Brand orientation is as a new approach to brands that focuses on brands as resources and strategic hubs. Specially, “Brand orientation is an approach in which the process of the organization revolve around the creation, development, and protection of brand identity in an ongoing interaction with target customers and stakeholders with the aim of achieving lasting competitive advantages in the form of brands” (Urde, 1999). This orientation is relevant for describing companies (and organizations or institutions) that strive not only to satisfy needs and wants, but also to lend a strategic significance to brands. The brand is a strategic platform.
The discussion about market orientation and brand orientation is in essence concerned with a company’s or organization’s approach to brands and the market. Is it the brand identity or the brand image that serves as a guiding light? Should a company’s management primarily take the outside-in perspective or the inside-out perspective when guiding their brands? Or should they select a brand approach that is a combination of these two perspectives? How can management square the general principle that the customer is king with the specific belief that our brands are our greatest assets?
In my doctoral thesis (1997) I argued for a new corporate approach (mindset) towards brands: brand orientation. The aim was to examine how an organization’s approach to brands can (1) ideally, help to build and protect brands as strategic resources or (2) in the worst case, result in loss of distinctiveness and trademark degeneration (a brand that has lost its distinctiveness may become a common word forming part of the language). In the worst-case scenario, the corporation loses its exclusive right (ownership) to the trademark, which thereafter is free for all to use. What happens in the process where values and meaning are created was one of the intriguing questions of my thesis. Words such as dynamite, windsurfer, vespa, insulin, and gramophone are examples of successful brands which have eventually degenerated. Today, leading brands such as Google, iPod, and Rollerblade are sometimes used to describe a type of products or services, which can be a sign of loss of distinctiveness.
The concept of trademark degeneration is both a key and a gate to a range of fundamental questions related to brands and the management of brands. In the case studies Nestlé (Nescafé), Tetra Pak (Tetra Brik), DuPont (Teflon), and Pharmacia (Nicorette) I examined how brands are built and how they may be lost. My research called for the integration of legal, semantic, semiotic, marketing, communication, and strategic theory.
In retrospect, I view the main contributions of my thesis as the brand orientation approach and its conceptual framework, the process of the creation of meaning and value (and loss of the same), and the corporation’s value foundation. For me, as a researcher, finding a methodological approach was and still is of value and importance.
The aim of this research project was to focus on the internal identity and value foundation of corporate brands. In the Journal of Marketing Management (1999) I argued for a more brand oriented approach with brands as a resources and as a point of departure for business strategy. In an extensive field study of Volvo using multiple longitudinal embedded cases (the Volvo corporation and its five business areas), I systematically explored the role of the corporate core values in the brand building process: from mission to internal brand identity (European Journal of Marketing, 2003). I coined this process as the core value-based corporate brand building process, taking into account both the internal side and the external side of the process. Different types of values were categorized: values related to the organization, values summing up the brand (core values), and extended/customer values. The Volvo case illustrates the close link between business strategy and brand strategy.
In retrospect, the articles on the mindset of brand-oriented organizations (1999) and core value based corporate brand building (2003) were a contribution to the emerging field of corporate branding, especially focusing on the importance of internal branding. Together with professors Bill Merrilees (Griffith University, Australia) and Carsten Baumgarth (HWR, Berlin) we were guest editor for a JMM Special Issue on brand orientation (2011).
The study of the Crown as a brand was initiated after I had participated in a televised discussion in Sweden on the economic value of monarchy. My line of argument was that a Crown is a symbol for a nation and that such a symbol is maybe not so different from a brand. Later, I took the initiative to form an international trio of researchers (Professors J.M.T. Balmer, Brunel University, UK, and S.A. Greyser, Harvard Business School), with intellectual interests in corporate branding, to pursue the topic of the Crown as a brand.
We decided to focus upon (but not restrict ourselves to) the Western European constitutional monarchies. We were granted access to the Swedish Royal Court and interviewed senior members of the Court as well as the Royal Family. We also conducted interviews with others whose knowledge and experience informed our perspectives on monarchies and how they are managed. We also undertook considerable research in the literature regarding monarchies from a range of disciplines beyond management. It soon became apparent to us that examining the Crown through the lens of corporate branding had the potential to offer meaningful insights for comprehending the institution of the monarchy and the associated area of its management. Our primary motivation was in the intellectual challenge of applying corporate branding scholarship to an examination of the ancient, enduring institution of monarchy – an institution we consider analogous to corporate brands.
We first published working papers at Harvard Business School (2004) and Bradford University (2005), “to get a stake in the ground”, and later, longer articles in the Journal of Brand Management (2007). A commentary on communication dimensions, incorporating performance assessment, appeared in the European Journal of Marketing (2006).
In retrospect, this study was a unique opportunity to explore the limits of key concepts within the field of corporate branding. Core concepts in our field of research, such as managed visibility, willingness-to-support, core-values, and vision were examined in this very different context.
We have presented the outcomes of our research on monarchies at conferences (both academic and more practice-oriented). Our articles have been quoted in the international research debate and beyond. The so-called “5-R model” on managed visibility is used in practice. Among the challenges related to this study was to handle the media interest “beyond curiosity” in the research project. One of the decisions we took was to self-fund the research to underline our objective position on monarchies as constitutional institutions.
The purpose of this research project was to explore, investigate, and define heritage as a part of corporate brand identity. The goals were to uncover heritage and to understand better how to activate, nurture, and protect heritage in the process of corporate branding.
We first recognized the value of heritage when we studied monarchies as corporate brands. This led us (Urde, Greyser, and Balmer) to seek and study other brand situations where heritage seems to play an important role and adds value. The approach we used to develop the concept of heritage brands is multiple case-design, asking primarily “how?” and “why?” questions. We also used multiple sources of evidence: literature study (broad approach), archival studies, case examples from practice, and interviews.
We found heritage brands to constitute a distinct branding category with its own set of defining criteria and a specific approach for effective management. We described five quantifiable elements that define what we term a brand’s heritage quotient. We also presented our view of the brand stewardship necessary to manage brands with heritage. Our primary focus was on corporate and other organizational heritage brands, but we also refer to the relevance of heritage to product and service branding.
In retrospect, this research project on heritage and brand identity constitutes a broadening and deepening of our work related to “monarchies as corporate brands”. We went from a relative limited target audience for our findings (constitutional monarchies) to the much broader one of brands with heritage.
The aim of this research project was the uncovering of a corporate brand’s core values (Journal of Management and Decision Making, 2009). Following up on one key aspect of heritage, track record, I set out to explore ways to uncover a corporate brand’s core values. The approach is to identify patterns of core values that are (1) perceived externally by customers and non-customer stakeholders and (2) rooted internally within the organization.
All established corporate brands have track records. They may vary in length and continuity. All established corporate brands have core values making up the backbone of their brands’ track records – whether they are defined or not. The core values may also vary in number, in the degree to which they are rooted internally, and in the extent to which they are perceived by the outside world.
The study of the track records of Volvo, IKEA, IBM, and Scanpump gives insights into core values and how they evolve. Four categories of core values emerge, termed true, aspirational, potential, and hollow. The management implications of “how to build true corporate values and avoid hollow ones” are discussed using the core value grid and examples from the case studies.
This research project integrates, further develops, and links in particular the concepts of track record and core values. The time dimension and dynamics of the identity of a brand are illustrated and discussed, inspired by the findings of the projects on monarchies and heritage. My earlier and continuous work on core values is further elaborated, deepened, and broaden. The main managerial contribution, in my view, is the core value grid, which uncovers values such as true, potential, aspirational, and hollow.
The lack of a widely agreed framework to help define and align corporate brand identity constitutes a serious managerial problem and a shortcoming of the academic literature. In response, I developed and introduced the Corporate Brand Identity Matrix (CBIM), which draws upon the relevant literature, enriched by hands-on corporate experience gained by its application in three international corporate branding case studies (Journal of Brand Management, 2013). Corporate brand identity is explored internally, externally, and by focusing on the “brand core”. The CBIM offers academics and managers a theoretical and practical guide to the describing, defining, and aligning of corporate brand identity. It is a tailored alternative to existing frameworks, which have often been designed for product brands, not corporate brands.
The CBIM offers management a structured overview of the corporate identity and clarifies what it is, how it works and how to build it. The managerial tool guides the definition of the corporate brand identity and its core, a necessary point of reference for those in charged with managing it. Unlike many other frameworks, the CBIM is specifically designed for corporate brand identity, which can be used in combination with models designed for product brands. The CBIM helps management to identity “gaps” and guides the alignment of key identity elements into a coherent whole – a strong corporate brand. In professor Greyser and my Harvard Business Review article “What Does Your Corporate Brand Stand for” (2019), this managerial tool kit was presented supported by several case illustrations, such as the Nobel Prize, Trelleborg, Intrum, and Bona.
Positioning is one of the key concept in the management of brands. Assistant professor Christian Koch (LUSEM) and I explored positioning with the specific aim of discovering original ways of understanding and applying it. The roots of positioning, its subsequent evolution and its present-day usage are outlined in the literature review with case examples illustrating different schools of thought.
We found that the richness and practical usefulness of the positioning concept are lessened by a surprising vagueness in accounts of its meaning and application. Two main approaches to positioning strategy are distinguished: market-oriented positioning, an image-driven perspective, and brand-oriented positioning, an identity-driven alternative view. We found that there are five distinct ways in which positioning is understood and applied in current theory and practice. Those are described and defined by means of games-based metaphors and real-world case examples. The conceptual framework we developed shows two fundamental approaches to defining a brand’s intended position; an impartial appraisal of differing schools of thought regarding positioning strategy; and a new vocabulary to bridge the gap between the theory and practice of positioning. The overview of the principles of positioning is helpful as a theoretical framework and managerial tool.
What is core of a brand? How is it managed over time? How can the brand core be preserved, while stimulating progress and manage change? In principle, all established brands have an inner core, even though it may vary in terms of content, depth and clarity. Essentially, the core of a brand is what it can be reduced to without losing its fundamental meaning or its utility as a point of reference in long-term management.
The new ”brand core” framework mitigates a paradox and, by defining the brand core as a point of reference, allows for brand management to address both continuity and change and consider a range of stakeholders while doing so. The integration of rhetoric into the framework makes it applicable to product, service and corporate brands, or indeed anything that can be considered a “brand”. The brand core is defined as “an entity of core values and a promise”.
By shifting perspectives (logos, ethos, pathos) on a brand’s core over time, change and development are stimulated while preserving its inner values and promise. The brand core framework can also be helpful in a systematic analysis of a value proposition for any type of brand.
The purpose is to understand the Nobel Prize as a “true” heritage brand in a networked situation and its management challenges, especially regarding identity and reputation. The Nobel Prize serves as an in-depth case study and is analyzed within an extended corporate brand identity framework that incorporates reputation. The Nobel Prize is a “true” corporate heritage brand (in this case, organizational brand). It is the “hub” of a linked network of brands – “a federated republic”. The brand core of the Nobel Prize is its set of core values supporting and leading to its promise; “for the benefit of humankind”.
its set of core values supporting and leading to its promise; “for the benefit of humankind”. The core constitutes a hub around which the essential award-granting institutions, as well as the Nobel Foundation and other related entities and stakeholders gravitate. The laureates represent the Nobel Prize track record. The Will of Alfred Nobel, described as “The Nobel Prize federation’s constitution” is interpreted by us as indicating a brand-oriented approach within a network of interrelated institutions and organizations. The concept of “brand-oriented networks” is introduced. An individual organization’s approach to its marketplace, brand-resources and strategy may to varying degrees be brand-oriented. This study suggests that brand-orientation also applies to a network of brands. Separately, the extended version of the corporate brand identity matrix (Urde, 2013; Greyer & Urde, 2019) provides a corporate brand framework for identity and reputation management, including networked brands.
The new extended framework and the definition of a brand network with a “hub” provide logic for managing the network. Essential managerial questions on how to leverage brand heritage or not are placed in perspective. Identifying and understanding one’s brand heritage and the importance of brand stewardship are reinforced.
This research is about leadership with the past, present and future of a brand’s identity in focus. It is a specific leadership with brand identity as its point of departure in the organization coordination, development, and protection of brand assets. The aim is to build an earned reputation and to achieve lasting brand-based competitive advantages. This is done in an on-going interaction and communications with the organization, customers and non-customer stakeholders.
The idea with the MBTS think tank is to give knowledgeable and genuinely interested professionals within the area of management of brands an opportunity to gather and discuss in an informal and open manner.
We strive for an exchange of knowledge and experience in a small network that really works. The think tank is an annually held forum during 1.5 days.
Invitation is by recommendation and we limit the number of participants to 12. We avoid having competing companies represented. Discussions are confidential.
We invite a few new persons every year. Focus, conversation and time for reflection and insights are what we seek – in a sympatric and creative ambiance. For each year we decided upon a theme, such as “internal brand building”, “branding building in the market down-turn”, or “Branding and Social Media”.
Each participant brings own cases and questions to the Think Tank group. It may concern an ongoing project, process or strategy relating to the management of brands.
2018 ”The discovery of the Black Sea ships”, Johan Rönnby, prof. marine archiology
2017 ”The history of knowledge”, Svante Nordin, prof. History of science
2016 ”Management’s promises”, Stefan Svenningson, prof. business strategy.
2015 ”Space and positioning”, Cecilia Jarlskog, prof. emerita physics, Lund University
2014 “Time: What about it; what of it?”, Bodil Jönsson, prof. emerita, Lund University
2013 “Sustainability in Int. Economy”, Christer Gunnarsson, professor int. business
2012 “Corporate brand management”, F Andersson & M Larsson, master students
2011 “The art discourse”, Lars V, professor in contemporary art
2010 “The shared thought”, Anders Sigrell, professor rhetoric
2009 ”Decision making”, Nils-Eric Sahlin, professor medical ethics
2008 ”Trust”, Peter Sylwan, prof. emeritus communications
2007 ”When buildings speak”, Kerstin Barup, professor architecture,
2006 ”Our brains seek patterns”, Peter Gärdenfors, professor cognition
2005 ”Contemporary art & branding”, Lars V, professor contemporary art
2004 ”The Rhetoric of the Brand”, Kurt Johannesson, professor emeritus rhetoric
2003 ”Ethic and organizational values”, Arne Söderbäck, Clergy
2002 ”Living the Brand”, Mats Rönne, Brand Communication at Ericsson
2001 ”Brand identity”, Leif Ahlberg, Brand Director Volvo Group