Christian Koch defended his doctoral thesis December 5th. Below, he tells you a little about himself and what his research is all about.
I came to Sweden in 2009 to pursue my master education. I had just finished my bachelor studies in Germany and thereafter worked for global consumer goods company Beiersdorf in Hamburg for a while. At Lund University I studied “International Marketing & Brand Management”, Sweden’s most popular Master's degree program. Towards the end of the program – while writing my master thesis in consumer culture theory – I began seeing the option of becoming an academic researcher. I applied for a doctoral position in a brand management research project – with success. Under the supervision of Mats Urde and Johan Anselmsson I started my PhD studies in late summer of 2010.
In today’s society, brands are ever-present and they want to be observed – be it corporate, product, person, place, or non-governmental organization brands. Brands not only represent what an organization sells, but rather what an organization does and more significantly what an organization is. Essentially, brands function as a medium between ‘producers’ and ‘stakeholders’. Putting it differently, brands are the interface of organizing production, triggering consumption, and managing meaning. In my research, I am particularly interested in the concept of positioning. In brand management, positioning deals fundamentally with finding a balance between sameness and differentiation. Empirical research predominantly examines the input and output effectiveness of certain strategies. Less is known about the management process and internal brand positioning dynamics, especially in the context of corporate brands. A corporate brand is at hand when the organization as a whole is branded instead of its individual products or services. Thus, in corporate brand management the substance of the relationship between the company, its business units, product areas, and multiple internal and external stakeholders has to be taken into account. There are many examples of successfully positioned corporate brands, but we know little about the patterns and mechanisms that constitute the positioning process. This is why the overall aim of my dissertation was to explore the process of corporate brand positioning as it occurs over time.
Based on qualitative case studies within industrial multi-business firms ABB (power and automation industry), Trelleborg (polymer engineering industry), and Holmen (pulp and paper industry), my thesis opens the proverbial black box to reveal how corporate brand positioning unfolds. Findings suggest understanding corporate brand positioning as strategic episodes that develop between managerial agency and institutional or environmental constraints. The findings are conceptualized across five dimensions (the ‘where’, ‘when’, ‘why’, ‘what’, and ‘who’ of positioning). Regarding ‘where’ and ‘when’ positioning occurs (that is, location and timing), I found that positioning is a recurring, multi-level process, making it more than just a corporate-level marketing activity. As for ‘why’ positioning occurs (that is, driver patterns), I identify three broad driver patterns and their reactive and proactive nature. Concerning ‘what’ occurs during the positioning process (that is, activities, choices, and challenges), I outline seven stages that positioning episodes are passing through, each creating enablers and barriers for change. Finally, as for ‘who’ is involved (that is, actors and their roles), I conceptualize corporate brand positioning as a political process that needs to be carefully coordinated between five key practitioner groups. It also needs to be integrated across stable firm levels as well as a temporary level that consists of micro-episodes of reflective strategic practice. My thesis develops a nuanced perspective on positioning and demarcates it from continuous brand management activities. Finally, I provide corporate- and business-level brand managers with role-relevant implications to be better prepared when assigned to positioning change episodes.
I presented my research at conferences in Germany, Sweden, and the UK. Together with my principal supervisor, Mats Urde, I also wrote a conceptual paper, which recently has been accepted for publication. The paper titled “Market- and Brand-Oriented Schools of Positioning” will be published in the Journal of Product & Brand Management in early 2015. Besides these research activities I spent some time with teaching, too. On Master's level, I have held lectures in the courses “Marketing and Management Research Methods” and “Corporate Brand Management and Reputation”. I also assisted with various teaching tasks in the courses “Strategic Brand Management” and “Retailing and Distribution Channels”. On bachelor level, I am responsible for holding the lecture “Business-to-Business Branding” offered to international students. As for the practical impact of my research, I recently have been invited to Volvo Group headquarters in Gothenburg to discuss corporate brand positioning.