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Journal cover: European Journal of Marketing

European Journal of Marketing

ISSN: 0309-0566

Online from: 1967

Subject Area: Marketing

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Building corporate reputation with stakeholders: Exploring the role of message ambiguity for social marketers

Document Information:
Title:Building corporate reputation with stakeholders: Exploring the role of message ambiguity for social marketers
Author(s):Sonia Dickinson-Delaporte, (School of Marketing, Curtin Business School, Curtin University of Technology, Perth, Australia), Michael Beverland, (School of Management, University of Bath, Bath, UK), Adam Lindgreen, (Hull University Business School & IESEG School of Management, Hull, UK)
Citation:Sonia Dickinson-Delaporte, Michael Beverland, Adam Lindgreen, (2010) "Building corporate reputation with stakeholders: Exploring the role of message ambiguity for social marketers", European Journal of Marketing, Vol. 44 Iss: 11/12, pp.1856 - 1874
Keywords:Communications, Corporate image, Non-profit organizations, Stakeholders
Article type:Research paper
DOI:10.1108/03090561011079918 (Permanent URL)
Publisher:Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Purpose – Managing the corporate reputation of hybrid firms (organizations that act commercially to pursue social agendas) involves particular challenges because of competing stakeholder interests. With reference to the Trappist beer market, the paper seeks to identify the value of message ambiguity in reducing stakeholder tension, while simultaneously achieving a clear market positioning.

Design/methodology/approach – In total, 25 in-depth interviews were conducted with brand marketers, owners, channel buyers, industry representatives and consumers.

Findings – The findings demonstrate how ambiguous communications minimize tension between stakeholders. One form of ambiguous message strategy is identified – i.e. the deliberate use of “authenticity” as a positioning device. This positioning allows stakeholders to ascribe conflicting meanings to the Trappist brand, resulting in increased reputation and decreased stakeholder tension.

Research limitations/implications – The use of authenticity and message ambiguity represents one means of balancing stakeholder interests, while achieving a clear market position. The paper believes the findings are particularly relevant for social marketers and managers of highly symbolic brands.

Originality/value – Marketers can reduce stakeholder conflict through the use of brand images that emphasize normative as opposed to performance-based commitments. Such commitments need to be broad enough to allow different stakeholders to ascribe their own meaning to the brand without diminishing the strength of the firm's market position.

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