The term brand orientation was coined in the beginning of the 1990s as an attempt to single out how brands could be used as a strategic resource rather than as an “add-on” to products. The concept was an answer to the prevailing idea—captured in idioms like “Customer is king” or “The customer is always right”—that corporations should establish an understanding of customers’ needs, get to know what it is that influences these needs, and thereafter engage themselves in activities that are intended to meet the needs of the most important customer groups. That is to say, they should be market oriented. In contrast to this, brand orientation highlights the importance of giving integrity to brands and sees it as a part of a corporation’s strategic intent, which ultimately affects its reputation. The rest of this entry describes eight activities that determine a corporation’s brand orientation, and discusses differences regarding the importance of brand orientation between corporations and public administration.
Brand orientation therefore implies a shift in focus from product brands to corporate brands, an increasing focus on stakeholders in addition to customers, and an attempt to balance internal and external interests. In line with this it also supports a larger set of objectives, not just profit, and it stretches the corporation’s horizon beyond short-sighted rewards. By directing their focus to these aspects, it is suggested that corporations increase their abilities to supervise how they are perceived, identify whether these perceptions are in line with their mission and values, and create strategies and activities that support affirmative brand beliefs and counteract negative ones. In turn, this means that corporations—by a shift in their orientation—are expected to gain competitive advantages and thereby improve their financial performance.
Corporations are more or less brand oriented, and to what degree is decided by their deliberate dedication to eight individual but not mutually exclusive activities:
- Approach: The corporation sees and uses its brand as a strategic resource and lets its vision, mission, and core values influence decision making and activities all over the organization.
- Implementation: The implementation of its brand is perceived as a continuing process where all members of the organization are seen as ambassadors.
- Goals and follow-up: The corporation translates its brand strategy into operative goals. It evaluates its activities and establishes rewards for members who contribute to the achievements of the goals.
- Relationships: It uses its brand to establish and preserve relationships with important stakeholders.
- Identity development and protection: It has a registered trademark and a well-developed corporate identity. It also takes legal measures when its trademark and/or reputational domains are infringed.
- Operational development: Its core processes—including product development, business development, concept development, and communication—are guided by its core values.
- Responsibility and roles: The CEO holds the overall responsibility for the brand and makes sure that the brand is a part of the corporation’s strategic decision making. But the corporation also refers crucial decisions regarding its brand to the board.
- Top management participation: The top management not only takes part in the development of the corporation’s brand but also functions as its ambassador.
Initially, brand orientation was used to understand the activities of business organizations, and until now researchers have used it to study a diverse set of sectors and types of corporations, including multisectorial corporations, international companies, packaged goods, retailing, and small and medium-sized enterprises. However, there are examples of studies of other types of organizations, including fund-raising organizations and organizations in the charity sector. This research shows that in many ways the understandings and conceptualizations of brands are similar in these types of organizations, albeit the motives to utilize the concept and strategies and to become brand oriented differ. A key finding has been that managers who show a high degree of brand orientation attract significantly more voluntary income from the general public as well as corporations than managers who are less brand oriented. It has also been shown that brand-oriented organizations in these sectors increase their abilities to raise awareness and communication about themselves and inform their stakeholders about what the organizations stand for and what causes they promote, thereby creating and maintaining trust among their stakeholders.
Others have also argued that public administrations could gain from being brand oriented rather than market oriented, not just for the sake of their own activities but also as a way to increase their ability to maintain democracy. In the wake of new public management reforms, many public sector organizations have shifted their focus, addressing efficiency, productivity, and customer satisfaction. Orientations may bolster selfishness and short-termism and reduce citizens to consumers. By becoming more brand oriented and using their brand as an extension of their identity and as a strategic resource rather than as a surface, it is suggested that public sector organizations could enhance trust for themselves and, in the long run, the democratic system. Hereby, they can also increase their ability to attract employees with high competence. However, the scope of such approaches has been questioned, as the differences between public sector organizations and corporations are argued to be far-reaching and thereby difficult to be overcome. In contrast to corporations, public administrations fulfill a political function and function as a means for others (i.e., politicians). In addition, they have severe problems connecting with their stakeholders emotionally, standing out as unique and distinguished organizations, and communicating as coherent bodies. These are qualities regarded as essential for organizations that are brand oriented. It is therefore suggested that these strategies are less valuable for public administrations.
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