June 08, 2004
The following is an extract from a paper I have just completed with Professor Simon Knox (Cranfield Uni) on reverse market corporate branding. If you are interested in a copy of "Reverse Market Orientation and Corporate Brand Development", please email me at email@example.com.
Corporate branding and market orientation
The concept of market orientation has steadily evolved to define a way or even a philosophy of doing business that has the potential to underpin the success of many organisations. Although there are multiple conceptual definitions and perspectives, there is general consensus that market orientation reflects the need for an organisation to be both market-responsive and customer-driven. For example, Desphande et al. (1993:p.27) suggest that a market orientation is particularly consistent with a customer orientation, or “a set of beliefs that put the customer’s interest first, while not excluding those of all other stakeholders such as owners, managers and employees in order to develop a long-term profitable enterprise”. This view regards customer orientation as part of an overall corporate culture where organisational values reinforce, perpetuate and align commercial actions and focus. Slater and Narver (1995: p.67) concur. They also define market orientation as “the culture that … places the highest priority on the profitable creation and maintenance of superior customer value whilst considering the interests of other stakeholders.”
If, as Deshpande et al. and Slater and Narver argue, market orientation defines a cultural focus on satisfying the needs and wants of an organisation’s customers, then corporate branding is one important means to convey this cultural emphasis. Its goals are to conceive, manage and communicate corporate brand values in order to guide managerial decisions, actions and normative firm behaviour. Yet despite these intentions, there are a growing number of critics of corporate branding who claim that it often does not achieve such alignment and consistency. These academics and practitioners argue that the customer’s interests can never be put first, despite the claims of the market concept and market orientation. For example, Mitchell (2003) suggests that instead of corporate brands fulfilling their role as trusted beacons of superior customer value, a form of “brand narcissism” sits at the heart of the way firms create, distribute and exchange value; a disorder that arises from a combination of the structural, operational, motivational and methodological causes that define modern brand management. Willmott (2003) also focuses on a misalignment in firm-customer interests. He suggests that many commercial organisations have forgotten the importance of mutual relationships that should exist between themselves and other key stakeholders. Ind (2003a:p.4) adopts a similar view, stating that in their primary pursuit of sales, growth and profitability, firms “can be meretricious and they can try to limit our freedom of choice. These are seller-centric brands that operate from the perspective of the brand builder … they undermine the very reason we pay for the reassurance of brands: trust”. Kitchin (2003) also discusses issues of trust, relationships and corporate brand management. Like Tapscott and Ticoll (2004) in “The Naked Corporation”, he places the three in the wider context of the declining trust that individual customers have in commercial organisations.
We argue that to address these criticisms, corporate brand management must first acknowledge and then find new approaches to correct the misalignment of interests that can exist between the actions of the organisation and the needs of its customers and other stakeholders. At the heart of this shift in corporate brand management is a greater understanding of customer attitudes, knowledge, values, relationships and their perceptions of value. Managers must augment the traditional "inside-out" tenets of corporate brand value (vision, culture and image) with additional "outside-in" dimensions that are derived from the new drivers of customer value.
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