No Borders, just horizons: co-creating small firm brand equity

Diane Morrad, Peter Fraser, Christopher Brown

Research output: Contribution to conferencePaperpeer-review


Purpose - This study aims to address the fact that there is no evidence of research seeking to examine the impact of branding on the development of SFs over a period (Odoom et al, 2017). It explores the brand management practices of SFs (Berthon et al, 2008) considering the extent to which these involve co-production and co-creation (Vargo and Lusch, 2004; 2008; 2010) to develop a brand orientation. The longitudinal design of the research facilitates an evaluation of the extent to which the entrepreneurial owner managers (EOMs) work beyond their firms’ borders to develop key capabilities and relationships that can develop brand equity. It also supports the exploration of how the entrepreneurs’ responses change over time as they gain experience.

Design/Methodology - The research adopts an inductive design using an interpretive, phenomenological approach. In line with research at the Marketing and Entrepreneurship Interface (Gilmore et al, 2013) it focuses on developing case studies from exploratory qualitative interviews with entrepreneurial owner managers of SFs based in Hertfordshire. Having established that co-production and co-creation activities are being used by SFs to support brand management, four SFs are participating in a longitudinal study that is exploring the brand management practices (Berthon et al, 2008) these firms are executing and how. This paper focuses on work to date with two of these cases.

Findings - Prior work suggests that brand orientation differentiates declining, stable and growing SFs (Rejoinen et al, 2012) and that brand focused SFs can achieve performance advantages over their rivals (Berthon et al, 2008; Rejoinen et al, 2012). Simultaneously, existing literature also suggests that most SFs have low levels of brand orientation (Krake, 2005; Wong and Merrilees, 2005) with the claim that owner/managers generally do not understand the concept of brand management (Mann and Kaur, 2013). However, our findings indicate that SFs are undertaking brand management practices that imitate those seen in large organisations and bring benefits to the firm (Centeno et al, 2013; Agostini et al, 2015). Some of these practices involve collaborative activities, indicating that brand value is being co-created (Merz et al, 2009; Payne et al, 2009, Hatch and Schultz, 2010) beyond the borders of the firm. A key difference to the existing literature, (Krake, 2005; Wong and Merrilees, 2005) is that some of the EOMs understand the principles of brand equity and are strategically developing their brands as assets. They recognize that brand elements such as the colours, logos and slogans they use can develop distinctive assets for the firm that create prevalence and uniqueness – particularly when they engage consumers in their brand management practices – and thus can differentiate their brands (Romaniuk, 2015). Critically, they appreciate that a positive effect will generate tangible value through increased revenue/profits and goodwill.

Research limitations/implications – Working with small samples as part of a case study approach creates an opportunity to obtain different perceptions of the phenomena under scrutiny and look for patterns that may be repeated in different situations (Coulis and Hussey, 2003) although the data is not generalizable. This paper is also based on “work in progress” and is therefore limited to two cases that have been recently analysed. However, our findings suggest that business support organisations may need to update the support they offer to SFs to better meet their needs, although wider research is required to establish what help SFs would find useful. Where marketing support exists for SFs it has potentially failed to keep pace with the apparent sophistication of brand management in SFs: organisations such as Wenta (a Hertfordshire based “one stop shop” to support small business) appear to conflate marketing and branding, thus relegating the brand to the role of differentiator as an element of marketing communications activity rather than encouraging SFs to seek new horizons for growth by developing practices that can transform distinctive brand elements into the intangible assets that create brand equity.

Originality/value - This paper makes an original contribution by being based on a longitudinal study that is exploring how co-production and co-creation operationalize to enable SFs to execute brand management practices that develop and maintain brand orientation.

Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 2017


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