Brands are not a new phenomenon, they have been a part of industrial production since the mid to late nineteenth century (Lury, 2004; Moor, 2007; Kornberger, 2010). Throughout the industrial era brands were used to identify and differentiate, were increasingly used to embody reputation, and acted as a link between company and the potential consumer (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004). In this company-centric market (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004) the delineation between producer and consumer was clear and the brand was the conduit to send messages from the company to passive consumers (Kornberger, 2010).
However, within the last twenty years branding has become ever more central to the strategic organisation and practise of companies (Moor, 2007), defining relations between products or services (Lury, 2004), and a means to organise production and manage consumption (Kornberger, 2010). Brands have retained their roles as identifiers and differentiators but increasingly strive to develop ‘human’ attributes such as ‘values’ and ‘feelings’ (Moor, 2007) in order to create, define and evolve relationships, and in so doing have become complex symbols representing ‘ideas and attributes’ (Gardner and Levy in Arvidsson in Brewer and Trentmann, 2006: 81). Brands have become a ‘premise for communication, interaction and experience’ (Arvidsson in Brewer and Trentmann, 2006: 84), an interface between producers and consumers changing the way both operate, organising production and managing meaning (Kornberger, 2010).
Much of brand management literature persists in considering brands as internal, proprietary resources, and many companies still consider the brand to be their intellectual property.
This productive role of consumers has seen brands become more emergent in nature, less hierarchical and more heterarchical (Pitt et al., 2006). Rather than objects of exchange brands can be viewed as the ‘sum total of relationships among stakeholders’ (Meyers in Ind (ed.), 2003: 23); dynamic objects in movement that continually develop through time from the relations of multiple agents (Lury, 2004; Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004). Rather than intermediaries brands can increasingly be considered environments, moving from persuaders to platforms (Jones, 2012), and as such the relevance and importance of a brand extends beyond an economic tool of the industrial age to incorporate social and cultural relevancies. In the ‘knowledge economy’ – a society in which knowledge is the resource (Drucker, 1993) – a brand is defined, and redefined, by all stakeholders and evolves through experiences (Prahalad and Ramaswamy, 2004), meaning companies find it difficult to position or control a brand (Pitt et al., 2006).
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