Write a paper of no more than four pages in length (excluding title and reference pages and any appendices) addressing the following question:
In her 1998 paper Susan Fournier argues that customers have relationships with brands.
1. Explain what Fournier means by "having a relationship" with a brand.
2. Using two brands chosen from the categories below, explain whether or not you believe that customers have relationships with those brands.
3. Expand your thinking and explain whether, based on Fournier's paper, your own experience and your knowledge of other people, customers have relationships with all brands.
There are three case readings, Susan Fournier's 1998 article in which, amongst other things, she argues that consumers have relationships with brands and an article reporting the results of a study by a market research firm saying that mostly they don't. Other marketing academics have also said that they don't, (e.g. Vargo and Lusch, (2004), in a Journal of Marketing article state that "inanimate items of exchange cannot have relationships"). Ah but is a brand an "inanimate item of exchange"? Perhaps they do but only under certain circumstances? That is for you to consider.
In order to answer this question you are required to identify ONE brand from each of TWO of categories shown below and explore Fournier's idea that consumers have relationships with them.
Sources of information for this case may include:
- Introspection, though you should not rely solely on anecdotal evidence.
- Questioning friends and colleagues - strongly recommended.
While you may be tempted to simply rely on anecdotal personal information and write about your own relationship (or non-relationship) with a chosen brand, you will learn a lot more by broadening your horizons and thinking like a marketer, which means going beyond your own perceptions and understanding the way other people perceive products. When sourcing friends and colleagues make sure to reference them as sources, (just as you should with personal sources used for your SLP), e.g. "XXXXX, XXXXX, personal communication dated March 10th. 2011" if you received an email or "XXXXX, XXXXX, interview held on March 10th. 2011" if you had a conversation with the person.
You should also bear in mind that a fundamental goal, as with all the cases in MKT301, is to stimulate your learning and your answers should therefore aim to demonstrate that learning. In answering the question ensure that you demonstrate your understanding of products and branding, and in particular the concept of "having a relationship", as well as your learning from the previous module.
The three categories are:
- Brand of AUTOMOBILE.
- Brand of FAST FOOD RESTAURANT.
- Brand of CHOCOLATE CANDY BAR
Select ONE brand from TWO of these product categories, (e.g. you might choose a brand of AUTOMOBILE and a brand of fast food restaurant, and a brand of chewing gum and so on).
Apart from the information you normally put on your title page (see Module 1 case guidance for a reminder), also list there the two brands you have examined. That is a requirement.
IT IS VERY IMPORTANT THAT YOU INCLUDE THE NORMAL INFORMATION REQUIRED FOR A TITLE PAGE (see guidance for module 1) AS WELL AS THE TWO PRODUCT CATEGORIES AND BRAND NAMES ON THE TITLE PAGE OF YOUR PAPER. IF YOU DO NOT INCLUDE THIS INFORMATION ON THE TITLE PAGE YOU WILL BE REQUIRED TO REVISE THE PAPER TO INCLUDE THEM AND DOING SO WILL THUS DELAY THE GRADING OF YOUR WORK.
Fournier S. (1998, Mar). Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research. 24, (4). Available through Library Portal/Proquest, August 30, 2012.
Anon, (2001). Consumers say "no thanks" to relationships with brands. (2001, May). Direct Marketing, 64(1), 48-51+. Available through Library Portal/Proquest, August 30, 2012.
Lou Cooper. (2010, October). CUSTOMER RELATIONS: The secret to a good customer relationship. Marketing Week,24-26. Available through Library Portal/Proquest, August 30, 2012.
It is not assumed that you will agree with Dr. Fournier that people have relationships with brands, nor is it assumed that you will necessarily disagree. Clearly marketing scholars disagree about this so you can too! You might choose two brands, examine them, examine what it means to "have a relationship with a brand" and conclude that this idea does not hold water and has no benefits for marketers, in the process explaining why Dr. Fournier is wrong in your opinion. On the other hand you might conclude that her idea holds for one of the brands you have examined and not for the other, or perhaps holds for some people and not for others. Contrasting the two will be very important in that instance. Or you might conclude that it holds for both.
In addition, you needn't assume that relationships are necessarily good ones.
If you wish to include support or illustrative materials feel free to include these in an appendix of no more than three pages, but ensure that you refer to this material in the body of the paper.
Use information from the background readings as well as the case paper. Please cite all sources and provide a reference list at the end of the paper.
The following will be assessed in particular:
- Your demonstrated understanding of the marketing concepts central to the case question.
- Your ability to assess Fournier's arguments regarding relationships.
- Your demonstrated understanding of branding and customer relationships based on insights regarding both derived from the Fournier paper and your own experience and research.
The criteria used for assessment will be those explained on the MOD01 Home page, namely:
- Critical thinking.
- Effective communication skills.
The following is a suggestion about how to lay out your paper.
- Brief introduction: what problem your paper addresses, and you might indicate the answer you have found.
- Examination of central concepts: “brand”, “positioning” and "relationship".
- Examination of Fournier's argument as to "what is a relationship?" *
- Examination of whether people have relationships with your two chosen brands.
- Examination of whether people have relationships with all brands. **
- Conclusion: answer the question "Do consumers have relationships with brands?"
* The case article is written for a narrow academic audience well educated in the issues and the relevant background literature, which I recognize you are not so I shall try to give you some insight into her arguments here.
** The second and third readongs readings might lead you to think that obviously they don't as that's what their findings seem to show show for many brands, but do the people who conducted either of those studies ever explain what they mean by "having a relationship with a brand", and if not, how do you know then that their results show anything relevant? Think about it. It is important to be clear what "having a relationship with a brand" means and Fournier tries to do this.
Most papers published in academic journals, such as Fournier's are intended for an academic audience. Generally the authors start by trying to answer two questions:
1. Why is my paper important?
2. How does it relate to what has been written about this subject before?
As far as you are concerned neither of those questions are really important to you as you're not the intended academic audience and so you can largely ignore the paragraphs which deal with them.
However, there are then some important sections.
Prof. Fournier goes on to try to answer the question "How can a person have "a relationship" with an inanimate object (or a brand)?" by referring to past academic writing about brands and relationships. She tries to answer this by explaining what she means by "a relationship", and argues that in some ways branding and the management of brands makes inanimate objects animate.
So pay attention to:
P344: "For a relationship to truly exist, interdependence between partners must be evident: that is, the partners must collectively affect, define and redefine the relationship". If you accept that, does it hold true for you with the two bands you have chosen?
P344: "One way to legitimize the brand-as-partner is to highlight ways in which brands are animated, humanized or somehow personalized." Do the marketers of your chosen brands do this somehow, and if so how?
P345: "theories of animism... the brand is somehow possessed by the spirit of a past or present other... Spokespersons... the brand becomes the spokesperson... Brand person associations... air freshener that grandmother kept in her bathroom, a floor cleaner that an ex-husband always used... gifts... infused with the spirit of the giver. Complete anthropomorphization of the brand... Charlie Tuna and the Pillsbury dough boy. ... people assign selective human properties to a range of consumer goods." Is this true for your chosen brands?
P345: The paragraph beginning "For the brand to serve as legitimate relationship partner..." is important as this argues that the qualities she has discussed above are not sufficient for a brand to be regarded as a potential relationship partner. Study that and the following paragraph (to "...into the brand domain as well.") as it makes an important argument about why brands can be so regarded, and you may well not agree with it.
There are then some discussions about the meanings people derive from brands. Think about whether even if a brand has a meaning for a consumer, that is enough for it and the consumer to be regarded as having "a relationship".
There are two further sections (Multiplex phenomena and Dynamic Perspective) before the next section on "Methodology" and you might find these difficult to understand. If so don't worry, as if you can digest and think about the ideas I have indicated above you'll have enough for you to think about the case question.
Then focus on the much easier to read and understand transcripts of the three women who Prof. Fournier studies, and use these to get a sense of what it is she was looking for, or what it is she discovered when she interviewed them, and use those insights to help inform your own consideration of the two brands you have selected.
In the notes above I have tried to highlight what you should focus on when reading the early pages of the paper as there is some difficult to read material in those first few pages. The pages reporting the results of the interviews should be a lot easier (and more enjoyable) to read.
Finally, note that I do not expect you to spend a lot of time undertaking additional research for this case. Use the background teaching materials and the Fournier paper and THINK. This case study is intended to get you to think more deeply about products, brands, what it is that marketers do, how consumers view and "relate to" brands, (if they do), and to deepen your understanding of all that by relating it to your own experience and that of people you know.