Brands and Brand Management: Conclusions on learning, planning and capabilities (2.6)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here. The previous part introduces a systems theory view of brand management.

The preceding review of brand management literature and theory leads to a range of conclusions about the context of brand management – and thus sets the stage for an analysis evolving role of creativity within the field. 

2.6.1 More, Not Less Learning 

First of all, the constructivist and systems theory based concepts introduced before should not be read as an argument for discarding analysis, strategy or marketing science. 

Complexity is no excuse for abandoning thinking. On the contrary, this perspective argues for more and a higher level of reflection, learning and theoretical abstraction about “causes of causes” (Shocker et al. 1994, p.149) regarding brands and organisations.

This can mean ‘hard’ science and generalizable laws such as double jeopardy (Sharp 2010b) or network science (Watts 2004) as well as ‘soft’ learning on an organisational level. Locating the brand and its management at the heart of organisations (Tropp 2004, p.193), this perspective joins a long tradition of brand management thinking that argues for putting the brand and learning about it at the very centre and top of the firm (Lannon & Baskin 2008). 

2.6.2 A Realistic View – Planning The Un-plannable 

Views of how consumers can be made to choose or adopt a brand have at times been oversimplified. Economists from Galbraith (1958) downwards – and indeed many marketing people—seem to have long believed that marketing or advertising can simply manipulate or persuade the consumer. Pyramidal equity models have replaced hierarchical-effects models like AIDA, Econometricians have sought to determine “drivers” of consumer choice by marketing-mix decision-models (e.g. Leeflang et al. 2000; Ehrenberg et al. 2001), but no clear empirical results in all this have yet emerged.”

(Ehrenberg et al. 2002, p.12) 

In addition, this perspective does take on a more realistic view of the control brand management can have on complex adaptive systems, with the core acknowledgment being that brand management is dealing with the paradox of planning the un-plannable and coping with what Earls called the “certainty of uncertainty” (Earls 2003, p.333).

A systems- and complexity- based model works under the premise that it is not possible to validate future developments using inductive or deductive reasoning. 

“If it is difficult to predict the effect of any activity on groups of individuals, then how much more so if the issue is the effect on the interacting individuals who make up a herd.”

(Earls 2003, p.329)

Therefore, it becomes an essential function for brand management to process environmental complexity by seeing the environment differently (Shocker et al. 1994, p.149). As introduced with the terms variety and redundancy, brand management should be expanding and narrowing down on divergent courses of action that are contingent, meaning that they might all valid.

This has implications both internally, where brand management becomes the function that produces the external context which is then seen and processed by the rest of the organisation as the environment, and externally where there might be more than strategy in action. 

As Watts and Hasker [.] suggest, place lots of bets to give yourself the best chance of starting a full forest fire – start lots of fires in lots of promising places. This challenges not only marketing practice, but our very idea of what strategy is. There is no longer one grand unified strategy, but lots of related strategies, one of which we hope takes off.

(Bentley & Earls 2008, p.22) 

The systems theory based model as introduced by Tropp neither spares a company the linear steps of strategic planning nor does it promise to successfully remove complexity (Tropp 2004, p.176) – this is not possible – it merely tries to bring learning and reflection about brand management and the environment it operates in to a higher level. 

2.6.3 Brand Management As An Organisational Capability 

Last but not least, this perspective argues for seeing brand management as a central organisational competence (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.850) and for making the actual organisational process of brand management as it is happening in the field the object of reflection for the academic discipline of brand management: 

Research on branding tends to focus on brands as assets as opposed to brand management as an organizational capability. Present knowledge about how companies de facto enact brand management processes remains limited (Barwise 1991).

(Louro & Cunha 2001, p.868) 

This is what this paper is aiming at by looking at different views, practices and theories on creativity in the context of brand management. With brands and brand management now laid out from the perspective of systems theory and the current challenges for brand management laid out as complexity, coupling and communication subsequent parts analyse the role of creativity. 

The next part focuses asks what creativity means in the context of brand management.

Barwise, P., 1991. Brand Equity, “Short-Termism”, and the Management Process. In E. Maltz & M. S. Institute, eds. Managing brand equity: Marketing Science Institute conference, November 28-30, 1990, Austin, Texas ; conference summary. Marketing Science Institute. 

Bentley, A. & Earls, M., 2008. Forget influentials, herd-like copying is how brands spread. 

Earls, M., 2003. Advertising to the herd: how understanding our true nature challenges the ways we think about advertising and market research. International Journal of Market Research, 45(3), pp.311–336. 

Ehrenberg, A., 2002. Marketing: Are you really a realist? strategy + business, 27 (Second Quarter 2002), pp.22–25. 

Ehrenberg, A., 2001. Marketing: Romantic or Realistic? Marketing Research, 13(2), pp.40–42. 

Lannon, J. & Baskin, M., 2008. A Master Class in Brand Planning: The Timeless Works of Stephen King, Wiley. 

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875. 

Grots, A. & Pratschke, M., 2009. Design Thinking – Kreativität als Methode. Marketing Review St. Gallen, 26(2), pp.18–23. 

Sharp, B., 2010b. How Brands Grow: What Marketers Don’t Know, Oxford University Press. 

Shocker, A.D., Srivastava, R.K. & Ruekert, R.W., 1994. Challenges and opportunities facing brand management: an introduction to the special issue. Journal of Marketing Research, 31(2), pp.149–158.

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Watts, D.J., 2004. Six Degrees: The Science of a Connected Age Reprint., W W Norton & Co. 

Creativity In The Context Of Brand Management (Part 3)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the table of contents here. The previous parts touched on brand definitions, brand management paradigms, the challenges facing brand management, and how a systems theory based approach would mean for learning, planning and capabilities.

At the heart of a successful brand is a great product or service, backed by creatively designed and executed marketing.

(Kotler & Keller 2006, p.273) 

As Kotler and Keller put it, “creatively designed and executed marketing” is needed to build a successful brand. There are however, apart from the quote, no mentions or systematic definitions of creativity in Kotler (2006), Keller (1998), or as an example for a German textbook Schweiger & Schrattenecker (2009).

What does creativity mean in the context of designing and executing marketing? How can it be applied, what are its effects along the brand management process and what facilitates or hinders “creatively design and executed marketing”? 

While creativity has always been a topic of heated debate in the advertising discourse, advertising is only a part of brand management. The following chapters therefore suggest a categorisation of different types of perspectives on creativity in brand management and try to give an overview of the debate and research in each of the different fields. 

3.1 What Is Creativity? 

Before looking into aspects of creativity in brand management, its general meaning should be defined. However, according to Schmidt (1988, p.35 qtd. in Zurstiege 2005, p.181) creativity is a notoriously universally used and notoriously vaguely defined expression, that has seen so many meanings that Zurstiege (2005, p.182) calls the quest to find out about what creativity is a hopeless endeavour. This however, would leave the meaning of a widely used concept in business practice to changing fads and fashions and may also leave valuable insights untouched. Therefore, it is tried here to find a definition or at least a useful conceptualisation of creativity. 

Merriam-Webster Dictionary and the Encyclopedia Britannica provide a first hint: 

Create, to make or bring into existence something new; to produce through imaginative skill.

(Merriam-Webster Dictionary 2011

Creativity, the ability to make or otherwise bring into existence something new, whether a new solution to a problem, a new method or device, or a new artistic object or form.

(Britannica Online Encyclopedia 2011

From this definitions of creating and creativity, it can be derived that creativity has two distinct  features: “First, there must be something new, imaginative, different, or unique – this component is generally referred to as ‘divergence’. Second, the divergent thing produced must solve a problem or have some type of ‘relevance’” (Smith & Yang 2004, p.32). 

Table 1: Creativity as a function of divergence and relevance (Smith & Yang 2004, p.34) 

As seen above, creativity viewed from this perspective is defined as a function of divergence and relevance. First, to be creative, something has to be divergent, then it has to be shaped to be somehow perceived as relevant, i.e. it has to be useful, help to achieve a goal or be somehow socially valued. This position is reflected both in research on creativity in psychology as well as in research on creativity in the field of advertising (Smith & Yang 2004, p.34). 

With divergence and relevance made out as the two most prominent determinants of creativity, this still leaves open questions regarding the what and who of creativity. What is it that is creative in brand management? And who is it that is creative? 

Theories of creativity have considered different aspects of creativity as an answer to this question, with the most prominent referred to as the four “Ps” (Kozbelt et al. 2010, p.25ff). 

Contrary to marketing textbook definitions, the 4 Ps of creativity refer to process, product, person and place. Process research focuses on the mechanisms and techniques for creative thinking. Research focusing on product is usually carried out to measure the level of creativity in ideas. The person perspective looks more general into creative people’s personality and cognitive traits. Last but not least, research highlighting place considers the contextual variables which determine how creativity will best flourish. 

In line with these four fields of creativity research, this paper will look into four different aspects of creativity in brand management: 

  • Process
    • Creativity as a tool 
  • Product
    • Creativity as a feature of advertising 
    • Creativity as a feature of strategy 
  • Person
    • Creativity as a trait of stakeholders 
  • Place
    • Creativity as the feature of an organisation 

Table 2: Different Roles of Creativity in Brand Management 

The process view of creativity may be used to shed light on the use of thinking styles, creativity techniques and in general the process of coming up with what Kotler and Keller (2006, p.273) called “creatively designed” marketing.

The product view of creativity leads to looking into two of the most relevant outputs of the brand management system, namely creativity in advertising – or more general marketing communication – executions and creativity in marketing and communication strategy.

The person view of creativity in brand management leads one to ask about creativity as a trait of different stakeholders identified in the brand management system. This perspective might for example ask for the levels of creativity in brand managers who steer the brand, agency teams that are co-responsible for brand and campaign planning and executions and consumers as the audience or users of brand(ed) content.

Furthermore, a place perspective on creativity in brand management deals with the meaning and determinants of creativity on an organisational level. To reflect the different priorities in advertising and brand management research the review will start with the product view of creativity and will then continue with the findings on process, person and place. 

Britannica Online Encyclopedia, 2011. creativity — Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Britannica Online Encyclopedia. Available at: [Accessed January 23, 2011]. 

Keller, K.L., 1998. Strategic brand management: building, measuring and managing brand equity, Prentice Hall.

Kotler, P. & Keller, K.L., 2006. Marketing Management 12th ed., Prentice Hall. 

Kozbelt, A., Beghetto, R.A. & Runco, M.A., 2010. Theories of Creativity. In J. C. Kaufman & R. J. Sternberg, eds. The Cambridge Handbook of Creativity. Cambridge University Press.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2011. Create – Definition and More from the Free Merriam- 65 Webster Dictionary. Merriam-Webster Dictionary. Available at: [Accessed January 23, 2011].

Smith, R.E. & Yang, X., 2004. Toward a general theory of creativity in advertising: Examining the role of divergence. Marketing Theory, 4(1-2), p.31.

Schmidt, S.J., 1988. Kreativität – aus der Beobachterperspektive. In N. Luhmann & H. U. Gumbrecht, eds. Kreativität, ein verbrauchter Begriff? W. Fink, pp. 33-51. 

Schweiger, G. & Schrattenecker, G., 2009. Werbung 7th ed., UTB, Stuttgart. 

Zurstiege, G., 2005. Zwischen Kritik und Faszination. Was wir beobachten, wenn wir die Werbung beobachten, wie sie die Gesellschaft beobachtet 1st ed., Halem.

A Systems Theory-based Brand Management Model (2.5)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the table of contents here. The previous part was about the (enduring?) challenges facing brand management.

As Grots & Pratsche (2009, p.18) point out, many of the challenges in today’s economy are too complex to be mastered by a single genious, a single department or a single company. Organisations always had to process and transform the complexity of their environment to survive and they continuously have to reconfigure and transform their coping strategies to keep up with what is happening around them.

To implement that thought in brand management theory and to provide a higher level of abstraction, Tropp (2004, p.170) integrates the aforementioned conceptualizations of brands, environmental challenges and management into a systems theory based model of brand management that is seen in Figure 3.

Systemic Brand Management Model (translated from Tropp 2004, p.170)
Figure 3: Systemic Brand Management Model (translated from Tropp 2004, p.170) 

In this model, the management of a brand itself is included and three major management dimensions are identified (Tropp 2004, p.168): 

  • Brand potential, which asks if brand management has the ability and potential to learn and use systemic thinking and acting,
  • Brand relationship, which measures whether a brand builds and nurtures relationships between customers and a company. 
  • Brand experience, which asks whether a brand has the preconditions to intervene in 

the cognitive system of consumers. 

In addition, three ‘philosophical’ pillars are suggested for brand management (Tropp 2004, p.176f). These pillars are reflexivity, complexity and holistic thinking.

Reflexivity means that brand management is – first of all – self management, in line with management and organisational theory that sees organisations as a communication system. In that sense, brand management is to a high degree self-organisation and self-referential.

Complexity means that the function of brand management in organisations is to vary and transform environmental complexity. To make this happen, brand management has to apply measures to increase complexity (variety) and to reduce complexity (redundancy). Variety is used to come up with new options, futures and possibilities – to produce ‘unpredictable outputs’, redundancy is used to reproduce the already known.

Holistic thinking aims at understanding the relationships, patterns and properties of and within systems instead of focusing linearity and analytical reduction and consequently argues for a circular view of causes and effects and for a more probabilistic planning.

The next part pulls together the conclusions from the current brand management paradigms, the challenges facing brand management and a systems theory view of brand management.

Grots, A. & Pratschke, M., 2009. Design Thinking – Kreativität als Methode. Marketing Review St. Gallen, 26(2), pp.18–23. 

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Responding to Brand Management’s Challenges (2.4.4)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

“Brands are made, not born. The process of their construction is complex. From a manufacturer’s point of view there is a reduced form, “stimulus-response” style simplicity to it:
(1) the manufacturer takes actions (e.g., the marketing mix) and that leads to
(2) customer mental responses towards the brand (perceptions, beliefs, attitudes, and so on). These perceptions (and the resulting willingness to pay) in turn lead to
(3) customer behavior in the product market (e.g., sales), which in turn generates
(4) financial value in general and stock market and market capitalization in particular.
This framework or value chain is a useful basic conceptualization. Still, it obscures some important complexities.” (Keller & Lehmann 2006, p.752) 

As the review of contemporary challenges for brand management tried to argue, predominant brand management practice does not reflect on environmental complexity. What most concepts, models and recipes still have in common is that they use a more or less simplistic perspective on the management of systems (Tropp 2004, p.130). They perceive brands as ‘trivial machines’. This means that by giving an order in the form of information, a system will react in a way so that certain goals will be reached. Metaphorically, managers thus become engineers, dealing with the control of a closed system, simply adjusting the given input based on feedback from the system and thus reaching their objectives.

This perspective promotes a “primacy of planning” (Tropp 2004, p.132) and puts analysis and strategy at the beginning of a linear and controllable process. Management theory, from this perspective, believes that brands can be easily manipulated by using the right levers, following a linear path that leads to guaranteed success if only the instructions are followed carefully. This perspective on brand management may be understood as “brand engineering” and is visible in such words as the German “Markentechnik” that brings with it an almost almighty claim to brand building success. 

If, however, as argued before, the multidimensional knowledge about brands is shaped by the experiences and social interactions of consumers and if this happens in an increasingly unpredictable landscape, then brand management is ill-advised to adhere to this perspective. 

With a failure rate at the introduction of new brands of between 50 and 95% (Buchholz & Wördemann 1998, p.20 qtd. in Tropp 2004, p.144) and in light of the over-boarding complexity of companies’ environments, the empirical regularity today is closer to failure (Ehrenberg 2002; Ehrenberg 2001) than success. This, in turn, raises doubts if these failures are a consequence of not obeying to the how-to’s of positioning, branding or even advertising execution or if it is the underlying paradigm of a linear and logically deductible outcome and “how-to” literature that might be flawed (Tropp 2004, p.144). 

Buchholz, A. & Wördemann, W., 1998. Was Siegermarken anders machen, Econ. 

Ehrenberg, A., 2001. Marketing: Romantic or Realistic? Marketing Research, 13(2), pp.40–42.

Ehrenberg, A., 2002. Marketing: Are you really a realist? strategy + business, 27(Second Quarter 2002), pp.22–25. 

Keller, K.L. & Lehmann, D.R., 2006. Brands and branding: Research findings and future priorities. Marketing Science, 25(6), p.740. 

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Challenges for Brand Management: Communication (2.4.3)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

Historic perspectives on brand management have identified some distinct phases that each go along with certain developments and traits (Gries 2006, p.15ff; Zurstiege 2007, p.19ff; Tropp 2004, p.22ff). The beginning of modern advertising in Germany is tied to the industrialisation and the associated introduction of freedom of trade (1869) and registered and protected trademarks (1874) (Zurstiege 2007, p.24). With the social acceptance of the concept of competition started the professionalisation of advertising and – along with it – advertising research, which in turn led to the public debate of its central techniques in Vance Packards’ “The Hidden Persuaders” (Zurstiege 2007, p.24).

Gries (2006, p.15) sees products as media of the modern age and describes the process of the medialisation of products. This process started in the late 19th century, accelerated due to a strong increase of demand in the 20s and 30s and is concluded with the widespread diffusion of televisions in the 60s. Since then, according to Gries (2006, p.15) a brand works similar to a newspaper, the radio or television in that it is surrounded by a dense net of communication relationships that formed over the course of this process of medialisation.

Looking at the main functions that brands played in different eras, Tropp identified three phases that he calls “Markierungsphase” (labelling or branding phase), “Wirkungsphase” (effect or impact phase) and “Kommunikationsphase” (communication phase).

The first or branding phase started around the 5th century, when identification and distinction emerged as the first function of brands (Tropp 2004, p.23f). Social developments like the formation of the first cities or the establishment of guilds changed the specific functions of brands. However, it took until the before mentioned dawn of the industrial age, until the ‘effect phase of brands’ emerged (Tropp 2004, p.25ff). Apart from the identification function, brands’ chief function now lied in persuading potential consumers. In addition to the identification of a brand now there is the social practice of identification with a brand (Tropp 2004, p.36). Holt (2002, p.79ff) calls this the modern branding paradigm:

„Marketers made no pretense about their intentions in these branding efforts. They directed consumers as to how they should live and why their brand should be a central part of this kind of life. Advertisements shared a paternal voice that is particular to this era. By contemporary standards, these ads appear naive and didactic in their approach. This paternalism reveals that, at the time, consumer culture allowed companies to act as cultural authorities. Their advice was not only accepted but sought out.“ (Holt 2002, p.80)

Holt (2002, p.83ff) argues, that this paradigm ended up being replaced by the creative revolution of the 60s in what he denoted as an emerging post-modern branding paradigm. Branding then had to cope with social changes at a massive scale and a new anti-corporatist, yet consumerist culture that it somehow had to adapt to. It adopted and in turn relied on five central and then new techniques (for a description of the techniques that had a widespread media impact see Klein 1999): Authentic Cultural Resources, Ironic, Reflexive Brand Persona, Coattailing on Cultural Epicenters, Life World Emplacement, Stealth Branding . While these techniques were certainly new and a response to changing cultural and social environments at the time, they have again run into some severe contradictions and are losing their effect quickly (ibid.).

Holt (2002, p.68ff) and Tropp (2004, p.68ff) both argue that we can now see a different phase, that puts the relationship between a company and its consumer, or in general its role in society into focus. Driven on the one hand by the pressing scarcity of attention (Schmidt 2004, p.53ff; Tropp 2004, p.71f), by changing attitudes and expectations that citizens have of the role of companies in their communities and by the emergence of new technologies and feedback channels that made marketing tactics like CRM, but also a society ever more aware of the power of their public opinion possible. While doubts about the role, effectiveness and efficiency of advertising are a main driver of this transformation, this perspective also implies a more consumer-centric view of communication. It argues that the construction of meaning is done by consumers within the boundaries of collectively shared social symbols and ultimately demands a rejection of the pure sender-receiver model of mass communication as conceptualized in the early 20th century (Tropp 2004, p.72) and since then renounced by communication research.

The main conclusion of this current phase of branding is that companies are now more than ever competing in the field of communication and that communicative competence that goes beyond advertising is becoming a core asset of companies.

Gries, R., 2006. Produkte & Politik: zur Kultur- und Politikgeschichte der Produktkommunikation, Facultas Verlag.
Holt, D.B., 2002. Why do brands cause trouble? A dialectical theory of consumer culture and branding. Journal of Consumer Research, 29(1), pp.70–90.
Klein, N., 1999. No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs ; taking aim at the brand bullies, New York, NY: Picador.
Schmidt, S.J., 2004. Die Werbung ist vom Anfang an am Ende. In S. Kemmler, J. Ballentin, & C. Gerlitz, eds. Die Depression der Werbung. : Berichte von der Couch / Berliner KommunikationsFORUM e.V. Sebastian Kemmler. BusinessVillage.
Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.
Zurstiege, G., 2007. Werbeforschung 1st ed., Utb.

Challenges for Brand Management: Coupling (2.4.2)

Close connection - Verbundenheit
This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

Just as complexity, structural coupling is a key term of systems theory. Usually used to describe the structural relationship between cognition and communication via language and media (Tropp 2004, p.64), this concept may be used in brand management to denote the relationship between companies that produce brands and consumers and bridge the before mentioned dichotomy between producer- and consumer perspective – or image and identity (Tropp 2004, p.65). Structural coupling in that context means that while a company as a social system and a consumer as a cognitive system are to be strictly distinguished, no company is possible without consumers and vice versa (Tropp 2004, p.64).

To specify and manage this structural coupling between a company and its consumers via the brand as realm of knowledge is one of the most pressing issues of brand management and again, able to integrate mostly consumer-oriented trends and pressures. For example, there is an apparent contradiction between an increasing brand consciousness and an at the same time decreasing brand loyalty with consumers (Essinger 2001, p.66 qt. in Tropp 2004, p. 66) that also taps into the debate about consumers’ increasing unpredictability. Using data from a global, longitudinal survey that runs since 1993, Gerzema and Lebar (Young & Rubicam) have found out that since 2004 all consumer attitudes towards brands over the globe were in decline.

“Across the board, we saw significant drops in the key measures of brand value, such as consumer “top- of-mind” awareness, trust, regard, and admiration. This was true not just for a few brands, but for thousands, encompassing the entire range of consumer goods and services, from airlines and automobiles and beverages to insurance companies and hoteliers and retailers.” (Gerzema & Lebar 2009, p.2)

They argue that a brand bubble has developed for the fact that while the valuation of brands as done by financial analysts is steadily increasing, this overall value that these brands actually deliver for consumers, is provided by less and less (stronger) brand in the overall brand universe.

This contradiction does not put an end to the structural coupling of consumers and brands, but it suggests that the relationship between them has fundamentally changed. Since the 1980s, until then mostly unidirectional relationships have transformed into interactive and multi-directional relationships, as signified by developments such as relationship marketing, one-to-one-marketing, direct marketing, permission marketing, customer relationship management or the developments happening under the umbrella term of social media marketing. As research conducted under the relational paradigm (MacInnis et al. 2009; Fournier 1998) is striving to provide scientific insights into the company-brand-consumer relationship, branding has moved from what Tropp (2004, p.67) calls the effect phase to the communication phase.

Essinger, G., 2001. Produkt- und Markenpolitik im dynamischen Umfeld: eine Analyse aus systemtheoretischer Perspektive, Dt. Univ.-Verl.
Fournier, S., 1998. Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of consumer research, pp.343–373.
Gerzema, J. & Lebar, E., 2009. The Trouble with Brands. strategy + business, 55(Summer 2009). Available at: [Accessed February 4, 2011].
MacInnis, D.J. et al., 2009. Handbook of brand relationships, M.E. Sharpe.
Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Challenges for Brand Management: Complexity (2.4.1)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

While in the past three global CEO studies, conducted by IBM, coping with change was the most pressing challenge, complexity took the lead in 2010, as seen in Figure 2.

“CEOs told us they operate in a world that is substantially more volatile, uncertain and complex. Many shared the view that incremental changes are no longer sufficient in a world that is operating in fundamentally different ways.“ (IBM 2010, p.8)

IBM Complexity

Figure 2: Organisations and complexity (IBM 2010, p.15)

Complexity is the most important concept in systems theory, as it is the reason why systems form in the first place. While the term is present in different approaches to systems theory,  Luhmann’s theory of social systems popularized it, stating

“we will call an interconnected collection of elements complex when, because of imminent constraints in the elements’ connective capacity, it is no longer possible at any moment to connect every element with every other element […] Complexity in this sense means being forced to select; being forced to select means contingency; and contingency means risk.” (Luhmann 1995, p.25)

A system can never reach the same level of complexity as its environments and therefore has to counter-balance this inferiority with selection-strategies, reducing external complexities (Tropp 2004, p.57). This necessarily selective reduction of relations between elements (e.g. information) is called contingency and brings with it the necessary risk to select different possible combinations of elements. However, with every selections come different other – not selected – possibilities that would be possible as well.What sounds arbitrarily complicating in the first place, does make sense in light of the unrelated and relatively arbitrary list of trends, drivers and perspectives that are present in brand management and marketing textbooks. To illustrate the concept of complexity in this context, it can be said that branding theory does not have an appropriate selection strategy (theory) that is able to reduce the environmental complexity (challenges) to a level that would allow for sensible systematization.

Complexity is a theoretical concept that is not able to explain the myriad of trends and environmental challenges, but the fact that companies will – in the future – have to accept unprecedented complexity as a permanent trait of their environment (Rose & Zuckerman 2009, p.13) and to acknowledge that “it’s no longer possible to observe and predict enough to map out courses of action that guarantee desired outcomes” (Andjelic 2010).

This has some important implications for strategic planning and strategic thinking that will be introduced at a later point.

Andjelic, A., 2010. the problem of strategy. i [love] marketing. Available at: [Accessed January 4, 2011].

IBM, 2010. Capitalizing on Complexity. Insights from the 2010 IBM Global CEO Study. Available at:

Luhmann, N., 1995. Social systems, Stanford University Press.

Rose, J. & Zuckerman, N., 2009. Can You Reach the Masses Without Mass Media? Available at: [Accessed February 4, 2011].

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Challenges For Brand Management: An Overview (2.4)

This post is part of my paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

“Although brand may be as important as ever to consumers, brand management may be more difficult than ever.” (Keller 1998, p.30)

The topic of challenges, changes in the environment or otherwise relevant external pressures on brand management is not exactly a new one, as previous research shows (Shocker et al. 1994). If a brand is seen as the structurally coupling link between an organisation and its environment, changes in this environment are and have always been of essential importance to  brand management. The following paragraphs do not aim at painting a complete picture of every trend that brand management has to deal with presently, but rather serve to give an introduction into the contemporary environment.

Keller (1998, p.31) lists 13 challenges without any inherent structure as important to brand builders:

“savvy customers, more complex brand families and portfolios, maturing markets, more sophisticated and increasing competition, difficulty in differentiating, decreasing brand loyalty in many categories, growth of own labels, increasing trade power, fragmenting media coverage, erosion of effectiveness of traditional media, emerging communication options, increasing promotional expenditures, decreasing advertising expenditures, increasing cost of product introduction and support, short-term performance orientation [and] increasing job turnover.”

Strebinger (2010) divides reasons why brand management has become much more challenging into four demand-side and supply-side drivers. On the demand side, consumers more and more demand products tailored to their special needs and preferences. Technology is bringing fundamental changes to the way people consume media (Wilbur 2008) and information overload restricts the amount of brands people are able and willing to think of. Last but not least consumers have become more critical of the behaviour of brands (Klein 1999). On the supply side, shareholders strive to maximize profits by exploiting market opportunities while focusing on cost efficiency. In addition, mergers and acquisitions challenge established brand portfolios, internationalization leads to new competitors and opportunities and new media leads to new online competitors.

Another structure (Fuchs & Unger 2007, p.2ff) suggests economic, social, legal and communicational changes. Fuchs and Unger identify increased dynamism and complexity, competitive pressure, internationalization, quality parity, the shortening of product-life-cycles and market differentiation as economic developments which all lead to competition through communication, which in combination with a dynamic media landscape leads to increased information overflow. In addition, changes in consumer values and expectations of corporate citizenship represent the most pressing socio-cultural developments.

Siegert and Brecheis (2005, p.76ff) provide more detail on the advertising and media side with their six developments that together portray the current framework advertising has to operate in. According to them, advertising has to deal with internationalization and globalization, digitalization and new information and communication technologies, individualization and experience seeking, promulgation through the mass media and the attention economy, economization and changing markets as well as changing legal frameworks.

Certainly, more challenges and trends that increase the pressure on marketing and brand management could be found. Depending on who one chooses to read, we live in a risk society (Beck 1992), a experience seeking society (Schulze 2005), an information- and media society (Siegert & Brecheis 2005), in a converging culture (Jenkins 2006) and/or in the communication age (Tropp 2004).

In this context, Kotler & Caslione (xii 2009) postulate

“[…] that turbulence, and especially heightened turbulence, with its consequent chaos, risk and uncertainty, is now the normal condition of industries, markets, and companies.”

While Feldwick (2010) doubts the emergence of a genuinely “new” consumer there is a recurring theme around the topic that brands and brand management are under pressure. As Keller called it, managerial practice in the field is becoming “more difficult than ever” (Keller 1998, p.30).

In light of the all the trends, drivers and environmental challenges, Tropp argues that there is lack of a consistent theoretical grounding to be actually give a brand manager a handle on the world he/she is operating in. Consequently, Tropp aims for a ‘lower resolution’ of observation to integrate the different empirically observable phenomena into theoretically grounded categories (Tropp 2004, p.56). These three categories are complexity, coupling and communication, all of which are central terms of systems theory.  – The challenges according to these theoretical concepts will be introduced in the next three blog posts.

Beck, U., 1992. Risk society: Towards a new modernity, Sage publications ltd.

Feldwick, P., 2010. The Feldwick Factor: Has digital growth changed consumer-brand relationships? Admap.

Jenkins, H., 2006. Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide illustrated edition., New York Univ Pr.

Keller, K.L., 1998. Strategic brand management: building, measuring and managing brand equity, Prentice Hall.

Klein, N., 1999. No Logo: no space, no choice, no jobs ; taking aim at the brand bullies, New York, NY: Picador.

Kotler, P. & Caslione, J.A., 2009. Chaotics: The Business of Managing and Marketing in the Age of Turbulence, Mcgraw-Hill Professional.

Schulze, G., 2005. Die Erlebnisgesellschaft: Kultursoziologie der Gegenwart, Campus Verlag.

Shocker, A.D., Srivastava, R.K. & Ruekert, R.W., 1994. Challenges and opportunities facing brand management: an introduction to the special issue. Journal of Marketing Research, 31(2), pp.149–158.

Siegert, G. & Brecheis, D., 2005. Werbung in der Medien- und Informationsgesellschaft: Eine kommunikationswissenschaftliche Einführung 1st ed., VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften.

Strebinger, A., 2010. Markenmanagement – Lecture at WU Wien.

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Wilbur, K.C., 2008. How the digital video recorder (DVR) changes traditional television advertising. Journal of Advertising, 37(1), pp.143–149.

Brand Management Paradigms: The Relational Paradigm (2.3.4)

Your Brand is Not My Friend from

This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

The relational paradigm addresses two arguments that are held against the projective and adaptive paradigm: the projective paradigm neglects to account for consumers’ role in creating brand meaning, the adaptive paradigm focuses on consumer evaluation but doesn’t demonstrate how organisations create brand value in this setting. From a relational perspective brand management is seen as “[…] an ongoing dynamic process, without a clear beginning and ending, in which brand value and meaning is co-created through interlocking behaviours, collaboration and competition between organizations and consumers” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.865). These relationships

“[…] involve reciprocal exchange between active and interdependent relationship partners; (2) relationships are purposive, involving at their core the provision of meanings to the person who engage them; (3) relationships are multiplex phenomena: they range across several dimensions and take many forms, providing a range of possible benefits for their participants; and (4) relationships are process phenomena: they evolve and change over a series of interactions and in response to fluctuations in the contextual environment” (Fournier 1998, p.344)

The relational approach to brand management then encompasses, in an interactive brand management process the core activities of all before mentioned paradigms: 1) building and communicating a brand identity that links to an organisation’s strategy and resources, 2) projecting it through a defined set of brand elements and a marketing program and 3) dynamically reconstruct and co-develop it “in the context of path-dependent consumer-brand relationships by encouraging active dialogue, mobilizing customer communities, managing customer diversity and co-creating personalized experiences (Fournier 1998; Prahalad & Ramaswamy 2000)” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.866).

This has important implications for the firm’s desired organisational capabilities. For a company to be able to sustain these dynamic relationships with consumers, it has to combine the strengths of market sensing (outside-in) with inside-out capabilities, implementing “multidimensional, process-based measuring systems” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.866) that “facilitate real-time action and reaction” (Keller 2000; Keller 1998; De Chernatony 1999 qtd. in Louro & Cunha 2001, S.867)

While the paradigms certainly describe “ideal-types” of brand management practices, assumptions and structures, they are able to give an overview into the current state of normative and academic literature in the field and the embodied assumptions about brands, brand management and the roles of organisations and consumers in the process. They might, however, also be read as a process of refinement and a historical development. Not only brand management as a function has to (or doesn’t have to, depending on the paradigm) adapt to outside changes, but also brand management as a discipline changes its focus, depending on economic, social, cultural and technological developments, thus the relational paradigm integrating earlier dominant modes.

Analysing paradigms and brand management models, Tropp (2004) uses a systems theory approach for a conceptualization of brands and brand management that will be used as the central theme of this work. Like proponents of the relational paradigm, Tropp (2004, p.115f) aims to bridge the before mentioned theoretical gap between image and identity. By analysing the relationship between companies and their environment from a systems theory view he first defines brands via two fundamental functions: Brands, according to Tropp [1] are the unique, emotionally charged field of knowledge about a company, a product or a service, that is symbolized by a set of highly complexity-reducing communication offers. It fulfils two mutually conditional functions:

a) Realizing and strengthen the structural coupling between companies and consumers (economic function)

b) Being the trigger and stabilizer for individual and social constructions of reality (life-world function)

Brands then, are not either the identity of a company or the image in consumers’ minds, but they receive their meaning from the social interactions around the brand and their value from being socially shared, and multidimensional knowledge (Keller 2003) that people can refer to Kapferer (1997, p.25). While Yakob (2007) compares this phenomenon with the collectively shared perception of the value of money, Tropp (2004, p.123) argues that brands usually cannot claim to have reached the status of being truly collectively shared knowledge. This means that consumers may individually very well have a different image of a brand, but that the meaning, the overall value of the brand at large – for both consumers as well as the company – is derived from what is commonly shared and shaped by the numerous social interactions performed around it (Holt 2010, p.3). As a consequence, this perspective leads to the conclusion that while brands are legally owned by the corporation managing it, they don’t have the possibility to fully control their meanings (Gries 2006, p.27).

After introducing the different brand paradigms at work today, with a focus on the relational perspective, the following chapter will now analyse the challenges, trends and changes contemporary brand management has to deal with.

[1] Translated from: „Eine Marke ist ein einzigartiger emotional aufgeladener Wissensbereich über ein Unternehmen, ein Produkt oder eine Dienstleistung, der von einer Menge hochgradig komplexitätsreduzierender Kommunikationsangebote symbolisiert wird. Diese erfüllt zwei sich wechselseitig bedingende Funktionen:a) Die strukturelle Kopplung zwischen Unternehmen und Konsumenten zu realisieren und zu festigen (ökonomische Funktion).b) Auslöser und Stabilisator für individuelle und soziale Wirklichkeitskonstruktionen zu sein (lebensweltliche Funktion). (Tropp 2004, p.115f)

De Chernatony, L., 1999. Brand management through narrowing the gap between brand identity and brand reputation. Journal of Marketing Management, 15(1), pp.157–179.

Fournier, S., 1998. Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of consumer research, pp.343–373.

Holt, D.B., 2010. Brands and Branding. Available at:

Kapferer, J.-N., 1997. Strategic brand management: creating and sustaining brand equity long term, Kogan Page Publishers.

Keller, K.L., 2003. Brand synthesis: The multidimensionality of brand knowledge. Journal of Consumer Research, pp.595–600.

Keller, K.L., 1998. Strategic brand management: building, measuring and managing brand equity, Prentice Hall.

Keller, K.L., 2000. The brand report card. Harvard Business Review, 78(1), pp.147–158.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.

Prahalad, C.K. & Ramaswamy, V., 2000. Co-opting customer competence. Harvard business review, 78(1), pp.79–90.

Tropp, J., 2004. Markenmanagement: Der Brand Management Navigator. Markenführung im Kommunikationszeitalter, VS Verlag.

Brand Management Paradigms: The Adaptive Paradigm (2.3.3)


This post is part of my bachelor paper ‘The Evolving Role of Creativity in Brand Management’. You can see the other posts and the table of contents here.

The adaptive paradigm changes its focus on the “output” perspective and comprises a range of consumer-centred brand definitions, the most notable of those definitions being the brand image concept (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.863), as defined earlier as “perceptions about a brand as reflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory” (Keller 1993, S.3). In this more consumer-centred conceptualization of brands,

“[b]rand management is enacted as a tactical process of cyclical adaptation to consumers’ representations of the focal brand whereby brand image gradually supplants brand identity (Aaker 1996). Within the adaptive view, brand image becomes the core theme underlying strategic formation and frames the specification of a brand’s elements and its supporting marketing program (Kapferer 1992).” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.863)

With performance measures usually focused on consumer-based metrics and brand management generating value by adapting to a particular competitive context, brand management needs to develop superior “outside-in capabilities” (Day 1994 qtd. in Louro & Cunha 2001, p. 864) developing “[…] the ability of the firm to learn about customers, competitors and channel members in order to continuously sense and act on events and trends in present and prospective markets.” (Day 1994, p.43 qtd. in Louro & Cunha 2001, p. 863)

The adaptive paradigm in turn is criticised mostly by the brand identity school which argues for the importance of a companies guiding mission, culture and brand essence and against the “recursive reconfiguration of a brand’s identity in response to incremental changes in consumer’s expectations” (Louro & Cunha 2001, p.865).

Next up is the relational paradigm and a summary perspective.

Day, G.S., 1994. The capabilities of market-driven organizations. Journal of Marketing, 58(4), pp.37–52.

Louro, M.J. & Cunha, P.V., 2001. Brand management paradigms. Journal of Marketing Management, 17(7), pp.849–875.