Reputational Objects. A critical re-evaluation of corporate brand management
Winston Kwon, 2006
Corporate reputation management – or brand management as it is often referred to – has been widely seen as an activity that can add value for an organization and its stakeholders through the creation of competitive advantage. The observation that many successful organizations also have salient and positive reputations has arguably been the impetus behind the development of various approaches for the understanding and management of this social phenomenon. In this thesis, I argue that many of these extant approaches are of limited use because of their inability to reconcile theoretical insights with empirical observations of practice. Given this shortcoming, I use the ontology of critical realism to draw together a number of concepts from various branches of the social sciences including: the theory of morphogenesis, social exchange theory, naturalistic decision making, and science and technology studies to develop an alternative conceptual framework – which I have termed ‘reputational objects’ – to reframe our understanding of corporate brands.
I then apply the reputational objects framework to empirical data collected from a depth case study of Lancaster University Management School (LUMS) – an organization in the UK higher education sector – to gain insight into the mechanisms and processes that have led to the development of this organization’s current reputation. In doing so, I make the following contributions to the knowledge of corporate reputation: 1) a conceptualisation of the nature and composition of an organization’s corporate reputation as a heterogeneous entity; 2) an explanation of the dynamic processes through which an organization’s corporate reputation develops; 3) a contextualisation of the role of managers in the management of corporate reputation; and 4) an organizational perspective that provides insight into the role of corporate reputation in the relations between the social structures, culture and stakeholders of an organization. I conclude that the findings from this study have implications for disciplinary research in marketing, strategy and organizational theory as well as for the practice and teaching of managers.