In the current hyper-connected environment, brands need to depict their societal and ethical concerns at a corporate level if they want to remain competitive and improve their reputation. In such an environment, rather than being unilaterally created by the firm, the brand meaning is co-created by multiple stakeholders, and therefore the brands that have an unethical image are likely to be penalized by these stakeholders. Currently, firms are increasingly losing power over their brands, because they can not control the brand meaning. Thus, instead of trying to control it, managers should focus on influencing the brand meaning. To effectively influence it, managers should first understand the needs and interests of their customers (increasingly ethics-related); then, persuade employees to behave in accord with these needs and interests; and finally, persuade customers to perceive that the brand is fulfilling these needs and interests. Several scholars have recognized that rhetoric and narratives are powerful tools that managers can use to persuade customers. More specifically, corporate brands should combine the rhetorical elements of logos (logical arguments), ethos (character and personality) and pathos (feelings) if they want to effectively persuade customers. In accord with this discussion, our research objective is twofold. First, we aim to empirically investigate if managers see the need to build an ethical corporate brand identity and align employee behavior with it. Second, we intend to empirically explore how managers build an ethical corporate brand image and the role that rhetoric plays in this process. To address the research objective we have applied the qualitative methodology, which is adequate for studying largely under-investigated fields with a dearth of robust theory. Our fieldwork contains 30 semi-structured interviews to managers of corporate brands. Preliminary findings show that, nowadays, managers are more worried about building an ethical corporate brand reputation than ever before. The reason is that customers and other stakeholders are everyday more interconnected through different online and offline networks, and thereby can rapidly spread the unethical brand behaviors and inauthentic brand communications they perceive. On one hand, and unfortunately, most of the interviewed corporate brands try to build an ethical image because they feel the pressure from their stakeholders, but they do not do it because of an authentic internal conviction. To build this ethical image, they use rhetoric in a tactical and manipulative way. Concretely, they use rhetoric in their communications to build an ethical, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly image in the minds of their stakeholders, so as to increase their acceptance and potential sales in a market where brand offerings are increasingly evaluated based on ethical dimensions. On the other hand, some of the interviewed corporate brands firmly believe that ethics should be at the core of any corporate brand. These brands are principle-driven and core-values based. They have a well-defined brand ethos at the center of their identities, around which they orchestrate their business strategies. Most of these brands not only actively and consistently use storytelling for communicating their ethicality, but also use storydoing for delivering customer experiences that are in line with their ethical identities. To effectively deliver these customer experiences, these brands ensure that their ethical identities are integrated into employee behavior, and portrayed ideally at every single brand-customer touch-point. However, despite having a well-defined brand ethos at the center of their identities, some of these brands prefer not to communicate their ethicality to avoid that customers and other stakeholders wrongly associate it with a tactical and manipulative rhetoric.

ESADE

Back to home

Markovic Markovic, Stefan; Iglesias Bedós, Oriol

Corporate brands and business ethics: Empty persuasion vs. brand ethos

In the current hyper-connected environment, brands need to depict their societal and ethical concerns at a corporate level if they want to remain competitive and improve their reputation. In such an environment, rather than being unilaterally created by the firm, the brand meaning is co-created by multiple stakeholders, and therefore the brands that have an unethical image are likely to be penalized by these stakeholders. Currently, firms are increasingly losing power over their brands, because they can not control the brand meaning. Thus, instead of trying to control it, managers should focus on influencing the brand meaning. To effectively influence it, managers should first understand the needs and interests of their customers (increasingly ethics-related); then, persuade employees to behave in accord with these needs and interests; and finally, persuade customers to perceive that the brand is fulfilling these needs and interests. Several scholars have recognized that rhetoric and narratives are powerful tools that managers can use to persuade customers. More specifically, corporate brands should combine the rhetorical elements of logos (logical arguments), ethos (character and personality) and pathos (feelings) if they want to effectively persuade customers. In accord with this discussion, our research objective is twofold. First, we aim to empirically investigate if managers see the need to build an ethical corporate brand identity and align employee behavior with it. Second, we intend to empirically explore how managers build an ethical corporate brand image and the role that rhetoric plays in this process. To address the research objective we have applied the qualitative methodology, which is adequate for studying largely under-investigated fields with a dearth of robust theory. Our fieldwork contains 30 semi-structured interviews to managers of corporate brands. Preliminary findings show that, nowadays, managers are more worried about building an ethical corporate brand reputation than ever before. The reason is that customers and other stakeholders are everyday more interconnected through different online and offline networks, and thereby can rapidly spread the unethical brand behaviors and inauthentic brand communications they perceive. On one hand, and unfortunately, most of the interviewed corporate brands try to build an ethical image because they feel the pressure from their stakeholders, but they do not do it because of an authentic internal conviction. To build this ethical image, they use rhetoric in a tactical and manipulative way. Concretely, they use rhetoric in their communications to build an ethical, socially responsible, and environmentally friendly image in the minds of their stakeholders, so as to increase their acceptance and potential sales in a market where brand offerings are increasingly evaluated based on ethical dimensions. On the other hand, some of the interviewed corporate brands firmly believe that ethics should be at the core of any corporate brand. These brands are principle-driven and core-values based. They have a well-defined brand ethos at the center of their identities, around which they orchestrate their business strategies. Most of these brands not only actively and consistently use storytelling for communicating their ethicality, but also use storydoing for delivering customer experiences that are in line with their ethical identities. To effectively deliver these customer experiences, these brands ensure that their ethical identities are integrated into employee behavior, and portrayed ideally at every single brand-customer touch-point. However, despite having a well-defined brand ethos at the center of their identities, some of these brands prefer not to communicate their ethicality to avoid that customers and other stakeholders wrongly associate it with a tactical and manipulative rhetoric.
More Knowledge
Corporate brands and business ethics: Empty persuasion vs. brand ethos
Markovic Markovic, Stefan; Iglesias Bedós, Oriol
6th International Conference on Rhetoric and Narratives in Management Research
ESADE Business School
Barcelona (Spain), 21/03/2016 - 23/03/2016

Related publications

Back to home