A renaissance of brand experience: Advancing the concept through a multi-perspective analysis

A renaissance of brand experience: Advancing the concept through a multi-perspective analysis

Journal of Business Research 91 (2018) 123–133 Contents lists available at ScienceDirect Journal of Business Research journal homepage: www.elsevier...

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Journal of Business Research 91 (2018) 123–133

Contents lists available at ScienceDirect

Journal of Business Research journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/jbusres

A renaissance of brand experience: Advancing the concept through a multiperspective analysis


Daniela Andreinia, , Giuseppe Pedelientoa, Lia Zarantonellob, Chiara Solerioa a b

Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods, University of Bergamo, Italy University of Roehampton, Business School, London, UK



Keywords: Brand experience Relationship theory Service-dominant logic Consumer culture theory Literature review Research agenda

Brand experience is one of the most promising concepts to emerge in consumer research over the last decade. However, unlike other brand-related concepts, it has often been considered implicitly, not explicitly, in consumption dynamics. This paper aims to advance knowledge of the concept through an extensive literature review, covering studies that mention the phenomenon of brand experience both explicitly and implicitly (i.e., using relationship theory, service-dominant logic and consumer culture theory). We propose a multi-level framework encompassing the psychological, relational, social and cultural dynamic forces that may enhance the understanding of brand experience. In addressing the micro-, macro- and meso-levels of the proposed framework, we set out a research agenda designed to support a renaissance of brand experience in literature.

1. Introduction Research on brand experience has flourished since the beginning of the 2000s as a natural consequence of the experiential focus of the marketplace (Pine & Gilmore, 1998, 1999) and research on marketing and consumer behaviour (Aggarwal, 2004; Schmitt & Zarantonello, 2013; 2008). Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) built on previous works on the experiential value of consumption (e.g., Hirschman & Holbrook, 1982; Holbrook & Hirschman, 1982) and on the emerging approach of experiential marketing (Schmitt, 1999) to provide a definition and an empirical operationalization of brand experience, establishing a promising stream of research within the academic debate. They defined brand experience as “subjective, internal consumer responses (sensations, feelings, and cognitions) and behavioural responses evoked by brand-related stimuli that are part of a brand's design and identity, packaging, communications, and environments” (Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009, p. 53). They identified four constituent dimensions: sensory, affective, intellectual and behavioural brand experience. Sensory brand experience is the visual, auditory, olfactory, gustatory and tactile stimulation provided by the brand. Affective brand experience is the emotional stimulation provided. Intellectual brand experience is the cognitive stimulation, and behavioural brand experience is about the actions and behaviours stimulated by the brand. Based on Schmitt's (1999) definition of experience, which contains “sense”, “feel”, “think”, “act” and “relate” dimensions, some scholars have also mentioned an additional social (relational)

dimension (Nysveen, Pedersen, & Skard, 2013; Schmitt, Brakus, & Zarantonello, 2015), which is about “relating to others through the brand” (Schmitt, Brakus, & Zarantonello, 2015, p. 170). Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) argued, and empirically showed, that brand experience is different from other brand-related constructs such as brand attitude, brand involvement, brand attachment and brand personality. They also demonstrated that brand experience is an antecedent of brand personality, a strong predictor of brand loyalty and even a driver of satisfaction, and noted, “if a brand evokes an experience, this alone may lead to satisfaction and loyalty” (p. 63). Brand experience is increasingly recognised as important in managerial practice. A recent survey by the global meetings and events specialist Freeman (2017) found that 59% of the nearly 1000 Chief Marketing Officers surveyed valued brand experience as a way to create ongoing relationships, and over one-third expected brand experiences to make up 21–50% of their marketing budgets within the next five years. However, academics have failed to show similar enthusiasm for the further development of a definition and operationalization of the brand experience construct. A thorough literature review of papers on “brand experience” found that in almost all cases, research relied on the theoretical perspective of brand experience derived from the work of Schmitt (1999) and Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) without providing any criticism or further theoretical elaboration of the concept. Since 2009, most papers using the construct of brand experience in empirical studies have built on the theoretical premises of positivist epistemology, and provided empirical quantitative tests of causal

Corresponding author at: Department of Management, Economics and Quantitative Methods, University of Bergamo, Via dei Caniana 2, 24127 Bergamo, Italy. E-mail address: [email protected] (D. Andreini).

https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2018.05.046 Received 23 August 2017; Received in revised form 30 May 2018; Accepted 31 May 2018 0148-2963/ © 2018 Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.

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using the definition of Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) and investigated how brand experience has been approached through relationship theory, SDL and CCT. This enabled us to provide a broader conceptualization of brand experience based on the theoretical approach of each of these streams. Based on this, we put forward a new multi-level and dynamic theoretical framework with three contextual levels of analysis (micro-, meso-, and macro-levels) derived from sociological theory (see Turner, 2010 and Turner & Boyns, 2001 for finer grained analysis of the sociological debate about the micro-, meso- and macro-divide in sociological theory). This is designed to help future researchers understand and examine how brand experience forms and develops at each level. Finally, we proposed a research agenda setting out suitable theories and research methods for the future, which we believe would advance the current understanding of brand experience across each level. To our knowledge, this is the first paper to move the concept of brand experience forward, providing a theoretical, empirical and practical pluralism through which scholars and practitioners can approach this concept.

relationships between the antecedents and outcomes of brand experience (Ding & Tseng, 2015; Lin, 2015; Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013). Only 19% of these papers were published in journals with an impact factor. The development of brand experience has therefore only marginally affected the academic debate, despite the acknowledgment that experience is making revolutionary changes in the contemporary marketplace (Diamond et al., 2009; Firat & Venkatesh, 1995; Pine & Gilmore, 1999). In the decade since the work by Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009), the changes recorded in consumers, markets and consumption contexts (e.g., digitalization of markets, proliferation of consumption contexts, and co-creative relationships between demand and supply) suggest the need for a broader view of brand experience (Schmitt, Brakus, & Zarantonello, 2014). However, a closer and more critical look at the marketing literature on brand experience reveals little progress. This trajectory is sharply different from that drawn by other recently established brand-related constructs suitable for alternative conceptualizations and operationalizations (see Brownlie & Saren, 1995; Moussa, 2015 for similar arguments) such as brand personality (Aaker, 1997; Azoulay & Kapferer, 2003; Geuens, Weijters, & De Wulf, 2009), brand attachment (Jiménez & Voss, 2014; Lacœuilhe, 2000; Park, MacInnis, & Priester, 2008; Park, MacInnis, Priester, Eisingerich, & Iacobucci, 2010; Thomson, MacInnis, & Park, 2005) and brand love (Ahuvia, Batra, & Bagozzi, 2008; Albert, Merunka, & Valette-Florence, 2008; Bagozzi, Batra, & Ahuvia, 2017; Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012; Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009; Zarantonello, Formisano, & Grappi, 2016). The academic interest in these brand-related concepts, reflected in the number of studies (Diamond et al., 2009), demonstrates scholars' commitment to keep abreast of the dynamism of brand meanings and branding practices. The same level of interest cannot be identified in brand experience. To date, there is still only one definition, a single operationalization of the brand experience construct, and a single theoretical perspective through which it is approached. The established conceptualization of brand experience is rooted in a stimuli–reaction paradigm derived from psychological studies. The way in which it is currently formalized therefore tends to “objectify” the chain of effects between brand stimuli and brand experience (Hatch, 2012). That is implicitly biased towards an overemphasis on the ability of marketers to design and deploy brand stimuli to generate specific brand experiences, and to link these (hopefully positive) brand experiences to desirable outcomes (Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Schmitt, 1999). In this paper, we deductively demonstrated that scholars are becoming increasingly keen to view brands as socially-constructed phenomena created and co-created through interaction between marketplace actors (Arvidsson, 2006; Brodie, 2017; Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009). Post-structuralist epistemologies rely on the assumption that marketplace phenomena are enabled and constrained by continuous interaction between marketplace actors (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011). Scholars using these epistemologies, therefore, are particularly unlikely to approach brand experience “à la Brakus et al.”, to avoid the trap of a misalignment between the theoretical grounding of the definition, and the theoretical stance assumed in the empirical work. A close look at the brand literature shows that brand experience is a central topic in many research streams using post-structuralist epistemology, although Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello's (2009) definition is seldom mentioned. We found three main theoretical streams dealing with brand experience that did not build on Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009). These streams were rooted in (1) relationship theory (Fournier, 1998), (2) consumer culture theory (CCT) (Arnould & Thompson, 2005, 2015), and (3) service-dominant logic (SDL) (Vargo & Lusch, 2004, 2008). We examined how brand experience has been conceptualized in studies that contrasted the reductionist definition of brand experience with the theoretical stance used to examine its issues. For this paper, we carried out a literature review of empirical works

2. Brand experience in literature We started this research by conducting a systematic literature review of articles published in academic journals from the first paper that mentioned “brand experience” in 1991 (Ortmeyer & Huber, 1991) to the end of 2016 (Tafesse, 2016), scanning the key bibliographical databases (Scopus, EBSCO, ABI Proquest Complete, Web of Science). We used “brand experience” as the search string and looked for its presence in the title or abstract. This resulted in 388 papers, of which 74 were mainly focused on “brand experience”. The main starting point referenced by most of these papers was Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009). Building on Schmitt's (1999) conceptual work, Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) followed a multi-step approach to develop a conceptualization and operationalization of the brand experience construct, using more than 1000 respondents and 70 brands. They derived four brand experience dimensions (sensory, affective, intellectual and behavioural) from a literature review and then corroborated them through a qualitative study. In five subsequent quantitative studies, they generated and selected the brand experience scale items (Study 1); reduced the set of items and confirmed the dimensionality of the scale (Studies 2 and 3); further established the reliability and validity of the scale (Studies 4 and 5); and used the brand experience scale to predict key consumer behaviour outcomes (satisfaction and loyalty). No marketing studies have tried to critically analyse or extend the brand experience concept after the conceptualization of Schmitt (1999) and Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009). Instead, almost all adopted their definition. Brand experience has generally been investigated using a positivist epistemology and quantitative methods (48 out of 74 studies). There were two conceptual works, one literature review, 12 using qualitative methods (mostly interviews) and 11 practitioner-oriented papers. The papers using a positivist perspective, in particular, aimed to find antecedents and outcomes of brand experience and eventually analysed how firms can leverage sources (brand stimuli) to generate experience (see Appendix A). The positivist ontology (Lincoln & Guba, 2000) means that these papers were generally designed to provide evidence of causality between brand-related stimuli and consumer responses. It is therefore clear that a definition and operationalization of brand experience grounded in positivist ontology cannot adequately enable us to develop a deep understanding of the nature of brand experience when the brand is approached in other ways.


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3. Brand experience: a multidimensional socially-constructed phenomenon

consumers have an active role in creating specific brand meanings through individual practices and rituals. Aggarwal (2004) demonstrated that consumers develop relationships with brands following the same rules and patterns as for social relationships with people. Studies have investigated two main types of consumer–brand relationships: communal and exchange relationships (Clark & Mils, 1993). Communal relationships assume norms of mutual physical and moral support and help. Exchange relationships suppose quid pro quo relationship rules. Aggarwal (2004) showed that even though consumers were aware of the commercial nature of the context in which they matured their relationships with brands, they developed different degrees of communal brand relationship. Customers were also found to develop relational expectations and reactions during brand encounters and experiences (Frow & Payne, 2007). Interpretative studies focused on consumer–brand relationships have not explicitly mentioned brand experience. They have, however, referred to experiences when consumers encounter brands, such as during individual rituals, in brand habits, experiments, repeated trials and use (Fournier, 1998; Rook, 1985; Wallendorf & Arnould, 1991). Brand experiences can also be negative, such as the “unimaginable experience” related to the negative feeling of loss when consumers run out of a specific brand (Fournier, 1998: 355). Positivist studies on consumer–brand relationships have made extensive use of quantitative research methods to validate the causal relationship between the brand experience construct proposed by Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009) and the brand relationship, measured in different ways. Veloutsou and colleagues operationalized the brand relationship through two dimensions: emotional bonds (e.g., self-connection) and two-way communication (Veloutsou, 2007; Veloutsou & Moutinho, 2009). Other studies have investigated the effects of brand experience on brand relationships in different contexts (i.e., Chang & Chieng, 2006; Francisco-Maffezzolli, Semprebon, & Prado, 2014; Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013). Studies have not found a consistent causal effect of brand experience on brand relationship, however, and the relationship has tended to change for different operationalizations of brand experience. For instance, Jung and Soo (2012) found that brand experience affected the quality of brand relationship, measured as brand trust and brand commitment, while Morgan-Thomas and Veloutsou (2013) suggested that brand trust predicted brand experience. Brand experience is therefore fundamental in the creation of a relationship between brands and consumers (Chang & Chieng, 2006; Fournier, 1998; Franzen, 1999; Jung & Soo, 2012). However, the link between brand experience and brand relationship is unpredictable. Individual consumers experience brands differently and the kind of relationships that consumers can establish with brands is subjective (Addis & Holbrook, 2001; Zarantonello & Schmitt, 2010). Payne, Storbacka, Frow, and Knox (2009) developed a model of “brand relationship experience”, where brand relationship was considered to be a series of repeated exchanges and encounters between consumers and brands, and could therefore itself become a brand experience. The relationship theory applied to the consumer–brand dyad therefore contributes to our knowledge of brand experience in three ways. First, it underlines the psychological and subjective level of brand experience. Second, it makes clear that brand experiences have to stimulate consumers' sense of self-connection to create any kind of brand relationship (Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013; Swaminathan, Page, & Gürhan-Canli, 2007). Third, it shows that consumers judge brands as partners with specific personality traits, and so develop relationships that create meaning for them.

Over the period studied, brand literature moved from a functional view to a more socially-constructed connotation of brands. Brands are no longer in the hands of marketers but are increasingly created through a ceaseless set of interactive dynamics involving consumers as active makers/shapers of brand meanings (Black & Veloutsou, 2017; Cova & Dalli, 2009). Brands and brand meanings are now considered to be co-constructed by stakeholders (Brodie, 2017; Brodie, Glynn, & Little, 2006; Fyrberg & Jüriado, 2009; Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009). Interpretative studies have mostly contributed to the examination of the processes and the reasons for the co-construction of brand meanings. For instance, applying a social constructivism-inspired process of brand identity formation, Black and Veloutsou (2017) demonstrated how brand meanings help create individual, social and brand identities (Da Silveira, Lages, & Simões, 2013; Hemetsberger & Mühlbacher, 2009; Kornum, Gyrd-Jones, Al Zagir, & Brandis, 2017; Vallaster & von Wallpach, 2013; von Wallpach, Hemetsberger, & Espersen, 2017; von Wallpach, Voyer, Kastanakis, & Mühlbacher, 2017). Recent studies on branding have agreed that consumers engage in and contribute to the creation of brand meanings through experiences (Black & Veloutsou, 2017; Brodie, Ilic, Juric, & Hollebeek, 2013; Carù & Cova, 2015; Payne, Storbacka, Frow, & Knox, 2009; Ramaswamy & Ozcan, 2016). Little, however, is known about these experiences, such as how they develop or are driven by brand meanings, or the main outcomes of brand experience in a socially-constructed context. Merz, He, and Vargo (2009) identified three theoretical streams that had advanced the knowledge of brand from a customer point of view: relationship theory, SDL and CCT. In these theoretical streams, brands are considered to be socially-constructed, with different stakeholders contributing to shaping their meanings through a mechanism of interaction that can generate and regenerate firm-based ideas of brand value. These theoretical approaches consider experiences as a multidimensional phenomenon, including consumers' feelings, thoughts, behaviours, and relations. These three approaches do not explicitly mention or study brand experience as a phenomenon per se, but each makes a contribution to our knowledge of brand experience and its co-creation. 3.1. Relationship theory and brand experience Research founded in the relationship theory (Fournier, 1998) focuses on consumer–brand bonds as the way in which consumers can retrieve meaning and therefore create self-identity. The ontological foundations of relationship theory lie in cognitive psychology, and assume that consumer–brand bonds have a phenomenological significance, where a brand is defined as “a collection of perceptions held in the mind of the consumer” (Fournier, 1998, p. 345). Relationship theory underpins two different branches of studies. The first, an interpretivist stream, examined the nature and processes of the dyadic consumer–brand relationship (e.g., Aggarwal, 2004; Fournier, 1998). The second, a positivist stream, focused on the operationalization of the brand relationship constructs and the study of its antecedents and effects on brand-related stimuli and consumer behaviour (e.g., Veloutsou, 2007; Veloutsou & Moutinho, 2009). The interpretivist approach, focused on the consumer–brand relationship, conceptualized the brand as a relationship partner. Using this approach, consumers are considered to judge brands as entities with which they can build meaningful relationships at the level of individual “lived experience” (Aaker & Fournier, 1995; Fournier, 1998). Relationships are considered to consist of a series of repeated exchanges and encounters between consumers and brands that could create or reiterate brand meanings, helping individuals to fulfil their identitarian project (Fournier, 1998). The relationship theory stream therefore introduced a new way of framing brands, beyond a prerogative of firms. They are also consumers' mental constructions, presuming that

3.2. Service-dominant logic (SDL) and brand experience Service-dominant logic (SDL) considers products to be ways in which services are provided. Service-for-service exchange needs the use of resources—in particular, those related to knowledge and skills—that are offered by different actors (e.g., companies, consumers, 125

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investigations therefore focus on experience (Thompson, Arnould, & Giesler, 2013). CCT is based on a postmodernist perspective of consumption (Firat & Dholakia, 1998; Firat & Venkatesh, 1995). It sees consumption as a social act that goes beyond the mere acquisition of goods and services to encompass experiential immersive practices (Carù & Cova, 2007) embedded in social, historical and cultural contexts (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011). Consumer culture can be considered as a lens through which individuals make experiences possible, make sense of such experiences, and value them by their perceived alignment with elements of their culture, and the way that these experiences help them create, develop and maintain their self- and social-identitarian project (Arnould & Thompson, 2005; Kozinets, 2001). Researchers using CCT have developed a deeper understanding of the interplay between culture and consumption in individual, social and market contexts (Arnould & Thompson, 2005). They have also documented how consumers contribute to shaping and governing market dynamics and interactions (Arnould & Thompson, 2005; Askegaard & Linnet, 2011; Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009; Schau, Muñiz, & Arnould, 2009), bring about significant market changes (Karababa & Ger, 2010), and even shape new markets (Martin & Schouten, 2013). In particular, Askegaard and Linnet (2011) showed how consumption, conceived as individual, social and political practices, featured at each of the individual, communitarian and market levels. Under CCT, brands can be considered as vehicles used by consumers to fulfil their identity project in social and cultural contexts (Holt, 2002). CCT therefore enlarged the social contexts in which brands and brand meanings are understood to develop, unifying the psychological needs related to consumer self-identity and social needs related to specific cultural contexts. It is therefore clear that brands can simultaneously influence and be influenced by cultural contexts. This is especially relevant for studies dealing with subcultures of consumption (Hietanen & Rokka, 2015; McAlexander, Koenig, & Schouten, 2005) or brand communities (Cova & Pace, 2006; Ind, Iglesias, & Schultz, 2013; Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001), where brands were seen as the key to accessing specific social structures and social interactions. Consumer culture theorists are keen to study the experiential meanings of brands, but somehow the brand experience construct, as formalized and established by Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009), did not find fertile ground in this branch of scholarship. A close look at CCT's contributions shows that researchers have investigated the phenomenon of brand experience, but seldom explicitly mentioned the expression “brand experience”. It may be tempting to attribute the CCT community's substantial lack of interest in the brand experience construct to its positivistic genesis, and its tendency to favour marketers' agency rather than consumers' (Hatch, 2012). CCT's focus on culture—or on specific cultural contexts affecting the multifaceted manifestations of consumption—means that CCT scholars have interpreted brand experience as naturally bounded in the consumption phenomena permeated by experiential values and meanings (Holt, 2001). For example, the religious, mystic, and spiritual meanings (some) consumers attach to brands (Kozinets, 2001; Muniz & Schau, 2005) have been seen as the elements that make up their collective practices, and have identitarian relevance because of their linkage to individual biographies (Braun-LaTour, LaTour, & Zinkhan, 2007; Brown, Kozinets, & Sherry Jr, 2003). Researchers considered that the brand was the element around which certain collectives were formed, and brand experiences were made accessible and relevant for self-development through the existence of these collectives (Muniz & Schau, 2005). The contested meanings of some global brands have been found to be closely connected to consumers' interpretation of the global or local experience of consumption of those brands (Thompson & Arsel, 2004). These findings all emphasize that the material and cultural constituents of a brand create meanings and values at the individual, collective and market levels, rather than objectified dimensions of sensory, affective, behavioural and intellectual responses to brands. CCT has extended our understanding of how (lived) brand

shareholders and business partners) whose main aim is the co-creation of mutual value (Vargo & Lusch, 2004, 2008, 2011). This value is always co-created because it is phenomenologically derived, and determined by a service beneficiary (e.g., a customer) through the use of a market offering (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). SDL therefore assumes that the actors involved in these exchanges are service providers, resource integrators and value co-creators (Vargo & Lusch, 2004). In searching for resources, actors interconnect. They expand and reduce resources together to co-create value (Chandler & Vargo, 2011). There are two main types of resources guiding actions and interactions among actors: operant and operand resources (Vargo & Lusch, 2008). Vargo and Lusch (2004) argued that operant resources—dynamic and influential resources such as knowledge, skills, and competencies—are more important than operand ones, which are static (e.g., financial and material resources). They suggested that operant resources are essential to create value and competitive advantages for companies. (Halliday, 2016) argued that brands are therefore operant resources, used or re-used by consumers following actor-to-actor interactions. Merz, He, and Vargo (2009) underlined the importance of viewing the interaction of consumers, brands and other stakeholders as operant resources, because they jointly created and integrated resources regardless of actual market exchanges. They argued that resources, including brands, could be seen as connectors between actors who allowed the resources to contract or develop during interactions. We can therefore infer that actors meet, interact at multiple levels, activate resources, and create value in specific contexts. Chandler and Vargo (2011) and Edvardsson, Tronvoll, and Gruber (2011) stated that interactions between actors could be considered as both resources and the contexts in which actors co-created value. Defining the context as a set of unique actors with reciprocal links (Chandler & Vargo, 2011) implies that under SDL, interactions are always event- and context-specific, and that the context affects the way in which actors integrate or use resources and therefore develop experiences. The context, therefore, is not static but interacts with other contexts, affecting the process of value co-creation and the creation and development of holistic experiences (Payne, Storbacka, Frow, & Knox, 2009; Vargo, Maglio, & Akaka, 2008). Experiences occur when actors interact at multiple levels, activating resources (such as brands), and co-creating value. Brand experience can therefore be understood as part of a multilevel dynamic ecosystem (Akaka, Vargo, & Lusch, 2012; Chandler & Vargo, 2011; Edvardsson, Tronvoll, & Gruber, 2011), where interactions co-create brand knowledge and practices in different contexts. The SDL studies included only a few isolated contributions focused on brand experience (see for instance, Brodie, Glynn, & Little, 2006), and generally did not explicitly mention brand experience. However, SDL literature makes three main contributions to our knowledge of brand experience. First, it permits the process of brand experience creation to be examined at the firm level, beyond the simple design and deployment of stimuli that target consumers. Second, in spite of the different terms used to define experience (Jaakkola et al., 2015), SDL scholars have agreed that the context acts as an agent, affecting experiences (Gummerus, 2013; Vargo et al., 2008). Brand experience can therefore be viewed as a series of contexts defined by unique actors and their links (Chandler & Vargo, 2011). At this interaction level, it is helpful to consider how value and resources are activated in a unique manner by different resource integrators such as companies, consumers, stakeholders and brands. Third, brand experiences can be viewed as part of a contextual eco-system. Resource integrators iteratively interact inside and outside the system to co-create value and activate new resources (Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009). 3.3. Consumer culture theory (CCT) and brand experience CCT addresses the dynamic relationships between consumer actions, the marketplace, and cultural meanings (Arnould & Thompson, 2005). It conceptualizes culture as the fabric of experience, and 126

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action and interaction in collectives such as communities, social groups, sub-cultural or counter-cultural aggregates, and even firms (the mesolevel), and broader social categories in which both the micro- and mesolevels are embedded, such as institutions, class systems, society and inter-societal systems (the macro-level) (Bourdieu, 1984; Giddens, 1984; Turner, 2010; Turner & Boyns, 2001). If this reasoning about levels from social theory is applied to brand experience, the micro-level is psychological and hinges upon relationship theory (Fournier, 1998), where brand experience happens at the individual-subjective level. The relationship theory focuses on the dyadic contexts formed by the relationship created between consumer and brand shedding light on how experiences involving consumers and brands contribute to the formation of the individual's self-identity. At the meso-level, SDL elevates the level of context of brand experience, considering the exchanges and interrelations between stakeholders as the interactive locus where value is co-created and brand experience is formed (Edvardsson, Tronvoll, & Gruber, 2011). Brand experience forms through the interaction with contexts, defined as a set of actors and their reciprocal interactions (Chandler & Vargo, 2011). The meso-level also fits with the principal tenets of CCT (Penaloza & Mish, 2011), adding cultural practices, resources, norms and meanings (Arnould & Thompson, 2005) to the interactive contexts created by unique actors and their interactions (Akaka, Vargo, & Lusch, 2013). At this level, the focus of analysis is not the individual (brand) experience per se nor the impact of a brand experience on consumers' identity construction. Instead, it is shifted towards co-creative practices and interactions involving other consumers (including through structured groups of brand admirers like communities), as well as the company itself and/or other stakeholders (see Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009; Penaloza & Mish, 2011) that make brand experience possible. The macro-level is the level of the market, where brand experience is elevated to the status of economic offer, because it contributes to the formation of an economic value (Pine & Gilmore, 1999) and the creation of new markets (Martin & Schouten, 2013). At a macro-level, CCT helps improve our understanding of contexts from a cultural perspective, where culture is intended as the structural force that shapes narrower loci of action and interaction (Akaka, Vargo, & Lusch, 2013; Arnould & Thompson, 2005). It is where practices, resources, norms, and meanings are dynamically created, enacted, and routinized, setting the condition for making brand experiences possible, meaningful and legitimate at the meso- and micro-levels. This view of brand experience should therefore result in a post-structuralist ontology of brand experience and an epistemological plurality (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011) that can link individual experience with the influence of cultural and structural forces in shaping brand meanings and therefore practices.

experiences and practices of consumption help maintain consumers' self- and/or social-identity projects, and even change and shape new markets (Arnould & Price, 1993; Diamond et al., 2009; Muniz & Schau, 2005; Phillips & McQuarrie, 2010). Through this, and assuming a more agentic view of consumers, the theory also shows that brand experience can be conceptualized as a by-product of consumer actions and practices that interconnect at different contextual levels. CCT therefore makes several contributions to our understanding of brand experience. First, it views the conceptualization of brands as a way to link consumers with others, co-constructing brand experiences in specific cultural contexts. Second, it describes how consumers create brand meanings, interweaving between different cultural contexts. Third, it shows that consumers create, modify and destroy brand experiences, being affected by and affecting cultural contexts such as individuality, communities and markets. 4. Contributions to the conceptualization of brand experience Brand experience emerges from our theoretical analysis as a subjective response, just as it was conceptualized by Brakus, Schmitt, and Zarantonello (2009), even though the experience is lived and matured in a specific social and cultural context (Thompson et al., 2013). This subjective perspective of brand experience is also supported by the three streams of research principally concerned with consumers' experiences with brands: relationship theory, CCT and SDL. Through brand experiences, consumers can resolve social concerns, and activate meaningful relationships with brands, peers and organizations (Schmitt, Brakus, & Zarantonello, 2015). These experiences could allow them to become excited (Thomson et al., 2005), express their personality (Swaminathan, Page, & Gürhan-Canli, 2007), and ultimately construct their social self (Escalas & Bettman, 2005). Schmitt, Brakus, and Zarantonello (2015) identified a “relational” dimension of brand experience, but did not further elaborate on this concept. Nysveen, Pedersen, and Skard (2013) demonstrated the relevance of the relational dimension of brand experience for service brands. We suggest that when experience is framed using a relational perspective, it enables brand experience to connect individuals, activating subject-to-subject (s), subject(s)-to-brand and subject(s)-to-stakeholder(s) relationships. Studies using relationship theory, SDL and CCT have all made clear that brand experience is always associated with an individual's relational responses to brand stimuli, and, in particular, with a sense of connection at different levels. This might include self-connection with brands (Fournier, 1998), connection with individuals with similar (Muniz & O'Guinn, 2001) or different views (Muniz & Schau, 2005), and connection with the societal context (Arnould & Price, 1993; Diamond et al., 2009; Phillips & McQuarrie, 2010) and with companies and other stakeholders (Vargo et al., 2008). Brands and brand experiences are elements bound up in these social relationships. The relational dimension of brand experiences therefore enables consumers and other actors to move between psychological, social, cultural and market levels, through both direct and indirect interactions. We argue that the relational dimension is a fundamental aspect of brand experience that researchers and marketers have to take into account when considering brands as a socially-constructed phenomenon.

5. Implications 5.1. Theoretical implications The proposed framework for brand experience, and the relationships identified, allow us to pinpoint aspects that are worthy of deeper analysis using additional theoretical lenses and methods. A research agenda is important to develop the renaissance of brand experience across all its multifaceted contexts, meanings, implications and effects. Table 1 summarizes the proposed research agenda, theories and methodologies for each level of the framework set out in this paper. At the micro-level, future research should investigate how consumers psychologically develop their belief that a brand experience could enhance their relational context. Self-expansion theory (Aron & Aron, 1997; Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995), for instance, could explain what drives consumers' perceptions that brand experience can help them acquire new resources to enrich their relational context. This theory states that experiences related to the progression of knowledge, skills, capabilities and emotions enable self-development, driving the creation of relational contexts with the people, brands and

4.1. Advanced theoretical model of brand experience By focusing on influential marketing streams relying on non-positivist epistemologies, our analysis has identified a more dynamic and multi-level model of brand experience. In particular, it has showed that brand experience can be articulated on three levels (see Fig. 1), micro, meso and macro, corresponding to the level of embeddedness of subjective experience in wider social contexts. Each of these levels can be defined as a single distinct yet interconnected constituent of social reality, with its own emergent properties, ranging from dyadic interactions and encounters (the micro-level), through structured patterns of 127

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MACRO-LEVEL Culture and market formation (Arnould & Thompson, 2005; Askegaard & Linnet, 2011; Merz et al., 2009; Schau et al., 2009)

MESO-LEVEL Marketplace interactions (Vargo & Lusch, 2004: 2008: 2011) Brand practices

Brand stimuli

Usage Rituals Community activities

Advertising Brand events Brand contact points

MICRO-LEVEL Brand meanings (Aaker & Fournier, 1995; Aggarwal, 2004; Fournier, 1998)

Brand experience as subjective responses (Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009) Sensory, affective, intellectual, behavioral, relational

Fig. 1. Brand experience model.

positivist research methods (Peñaloza & Venkatesh, 2006). Scholars need to go beyond the roles played by individual subjects, and analyse how mechanisms vary by setting. Brand experiences arise when marketers facilitate brand cues and consumers actively interact with them. Contexts, identified as unique actors and their interrelationships, are heterogeneous, so brand experiences can change (Akaka & Vargo, 2015; Chandler & Vargo, 2011). It is therefore crucial to explore new ways to operationalize the context in which brand experiences take place and to evaluate whether and how it affects opportunities for co-creation. The same actors co-create and live different brand experiences in different contexts, so the context becomes part of the co-creation process. Contingency theory could help understand how different actors realign their practices and behaviours to fit external contingencies (Donaldson, 1987; Hofer, 1975). This could be useful in understanding how brand managers change organizations and actions with consumer practices, and therefore align brand stimuli with practices fitting market contingencies to provide a brand experience that is consistent with the market. This theoretical perspective may also help explain how different actors interact to re-create the same brand experiences in different contexts, or change their co-creation practices with the context. It could therefore help us understand the processes of interaction between actors in different contexts. Finally, longitudinal methods could capture dynamics among actors and particularly changes in interactions and practices over time. Longitudinal case studies, quantitative analysis and inquiries could all advance knowledge of processes and interaction in the co-creation of brand experience. At the macro-level, we suggest it may be helpful to study interactions between different cultural contexts. Practice theory focuses on the dialectic relationship between agency and structure, and has a natural tendency to consider relationships between macro- (e.g., the marketplace), meso- (e.g., communities) and micro-levels (e.g., a single firm or consumer) (Reckwitz, 2002). It could therefore help shed additional light on brand experience, including its meaning, and the way favourable brand experiences can be created and managed at each cultural

organizations allowing these experiences. Self-expansion theory could therefore help understand how knowledge-, skill- and capability-based brand experiences can develop consumers' ability to create dyadic relationships with other consumers, stakeholders and/or brands. The selfexpansion measurement scale commonly used in literature (Aron, Aron, & Smollan, 1992) could be adapted to measure the relationship between self-expansion and each of the dimensions of brand experience. As well as quantitative analysis, phenomenological research could help understand and define the boundaries of the relational contexts of brand experience. The recent theoretical developments in the study of negative or deviant consumer–brand relationships (Fournier & Alvarez, 2013; Park, Eisingerich, & Park, 2013) could shed light on the darker relational contexts that enable controversial brand experiences. Future research might examine, for example, the contexts where brand experiences help consumers develop addictive, conflictual, secret and mixed-valence relationships with other consumers, stakeholders and the brand itself. Fournier and Alvarez (2013) called for research on negative consumer–brand relationship theory. Studies on controversial consumer behaviours, such as addiction (Hirschman, 1992; O'Guinn & Faber, 1989), resistance (Giesler, 2012) and counterfeit product consumption (Wilcox, Kim, & Sen, 2009), could also help explain the relational contexts in which these practices create brand meanings and related experiences for consumers. This innovative stream of literature is still in its infancy, and controversial brand experiences are the unit of analysis, so we recommend the use of more interpretative methods of analysis, such as discourse and narrative analyses. These methodologies would allow good disclosure and openness from respondents, permitting researchers to investigate even the most negative and uncomfortable dynamics. At the meso-level, we suggest a context-based analysis to approach brand experience, inspired by SDL. Investigations of brand experience using this lens should combine intersubjective orientation in the marketplace (see for instance, Peñaloza & Venkatesh, 2006) with social constructivism (Berger & Luckmann, 1967) and both positivist and non128

Journal of Business Research 91 (2018) 123–133 - Quantitative analysis: self-expansion measurement scale for brand experience contexts - Qualitative analysis: phenomenological and interpretative analyses

- Longitudinal studies

- Interpretive sense-making analysis of practices of marketplace actors at micro-, meso- and macro-level through existential phenomenology (Thompson, Locander, & Pollio, 1989), ethnographic immersions (Elliott & Jankel-Elliott, 2003) and grounded approaches (Goulding, 2002).

- Self-expansion theory (Aron & Aron, 1997; Aron, Paris, & Aron, 1995) - Science of negative relationships (Fournier & Alvarez, 2013)

- Contingency theory (Donaldson, 1987; Hofer, 1975)

- Practice theories (see Reckwitz, 2002 for a review) - Institutional theory

- How do consumers develop belief that a brand experience could enhance their relational context? - In which relational contexts do brand experiences help consumers develop addictive, conflicting, secret and mixed-valence relationships with other consumers, stakeholders and the brand itself?

- What contingencies contribute to the development of brand experience? - How do consumer practices and brand stimuli interact with contexts to create brand experience? - How do cultures and subcultures affect practices and the interpretation of such practices to create brand experiences? What is the role of brand experiences in the creation, maintenance, evolution and change of cultures and subcultures and the practices they enact? - How do some lived brand experiences (at both individual and community level) become institutionalized and routinized across time and space?

level. Practice theory (see Reckwitz, 2002 for a review) suggests that social life is produced and reproduced through ongoing practices. Practice theorists rejected the dualisms between agency and structure, and proposed an alternative ontology where voluntarism and objectivism are balanced. They consider (social) relations mutually constitutive, i.e. always existing in relation with each other (Feldman & Orlikowski, 2011). This perspective therefore suggests that brand experience should not be investigated through context nor agent. The locus of investigation is shifted to the dialectic, dual interplay between consumers' and marketers' practices with and within the context in which they are enacted to produce a brand experience. There are, however, few purposeful applications of the theory of practice to the study of branding (Warde, 2005) or brand experience. Research has paid limited attention to sophisticated theoretical elaborations of the existing links between individuals' phenomenological experience of brands, and the cultural context(s) in which these brands become meaningful (Arnould & Thompson, 2015; Askegaard & Linnet, 2011). Institutional theory (e.g. DiMaggio, 1988) also offers useful ideas on how cultural contexts interact to enable brand experience, and particularly how some brand practices contribute to creating experience through routinization by market actors. These premises can help establish a research agenda and provide answers to several unresolved questions. Phenomenological enquiries are a valuable methodological choice to either understand how brand experiences are subjectively lived by consumers, or how they are implied in the construction of the consumer–brand relationship. Interpretative methods are preferred to those grounded in a positivist ontology, because they enable a more nuanced and richer understanding of lived brand experiences, rather than simply examining cause-and-effect relationships (Gummesson, 2004). Phenomenological accounts of experience can be studied in relation to the contexts in which the experience occurs. This means that findings can be complemented by thorough analysis of the broader contextual level (Askegaard & Linnet, 2011). 5.2. Managerial implications This paper disentangles brand experience at different levels of conceptualization, but aims first and foremost to put brand experience back into the academic debate. We believe, however, that in spite of its theoretical nature, our research has two major implications that may be valuable for brand management practice. First, our theoretical elaboration showed that brand experience takes place at different levels of interaction (micro-, meso- and macro-) and that these are intertwined and interconnected. Specific strategies and actions designed to create favourable experiences for target consumers should take into account how the proposed experience will contribute towards the consumers' identity project (micro-level), creating new or sustaining existing communities or other social aggregates that may form around the brand (meso-level), and how such experiences can help change and reshape the expected market offering in the firm's specific competitive landscape (macro-level). Brands that were able to create resonant brand experiences at each of these levels set the conditions to achieve a leading competitive position and establish non-imitable conditions of brand positioning (Holt, 2004; Schembri, 2009). Second, we argued that companies are no longer solely responsible for the creation of brand meanings and experiences. We therefore urgently need a deeper understanding of how brand managers can create target experiences in collaboration with their customers and/or other relevant categories of stakeholders. Brand experience is co-created at individual, community and market levels, and this means that managers have to adopt a systematic view of these practices. Understanding the network of actors involved in the creation of desirable experiences

CCT at macro-level

SDL at meso-level

INTERPRETIVIST Brand as a relationship partner, with which consumers can build meaningful relationships at a level of individual “lived experience” (Aaker & Fournier, 1995; Fournier, 1998). POSITIVIST Causal relationship between the brand experience and brand relationship (Aaker, Fournier, & Brasel, 2004; Esch, Langner, Schmitt, & Geus, 2006; Jung & Soo, 2012; Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013) Contexts are defined as a set of unique actors and their links (Chandler & Vargo, 2011). Brand experience is activated in a unique and phenomenological manner by different resource integrators (e.g., companies, consumers, stakeholders and brands). POST-STRUCTURALIST Brand experience is elevated to the status of economic offer and the creation of new markets (Martin & Schouten, 2013; Pine & Gilmore, 1999). The interaction between different cultural contexts is the locus where brand experiences are enacted. Relationship theory at micro-level

Methodologies Suggested theories to examine Future research questions Epistemological position Theoretical stream

Table 1 Brand experience research agenda and research methods.

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practitioner levels. Although they are not the focus of the current paper, we ultimately offered some ideas for managers about how to enhance their brand management models based on our extended model of the brand experience concept. We acknowledge, however, that other researchers could provide different insights and ontological structures. One limitation of our work might therefore be not using an independent group of researchers to provide alternative thematic and ontological investigation. The concept of brand experience is multi-dimensional and approachable through different ontological bases, so other theoretical elaborations, may also be possible. A second limitation is that the paper is conceptual, and therefore lacks any empirical validation to inspire and orient future research.

at the three levels is strategically important to improve and increase the effectiveness of specific brand strategies designed to generate positive brand experiences. 6. Conclusion The idea of brand experience remains a central focus of consumer behaviour research, even if the construct has not been widely and explicitly used in the literature. It is often assumed to be implicit in consumption dynamics and is therefore not seen as requiring further conceptualization or definition. By analysing the literature contributing to our knowledge of experience and brand (i.e., covering relationship theory, SDL and CCT), we expanded our knowledge of brand experience across the micro-, meso- and macro-levels. The objective of this conceptual paper was to advance our understanding of the brand experience concept. We examined the streams of studies that have particularly helped to advance the theoretical and empirical understanding of brands and branding, covering relationship theory, SDL and CCT (Merz, He, & Vargo, 2009). We also showed how each of these streams of studies has progressed the conceptualization of brand experience, even where they have not explicitly mentioned it. We hope this paper will start a lively debate on brand experience, by providing a research agenda for each theoretical stream, and so stimulate a renaissance of the brand experience concept, serving as a platform for future research projects and fostering discussion at both academic and

Acknowledgements The Authors are grateful to the Marketing Science Institute (MSI) for funding their project (Research Grant #4-2001). The authors also thank Bernd Schmitt for commenting an earlier version of the manuscript as well as the Chair and participants of the “brand experience” session held in Kalmar during the 12th Global Brand Conference of the Academy of Marketing's SIG in Brand, Identity and Corporate Reputation, for their valuable comments and feedback. Finally, the authors are thankful to the guest-editors and reviewers for their constructive comments in the review process.

Appendix A Table A1 Sources of brand experience described in the literature. Sources of brand experience


Brand design and identity (e.g., name, logo, signage, character) Packaging (e.g., colours, shapes) Environment (e.g., stores, staff, self-service and technologies) Communication Event

Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Hamzah, Alwi, & Othman, 2014


Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Khan, 2014; Tafesse, 2016 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Chattopadhyay & Laborie, 2005 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Fransen, Rompay, & Muntinga, 2013; Khan & Rahman, 2015a, 2015b Khan & Rahman, 2015a, 2015b

Table A2 Antecedents of brand experience described in the literature. Antecedent


Brand love Trust and perceived usefulness

Chen, Papazafeiropoulou, Chen, Duan, & Liu, 2014 Chen, Papazafeiropoulou, Chen, Duan, & Liu, 2014; Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013

Table A3 Consequences of brand experience described in the literature. Consequences


Behavioural Behavioural intentions Repurchase intention Word of mouth Customer loyalty

Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013 Sahin, Zehir, & Kitapci, 2012 Chen, Papazafeiropoulou, Chen, Duan, & Liu, 2014; Sahin, Zehir, & Kitapci, 2012 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009 (continued on next page) 130

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Table A3 (continued) Consequences Relational Brand attachment Brand loyalty

Brand commitment Brand relationship quality Brand trust Customer experiential value Cognitive/emotional Brand attitude Brand awareness Brand credibility Brand distinctiveness Brand personality Brand image Brand satisfaction Customer satisfaction Performance Brand equity Premium price Customer-based brand equity Customer equity


Ramaseshan & Stein, 2014 Chen, Papazafeiropoulou, Chen, Duan, & Liu, 2014; Ding & Tseng, 2015; Francisco-Maffezzolli, Semprebon, & Prado, 2014; Iglesias, Singh, & Batista-Foguet, 2011; Ishida & Taylor, 2012; Kim & Ah Yu, 2016; Nysveen, Pedersen, & Skard, 2013; Ramaseshan & Stein, 2014; Shim, Forsythe, & Kwon, 2015 Jung & Soo, 2012; Ramaseshan & Stein, 2014; Sahin, Zehir, & Kitapci, 2012 Francisco-Maffezzolli, Semprebon, & Prado, 2014; Jung & Soo, 2012 Chinomona, 2013; Jung & Soo, 2012; Kim, Yoon, Chao, & Dang, 2015; Rahman, 2014; Sahin, Zehir, & Kitapci, 2012 Keng, Tran, & Le Thi, 2013

Nejad, Samadi, Ashraf, & Tolabi, 2015; Roswinanto & Strutton, 2014; Shamim & Muhammad, 2013 Cleff, Lin, & Walter, 2014 Nejad, Samadi, Ashraf, & Tolabi, 2015; Shamim & Muhammad, 2013 Roswinanto & Strutton, 2014 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Ishida & Taylor, 2012; Keng, Tran, & Le Thi, 2013; Nysveen, Pedersen, & Skard, 2013 Cleff, Lin, & Walter, 2014 Chinomona, 2013; Ishida & Taylor, 2012; Lin, 2015; Nysveen, Pedersen, & Skard, 2013; Kim et al., 2015; Sahin, Zehir, & Kitapci, 2012 Brakus, Schmitt, & Zarantonello, 2009; Khan & Rahman, 2015a, 2015b; Kim et al., 2015; Morgan-Thomas & Veloutsou, 2013; Şahin, Turhan, & Zehir, 2013 Chen, 2012; Lin, 2015; Shamim & Muhammad, 2013 Şahin et al., 2013 Nejad, Samadi, Ashraf, & Tolabi, 2015 Hultén, 2011

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