Brand relationships 2.0: An explorative study of consumer sense making in the context of proactive relational marketing

Stine Bjerregaard Nielsen

Student thesis: Master thesis


The present study tabs in to the paradoxical intersection between brand management focused on the proactive facilitation of deep and committed relationship bonds with and among its consumers, and a consumer culture marked by reluctance and scepticism towards the marketplace and its commercial actors. With the pivotal case comprised by the Nike+ concept – an interactive tracking system for running exercise – the study sheds light on a proactive relational marketing strategy launched by a particularly troubled brand, namely the American sports brand Nike as the epitome of not only iconic brand status but also of socio-­‐cultural criticism and mockery. Guided by a general curiosity towards consumers’ responses to such proactive relational marketing approaches, the study more specifically explores consumers’ sense making in this new consumption scenario pointing to a fundamental question previously disregarded in brand relationship literature, namely whether consumers will embrace just any brand that proposes itself as a relationship partner and a social intermediary. Through a qualitative interview study of six Danish Nike+ users and their experiences with Nike and the Nike+ concept, the study finds that these six participants are reluctant towards embracing Nike as an emotionally significant relationship partner/social intermediary even though the Nike+ concept fulfils central individual and social needs, and further that socio-­‐culturally forged meanings pertaining to the brand’s cultural status and its commercial background are crucial to consumers’ sense making and the perceived acceptability of engaging in a relationship with a given brand or socialising around it. Accordingly, the study suggests that a comprehensive understanding of consumers’ assessment of a given brand cannot be founded on postmodernist views of consumer sense making alone as otherwise proposed in both brand relationship and brand community literature, but that a supplementary post-­‐structuralist view is necessary in order to understand the broader dynamics between consumer culture, marketplace, and consumer actions that influence on brand meanings and consumer identity projects. In other words, a comprehensive understanding of relational phenomena in the marketplace – whether they are of individual or collective nature – requires an understanding of the socio-­‐cultural context in which both brand and consumers are embedded.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2011
Number of pages226