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Journal of Communication Management

Emerging metaphors in brand management: towards a relational approach


Pekka Tuominen
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Pekka Tuominen, (2007),"Emerging metaphors in brand management: towards a relational approach",
Journal of Communication Management, Vol. 11 Iss 2 pp. 182 - 191
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JCOM
11,2 Emerging metaphors in brand
management: towards a relational
approach
182
Pekka Tuominen
University of Tampere, Tampere, Finland

Abstract
Purpose – The purpose of this study is to describe, analyse, and understand the emerging metaphors
in brand management in the context of service brands.
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Design/methodology/approach – This article takes the form of a conceptual study.


Findings – The silence metaphor illustrates the product paradigm and the monologue metaphor
describes the projective paradigm. The listening metaphor demonstrates the adaptive paradigm and
finally, the dialogue metaphor depicts the relational paradigm.
Research limitations/implications – The traditional understanding of service branding neglects
a key characteristic of services – the fact that services are processes – and this neglect causes the
crucial role of dialogue with the customer in service delivery to be relatively overlooked. There is an
emerging need to move towards a relational approach in brand management.
Practical implications – Service brands continuously develop as the customer relates to the flow of
communication in the form of diverse brand messages. These brand messages come from contact
personnel, from physical product elements in the service process, and from various planned and
unplanned communication messages.
Originality/value – The importance of creating brands in service offerings has become apparent,
and communication issues in branding have become extremely vital for service firms. By creating
dialogue in brand relationships, the customer is given an active role in service branding.
Keywords Brand management, Metaphors, Communication management, Marketing communications
Paper type Conceptual paper

Introduction
Consumers are not passive recipients of marketing activities, and branding is not done
to consumers; rather, branding is something that customers do things with. At one
extreme are brands that are unknown to most buyers in the marketplace. Then, there
are brands about which buyers have a degree of awareness in the form of recall and
recognition. Beyond brand awareness, there are brands that have a degree of brand
acceptability. Then there are brands that enjoy a degree of preference. Finally, there are
brands that command a degree of brand loyalty (Keller, 2003, p. 67).
Traditionally, the value of a firm has been measured in terms of its real estate,
tangible assets, plants, and equipment. However, it is now increasingly recognised that
a firm’s real value lies outside the business itself – in the minds of current and
Journal of Communication
potential buyers (Aaker, 2004). In paying very high prices for companies that have
Management recognised brands, buyers are actually purchasing a position in the minds of current
Vol. 11 No. 2, 2007
pp. 182-191 and potential customers (de Chernatony, 2002, p. 19; Kapferer, 2004, p. 10). The
q Emerald Group Publishing Limited
1363-254X
relationships between customers and brands are assets through which companies can
DOI 10.1108/13632540710747398 capitalise value (Lindberg-Repo and Grönroos, 2004, p. 238).
The purpose of this study is to describe, analyse, and understand the emerging Emerging
metaphors in brand management in the context of service brands. First, we discuss the metaphors
characteristics of service brands. Second, we elaborate the paradigms in brand
management. Finally, we provide conclusions and managerial applications.

Characteristics of service brands


As customers have become more experienced, de Chernatony and McDonald (2003, 183
pp. 41-49) have identified eight distinct functions of brands. These include brand as:
(1) a sign of ownership;
(2) a differentiating device;
(3) a communicator of functional capability;
(4) a device that enables buyers to express something about themselves;
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(5) a risk-reducing device;


(6) a shorthand communication device;
(7) a legal device; and
(8) a strategic device.

These functions can be further categorised (de Chernatony, 2002, pp. 18-20), into three
perspectives:
(1) an input-based perspective (branding as a way of directing resources to
influence consumers and to achieve customer response);
(2) an output-based perspective (consumers’ interpretations of how brands enable
them to achieve more); and
(3) a time-based perspective (recognising brands as dynamic entities with an
evolutionary nature).

De Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley (1998, pp. 418-424) have distinguished 12 main
elements among the broad range of definitions of brand in the literature. These
elements referred to brands in terms of their role as:
(1) legal instruments;
(2) logos;
(3) company;
(4) communication shorthand;
(5) risk reducers;
(6) identity systems;
(7) images in consumers’ minds;
(8) value systems;
(9) having personalities;
(10) parties to a relationship;
(11) adding value; and
(12) evolving entities.
JCOM These 12 brand elements include various aspects of the company’s activities and the
11,2 consumers’ perceptions. The brand exists by virtue of a continuous process whereby
the values and expectations imbued in the brand are set and enacted by the company
and interpreted, and then redefined by the consumers (de Chernatony, 2002, pp. 18-58;
de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley, 1998, pp. 427-428).
In the service industry, many definitions of brands miss the key characteristic of
184 services as processes by excluding the customer. In fact, in branding a service, the
involvement of the customer is of even greater significance than it is in the case of
branding a good – because a service is a much less standardised basis for branding
than is a tangible physical good. Because customers participate in the service process,
Grönroos (2000, p. 290) has proposed that a service brand is created in dynamic brand
relationships – whereby the customer forms a differentiating image of the service on
the basis of various brand contacts to which the customer is exposed. The brand thus
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is created in the minds of a customer following the sequence of brand contacts that
form the ongoing relationship between the two parties. A relationship approach to
marketing posits such brand relationships as the means of developing, maintaining,
and enhancing a brand in the minds of current and potential customers, and other
stakeholders. If a brand relationship has been created and nurtured, the service
provider has achieved brand involvement with the customer. Strong brand
involvement means that a customer feels positively involved with the service
provider (Grönroos, 2000, p. 290).

Paradigms in brand management


Louro and Cunha (2001, pp. 849-875) have identified four paradigms in brand
management:
(1) product;
(2) projective;
(3) adaptive; and
(4) relational.

This categorisation of brand-management paradigms can be analysed along two


dimensions. The first is brand centrality – the extent to which brands guide and
configure a firm’s strategy; the other is customer centrality – consumer involvement in
value co-creation (Louro and Cunha, 2001, p. 854). These two dimensions reflect central
themes present in the branding literature concerning the strategic importance of
brands and the differential degree of customer and firm participation in defining brand
meaning and value (Aaker, 2004; Kapferer, 2004). The two dimensions and the four
paradigms are shown in Figure 1 (Louro and Cunha, 2001, p. 855).
The vertical dimension of brand centrality runs from a tactical orientation, where
brands are conceptualised and managed as tactical instruments appended to a product,
to a brand orientation in which the process of the organisation revolves around the
creation, development, and protection of the brand value. Tactical orientation to brand
management focuses on the legal values of brands. According to this perspective,
branding emerges as part of a marketing strategy—being primarily associated with
the advertising of products. In contrast, brand orientation takes a multidimensional
Emerging
metaphors

185
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Figure 1.
The paradigms of brand
management

view of the complexity and value of a brand both to firms and to consumers (Louro and
Cunha, 2001, pp. 854-855).
The horizontal dimension of customer centrality runs from a unilateral orientation
in which consumers are perceived as passive recipients of value created within the firm
to a multilateral orientation where consumers are viewed as active contributors in
value creation. Unilateral orientation focuses on the marketing activities of the firm as
the central determinants of value creation. Customers are conceptualised as a passive
audience enacting a predetermined role in consumption. Multilateral orientation
emphasises the interdependent nature of value creation. Customers are conceptualised
as sources of competence and co-developers of personalised experiences. Brand value is
continuously co-created, co-sustained, and co-transformed through the firm-customer
interface (Louro and Cunha, 2001, pp. 855-856).

Metaphors in branding paradigms


Silence metaphor in the product paradigm
The product paradigm reflects a tactical and unilateral orientation to brand
management – with the product in the focus. Brands are constructed as logos and legal
instruments that perform firm-centred brand roles. Firms use brands to designate legal
ownership and protect against imitation (de Chernatony and Dall’Olmo Riley, 1998,
pp. 418-424). Within the product paradigm, brand management is focused on the
marketing mix – with product emerging as its core element. The silence metaphor
captures the product paradigm (Louro and Cunha, 2001, p. 856). Many state-owned
energy companies are examples of the silence metaphor because brand management is
often focused on the product as the main element of marketing mix.

Monologue metaphor in the projective paradigm


The projective paradigm complements the product paradigm by highlighting the
strategic importance of branding. Within this paradigm, brands are conceptualised as
JCOM focal platforms for implementing a strategic goal of a firm. A brand is not a product: it
11,2 is the product’s source, its meaning and its direction, and it defines its identity in time
and space. Too often brands are examined through their component parts: the brand
name, its logo, design, packaging, advertising or name recognition. Real brand
management, however, begins much earlier with a strategy and a consistent integrated
vision. Its central concept is brand identity. This identity must be defined and
186 managed and it is at the heart of brand management. (Doyle, 1998, p. 172). Brand
management is focused on reinforcing and developing brand positioning through the
creation, development, and communication of a coherent brand identity. Such identity
is on the sender’s side, and the aim is to specify the meaning of a brand. Identity
precedes image. Before projecting an image to the public, firms must know exactly
what they want to project (Kapferer, 2004, pp. 95-99). Within the projective paradigm
brand management is focused on the brand logic, with the brand identity emerging as
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its core element. The monologue metaphor captures the emphasis of branding in the
projective paradigm (Louro and Cunha, 2001, pp. 859-860). Apparel and fragrance
brands like Hugo Boss and Calvin Klein can illustrate the monologue metaphor
because brand management is focused on projecting relevant brand identity to the
selected target groups of the firm.

Listening metaphor in the adaptive paradigm


The adaptive paradigm complements the projective paradigm by stressing the role of
consumers as central constructors of brand meaning. Customer-based brand equity,
brand awareness and brands as images achieve high level of attention in this
paradigm. Customer-based brand equity occurs when the customer has a high level of
awareness with the brand and holds strong, favourable, and unique brand associations
in memory. Brand awareness includes both brand recognition and brand recall. Brand
awareness can be characterised according to depth and breath. (Keller, 2003, p. 67). The
adaptive paradigm acknowledges consumers as co-creators of brand meaning in the
form of brand image, which is constructed in the minds of customers. (Kapferer, 2004,
pp. 98-99). Brand image can be defined as customers’ perceptions of a brand as
reflected by the brand associations held in customers’ memory. Brand associations can
be classified into attributes, and benefits. (Boush and Jones, 2006, p. 4; Keller, 2003, p.
71). Brand management is enacted as a tactical process of cyclical adaptation to
customers’ representations of the focal brand whereby brand image gradually
supplants brand identity. Brand image becomes the core theme underlying strategic
formation and frames the specification of a brand and its supporting marketing
program. Within the adaptive paradigm brand management is focused on customer
orientation with the brand image emerging as its core element. The listening metaphor
depicts the implicit orientation underlying the adaptive paradigm (Louro and Cunha,
2001, p. 863). International hotel chains and soft drinks like Pepsi and Fanta can
demonstrate the adaptive metaphor because brand management is focused on creating
positive image among current and potential customers.

Dialogue metaphor in the relational paradigm


The relational paradigm takes into account the active role of customers in the
co-creation of brand meaning. This paradigm conceptualises brand management as
an ongoing dynamic process whereby brand value and meaning are created
together through the behaviours and collaboration of firms and customers. Brands Emerging
emerge as active symbolic partners that co-define the relational space. In this metaphors
paradigm, firm-consumer relationships are brand-mediated, and brand management
is a dialectical process that recognises the active role of consumers in co-creating
and co-developing brand meaning and value. Within the relational paradigm brand
management is focused on the relational discourse with the brand relationship
emerging as its core element. The relational paradigm of brand management is a 187
promising direction for future investigation, although research is still in its
infancy. The dialogue metaphor describes the nature of relationship-based brand
management (Louro and Cunha, 2001, p. 865-866). Harley Davidson can illustrate
the dialogue metaphor because brand management is focused on creating active
dialogue in the brand communities of Harley’s motor bikers.
The interpretation of a brand in terms of a relationship is a logical extension of
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the idea of a brand having a personality. A person has a distinctive personality on


the basis of a bundle of traits – such as friendliness, reliability, and honesty –
and these characteristics are used and developed in forming relationships. By
extension, a considerable amount of research has focused on how the personality
of a brand enables a customer to express his or her own self through the use of a
brand. Brand personality can be viewed as a central driver of customer preference
and usage, and as a common denominator that can be used to market a brand
across cultures (Aaker, 1997, pp. 347 – 350; Aperia and Back, 2004, pp. 71– 75).
If brands can be personified, customers can have relationships with them.
These relationships are purposive – particularly in the case of services. Customers
choose brands, at least in part, because they wish to understand their own selves
and seek to communicate aspects of themselves to others. By engaging in a
relationship with a brand, albeit briefly, customers are able to resolve and
legitimise ideas about themselves. However, although the service provider might
wish to use its brand to develop a close relationship with its customers, those
customers might prefer a more distant relationship (de Chernatony, 2002,
pp. 40 –41).
Fournier (1998) has used relationship theory to characterise brand relationships and
to develop new insights into why consumers use brands in the way they do. She
extended the metaphor of interpersonal relationships into the brand domain to
conceptualise the relationships that customers form with brands (Keller, 2006, p. 160).
According to Fournier (1998, p. 365), brands serve as persistent repositories of meaning
for customers, who purposefully and differentially employ them in creating,
substantiating, and reproducing concepts of themselves.
Fournier and Yao (1997) have argued that the brand is an active relationship partner
with the customer, and have provided a framework for characterising the types of
relationships that consumers form with brands. According to the framework, brand
relationships:
.
involve reciprocal exchanges between active and interdependent relationship
partners;
.
are purposive involving the provision of meanings;
.
are complex phenomena that range across several dimensions and take many
forms providing a range of potential benefits for participants; and
JCOM .
are process phenomena that evolve over a series of interactions and in response
11,2 to fluctuations in the contextual environment (Fournier, 1998, p. 344).
The strength of a brand relationship depends on six main elements:
(1) interdependence;
(2) self-concept connection;
188 (3) commitment;
(4) love/passion;
(5) intimacy; and
(6) brand partner quality.

Moreover, brand relationships have six dimensions:


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(1) voluntary or compulsory relationships;


(2) positive or negative relationships;
(3) intensive or superficial relationships;
(4) persistent or temporary relationships;
(5) public or private relationships; and
(6) formal or informal relationships (Fournier, 1998, pp. 343-373).

In accordance with the relational paradigm, in an ongoing brand relationship it is not


only the seller, which is supposed to talk to the customer, and the customer is supposed
to listen. According to the relational paradigm, both partners in the brand relationship
communicate with each other through four distinctive sources of brand messages:
(1) planned messages;
(2) service messages;
(3) product messages; and
(4) unplanned messages (Duncan and Moriarty, 1997; Grönroos, 2000).

Planned messages can be results of planned marketing campaigns where separate


communications media are used to send diverse messages. Generally, planned
messages are often least trustworthy, because receivers know that the messages are
planned by the sender in order to persuade customers and potential customers in a
certain direction. Product messages can be messages about the firm and its offerings
that follow from the physical goods or services in an offering. Service messages can be
messages that result from the core service process. Interactions between customers and
service providers in the service process include substantial elements of
communication. Service messages are often more trustworthy than planned and
product messages. Unplanned messages can frequently be considered to be the most
trustworthy. These messages about the firm and its offerings are mainly sent by
co-customers in a service encounter or articles in media (Grönroos, 2000, p. 266).
The four distinctive sources of brand messages provide communication-based
brand contact points between a buyer and a seller (Heinonen and Strandvik, 2005,
pp. 186-187; Lindberg-Repo and Grönroos, 2004, pp. 231-232). The various types of
brand messages are developing in a continuous process, and in the minds of customers
their effects are probably accumulating. The absence of communication also sends Emerging
distinct messages and therefore contributes to the total communication process metaphors
(Grönroos, 2004, pp. 105-106). In the service context, the customer has an active role,
and the customer thus becomes a co-producer of value that takes place through these
brand contact points (Lindberg-Repo and Grönroos, 2004, p. 231).
Furthermore, in accordance with the relational paradigm, a dialogue can develop
between a service provider and a customer in the context of services, and this ongoing 189
dialogue can lead to the development of a common knowledge base. A dialogue can be
understood as an interactive process of reasoning together in which there is
willingness on the part of both partners to listen and communicate in achieving a
common goal (Christopher et al., 2002, pp. 222-223). In a dialogue there are no senders
or receivers – rather, there are participants in the dialogic process (Grönroos, 2004, p.
107). Such a dialogue enables more than the mere maintenance of a relationship; rather,
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it facilitates relationship enhancement – one of the most important goals of


relationship marketing (Lindberg-Repo and Grönroos, 2004, p. 231).

Conclusions and managerial applications


Little empirical work has been conducted on relationship phenomena associated with
brand relationships – especially in the service sector (de Chernatony and Segal-Horn,
2001, pp. 646-651; Fournier, 1998, p. 343). The importance of creating brands in service
offerings has become apparent, and communication issues in branding have become
extremely vital for service firms. Moreover, the traditional understanding of service
branding tends to neglect one of the key characteristics of services – the fact that
services are processes (Grönroos, 2000, pp. 285-286). This unfortunate neglect causes
the crucial role of the customer in services delivery to be relatively overlooked in
discussions of brand relationships in the current literature of service branding.
Traditionally, the branding of physical goods has been viewed from the marketer’s
perspective as indicated in the silence metaphor in the product paradigm of brand
management. The consumption of a physical good involves the consumption of the
final product, but the consumer is not involved in the production process. In contrast,
the customer of a service often participates actively in the production process, and the
customer is thus much more important in successful brand creation in the service
industries (Grönroos, 2000, pp. 50-59).
In services the customer is often an integral part of the process of production,
delivery, and consumption, and that this requires a close dialogue between the service
provider and the customer. It is evident that contact personnel have a vital role in
creating dialogue in brand relationships in the service industry (Egan, 2004). By
creating dialogue as the relational paradigm indicates, communication principles have
gradually replaced short-term exchange notions in branding thought and practice. In
order to move the discussion along, we are now ready to refine the original model of the
branding paradigms by Louro and Cunha. Figure 2 illustrates the four metaphors in
brand management (modified from Louro and Cunha, 2001, p. 855).
Tactical orientation in brand centrality is emphasised in the silence and listening
metaphors. Brand orientation has a more vital role in the monologue and dialogue
metaphors. Unilateral orientation in customer centrality concentrates mainly on the
firm-based marketing activities of the company. In multilateral orientation customers
are regarded more as relevant sources of competence and active co-creators of the
JCOM
11,2

190
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Figure 2.
Metaphors in brand
management

brand value through rather tight and intensive firm-customer interaction. It is hard to
provide any checklists of questions for companies to determine which branding
metaphor they should follow. This conceptualisation can be best used to judge and
characterise firms and their branding practices.
Service brands continuously develop and change as the customer relates to the flow
of communication in the form of diverse brand messages. These brand messages come
from contact personnel, from physical product elements in the service process, and
from various planned and unplanned communication messages. When the customer is
given an active role in the service-branding process, a relationship emerges and
develops between the customer and the service brand. This brand relationship gives a
service brand a certain meaning in the minds of the customers as a result of how a
customer perceives the service-brand relationship over time (Grönroos, 2000, p. 287).
A well-established brand is imperative to a person because it connects with his or
her life, thus producing a behavioural, attitudinal, and emotional involvement with the
brand. The managerial aim of service branding is to establish a satisfying bond that
sustains buying and recommendation (Varey, 2002, p. 63).

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Corresponding author
Pekka Tuominen can be contacted at: pekka.tuominen@uta.fi

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