The evolution of an individual’s social networks, and the importance they play in consumer decision making, has complicated the process by which brands develop relationships with consumers (Bagozzi and Dholakia, 2002). Brand community theory has enabled academics and practitioners to understand the complex networks which exist among admirers of specific brands (Muniz and O’Guinn, 2001; McAlexander et al., 2002). These modernist communities have ‘blurred’ the lines regarding where the brand ends and the consumer starts. Extant research on brand communities posits that it is the social influence exerted on and by individuals within the brand communities which drives pro-brand outcomes such as positive word of mouth (de Valck et al., 2009; Stokburger-Sauer, 2010), emotional attachment (Brodie et al., 2013) and purchase behaviour (Dholakia et al., 2004). The influence of the impact which brand communities have upon the consumer’s decision-making process has continued to increase, so much so that the community surrounding the brand can be regarded by many consumers as of equal importance as the brand itself. This interaction between brand and brand community is the central focus of this research.
Brand engagement has also become a key focus within the literature. However, until recently engagement has been misunderstood with many marketers categorising ‘likes on a Facebook page’ as engagement (Gambetti et al., 2016). This misconstrued interpretation of engagement has prompted scrutiny and the current stream of engagement research is aiming to provide clarity. This initially positioned brand engagement as either a psychological state triggered by an interactive brand experience or a multidimensional construct comprising cognitive, emotional and behavioural aspects. These conceptualisations have clearly advanced the understanding of brand engagement but they have also, when operationalised, solely focused on a consumer’s direct engagement with the brand (Hollebeek et al., 2014; France et al., 2016).
This fixation upon direct brand engagement is surprising as one of the few agreements within the engagement literature is that of the impact of social influence upon the consumer’s development of engagement (Kozinets, 2014). This shortcoming is highlighted by the work of Kumar et al. (2010) who presented engagement as comprising of three distinct components; behaviour, attitude and networks. The behaviour and attitude sub-dimensions can be clearly aligned with a traditional view of direct brand engagement. However, the networks dimension provides an appreciation for the importance of a consumer’s social interactions upon the engagement value derived from the customer by the company.
Therefore, this research will advance the understanding of brand engagement theory by empirically presenting the impact of brand engagement on brand loyalty whilst exploring the role of brand community. This will enable the development of more effective branding strategies and ultimately deeper mutually beneficial symbiotic relationships between consumers and brands.
Keywords: Brand Community, Brand Loyalty, Brand Engagement, Social Identity
References available upon request