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Benjamin Österle, Marc M. Kuhn and Jörg Henseler

Place of Publication

The paper was published at the 32nd IMP-conference in Poznan, Poland in 2016.


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Brand world is an umbrella term for brand communication instruments like flagship stores and brand museums. They have evolved to play an important role in consumer marketing by providing unique brand experiences and conveying brand values (Dolbec and Chebat, 2013, p. 460). Examples of this growing phenomenon are the Apple flagship stores and the World of Coca-Cola. Academics have also acknowledged the increasing importance of branding in industrial markets (Seyedghorban et al., 2015, p. 1), and brand worlds like the Caterpillar Visitors Center and GE’s Customer Experience Center have developed in this area over the past few years as well. While there is academic research on brand worlds in consumer marketing, it is not extensive, and the definitions are often contradictory (Doyle et al., 2008, p. 551: Manlow and Nobbs, 2013, pp. 50–51). Conversely, in industrial marketing, brand worlds have not gained the attention of academia at all. Owing to this gap in research, the types of brand worlds in industrial marketing are unclear. The characteristics that differentiate them and whether and how they contribute to fulfilling the operating company’s goals are not researched either. Consequently, in this theoretical paper, we lay the foundation for future research on the topic. We use a systematic literature review to identify the literature covering brand worlds in consumer marketing. To analyze this extant but limited B2C research, we use the inductive category formation technique of qualitative content analysis. Based on the inherent characteristics of B2B marketing, practical examples, and our subjective evaluation, we transfer the findings to the area of B2B branding and suggest 18 variables whose attribute levels distinguish these brand worlds from each other. In line with inductive category formation, we split these variables into four types: Goalrelated variables describe what the primary objective of the brand world is. Content-related variables describe how the brand world conveys its content. Variables related to the physical appearance of the brand world, for example, comprise the size, location, and architecture. The fourth category comprises customer-related variables, including the target group that the brand world primarily aims for, or the stage in the customer relationship. With this work, we expand existing theory on brand worlds to the area of industrial marketing. We provide academia with a starting point for a structured approach to further research regarding brand worlds in industrial marketing and how they might influence overarching company objectives such as brand equity and beneficial customer relationships. We also provide marketing practitioners with a first overview of the topic by introducing brand worlds in industrial marketing with their specific characteristics and emphases.