Going Legit: Marketing as a Social Designer

From a conventional marketing perspective, firms are able to create a new market by satisfying an unmet consumer need or by developing an innovation that is inherently better or more advanced than existing alternatives. However, these traditional marketing approaches are far less likely to succeed in environments in which the value and meanings of a new product, service or industry are subject to ongoing negotiation among multiple actors, including consumers, competitors, policymakers, scientific experts, activists, celebrities and journalists. Marketing scholars have recely begun to address this oversight by theorizing marketing as a sociological design process. These authors bring social and institutional theories to bear on the creation and sustenance of markets as complex, multi-actor social systems. Four studies in the Journal of Marketing have recently adopted this promising theoretical lens.

At the center of marketing and consumer research adopting a sociological perspective is the discussion of market creation as a process of social legitimation. In “Megamarketing: The Creation of Markets as a Social Process,” Ashlee Humphreys draws from institutional theory in sociology to theorize the process of “megamarketing”—originally defined by Philip Kotler as the use of strategic efforts by a firm or firms to gain the cooperation of multiple stakeholders—to understand how new industries are created and sustained in a complex social and political context. An analysis of casino gambling is used to demonstrate the role of normative, cultural-cognitive, and regulatory structures in the adoption and eventual acceptance of a new product or industry through the process of legitimation. The paper shows that market creation can be understood as an intervention into this social and political environment and that firms are successful to the degree to which they can effectively reshape this environment.

Market creation approaches based on legitimation shift attention from the product to the brand. To establish a new innovation, firms often use emotional branding: a consumer-centric, relational, story-driven approach to forging deep and enduring affective bonds between consumers and brands. Conversely, the quest for market legitimation is often undermined by negative brand images and meanings that are circulated in popular culture. In “Emotional Branding and the Strategic Value of the Doppelgänger Brand Image,” Craig Thompson, Aric Rindfleisch and Zeynep Arsel demonstrate how so-called “doppelgänger brand images” undermine the perceived authenticity of an emotional branding story and, thus, the identity value that the brand provides to consumers. Rather than perceiving these negative images and meanings as a threat to be managed, managers should use them proactively as a diagnostic tool to determine when an emotional branding narrative is beginning to lose its cultural resonance.

In “How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic,” Markus Giesler demonstrates how marketers can benefit from an understanding of market creation as a brand-mediated legitimation process. In this paper, Giesler uses the actor-network theory to demonstrate that the legitimacy of a new technological innovation, such as a new machine, technique or medical drug, evolves over the course of contestations between brand images promoted by the innovator and doppelgänger brand images promoted by other stakeholders. The paper offers a four-step brand image revitalization process that can be applied either by managers interested in fostering an innovation’s congruence with prevailing social norms or by other stakeholders (such as activists and competitors) interested in undermining its marketing success. The findings integrate previously disparate research streams on branding and market creation, and provide managers with the conceptual tools for sustaining a branded innovation’s legitimacy over time.

Reframing an innovation’s meanings through emotional branding stories can also be critical in managing the competitive dynamics of so-called “plural logics” markets, which are composed of multiple competing practices, beliefs and rule systems. In “Navigating the Institutional Logics of Markets: Implications for Strategic Brand Management,” Burcak Ertimur and Gokcen Coskuner-Balli examine the role of institutional entrepreneurs in competitively shaping the U.S. yoga market. The authors link shifting emphases on institutional logics and their sustenance to institutional entrepreneurs' accumulation and transmission of cultural capital, strategies to legitimize plural logics, distinct branding practices, and contestations among the pervading logics. The article offers a managerial framework for managing conflicting demands of logics, conveying brand legitimacy, and creating a coherent brand identity in plural logic markets.

The articles presented in this collection demonstrate the value of theorizing marketing as a sociological design process to better understand the creation, sustenance and evolution of industries, product and innovation markets, and markets characterized by plural institutional logics. They highlight the benefits of conceptualizing market creation as a process of social legitimation, the influence of normative, cultural-cognitive and regulatory structures on the legitimation and sustenance of concrete exchange structures between producers and consumers, and the important role of emotional branding strategies and institutional entrepreneurship in changing existing structures of legitimation.

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Articles Featured in this Collection:

Ertimur, Burcak, and Gokcen Coskuner-Balli (2015), “Navigating the Institutional Logics of Markets: Implications for Strategic Brand Management,” Journal of Marketing, 79 (March), 40-61.

Giesler, Markus (2012), “How Doppelgänger Brand Images Influence the Market Creation Process: Longitudinal Insights from the Rise of Botox Cosmetic,” Journal of Marketing, 76 (November), 55-68.

Humphreys, Ashlee (2010), “Megamarketing: The Creation of Markets as a Social Process,” Journal of Marketing, 74 (March), 1-19.

Kotler, Philip (1986), “Megamarketing,” Harvard Business Review, 64 (2),117–25.

Thompson, Craig J., Aric Rindfleisch, and Zeynep Arsel (2006), “Emotional Branding and the Strategic Value of the Doppelgänger Brand Image,” Journal of Marketing, 70 (January), 50-64.