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This case involves thinking about the meaning brands have for consumers, the roles brands play, and the views customers have of brands developed...

This case involves thinking about the meaning brands have for consumers, the roles brands play, and the views customers have of brands developed through marketing and non-marketing influences.

The background readings for the module introduce you to ways of analyzing products and brands and the case reading relates to a study of the relationship consumers have had with brands. These are related to one another and you should apply the former in this case assignment.

Write a paper of no more than four pages in length (excluding title and reference pages and any appendices) addressing the following question:

In her 1998 paper Susan Fournier argues that customers have relationships with brands.

1. Explain what Fournier means by "having a relationship" with a brand. (20%)

2. Using two brands chosen from the product categories below, explain whether or not you believe that customers have relationships with those brands. (40%)

3. Expand your thinking and explain whether, based on your own experience and your knowledge of other people, customers have relationships with all brands. (40%)

Ensure that on the title page of your paper you both repeat the assignment in bold above in full and verbatim and state the two brands you are examining. The weighting graders will give to the various sections of the case paper are indicated in brackets.

There is only one case reading, Susan Fournier's 1998 article in which, amongst other things, she argues that consumers have relationships with brands. Other marketing academics have said that they don't, (e.g. Vargo and Lusch, (2004), in a Journal of Marketing article state that "inanimate items of exchange cannot have relationships"). Perhaps they do but only under certain circumstances? That is for you to consider.

In order to answer this question you are required to identify ONE brand from each of TWO of the four product categories shown below and explore Fournier's idea that consumers have relationships with them.

Sources of information for this case may include:

Introspection, though you should not rely solely on anecdotal evidence.
Questioning friends and colleagues - strongly recommended.
Researching background information on the Internet and in magazines - strongly recommended.
While you may be tempted to simply rely on anecdotal personal information and write about your own relationship (or non-relationship) with a chosen brand, you will learn a lot more by broadening your horizons and thinking like a marketer, which means going beyond your own perceptions and understanding the way others perceive products. If you are in an Internet-constrained environment simply say so in your assignment and focus on the first two sources above. When sourcing friends and colleagues make sure to reference them as sources, (just as you should with personal sources used for your SLP).

You should also bear in mind that a fundamental goal, as with all the cases in MKT301, is to stimulate your learning and your answers should therefore aim to demonstrate that learning. In answering the question ensure that you demonstrate your understanding of products and branding, and in particular the concept of "having a relationship", as well as your learning from the previous module gt;.

The three product categories are:

Airlines (e.g. brands such as Delta, United, American, British Airways, South West, Virgin etc.).
Car rental companies (e.g. brands such as Avis, Hertz, Enterprise, Alamo, Dollar etc.).
Post-secondary educational services (e.g. brands such as Phoenix, Capella, American Military University, Walden, Kaplan, Harvard, Arizona Sate etc.).
Select ONE brand from TWO of these three product categories, (e.g. you might choose a brand of airline, say Delta, and a brand of pen, or, alternatively, a brand of educational service, say Capella, and a brand of car rental company, say, Alamo). The brands mentioned above are only examples. You can select others not shown if you prefer, but they must come from two of those three product categories.

Apart from the information you normally put on your title page also list there the two brands you have examined. That is a requirement.

Note that it is not assumed that you will agree with Dr. Fournier that people have relationships with brands, nor is it assumed that you will necessarily disagree. Clearly marketing scholars disagree about this so you can too! You might choose two brands, examine them, examine what it means to "have a relationship with a brand" and conclude that this idea does not hold water and has no benefits for marketers, in the process explaining why Dr. Fournier is wrong in your opinion. On the other hand you might conclude that her idea holds for one of the brands you have examined and not for the other, or perhaps holds for some people and not for others. Contrasting the two will be very important in that instance. Or you might conclude that it holds for both.

In addition, you needn't assume that relationships are necessarily good ones.

If you wish to include support or illustrative materials feel free to include these in an appendix of no more than three pages, but ensure that you refer to this material in the body of the paper.

CASE EXPECTATIONS
Use information from the background readings as well as the case paper and any good quality sources you can find. Please cite all sources and provide a reference list at the end of the paper.

The following will be assessed in particular:

Your demonstrated understanding of the marketing concepts central to the case question.
Your ability to assess Fournier's arguments regarding relationships.
Your demonstrated understanding of branding and customer relationships based on insights regarding both derived from the Fournier paper and your own experience and research.
The criteria used for assessment will be those explained on the MOD01 Home page, namely:

Focus.
Breadth.
Depth.
Critical thinking.
Effective communication skills.
Case-related article:

Fournier S. (1998, Mar). Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research. 24, (4). Retrieved from Proquest November 5th, 2009.
The following is a suggestion about how to lay out your paper.

Brief introduction: what problem your paper addresses, and you might indicate the answer you have found.
Examination of central concepts: “brand”, “positioning” and "relationship".
Examination of Fournier's argument as to "what is a relationship?" *
Examination of whether people have relationships with your two chosen brands.
Conclusion: answer the question "Do consumers have relationships with brands?"
* The case article is written for a narrow academic audience well educated in the issues and the relevant background literature, which I recognize you are not so I shall try to give you some insight into her arguments here.

Most academic papers like the one assigned for this case start by trying to answer two questions:

1. Why is my paper important?

2. How does it relate to what has been written about this subject before?

As far as you are concerned neither of those questions are really important to you as you're not the intended academic audience and so you can largely ignore the paragraphs which deal with them.

However, there are then some important sections. Prof. Fournier goes on to try to answer the question "How can a person have "a relationship" with an inanimate object (or a brand)?" by referring to past academic writing about brands and relationships. She tries to answer this by explaining what she means by "a relationship", and argues that in some ways branding and the management of brands makes inanimate objects animate.

So pay attention to:

P344: "For a relationship to truly exist, interdependence between partners must be evident: that is, the partners must collectively affect, define and redefine the relationship".

P344: "One way to legitimize the brand-as-partner is to highlight ways in which brands are animated, humanized or somehow personalized."

P345: "theories of animism... the brand is somehow possessed by the spirit of a past or present other... Spokespersons... the brand becomes the spokesperson... Brand person associations... air freshener that grandmother kept in her bathroom, a floor cleaner that an ex-husband always used... gifts... infused with the spirit of the giver. Complete anthropomorphization of the brand... Charlie Tuna and the Pillsbury dough boy. ... people assign selective human properties to a range of consumer goods."

P345: The paragraph beginning "For the brand to serve as legitimate relationship partner..." is important as this argues that the qualities she has discussed above are not sufficient for a brand to be regarded as a potential relationship partner. Study that and the following paragraph (to "...into the brand domain as well.") as it makes an important argument about why brands can be so regarded, and you may well not agree with it.

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