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«Jill Cooke, Jennifer Harris, University of New South Wales Abstract Interpersonal relationship theory has been used to classify types of ...»

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Equality was viewed in terms of “…a good tie relationship. One that when it occurs it is a good time, but there is a commitment to make it occur regularly…” However it was also viewed in terms of the concept of exchange, referring to equality in the relationship if money is paid for the brand which may or may not exceed expectations.

Discussion and Implications This research explored Fournier’s conceptualisation when applied to exchanges in consumer markets when there is limited opportunity for interaction and there is a prevalence of low value and low involvement. Though based upon a small, reasonably homogenous sample, some insights can be gained into the relevance of the conceptualisation in this domain that merit further attention. Firstly, though the majority of respondents could classify certain relationships they had with recalled FMCG’s brands within Fournier’s framework, the majority of their brand relationships were classified using multiple brand descriptions. Thus respondents indicated that they did not perceive the relationship types to be mutually exclusive. This “blurring” of relationship types may be partly explained by a lack of understanding of the relationship types on behalf on the respondents. However, it also raises the question as to whether the framework classifies the relationships too finely (as per Sweeney and Chew, 2002).

Secondly, some respondents indicated a level of indifference to brands, being expressed as little emotional attachment and holding passive or neutral perceptions of these brands as relationship partners. These findings suggest that the idea of a brand acting as a passive or neutral relationship partner needs to be considered in the context of consumer-brand interactions at the product and brand level. Alternatively, the findings may again be explained by respondents’ failure to fully comprehend the real meaning of Fournier’s descriptors.

However given their agreement with previous research (e.g., Coupland, 2005; O’Malley and Tynan, 2000; Bengtsson, 2003), and the consequences for marketers assuming all consumers desire a relationship with brands, it would be rash to disregard these results without further investigation.

Thirdly, difficulties also arose with the dichotomous nature of the dimensions suggesting that it may be more appropriate to view each relationship dimension as a continuum rather than two extreme points. Additionally, there were indications that certain dimensions may not be appropriate in this context (FMCG). This may be a problem with the application of the typology in this domain given that consumers may be first of all reluctant to use the term ‘relationship’ to describe this interaction (Barnes, 1997). It is also possible that the homogeneity of the sample may be exacerbating this result, thus further research with a broader sample would be recommended.

This study adds to the growing amount of research that acknowledges the need for marketing practitioners to be more understanding of the different ways in which a consumer wants to engage with a brand. As previously mentioned, further research is warranted to investigate the relational dimensions as findings indicate that some of Fournier’s dimensions may be inappropriate in classifying these bonds. As interpersonal relationships have a temporal element (Hinde, 1979; Wish, Deutsch and Kaplan, 1976), a longitudinal research design to explore relationships changing over time could be a possible avenue to further extend current research in the area.

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