Many companies have made costly mistakes in managing their brands. Arthur Andersen, Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia, Ford Motor Co. and Firestone are but some of the more infamous examples. Less dramatically, many firms have faltered badly in their attempts to extend their brands by moving them into different product categories, resulting in damage to the parent brands.1 The root cause of these kinds of missteps is, at least in part, the lack of a fundamental understanding of brands and their changing nature.
Part of the problem is that brands have become increasingly difficult to manage. As they have become more global, for instance, they have come to characterize more than merely the relationship between manufacturers and customers. Their influence now extends to employees, the investment community, the media, suppliers, governments and even competitors. The meaning of a brand is no longer the result of a dialogue between buyer and seller, but of a multilogue. A company that wishes to extend its brand must therefore negotiate that transition among all the various parties involved. This process has become even more difficult because the widespread availability of information over the Internet and other media has weakened the influence that marketers have over their own brands.
To manage their brands effectively, companies must not only take a much more customer-centric view,2 they must also have the appropriate tools. To that end, we have developed a theoretical framework based on our proposed concept of a brand space. Two dimensions define the brand space: the degree of abstraction (whether the brand has become independent from its associated product) and the degree of enactment (whether the brand focuses more on the meaning of a product or its functionality). Companies that understand where their brands are in that space, and where they need them to be, will be more successful brand managers in an environment of escalating competition and rapidly changing markets.
Companies have traditionally taken a minimalist view of brands as an effective means of identifying and differentiating their products and services.3 In contrast, we favor the broader view of a brand as a symbol around which a relationship and experiences can evolve.4 Such a symbol both mediates and embodies — rather than merely denoting — the buyer-seller relationship.