Journal of Consumer Marketing Emerald Article: Brand communities for mainstream brands: the example of the Yamaha R1 brand community Reto Felix Article information: To cite this document: Reto Felix, (2012),”Brand communities for mainstream brands: the example of the Yamaha R1 brand community”, Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 29 Iss: 3 pp. 225 – 232 Permanent link to this document: http://dx. doi. org/10. 1108/07363761211221756 Downloaded on: 08-10-2012 References: This document contains references to 47 other documents To copy this document: [email protected] com
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In total, Emerald publishes over 275 journals and more than 130 book series, as well as an extensive range of online products and services. Emerald is both COUNTER 3 and TRANSFER compliant. The organization is a partner of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and also works with Portico and the LOCKSS initiative for digital archive preservation. *Related content and download information correct at time of download. Brand communities for mainstream brands: the example of the Yamaha R1 brand community Reto Felix ? Department of Business Administration, University of Monterrey, San Pedro Garza Garc? , Mexico Abstract Purpose – The purpose of this study is to understand consumers’ product use, practices, identity, and brand meanings in the context of a brand community dedicated to a mainstream Japanese motorcycle brand. Design/methodology/approach – A qualitative research approach was used in the form of netnography (i. e. ethnography adapted to the study of online communities). Findings – On the product level, consumers experience multiple con? icts and negotiations of meaning related to the use of the product. These ? dings are reproduced on the brand level, where members of the brand community present a more differentiated look on the brand, accompanied by lower levels of admiration and identi? cation with the brand, as in previous reports of brand communities for brands such as Apple, Jeep, or Harley-Davidson. The results suggest that consumers for mainstream brands may be more prone to multi-brand loyalty instead of single-brand loyalty. Practical implications – Marketers should monitor motivations, attitudes, and decision-making processes on both the product and the brand level.
Further, non-company-run online communities such as the Yamaha R1 forum bear the risk of community members transmitting brand information in a way not desired by the company. Thus, marketers should consider sponsoring an entire discussion website, a forum, or part of a forum. Originality/value – Whereas previous studies on brand communities have concentrated predominantly on highly admired and differentiated brands, such as Apple or Harley-Davidson, this study investigates consumer practices, identities, and negotiations of meaning on both the product and brand level for a less differentiated mainstream brand.
Keywords Brand community, Brand loyalty, Netnography, Identity, Consumer behaviour, Brand management Paper type Research paper An executive summary for managers and executive readers can be found at the end of this article. Introduction to brand communities and literature review Community-based brand relationships in marketing literature have been discussed commonly with a focus on brand communities. A brand community is a “specialized, nongeographically bound community, based on a structured set ? f social relationships among admirers of a brand” (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001, p. 412). Brand communities have been found to be crucial in order to understand brand loyalty (Fournier and Lee, 2009; McAlexander et al. , 2002, 2003). They are based on a shared interest in the brand (Algesheimer et al. , 2005) and, more speci? cally, on the three characteristics of consciousness of kind, shared rituals and traditions, and a ? sense or moral responsibility (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). As a positive outcome of brand communities, consumers may engage in cocreation (Schau et al. 2009), and religious-like relationships between consumers and brands may evolve, as documented in the case of the Apple Newton brand ? ? community (Muniz and Schau, 2005; Schau and Muniz, 2006). The current issue and full text archive of this journal is available at www. emeraldinsight. com/0736-3761. htm Journal of Consumer Marketing 29/3 (2012) 225– 232 q Emerald Group Publishing Limited [ISSN 0736-3761] [DOI 10. 1108/07363761211221756] Because of their geographical independence, brand communities can exist in the form of local clubs or interest groups (Algesheimer et al. 2005; Schouten and McAlexander, 1995), entirely on the Internet (Kozinets, ? 1997; Muniz and Schau, 2005), or in combined form (Kozinets, 2001). Further, brand communities have emerged for virtually any product, such as cars (Algesheimer et al. , 2005; Leigh et al. , 2006; Luedicke et al. , 2010; McAlexander ? et al. , 2002; Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001; Schouten et al. , 2007), motorbikes (Schouten and McAlexander, 1995), computers (Belk and Tumbat, 2005), groceries (Cova and Pace, 2006), or movies and television series (Brown et al. , 2003; Kozinets, 2001).
The common denominator of the brands patronized in brand communities is a clear and unique positioning in combination with consumers who strongly identify with the brand. Consumers de? ne themselves by the brands they consume as well as the brands they do not consume, and brands are clearly classi? ed into “our brands” ? and “other brands” by the community (Muniz and Hamer, 2001). In other words, members of a particular brand community are not only supposed to be more loyal to the own brand, but also substantially less loyal to competing brands.
This phenomenon has been described as oppositional brand ? loyalty by Muniz and O’Guinn (2001) and may lead to enhanced intergroup stereotyping, trash talk targeted at members outside the community, and emotional pleasures from news about a rival’s failure (Hickman and Ward, 2007). In extreme cases, oppositional brand loyalty can turn into active consumer resistance or anti-brand communities (Hollenbeck and Zinkhan, 2006; Luedicke et al. , 2010). However, brand communities are not free of oppositional forces and negotiations of meaning coming from inside.
Rather, brand communities may embrace consumers who are 225 Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 critical with the brand or the product in general, and it would thus be overly optimistic to expect equally high levels of loyalty from all visitors of a brand community. For example, Kozinets (1999) classi? es members of virtual communities according to the identi? cation with the consumption activity (or brand) and the intensity of the social relationships with other members of the community.
Whereas insiders show both high levels of brand identi? cation and social orientation towards the community, other members may have lower levels of brand identi? cation (minglers), lower levels of social relationships with the community (devotees), or both (tourists). Especially consumers who are simultaneously members in competing brand communities in the same product category may have high levels of participation in the communities, but without showing high levels of brand loyalty or admiration for the brands (Thompson and Sinha, 2008).
In an application of these segmentation approaches to a sample of videogame players (Settlers of Catan) and a Swatch brand community, Ouwersloot and Odekerken-Schroder ? (2008) ? nd one segment of community members who are highly interested in the product, but not in the brand (36 and 7 percent, respectively) and a second segment including consumers who are neither interested in the product, the brand, or social relationships, yet still prefer to remain in the community (15 and 7 percent, respectively).
Thus, it can be argued that consumer responses, such as satisfaction or loyalty, operate not only on the brand, but also on the product level (Torres-Moraga et al. , 2008). In the following analysis of an online brand community for a Japanese mainstream motorcycle brand, it is shown how consumers negotiate product and brand meanings, and how identity construction and brand attitudes are affected. The analysis is divided into a ? rst part on issues related to the activity and practices of riding a sports bike and the identity of sports bike consumers in general, and a second part on brand attitudes and how brands mediate identity construction. as chosen as the primary data source. Yamaha is one of four mainstream Japanese motorcycle brands with worldwide sales of US$12. 5 billion in 2009 (Yamaha Motor Co. , 2009). As a comparison, Harley Davidson’s same year consolidated sales from motorcycles and related products were US$4. 3 billion (Harley-Davidson, 2009). The Yamaha R1 forum is primarily dedicated to Yamaha’s top-of-the-range sport bike, the Yamaha R1, but there are also members subscribed to the forum who either have motorbikes from different brands, such as Honda, Suzuki, Kawasaki, or Ducati, or who currently do not have a motorbike.
As of June 14, 2010, the R1 forum had 107,249 subscribed members and more than four million postings in approximately 265,000 threads. The threads in the forum are organized into ? ve different sections: 1 Community 2 R1-related discussion 3 Technique, racing, and stunt discussion 4 Marketplace/classi? ed. 5 Misc. section. After starting reading threads in the Community section, it was possible to identify preliminary themes and issues by further browsing through the postings. At a very early stage of the research, evidence was found for more complex and ambiguous brand relationships than in previous studies on brand communities.
Following a purposive sampling approach (Lincoln and Guba, 1985; Wallendorf and Belk, 1989), reading and downloading posts were continued as long as analysis of the postings generated new insights and did not lead to redundancy (Belk et al. , 1988). At a later stage of the study, the forum’s search engine was used to immerse more systematically into the data. Over the period between August 2006 and June 2010, around 10,000 postings were read, of which approximately 300 were downloaded. Organization, analysis, and ethical procedures In a ? st step, downloaded postings were pre-classi? ed into different categories and reoccurrences were coded by assigning one or several codes to the statements in the postings. Using an iterative approach, jumping back and forth between coded and uncoded statements facilitated the interpretation of the data. Codes were then condensed into more meaningful constructs and subsequently into interpretive themes in order to obtain relevant layers of meaning and richly textured interpretations (Arnould and Wallendorf, 1994).
This procedure allowed a grounded, hermeneutic interpretation to emerge from the data that did not strive for representativeness, but rather for analytic depth and relevance. In order to impede the tracking of forum members’ identities, user names were changed to generic member names, such as “forum member 1. ” Deviating from Kozinets’ (2002) recommendations, permissions from community members to use direct quotations were not requested. The reason for this decision was twofold: First, in an initial attempt to contact community members, only one response out of ten emails sent was obtained.
If only those postings had been used that responses had been received for, the pool of usable data had been reduced signi? cantly. And second, Langer and Beckman’s (2005) reasoning was considered in that postings in an internet community forum are intentionally public postings, comparable to readers’ letters in a newspaper, and that it would be highly unusual to seek 226 Method Netnography was used to explore brand relationships and identity construction for an online community of a mainstream Japanese motorcycle brand. Netnography has been de? ed as “ethnography adapted to the study of online communities” (Kozinets, 2002, p. 61) and has been used in consumption contexts such as the X-Files (Kozinets, 1997), Star Trek (Kozinets, 2001, 2006), wedding messages (Nelson and Otnes, 2005), cars (Brown et al. , 2003), and consumer gift systems (Giesler, 2006). Similar to traditional ethnography, netnography is open-ended, interpretative, ? exible, metaphorical, and grounded in the knowledge of the speci? c and particularistic (Kozinets, 2002). However, netnography is usually faster, simpler, and less expensive than traditional ethnography (Kozinets, 2002, 2006).
Further, it has been argued that new online communication technologies have “expanded the array of generalized others contributing to the construction of the self” (Cerulo, 1997, p. 386), and netnography as a tool of analyzing online communities is thus able to integrate the broadened spectrum of agents involved in the construction of individual and collective identity. Data collection Because of its size and relevance for the motorcycle community, the Yamaha R1 forum (www. r1-forum. com) Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 ermission to use direct quotations in this context. However, Kozinet’s concerns about adequate ethical procedures in netnography research are certainly valid, and the pragmatic issue (non-responses for permission requests) ? nally was the one that complicated following his recommendations. The product level: practice and identity Although recreational motorcycling in general is considered a high-risk leisure time activity, there are different segments within the motorcycle community that distinguish themselves in attitudes and behaviors related to riding style and speed.
On one extreme of street bike riding are the easy-rider oriented owners of choppers or touring bikes who prefer to ride at moderate speeds and enjoy the immediate experience with the environment. On the other extreme are sports bike enthusiasts who prefer a fast, competitive riding style that is often accompanied by the exhibition of riding skills and risky stunting maneuvers such as performing wheelies (Haigh and Crowther, 2005).
Commercial sports bikes aim to be copies of racing bikes used by professional riders at the Moto GP or Superbike competitions, and a modern liter bike, available at dealerships for under US$15,000, accelerates from zero to 200 km/h (125 miles) in less than ten seconds and reaches speeds in excess of 290 km/h (180 miles). A complete safety gear, consisting of helmet, leather gear, gloves, and boots, is considered an obligation for any sports bike rider by some, but lead to mock comments by others, ridiculing the “power ranger” out? t of sports bike riders. An important number of psychological and social con? cts are derived from the inherent nature of sports bike riding. Physical, functional, ? nancial, psychological and social risks form a complex, multilayered ? eld of tensions and constraints that are constantly negotiated by the individual, both internally and externally, and rarely resolved with simple heuristics. The actual or anticipated implications of an accident are dominant in many of the comments on the R1 forum, as the following sequence of succeeding narratives related to accidents and quitting riding suggests: I quit riding one time in my life.
I was just getting married, building a house, etc. [. . . ] and coincidentally I was involved in a string of near misses: cars cutting me off, almost getting side swiped by an idiot who didn’t know how to turn into his own lane, getting run off road and up over a curb through a gas station parking lot by a garbage truck who just decided he wanted to cut across two lanes with no warning. It was my opinion that there was just some bad energy around me right then, and with all the other stress in my life maybe it was adding to the problem. I don’t know.
I hung it up for a few years, then got back into it when everything felt right again. It still feels right [. . . ] all the while I’ve witnessed bike wrecks, been close to others’ fatal accidents, laid my own bike down at a track day, etc. [. . . ] but it still feels right for me. My single rule is that as long as my head is in the game, then it’s “right“. If my head is constantly focusing on crashing, dying, etc. [. . . ] then it’s time to take another time-out. Shouldn’t be riding if you can’t focus on what you’re doing. Period. No shame in that (forum member 1).
I’ve seen bad accidents but also I believe its mental. With so many, “I’ve gone down” threads, it can eat your con? dence away and make riding not fun. If it ain’t fun, that’s a good time to step back and let time rebuild your enjoyment (forum member 2). [. . . ] Subscribed [. . . ] (forum member 3). Personally everyday that I wake up and am fortunate enough to ride I tell my wife I love her I get my brain focused and I always keep reminding myself that this could be my last ride and I think that is half the reason I ride so responsibly on the street.
I don’t want to have a last ride I love this sport. I have been down once very hard and that was a wake up call but I can’t give up what I love and to all my friends and fellow riders if I do go down and don’t get up please keep riding for me cause I would do the same (forum member 4). The con? ict between the hedonistic and aesthetic pleasures of riding a bike and the inherent risks involved in the activity becomes salient in forum member 2 comment about how riding a motorcycle should be related to fun. Speci? life events, such as those mentioned in forum member 1 narrative, amplify these tensions and may lead to important changes in attitudes or behaviors. However, these attitudinal or behavioral changes are frequently dynamic and unstable in time. For example, the decision to quit riding is in many cases a temporal one, and forum members compare riding to an addiction such as drinking or smoking. This addiction-like need to ride a motorbike then becomes an important factor in identity construction: From the point of view of the individual, riders do not choose riding a motorbike in order to signal certain values.
Rather, as expressed by forum member 4, the activity forms a natural part of the self and is just there, similar to early conceptualizations of gender or race in the essentialist identity logic. Riding a bike is elevated to a mission that does not leave room for choices, and fellow riders are encouraged to honor the dead by continuing the mission and keeping the spirit alive. The inherent trait of being addicted to motorcycles is assessed critically in a re? ective discourse by many riders. For example, forum member 5 explains that he is aware of the multiple con? cts that surround his hobby, but apparently resolves these con? icts by stating that riding is the most important thing in his life, and that he has learned that riding makes him happy. The shared consciousness and discourse related to themes such as the risk of experiencing a severe accident, losing a fellow rider, or problems with girlfriends, spouses, or the family in general, leads to a collective identity that is constructed, complex, and deprived of precise classi? cations. The brand level: attitudes mediating identity construction
The negotiations of meaning related to the practice of riding a sports bike are reproduced at the more speci? c brand level. Whereas previous research on brand communities has been largely focused on communities with extraordinary high levels of brand loyalty and commitment, members of the R1 sports bike community show a more ambiguous and differentiated relationship with the Yamaha brand: I’m really faithful to Yamaha, but when sitting on a new R1 and a new GSXR1000 side by side, I have to say I like the Suzuki. The R1 just feels so much [. . . bigger. I don’t know. Also, the magazines bitch about the suspension [. . . ] yet how many serious track people leave suspension stock anyway? Regardless, I’m too poor to buy a new bike, so I’ll continue riding my 02 R1 on the track (forum member 6). Faithfulness in this context is not experienced as absolute loyalty to only one brand. Rather, it is legitimate to question publicly the qualities of the favorite brand. Contrary to what might be expected, forum member 6 receives very few objections from the community members, and a relatively ational, attribute-based discussion of the merits and disadvantages of different motorcycle brands and models follows. In general, discourses presented by the forum members include few elements of real enthusiasm and emotional commitment for the brand. Apparently, community members perceive both the products and the brands in the sports bike category as little differentiated. This does not mean that R1 owners are dissatis? ed with their bike 227 Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 r the Yamaha brand in general. Rather, the speci? c situation of the sports bike community suggests customers who are highly satis? ed with their brand, yet nevertheless would switch to another brand easily. It has been suggested that brand loyalty can be measured by asking individuals how likely it is they would recommend the brand to a friend or colleague (Reichheld, 2003). Because people new to sports bike riding frequently ask for advice on the forum, a great number of posts are related to what bike from which brand would be recommended.
Typical answers include statements such as “any of the new bikes are great” (forum member 7) or “I’ve spent some time on all the bikes and seriously there is no true winner, no matter what you get nowadays is a rocket out of the crate and you will be getting a good bike! Each has its ups and down but overall I could see myself on any of them really! ” (forum member 8). Rather than showing indifference, consumers like and actually buy any of the important sports bike brands.
Using the conceptual partition of the awareness set into an evoked set, an inert set, and an inept set (Narayana and Markin, 1975; Spiggle and Seawall, 1987), it seems that R1 community members place most of the important sports bike brands into the evoked set, whereas the inert set is relatively small. Instead of a highly committed loyalty to one single brand, as in previous accounts of brand communities, the Yamaha R1 brand community is, if anything, prone to multi-brand or split loyalty (Jacoby, 1971; Jacoby and Kyner, 1973). Identity is thus less de? ed by a speci? c brand, but rather by the activity of riding a sports bike itself. Wherever brand personalities in? uence decision making, it seems that these criteria are exclusive rather than inclusive. That is, the consideration set is not formed by the inclusion of a speci? c brand or set of brands, but rather by excluding unattractive brands. For example, in the R1 forum, some members distance themselves from Suzuki, one of Yamaha’s main competitors, because they don’t identify with the people who ride Suzukis: Yes, gixxer is by far the “squid bike” all the ? st time riders and newbies love the gixxers [. . . ] Their mentality and unfriendly attitude is because they are young, dumb, and think their bike is the best ever (forum member 9). the brand and clash with the otherwise positively perceived performance and quality of the product. The identity of the R1 brand community is further formed by the relationship with two other groups of motorcycles. On one hand, most forum members seem to admire the more exclusive Italian sports bike brands, such as Ducati and MV Agusta.
On the other hand, the relationship to Harley Davidson is not marked by a clear distinction of acceptance versus rejection pattern, but rather by a complicated and sometimes ambiguous pattern of mixed emotions toward the brand and its users: There are a lot of douche bag riders, Harley and sportbike alike, but I will admit I’ve ? ipped off quite a few Harley riders. I’ve gotten less camaraderie from Harley riders than anyone, but those are just the young wannabies, the old guys are usually cool tho, hahaha (forum member 10). In motorcycle slang, Gixxer stands for Suzuki’s GSX-R line of super sport motorbikes.
Forum members do not reject the Suzuki brand because of issues with the quality or performance of the product, but rather because of the characteristics of the riders who use the brand. Squid, an expression that, according to some forum members, is a combination of the two words “squirrel” and “kid,” describes irresponsible motorcycle riders who overestimate their riding skills and frequently wear inappropriate and insuf? cient riding gear. By claiming that the Suzuki GSX-R series is the typical squid bike, attributes of the consumers are ascribed to the brand.
Thus, brand identity is built on exclusion (“this is not how we want to be”) rather than on inclusion. Further, meaning transfer in this case deviates substantially from the traditional symbolic consumption process. Symbolic consumption suggests that individuals transfer the symbolic meaning of a brand to themselves, and subsequently the audience, such as peers and signi? cant others, assigns the attributes of the brand to the individual (Grubb and Grathwohl, 1967). However, meaning in the example above is transferred in the reverse direction, from the user to the brand.
Negative attributes of Suzuki brand users (such as being squiddish, dumb, and inexperienced) are transferred to 228 Here, forum member 10 develops a differentiated look toward Harley-Davidson riders by explaining that the less friendly Harley riders are typically those that are younger (and thus less experienced), whereas the older riders seem to be more open. Both positive and negative feelings co-exist at the same time as the result of a cognitive evaluation that avoids simple stereotyping found at other brand communities.
Many R1 forum members perceive the Harley-Davidson brand as both cool and obsolete at the same time, and this ambiguity toward the brand is replicated for the users of the brand, where Harley-Davidson riders have been experienced as both cool and authentic riders or as ignorant and unfriendly “weekend warriors. ” Thus, brands in the R1 community are not iconic symbols that unambiguously communicate attitudes and lifestyles of brand users to the larger audience via the meaning of the brand.
Rather, brands are complex, multidimensional entities that gain meaning only in the reciprocal relationship with the brand user. Unconditional single-brand loyalty and “we” versus “us” stereotypes are replaced in large part by ambiguous, differentiated, and often critical attitudes toward the own brand. Brand identity is based on exclusion (Suzuki is a typical brand for squids) instead of inclusion, and within a relatively large evoked set, multi-brand loyalty is more common than religious-like brand worshipping described for, e. g. the Apple Newton. Conclusions and managerial implications
Brand communities have sparked the interest of marketing researchers and practitioners alike because of the high levels of brand loyalty and commitment observed in previous studies on brands such as Apple, Jeep, or Harley Davidson. However, the results of this qualitative study suggest that instead of single-brand loyalty, consumers for mainstream brands may be more prone to multi-brand loyalty. As forum member 8 (see citation above) expressed it, “[. . . ] no matter what you get nowadays is a rocket out of the crate and you will be getting a good bike!
Each has its ups and down but overall I could see myself on any of them really! ” The case of the Yamaha R1 brand community thus presents preliminary evidence that speci? c industry conditions may shape the relationships consumers have with their brand, and more speci? cally, that multi-brand loyalty is more probable to occur for low levels of brand differentiation (Felix, 2009) combined with more choices (Bennett and Rundle-Thiele, 2005). It follows that from the point of view of a company, having many members in a speci? c brand community does not necessarily translate into a highly loyal customer base.
Rather, under certain Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 conditions, higher levels of participation may actually increase the likelihood of adopting products from competing brands, especially if individuals are simultaneously members in several brand communities (Thompson and Sinha, 2008). The results of this study suggest that marketers should monitor and track consumers’ motivations, attitudes, and decision making processes on two levels: On the product level, it is important for marketers to understand barriers and con? cts related to the general use of the product. In the speci? c case of a sports bike, the physical risk (in the form of experiencing a severe accident) is probably the most important issue, which in turn may lead to substantial social tensions, especially with family members. For other products, such as clothing, computers, or food, the motivations why consumers may or may not consider a speci? c product category may be different, but it remains essential to understand these reasons. On the brand level, it is important for marketers to understand the degree of brand identi? ation in the community as well as the way how consumers perceive a consciousness of kind, share rituals and traditions, and experience a sense of moral responsibility ? (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001). In a world of online consumer-to-consumer communications, companies are increasingly losing control over their brands. It is therefore important for marketers to get involved in the process of image building and brand positioning in online communication platforms. Non-company-run communities, such as the Yamaha R1 forum, bear the risk of community members transmitting brand information in a way not desired by the company (Stokburger-Sauer, 2010).
Marketers thus should try to integrate consumers by either sponsoring an entire discussion website, a forum, or part of a forum (Pitta and Fowler, 2005). Finally, an unobtrusive and authentic way of increasing a company’s involvement in a noncompany-run forum is exempli? ed by a company that provides motorcycle braking systems. One of the company’s employees invites Yamaha R1 forum members to ask him brake related questions and explains that he is on the forum not to sell, but to educate riders about brakes in general.
By choosing a nonselling approach in the R1 forum, the company manages to gain credibility in the community and to build customer relationships that are more consumer-focused and authentic than many of the hard-selling approaches at the dealerships. The employee’s thread on brake questions has more than 600 postings, which is signi? cantly above the forum’s average of around 15 postings per thread, and evidences the interest of the community in a direct contact with company representatives. The example also suggests that online communities are not limited to relationships between consumers and the brand and between consumers and consumers.
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W. (1989), “Assessing trustworthiness in naturalistic consumer research”, in Hirschman, E. C. (Ed. ), Interpretive Consumer Research, Association for Consumer Research, Provo, UT, pp. 69-84. Yamaha Motor Co. (2009), “Annual report”, available at: www. yamaha-motor. co. jp/global/ir/material/pdf/2009/2009 annual-e. pdf (accessed June 14, 2010). About the author Reto Felix is an Associate Professor of Marketing at the University of Monterrey, Mexico. He received his Master’s in Marketing and PhD in Business Administration from the University of St Gallen, Switzerland.
He has been a Visiting Scholar at the Marketing Group, Haas School of Business, University of California, Berkeley, and has published in journals such as Journal of International Marketing, Journal of Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 Business & Industrial Marketing, and Journal of International Consumer Marketing. Further, he has presented his research at conferences hosted by the Association for Consumer Research, the American Marketing Association, the Academy of Marketing Science and the Society for Marketing Advances.
Reto Felix can be contacted at: [email protected] edu. mx Executive summary and implications for managers and executives This summary has been provided to allow managers and executives a rapid appreciation of the content of this article. Those with a particular interest in the topic covered may then read the article in toto to take advantage of the more comprehensive description of the research undertaken and its results to get the full bene? ts of the material present. The topic of brand communities has provided the focus for much marketing literature.
Brand communities transcend geographical boundaries and contain people who exhibit passion for a particular brand. These individuals also display similarities in consciousness while “shared rituals and traditions” is another cornerstone of their social relationships. Some scholars have even noted the propensity for “religious-like” associations to develop. Evidence shows that groups can be based locally, online or a combination of both. A wide range of products has supplied the inspiration for brand communities to form. In addition to strong consumer identi? ation with the brands, “clear and unique positioning” is viewed as a common characteristic among brands concerned. Brand loyalty can be fervent to a degree that an “us and them” mentality often arises with regard to other brands. Bonding within the community can generate stereotypes and outsiders are treated with some disdain. Any failure of competitor brands is cause for celebration. It is, however, a misconception to assume that brand communities are always homogenous. Signi? cant internal differences appear to be the rule not the exception.
Relationship intensity with other members is subject to variation because some are loyal to the brand while others may identify more closely with the product. Levels of social orientation can similarly differ. Researchers have also pointed out the possibility of some individuals lacking interest in brand, product and social relationships yet remaining in the community. Others might become involved with different brand communities in the same product category, resulting in further dissemination of loyalty. Felix explores the topic in a study of an online Yamaha brand community principally devoted to the Japanese manufacturer’s R1 luxury sports otorcycle. Yamaha is one of the world’s leading brands in its category and in 2009 boasted sales of $12. 5 billion. At the time of the study, there were 107,249 registered members in the R1 forum. Some members did not currently own a motorcycle, while others possessed a different brand. The author considers netnography as the most relevant study method for the investigation of brand relationships and “identity construction of an online community”. This approach is regarded as ethnography adapted for the purpose of exploring online communities. Among other things, netnography has been commended for its ? xibility, 231 open-endedness and interpretative qualities. Different researchers have used the approach in a variety of study contexts including cars, consumer gifts and TV programs. Following initial analysis of messages posted on the forum, the threads were arranged into ? ve different sections respectively labeled as: Community; R1-related Discussion; Technique, Racing and Stunt Discussion; Marketplace/ Classi? ed; and Miscellaneous Section. Analysis of the threads enabled messages to be coded and then organized into “interpretive themes” so that appropriate “layers of meaning” could be identi? d. Message themes were analyzed at the product level to ascertain factors which in? uence practice and identity. In general, considerable risk is associated with riding a motorcycle for leisure purposes. But the variation in attitudes towards factors like speed and riding style means that different segments exist within the biking community. At one end of the continuum are those who ride around at moderate speeds to savor the experience with the environment. Positioned at the other extreme are bikers whose penchant for high speed is often accompanied by an aggressive style of riding.
Such individuals are also likelier to ? aunt their biking skills through dangerous maneuvers like pulling wheelies. According to Felix, riding a motorcycle gives rise to various risks and con? icts that can be physical, functional, ? nancial, psychological or social in nature. The activity is therefore highly complex and generates a web of “tensions and constraints” that the individual must constantly address internally and externally. Concern about accidents is a recurring theme with community members referring to “actual or anticipated implications” in that eventuality.
Message content reveals that con? ict exists between knowledge of the intrinsic risks associated with bike riding and the grati? cation derived from it. Forum members suggest that such tensions may prompt attitude or behavioral changes, albeit sometimes ? eeting in nature. This occurs because riding a motorcycle is almost addictive and an important aspect of identity construction. Some comments imply that it is a “mission” that simply has to be ful? lled. Even though members are aware of the con? icts which surround this pastime, the desire to ride is the main driving force.
Analysis reveals a “shared consciousness” about issues including serious accidents, loss of a fellow biker, and problems relating to the family. The author ascertains a collective identity that is complex in nature but dif? cult to categorize precisely. An examination of meaning at the speci? c brand level reveals a relationship between forum members and the Yamaha brand that is “ambiguous and differentiated”. Instead of absolute loyalty to the brand, it is more evident that people engage in balanced debate about its qualities and those of other motorcycle brands.
Members apparently perceive little differentiation between brands and may switch to another brand even if they are highly satis? ed. Many studies have noted that some consumers can display loyalty to multiple brands and there is some evidence of this tendency here. Messages seeking advice on future purchases are frequent and members typically recommend a range of brands they consider decent. In the opinion of Felix, this indicates that riding a sports motorcycle de? nes identity much more that the speci? c brand of bike. Another signi? cant ? nding is how decision making seems in? enced more by exclusive than inclusive brand criteria. A Brand communities for mainstream brands Reto Felix Journal of Consumer Marketing Volume 29 · Number 3 · 2012 · 225 –232 key example is the negative perceptions of the Suzuki brand among some R1 forum members. The interesting fact about this hostility is that is has little to do with product quality concerns. Instead, such evaluation arises because members question those who ride Suzuki sport bikes. With regard to identity construction, meaning is normally transferred from brand to individual. Here, however, it is the negative traits of Suzuki riders that re transferred to the brand. Some con? ict with positive perceptions of the product subsequently occurs. That brands are complex and multidimensional is further illustrated by the contrasting ways in which R1 members relate to Harley Davidson. Positive and negative feelings exist simultaneously as the brand is regarded as cool yet obsolete. Contrasting statements are likewise directed at Harley Davidson riders. One important deduction is that ambiguity surrounds brand meaning, attitude and lifestyle conveyed within this community. This study indicates that consumer-brand relations might be shaped by “speci? industry conditions”. Marketers are also alerted to lack of clear brand differentiation and the possibility that multi-brand loyalty will ensue, even when a large brand community exists. Understanding what in? uences consumer attitudes, motivations and decision-making at both product and brand level is essential. Certain factors may encourage or deter choice of a particular product, while it is equally important to be aware of brand identi? cation levels and collective sensitivities among consumers. Given the revealing nature of online communication, Felix suggests that ? ms might gain greater insight into consumer thinking by becoming actively involved in non-company forums. An unobtrusive approach is considered vital though. The aim should not be to sell but to build authentic consumer-focused relationships with an emphasis on providing advice or information. ? (A precis of the article “Brand communities for mainstream brands: the example of the Yamaha R1 brand community”. Supplied by Marketing Consultants for Emerald. ) To purchase reprints of this article please e-mail: [email protected] com Or visit our web site for further details: www. emeraldinsight. com/reprints 232