recognized for their economic value. Brands offer managers opportunities. especially with respect to branding practices. In addition. Vargo and Lusch (2004) argue that new perspectives within the marketing discipline have emerged that have a changed and revised the logic of managers. this necessitated that P&G reposition the brand to appeal to a younger market. however. the measurement of these assets has eluded accountants and financial analysts attempting to set specific values for brands. Brand equity and the logic of leverage Aaker (1993) is best known as developing a perspective on branding that centered on understanding how to develop the “equity” of the brand as a useful managerial tool. and the brand was thought to be in decline. Customers consisted mostly of elderly men. Some brands are thought to be attractive due to their potential uses other than simply providing a recognized name. Proctor and Gamble (P&G) acquired the Old Spice fragrance brand in the 1990. in fact. Strong brands are considered attractive since they offer the ability to be “leveraged” or extended to other logical domains. effective brand management depends upon innovation. This compelled rather costly promotional programs. and this value can be construed as a type of social value that can be difficult to assess strictly in financial terms. but. Old Spice provided certain opportunities for brand leverage. brands are fundamentally intangible concepts. Old Spice had been advertised in previous years with television commercials with the somewhat rustic imagery of returning sailors. the co-creation of value. and hence represent a touchstone to this process view of the marketing discipline. intangibles such as the brand interact with other intangible elements – including managerial practices and corporate organization to name a few. Strong brands and corporate brands 749 .Intangibles As noted. namely men’s fragrances. Numerous extensions of the Old Spice brand name (as well as additional sub-brand names) were accomplished in the process. While it is widely accepted that intangible assets are the major drivers of corporate value and growth in many or even most economic sectors. Brands certainly constitute and create value to consumers. Brand equity values vary according to opportunities and risks that are perceived and understood by managers.

Assessments of brands through the equity approach stress value that accrues as a result of consistent marketing investment in the brand. however. 2003). however. 2003). Decisions about using the Old Spice brand must be put in another context. Old Spice products reached sales of $86 million in the deodorant category. Was the Old Spice brand acquisition a successful strategy? Since the Old Spice brand required considerable advertising expenses. Some companies may have developed a portfolio of brands acquired through mergers or acquisitions. some brands are associated with non-profit organizations – it may be questionable to measure their value solely in financial terms. and the potential that brands offer to managers in developing sales and profitability over time. yet all of these did not materialize – every extension of the Old Spice name to a product was not successful. be very profitable. relies upon and requires considerable managerial judgment as a basis for decisions. such as body wash. particularly in deodorants – growing faster than the category and thus stealing share from competitors. Vishwanath and Mark (1997) suggest that many brands may not. 1999) to build their equity. Other products. utilizing analogies from finance. certainly managers expected an immediate payoff in terms of sales to justify these costs. The Old Spice brand did. The concept of brand equity. for example. Old Spice Cool Contact wipes. the Old Spice High Endurance deodorant was introduced. help P&G increase sales. When sales and profits only accrue over long time periods. Managers “leveraged” the Old Spice name in sense that the brand was used as a means to affect men’s grooming behavior. Brand leverage should not simply be conceived as an efficient means of establishing a name on a product that customers can easily recognize or recall. Promotions were not supported by rather meager sales results for the category (Bittar. The goal was to advance the adoption of products such as body wash and . particularly given that profits have declined at P&G for several years. a portfolio of brands is managed for the “long run” (Keller. The Old Spice brand offered a type of “leverage” different from that of simply extending the brand name to other products. One needs to note that the Old Spice brand may have offered P&G some opportunities. Aaker proposes several factors that relate to valuations of brand equity. yet many brands frequently do not deliver any measurable added financial value. and thus form a solid basis for many marketing decisions. P&G research into behavior in the men’s grooming category suggested that men’s grooming behavior could be aided by certain products. From this perspective. outcomes depend critically upon management actions. in fact.EJM 40. but these may be not sufficiently specific and measurable to offer a concise financial evaluation tool or guide management actions. They may not provide a good means to assess how a brand is able to increase demand. for example. brand strategies can be difficult to assess. The equity brand logic. not simply the brand name. While equity brand management approaches are directed toward understanding how brand value accrues over time and can increase company profitability. stresses the ability to “leverage” the brand to other products. Moreover. The importance of brand management issues can be questioned. failed miserably.7/8 750 In 1993. also took on the Old Spice name. a number two rank by 2003 (Bittar. in fact. while important.

quality. and familiarity. p. In this context.facial wipes. Meaningful differences between brands. Brands have meanings that can be “leveraged” in the support of product and service offerings. including the issue of brand equity (Hoeffler and Keller. Factors such as loyalty may be said to constitute all the favorable or desired attributes that result from having a powerful brand. They indicate that direct effects are thought to directly relate to choice. They note that strong brands can be powerful in specific situations. Keller (1998) developed a definition of branding as having a “differential impact” on marketing decisions. provide a means to evoke or suggest particular behaviors. Keller (1998) defines a “customer-based” approach to branding. Keller (1999. loyalty. They note that differential responses are not found for strong brands in certain instances. However. particularly during times when consumers face uncertainty in choice. and their propositions as to the psychological basis of strong branding. new and less familiar brands may be able to achieve better incremental advantages by being able to be better defined. Brands. while indirect effects can affect confidence or have other effects. are thought to relate to a broad multi-dimensional construct that they define as “consumer knowledge” of the brand. but the way that “customer knowledge” is summarized and defined by Hoeffler and Keller (2003) within these studies is extremely broad. and the brand was a means to “represent” these behaviors as consistent with the imagery of the now “sporty” Old Spice brand. while they note that the evidence suggests that numerous advantages accrue to strong brands. brand knowledge affects consumer response to multiple marketing variables. In this framework. and suggest that these effects may account for some of the power of strong brands. 2003). how managers develop these factors by their decisions. this logic is indeterminate. a strong brand defined by “customer knowledge” is a tautology or a truism. Hoeffler and Keller (2003) summarize the advantages specifically that “strong brands” offer to managers. Strong brands offer advantages to managers. such as when consumers are young or if consumers are unfamiliar with the product category. brand meanings need to be supported over time with similar or “reinforcing” messages. Branding as differential impact Building upon the equity approach of Aaker. Perhaps more valuable to analyzing the branding process is Hoeffler and Keller’s (2003) categorization of branding activities as having both direct and indirect effects. The logic of consistency These approaches to developing strong brands tend to follow logics of “consistency” that were noted above to be problematic. The brand provided a representational framework to affect behavior. Within this logic. Interestingly. Brands are also powerful when consumers are making an initial choice. They connect strong brands to learning and attention effects. as meaningful representations. “Customer knowledge” of a brand is cited as being measurable by such variables as market share. The issue is how brands acquire these favorable attributes. 107) writes Strong brands and corporate brands 751 . For example. they suggest that less powerful brands may have certain small advantages in certain markets as well.

It is clear that strong brands may certainly fail. how did these coffee brands lose their equity or diminish in strength? Did consumers change perception of the ground coffee brands or change perceptions of the coffee category? Could P&G managers at Folgers revive the status of the brand as the company had accomplished with the Old Spice brand? Brown et al. The questions of the appropriate management response by the ground coffee brands. Keller (1999) notes that the choices are either to recapture lost sources of brand equity. such as Maxwell House and Folgers. p. however. and ice cream products. emerged in the coffee category as a new type of retail service business. meaning was changed. General Motors retired the Oldsmobile brand name after attempts to revive the brand were unsuccessful. you either do the same thing or something different. The .” To develop brand equity and build positive associations.19). The success of Starbucks allowed it to establish its own premium product brand. given the longevity of these ground coffee brands. They offer a logic of retro branding in which revival of a brand depends depend upon consumers’ nostalgic leanings. Certainly managers at Folgers did not anticipate competition from Starbucks.EJM 40. 1997). One key problem in branding is how consistency fails. consistency may require reinforcement to revitalize a brand – yet the options for doing this are not entirely clear. the Frappuccino ready to drink bottled coffee product. Brands can represent and embody meaning. The brand equity approach is clearly relevant here. 2003). Arguably. They write that “marketers are in the midst of a ‘retro revolution’ in which revivals of old brands and their images are a powerful management option” (Brown et al. or to find new ones – this solution to a declining brand. Studies show that many brands that are not profitable are still maintained (Kumar. remained comparatively idle. Starbucks. Interestingly. Keller suggests that managers may be forced to “retire” a brand. The revival of “retro” brands does not mean that revival strategies can work in every instance. There may be new approaches that could be considered to handle these issues. brands that had consistently built their equity. to the Starbucks incursion into supermarkets – these questions are not easily answered. One wonders. the established product-centered brands in the ground coffee supermarket segment.7/8 752 that “brand tactics should only be changed when there is evidence that they are no longer making the desired contributions to maintaining or strengthening brand equity. and this can alter behaviors that affect other associated products. how consistently defined brands can lose their luster. for example. Certainly Starbucks changed perceptions of the “premium” value of the category. 2003. There is little consensus in the branding literature as to how to react to brand decline. The logic of consistency in branding appears to have certain limits. entering supermarkets with ground coffee. (2003) suggest that reviving brands is a viable strategy. One way this can happen is that a new brand can emerge that gradually overpowers or overshadows older ones. Starbucks altered expectations and perceptions of coffee consumption behavior. may be tautological. however. It is interesting to note that product-focused brand managers (such as Folgers) were challenged by an incursion from a service category (Starbucks).. and this was critical to profitability (see Vishwanath and Mark. however.

Although brands have a logic and a history that are rooted in their management.” However. employees. Corporate brands frequently have little impact on consumers and may not affect demand for product or service offerings. brands are not logically perceived to be the same as the companies that created them. at least to knowledgeable shareholders. Building a strong corporate brand is fundamentally different from building product or service brands. Corporate communications alone are not likely to create a strong brand in which brand meaning and brand community are cultivated. and other stakeholders. with a powerful portfolio of brands.logic of building brand equity through consistency and reinforcement of brand meaning appears to have its limits. Moreover. corporate brands. yet it is not a powerful corporate brand to its customers. Strong brands and corporate brands 753 . for example. The contingencies that delimit and define the application of strong branding logic to management tasks need to be better defined. it is easy to fall into a faulty and facile logic in which “everything affects the brand name. corporate brands are not necessarily the clear solution to many of these branding problems. as noted above. Certainly the “differential” impact of brands can also change due to marketing innovations from competitors. they form representations that channel perceptions. to some degree. valuation of the company may vary with brand equity valuations.” The initial problem is that corporate brands are often quite distinct from product brands. Corporate branding communications can be directed at shareholders. The view that brands have stable equity is certainly challenged by these examples. However. Corporate branding and corporate identity targets are distinct from product and service branding targets. However. namely the concern to brand products and services as they are associated to the originating corporations. This strategy responds to certain problems that face brand managers. New branding strategies have been proposed. it may be difficult for managers to follow the logic of consistency as brands change meanings in new social and cultural contexts. corporate brands can be managed. What are strong corporate brands? All company names are. P&G is a strong company. Managers need to change marketing considerations as customer behaviors change. this recommendation should really apply only to strong corporate brands. The so-called “differential impact” of brands on marketing decisions may change as perceptions of brands themselves change and brands morph. Companies like P&G offer many products that are not recognized by their consumers to be related to their organization. Yet these logics are subject to change as customers learn new behaviors by adopting new technologies or due to other innovations. but these brand associations are directed at different logical domains. P&G’s product brands may certainly affect the corporate brand. Corporate branding logic Strong brands create a logic. Certainly. namely adapting a mixed portfolio of brands (that may have been acquired through acquisitions or corporate restructuring) to an integrated advertising campaign. Aaker (2004) suggests that corporate brands can be “leveraged. similar to product brands.

These are prime example of companies that are have made meaningful corporate value connections with customers. are connected to people in the organization. Like other strong brands. In fact. Rather than run their businesses as competitive enterprises and simply give a share of their profits to charity or fund a charitable foundation. Several strong corporate brands have emerged in consumer markets. Strong corporate brands include socially responsible firms such as Patagonia. A distinctive technology or a particular aesthetic can motivate corporate brands as well. and were initially based in the values of their founders. initiating an effort to shift patterns of consumption in specific ways. These firms created strong brands by connecting their products to a distinct social corporate mission and values that appealed to certain customer segments. Companies cannot leverage their company name if corporate activities are not strongly associated with their products or services. What the corporation “stands for” or represents is clear. Their corporate values are credible. and The Body Shop. behaviors. and these provide examples of “strong brand” logic as the concept has been developed above.EJM 40. Each of the founders was clearly driven by values. Building strong corporate brands Strong corporate brands are possible only when firms tie their products or services to activities that create meaningful associations or representations of the firm. initiating programs to adopt socially responsible and sustainable practices. and symbols. and the lifestyles of their core consumers. the founders were clearly driven by values – they held strong beliefs about business and they each carefully crafted mission or values statements to communicate their specific goals. concerns. Unlike other small businesses. Representations of the company. however. they affected the expectations. even after the company was sold to Unilever and the founders left the firm. Moreover. Other corporate branding concerns In the above cases. their founders put forward a social mission and “political” agenda. Ben & Jerry’s remains a strong brand. These firms influenced consumers primarily by educating them. choices. committed to its social mission. its portrayal in it actions. Apple Computer promotes its particular type of technology that many people find inspiring. These firms started as niche businesses that appealed to a small segment of socially conscious customers with new types of products. strong corporate brands are defined by prominent organizational values and goals.7/8 754 The logic of building a strong brand is tied to developing meaning and through distinctive brand associations that customers recognize. Powerful corporate brands are defined by representative activities and associations that make their organizations visible and notable. Stonyfield Farms. As strong brands. Ben & Jerry’s. The rapid growth of these brands and related evidence of customer loyalty suggest that this type of corporate branding strategy can be highly effective. the focus on corporate responsibility concerns and other efforts can also effectively motivate employees. each held strong beliefs about business and they each carefully crafted mission or values statements to communicate their specific goals. . These strong corporate brands are clearly distinctive. few corporations embody such values.

and this is likely to cause dissonance. and are conceived to be multidisciplinary in scope (Balmer. Managers want to make appropriate corporate branding decisions. Many consumers see cause-related promotions as simple attempts to raise sales. while the product brand focuses on consumers (see Balmer. managers face similar problems and challenges as brand managers. Similarly. 2001). not attempts to make enduring social contributions. 2000). The issues can get confusing. As van Rekom (1997) notes. and enhancing the image of the target. involves similar issues of communicating a message. not an asset. Corporate brands need not be solely targeted at stakeholders.corporate brands can also be hard to keep consistent and focused. to build support for a company in times of controversy. but also have concerns to establish and develop corporate identities and enhance their corporate reputations. or otherwise view their promotion activities as self-serving sales pitches. as technology changes. and even oppose them. Corporate brands are not the same as corporate identities. rather than outward on the customer focus of branding. yet the target of identity building focuses inward. Greyser (1999) notes that executives in France and Germany put more emphasis than US executives on recognizing corporate social responsibilities and this can have an impact on managers’ preferences in doing business with another company. differentiating a product or service. Gioia et al. For example. The latter are shaped from a mix of professional sub-cultures. even as aesthetics change. consumers can have problems with corporate brands. brand meaning can become less distinct and less appealing. much as brands are conceived here by the new marketing model of Vargo and Lusch (2004). namely the problem of managing multiple meanings. Corporate brand values should be directed with a management focus related to a common corporate identity. de Chernatony. Thus. “corporate image” and “corporate reputation” while being distinct concepts. Many consumers have come to view companies as driven by solely by greed. there may be Strong brands and corporate brands 755 . (2000) argue that identities should be conceived as changing and relatively fluid. 2002). but an organization’s multiple identities nevertheless can be managed (Pratt and Foreman. Stakeholders may have different points of contact with the employees of an organization and this can raise branding problems. the management framework for building a corporate identity and strengthening the corporate brand may differ in terms of its particular management frame. 2001. like branding. The mix of brands and corporate identities may be in flux. While certain corporate branding activities may be relatively weak in affecting sales. In the quest to develop consistent corporate identities. Corporate representations tied to brands can become a liability. or to affect other aspects of corporate behavior. The concerns may vary: to enhance morale. Corporate branding has been identified as the way in which an organization communicates its identity. are easy to confound with branding issues. As their sponsorship or representation of the corporate “cause” changes. employees may dissociate themselves from corporate advertising campaigns. New corporate branding logics New concerns and management rationales have arisen that have altered the singular approach to developing a strong brand at the corporate level. Developing an identity. Corporate branding may operate in opposition to employee values and other stakeholder concerns.

” He concludes that “like cigarettes that are sold as symbols of vitality and youthful rebellion. In a similar fashion. Coping with this issue led McDonald’s to re-examine policies as to its treatment of animals. and these should support corporate branding. and to avoid continued negative publicity that could have powerfully affected its brand. editor of Adbusters magazine. no different from McDonald’s. problems may develop. He argues that pervasive mass advertising that promotes brands can drug the mind. Kalle Lasn. or General Motors. Anti-branding messages have a definite logic and powerfully appeal to consumers. for example. Lasn (1999) argues that the USA can be understood as a multi-trillion dollar brand. People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. As a consequence. If managers utilize strong brands to 756 . to craft powerful messages to appeal to their target viewers. MTV is quite proficient at this – they seek out “bleeding edge” youth groups. that reality is “clearly different from promoted brand images”.” This anti-branding message is itself a sophisticated branding tactic. In this context. as opposed to ordinary brands or “weak” brands. and compromise consumers’ means of envisioning the future (Lasn. promoting brands in educational materials in schools. McDonald’s changed its practices. be the result of widespread adoption of successful tactics that brand managers have employed. or anti-branding campaigns. both in reaction to legitimate consumer concerns.7/8 other important benefits in developing corporate identities and corporate brands. brands can also be targets of attack. becoming associated with “democracy” and “freedom. n. Marlboro. Strong brands and their consequences Strong brands powerfully affect consumer experiences. Management of brands has run into difficulty. the American reality is very different from its brand image. Some complain that brand presence is unwanted. 1999) Anti-branding logic The logic of anti-branding is that branding can confuse consumer values and identity concepts.EJM 40. consumer attack. to some degree.d. may be targets of anti-branding and other attacks. proposes that branding has some overwhelming negative aspects. Holt (2002) observes that it is strong brands that primarily come under attack. and this clearly raises new issues for which managers may be ill-prepared. based on ethnographic studies and other research efforts to understand teens. Problems with branding that have recently appeared may. Corporate identity should consistently relate to what is central to the organization.). Brands have become ubiquitous. If corporate brands are inconsistent with employee and other stakeholder values. This brand image is “sold” to consumers worldwide. in that strong brands have been subject to criticism. destroy the imagination. MTV harnesses negative messages to the benefit of promoting new and alternative brands to lead and promote new youth cultures (see PBS. Anti-branding tactics have clearly been a problem for managers. Strong brands. The incursion of commercial brands meanings to what many consider “sacred” spaces such as schools may provoke a backlash. for example McDonald’s had a “McCruelty” campaign waged against them by PETA.

or a sustainable environment. Corporate branding opportunities and alternatives One strategy to react to these anti-branding attacks is for firms to promote corporate brands through citizenship and responsibility programs. As concerns for environmental sustainability are getting better known. rather than adopt co-production strategies. however. Consumer researchers are just beginning to examine legitimacy concerns in connection with brands (Kates. Certain ethical issues are raised in these tactics. Conclusions and challenges for strong brands This paper has examined “strong brand” logic. Brand managers certainly try to form emotional connection to their brand.” He envisions a postmodern consumer culture in which brands are useful entities. He documents that marketers have been seen as manipulative since brand managers have gradually adopted a logic of using brands coercively as symbols. Holt (2002) develops a theory of consumer culture and branding that explains why current branding practices have provoked a vigorous anti-business response. namely through self-branded. Holt (2002) argues that the anti-branding movement has important implications for managers. Linking corporate responsibility to a brand may be the first step to building a strong corporate brand that is connected to consumer values. Strong corporate brands. Even weak corporate responsibility branding efforts may be in line with good citizenship and aid corporate identity and reputation. it should be noted that managers that follow branding practices. may be more credible. may still be perceived by customers as exploitive if the only motive is to increase corporate power and profit. it is “forcing companies to build lines of obligation that link brand and company. 2004). and the goal is to inspire authenticity. branding motives have come under attack on multiple fronts and for some quite legitimate reasons (Klein. As a caveat. without strict requirements for the bottom line. can get into serious trouble. The issues of leveraging a social cause to the service of a brand may call for some further reflection by executives. strong brands provide rather elusive advice to marketers. While the branding literature has built its logic through an examination of strong brand examples and has much to teach. better health. brands values may be at odds with consumers. corporations need to recognize that there are new goals that should be pursued simply for their own sake. which Holt describes along the lines of a “cultural engineering” metaphor. Hoeffler and Keller (2003) suggest three strategies to connect brands to social responsibility programs. however. may be better able to cope with anti-branding attacks. Examples of dominant and powerful Strong brands and corporate brands 757 . associated with specific values and corporate responsibility goals. and jointly branded programs. co-branded. based solely on the logic of strong brands. 2002).manipulate meanings. Yet programs of this kind may have to follow the branding logic of consistency to build brand equity and develop strength. Clearly. but using deeply felt emotional connections to causes – such as promoting social justice. Building better corporate brands through corporate responsibility programs. not coercive blueprints to be followed. Strong brand cases are drawn from multiple sources and industries and these may not have direct or explicit relevance to managers attempting to establish a brand.

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V.com/reprints . 3. He studied at the University of Chicago and received his PhD in Marketing from Baruch College. “Redeployment of brands. Journal of Marketing. 123-31. About the author Mark J. Little. Butterworth-Heinemann. and retail marketing strategies. Oxford. (1999). sales forces. M. Creating Powerful Brands. pp. 63 2. and Mark.com Or visit our web site for further details: www. and developed programs in the marketing of AIDS prevention. and Hulland. L.. (1995). he taught seminar programs on marketing and supply chain management in Central Europe. Mark J. Vol. CSR. Outlaw Machine: Harley-Davidson and the Search for the American Soul. “Managing legitimacy: strategic and institutional approaches”. His current research focuses on branding. (1999). July. L.edu 760 To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: reprints@emeraldinsight. 75 No. Yates. 571-609. USA.EJM 40. During the 1990s. Kay is an Associate Professor in the Marketing Department at Montclair State University in New Jersey. “Your brand’s best strategy”. 3rd ed. Vol. pp. Kay can be contacted at: kaym@mail. (1997). pp. The Academy of Management Review.montclair.emeraldinsight. (2003). Brown. Vol. Further reading Capron. M. J. New York. CUNY. de Chernatony. Harvard Business Review. J. 20 3.7/8 Vishwanath. April. B. and McDonald. and general marketing management expertise following horizontal acquisitions: a resource-based view”. 41-53. Suchman. NY.