Branding Activities of a Micro Industrial Services Company
Jenny Sandbacka, Satu Natti and Jaana Tahtinen Department of Marketing, University of Oulu, Oulu, Finland Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this paper is to explore the internal and external corporate branding activities of micro-sized industrial business services companies. Design/methodology/approach – An abductive research approach and a case study method were used. Data were gathered with thematic interviews from three sources, a case company, its distributors, and its end customers.
Findings – A model for building a corporate brand identity and image in a micro-sized industrial business services company was devised. Key activities, including de? ning company values and the business idea, designing, managing and stabilizing the service process, utilizing holistic corporate communications, networking as well as activating and retaining stakeholders and utilizing feedback, to build a corporate brand were identi? ed. Research limitations/implications – As the importance of the internal branding can be presumed to rise with headcount, the repeatability of this study is weakened by the case organization being a micro company.
Several suggestions for future research can be made based on this study: the causality of the presented model’s connections with quantitative methods, the network branding and service company brand hierarchies. Practical implications – This paper shows how a micro company can build its brand, without deploying extra resources. Moreover, it suggests ways of utilizing external resources, by exploring how the company’s stakeholders can participate in the branding process. Originality/value – This study expands the service branding literature to industrial services micro companies by identifying activities that they can undertake.
Keywords Corporate branding, Business-to-business, Stakeholders, Networking Paper type Case study Introduction The strong growth of the service sector (Mitchell, 1998), intensi? ed competition within it (Berry, 2000), the shortening of the service lifecycle, and the imitability of services have directed researchers’ and practitioners’ attention to branding (King, 1991). Yet the understanding of branding services companies has not kept up with the growth of the industrial service sector (Davis et al. , 2008) and service brands have been less successful than product brands (McDonald et al. 2001). The reason is most likely a lack of branding knowledge contributing to unproductive product branding initiatives in the service context (de Chernatony et al. , 2003). Research on branding industrial services companies has been very limited (Davis et al. , 2008) partly because businessto-business (B2B) transactions are considered purely rational and the effect of brands to be minimal (Mudambi et al. , 1997, p. 84 cited in de Chernatony, 1998, pp. 73-86; Ballantyne and The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www. emeraldinsight. om/0887-6045. htm Aitken, 2007). However, several studies (e. g. Lynch and de Chernatony, 2004, 2007; Kotler and Pfoertsch, 2007) have shown that the in? uence of emotional and intangible factors is not limited to consumer markets. In fact, professional buyers who consider the purchase decision important and risky as well as those that prefer partnering are receptive to branding (Mudambi, 2002). Branding industrial services organizations requires a special approach. First, service provider selection is a strategic choice (e. g. Dibb and Simkin, 1993).
Second, the interaction between the buyer and the industrial service provider is highly complex and long-lasting (de Chernatony et al. , 2003). Finally, King (1991) and Berry (2000) suggest that corporate branding is more suitable for services companies than service branding, owing to the inherent dif? culties of differentiating between services (Ferguson, 1996). In corporate branding the whole ? rm is mobilized to participate in branding and the brand is used to in? uence both customers and other stakeholders (de Chernatony and Harris, 2000; Schultz et al. , 2005, p. 12).
Indeed, employee branding is effective when employees internalize the brand image and are motivated and empowered to project it to customers and other stakeholders (Miles and Mangold, 2004, 2005; Henkel et al. , 2007). However, employee branding becomes ineffective if the brand does not re? ect reality (Cushen, 2009). In a micro ? rm, employing up to nine persons, internal identity building is not as challenging as building a corporate image. Thus, existing research in the services sector is of limited relevance to micro companies.
To ? ll the gap, this study focuses on understanding the activities of branding a micro-sized industrial services company. The article ? rst models theoretically the branding activities in micro organizations. The model maps out the relevant contextual characteristics by combining research on corporate branding, branding in the services and B2B markets, and small to medium-sized enterprise (SME) branding with SME marketing and industrial services marketing. After presenting the methodology, the paper introduces the analysis and ? dings of the case study and also suggests managerial guidelines and avenues for further research. Further, the model acknowledges the dynamic nature of services. Industrial service processes, with considerable customer participation, do not offer a standardized basis for corporate branding and thus, the brand is changing and evolving (Gronroos, 2007, p. 330). Moreover, customer ? expectations are often complex and unclear (Axelsson and Wynstra, 2002, p. 33). Due to the variety and complexity of the service creation process, producing brand equity is challenging (de Chernatony and Segal-Horn, 2003).