Brand Externalities and Brand Systems: A Macromarketing Systems Perspective
Brands are omnipresent in contemporary society. They are complex multidimensional constructs embedded within almost every aspect of our personal and social life. Branding is central to the organisational strategies for differentiation, competitiveness, and survival, and it is also at the core of consumers’ identity work, defining their respective personal and social ideologies. Research has extensively identified brands as significant economically and socially, but lately, brands and branding have been criticised for being ambivalent. Branding can simultaneously induce mechanisms like value creation and value destruction and cause severe social consequences for different brand actors over time. These branding dynamics underpin consumer resistance and anti-branding in contemporary society. Scholars have often raised concerns such as branding ethics, morality, social and environmental sustainability, consumer vulnerability and social well-being and provided frameworks around these issues; but the social consequences and impact of brand-related behaviours of different brand actors are neither conceptualised nor is an integrated framework provided to address these issues holistically. This gap gives rise to the three research questions in this thesis which are addressed across three papers, structured as Chapters 2, 3 and 4, respectively.
The first paper conceptualises the social consequences of branding as Brand Externalities. It provides a taxonomy that gives evidence of the non-linear nature of brand exchange by connecting brand actors beyond the brand exchange sphere and establishes branding as a macro-system phenomenon. The second paper explores the causal structure and aggregation mechanism of brand externalities and proposes a causal theory, respectively. The causal theory of brand externalities is developed using Systematic Theory Mapping, which combines the conventions of systematic narrative review and system dynamics modelling. The findings from systematic theory mapping are carried forward to the third paper, which proposes an integrated Brand System framework based on the marketing systems theory. The brand system framework accounts for brand externalities as a potential system configuration in addition to the other configurations essential in holistically analysing and managing the brand system. The three papers collectively advance systems thinking in branding research with implications for theory, practice, and research. This thesis accounts for the reciprocal brand-society relationship and pertinent realities of contemporary society and lays a foundation for more robust and socially sustainable brand management.