Unity in diversity? Identity, relationship and cultural context in the classic Mini and the BMW Mini communities
When brand objects attract a number of consumers who exhibit strong loyalty to that object, and who communicate such loyalties with each other, brand communities form. Studies of such communities have hitherto focused on the individual relationships between their members in order to explain the dynamics driving such groups. This study aims to explore the wider universe in which such groups operate, and to establish the interconnecting relationships between the various actors associated with the brand object, including marketer-consumer, consumer-society and community-subculture. Positivist research methods are inappropriate to such a study, because of their basic assumption that people can be studied in the same manner as the physical world. Instead, the interpretivist paradigm has been used for this research, because the researcher believes that the meaning of brands can only be fully understood when the subjective experiences of those who use them are taken into consideration. A case study of the Mini brand community has been chosen as a vehicle for this study. The results are inductive rather than deductive, allowing theories of social phenomena to emerge from the data, thus ensuring that they are grounded in observation and experience. The case study method has also enabled the researcher to become fully involved in the phenomenon under investigation. Analysis was conducted on data collected from a wide range of online and offline sources relating to this community. This data revealed that marketers abandoned the Mini when production of the car ceased, leaving the brand community to maintain the remaining vehicles and perpetuate the meanings that surround the brand. Community members became solely responsible for preserving the values of “small-is-beautiful”, “fun” and “Britishness” with which the Mini has come to be associated. They maintained the cultural meanings of the Mini so successfully that the Mini’s successor, the BMW MINI, was able to reclaim these meanings to maximize its launch and development. In this way, brand meaning can be shown to be the result of a complex process of interaction between all the actors concerned at every level, rather than being created and sustained only by marketers. This study proposes a conceptual framework by which consumer behavior within brand communities can be studied, and which takes account of all those actors and levels concerned with creating the cultural meaning(s) attached to a given brand object.
- PhD