Harnessing consumer behaviour to support brand development in small firms

Diane Morrad, Christopher Brown, Peter Fraser

Research output: Working paper


This paper seeks to address the fact that limited evidence is available about the impact of branding on the development of small firms (SFs) over time. Specifically, it explores the extent to which the brand management practices of SFs encourage consumer co-creation behaviours that support the firm to develop and sustain brand orientation.

Brand orientation allows firms to balance the risks associated with the outside in approach of market orientation with an inside-out position where brand identity is used to determine how customer needs are satisfied. More recent work suggests the existence of hybrid strategic orientations which require different capabilities for successful execution, and this has implications for brand owners/managers However, little has been published about the brand management practices of SFs although it seems apparent that the management style and operations of these firms are different to those of large organisations due to a specific combination of resource constraints, marketing competence and the dominance of the owner manager.

Furthermore, based on the view that the consumer in a post digital world is no longer content to be a passive purchaser of a brand, brand co creation theory surmises that consumers are now active participants in the creation of brand experiences. This suggests that SFs wanting to develop a sustainable advantage through brand orientation must engage the customer’s abilities to create brand value, but there is limited evidence to demonstrate if and how this is achieved.

Given that existing evidence also states that brand orientation differentiates declining, stable and growing SFs and that brand focused SFs can achieve performance advantages over their rivals, developing a greater understanding of the brand management practices of successful SFs may help to improve the overall economic contribution of SFs. As the extant literature says that most SFs have low levels of brand orientation and that owner/managers generally do not understand the concept of brand management, a better understanding of how these concepts operationalize could enable us to develop suitable training and support for this group.

In line with research at the Marketing and Entrepreneurship Interface this study uses an inductive design with an interpretive, phenomenological approach. It focuses on developing case studies from ongoing exploratory qualitative interviews with owner managers of five SFs based in Hertfordshire.

The cases include owner managers who are undertaking brand management practices that imitate those seen in large organisations, with corresponding benefits for the firm. Some of the practices involve collaborative activities indicating that brand value is being co-created, with these owner managers demonstrating an understanding of co-creation as a consumer behavior. Accordingly, these owner managers engage their consumers in direct and indirect co-creation activities.

Our key contribution to the debate is therefore to provide insight into how brand management practices develop in SFs over time: to the best of our knowledge this is the first longitudinal study of its type. Linked to this, we contribute to knowledge by offering case studies that demonstrate how brand co-creation is operationalizing in SFs.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018


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