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Brand meaning gaps and dynamics: theory, research, and practice

Elizabeth Jane Wilson (Department of Marketing, Sawyer Business School, Suffolk University, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Anders Bengtsson (Protobrand Sciences, Boston, Massachusetts, USA)
Catharine Curran (Marketing Department, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, USA)

Qualitative Market Research

ISSN: 1352-2752

Article publication date: 8 April 2014




The purpose of this paper is twofold. First, propositions in an existing conceptual framework are empirically explored to note whether and how brand meaning gaps exist for internal and external stakeholders of a focal brand. Second, a typology of brand meaning gaps, characterised by meaning assonance and valence, offers new insight for brand management strategy.


The authors use case study methods to explore the research propositions about brand meaning gaps among stakeholder groups. The focal firm is The Black Dog Company of Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts in the USA. Data from brand owners (internal stakeholders) and consumers (external stakeholders) are collected using in-depth interviews, observation, document analysis, and an online survey that includes a picture association task. Further inductive analysis of secondary data helps develop the typology of brand meaning gaps and dynamics.


The research propositions are supported. Brand meaning gaps exist between internal and external stakeholders, and they exist among two external stakeholder groups. Brand meaning for owners, primarily defined as family heritage, is largely unknown to consumers. Among consumers, brand meaning for stakeholder group 1 is “coastal New England”; brand meaning for group 2 is “dog lovers.” Although multiple brand meanings exist for stakeholders, the meanings are relatively assonant (harmonious) and positively valenced. The findings regarding the polysemic nature of brand meaning are useful to brand managers seeking to leverage offerings to multiple target markets. These findings, along with additional secondary data, serve as the basis for a typology of brand gaps and dynamics characterized by assonance and valence. Four types of meaning gaps may lead to situations where brands are beloved, on-the-cusp, hijacked, or facing disaster.


This work addresses calls from the literature to empirically explore brand meaning among multiple stakeholder groups.



The authors thank Pierre Berthon, Rodney Runyan, Arch Woodside, members of the Suffolk University Department of Marketing, and anonymous reviewers for comments on earlier versions of this manuscript.


Jane Wilson, E., Bengtsson, A. and Curran, C. (2014), "Brand meaning gaps and dynamics: theory, research, and practice", Qualitative Market Research, Vol. 17 No. 2, pp. 128-150.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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