You Are Where You Are Sold: The Symbolic Meaning Transfer Process from a Retailer Brand to a Manufacturer Brand based on the Austrian Cosmetic Market

Edith Burghofer

Student thesis: Master thesis


Abstract: A brand is created from both, marketers and consumers. Whereas marketers try to control their brands with marketing activities, consumers are the ones who give meaning to brands by interpreting every situation they get in touch with those brands. Therefore, brand meaning resides in the mind of the consumers. One decision every brand manager must make is how to distribute the brand’s products and therefore retailers must be chosen. Identifying an appropriate retailer can be a winning strategy to penetrate a chosen market. Retailers can further be defined as brands and as a result their meanings are also in the minds of the consumers. The aim of this thesis was to explore if the symbolic meanings identified with the retailer brands are transferred to its manufacturer brands. Moreover, the sources of these meanings were strived to be determined. The theoretical foundation for this thesis was based on three areas of theory: the consumer, the manufacturer brand and the retailer brand. It was a necessity to understand each of these three variables in order to then subsequently research their interdependent relationship. Methods of analysis included qualitative and quantitative research. The studies were based on the Austrian cosmetic market with four manufacturer brands, namely Vichy, La Roche- Posay, Biotherm and Lancôme, and two retailer brands, precisely the pharmacy and perfumery. First qualitative research (i.e. in-depth interviews and focus groups) was conducted in order to collect the most important meanings (and their sources) consumers attribute towards the brands. Second a quantitative study (i.e. online questionnaire) was done to test the results of the qualitative research and to further explore the magnitude of the meaning transfer processes between the brands. Findings implied that meaning is transferred from retailer brands to manufacturer brands. However, the magnitude of this transfer depends on the meanings manufacturer brands additionally symbolize independently from the retailer brand. Whereas similar meanings might reinforce each other, contradicting meanings might lead to consumer confusion. As a result, it is decisive for every brand manager to ensure that all consumer-brand touchpoints, which can be controlled by the company, offer consistent manufacturer brand meanings.

EducationsMSc in Brand and Communications Management, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
Publication date2014
Number of pages142