Authenticity: The Driving Force Behind the Corporate Brand Saga: An Abstract
The corporate brand has been shown to provide a strategic benefit for companies (e.g., Hatch & Shultz, 2003; Schwaiger & Sarstedt, 2011) and a positive economic benefit to the company (e.g., Fombrun & Van Riel, 1997; Greyser, 1999) and facilitates differentiation from competitors (e.g., Hatch & Schultz, 2003; King 1991). As such the corporate brand is of importance and interest as a construct in academic research and to industry.
The corporate brand is broadly viewed as a structured object that can be designed, brought “to life,” projected, and – importantly – controlled by an organization. However, there are examples where, despite their best intentions and efforts, companies seem to lose control of their own corporate brand. A recent case of this is in relation to United Airline’s (mis)treatment of a passenger. No longer is United Airlines the “Friendly Skies”; people’s view of the brand is completely different from what United would really want. It seems that United Airlines is in a struggle with a variety of stakeholders over the meaning of its brand. This implies that the company does not have unilateral control of its brand and its meaning, which seems to be at odds with much of the corporate branding literature.
In order to explore this contradiction, this paper uses the concepts of the corporate brand as a special type of story, a saga, and the notion of the corporate brand being the company’s quest for authenticity.
Using qualitative methods, IBM’s corporate brand is investigated from the viewpoint of many of its stakeholders. By analyzing a set of phenomenological interviews, a set of blogs, a set of Twitter accounts, videos, news reports, and other media and technical reports about IBM, it is discovered that IBM’s corporate brand is outside the control of IBM and is a social construction by IBM and its stakeholders. It is a saga to which the company and its stakeholders contribute. As such, the corporate brand is a dynamic process driven along by IBM’s attempt to be authentic. That is, as IBM shapes its identity in response to the expectations of its stakeholders and tries to be true to its identity, it is constantly changing. From this process the corporate brand emerges and is propelled and motivated by the force of authenticity.
These findings contribute to the marketing literature by providing a revised view of the corporate brand. This has theoretical implications and also changes how managers deal with and try to manage their corporate brands as they now recognize that they are only one of the contributors to the ongoing saga.