Global branding in a B2B setting: investigating international brand management as driver of export performance

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution book


Branding is a fundamental element of the marketing discipline yet relatively little consideration has been given to the implications a successful branding approach has within the context of Business to Business (B2B) literature, and particularly in relation to company’s exporting efforts, which remain one of the most significant drivers of economic growth (WTO, 2013). This is probably because brand management related academic investigation has traditionally focused on the impact brand management has on the success of business to consumer (B2C) companies’ marketing strategy, while suppliers of business customers frequently place less strategic importance on branding (Homburg et. al. 2010), despite the fact brand management is equally important for success in the B2B context (Kotler & Pfoertsch 2007). To highlight the importance of branding in a B2B setting it is worth noting that six of the top sixteen worlds most valuable brands in 2015 are earning substantial revenue from B2B markets; Microsoft, IBM, General Electric, Intel, Cisco and Oracle (Interbrand, 2015). These brands operating in a B2B context are truly international, so it is surprising to find there is a near void of academic research investigating international brand management specifically within a B2B setting. Extant knowledge from B2C however cannot readily be extended in the B2B context since the fundamental differences between B2C and B2B customers are only accentuated by the more functional manner of B2B buying behavior (Mudambi, 2002; Morgan & Slotegraaf 2012) and the distinction between corporate or product branding (Ohnemus, 2009, Keller, 2015). Hence a clear and important gap in the literature is evident.This study aims to help ignite the effort to fill this gap by addressing the role of the brand in driving B2B exporters performance. With this in mind, this study seeks to inspire further interest in this area and advance recently emerging work (e.g. Spyropoulou et al. 2011; Pyper et. al. 2015) by conceptualizing the key constructs and investigating key relationships by conducting exploratory fieldwork.Given the lack of substantiate previous empirical work in this field, primary data collection was required in addition to secondary data to explore the theoretical perspectives presented in this study. Therefore, qualitative fieldwork was conducted to formulate research proposals based on the emerging conceptual framework and the precedent review of the literature. The benefit of the qualitative approach is the ability to represent the wider picture of the research problem, ensuring consideration of all relevant constructs in the research design (Glynn & Woodside, 2012). The method of in-depth interviewing was used. Specifically, we conducted qualitative, “open-ended,” semi-structured interviews (Gillham 2000) with “key informants” (i.e., personnel with senior positions) in the participating companies, since typically senior people drive corporate brands (Aaker and Joachimsthaler, 2000). There was representation from a cross section of virtually all important UK industry categories thus maximizing the generalizability of the results. The field research consisted of in-depth interviews with 34 senior managers and directors of B2B manufacturing firms based in the UK and export overseas. Of the 34 individuals 15 held the position Managing Director, 6 held the position CEO, 3 held the position export manager and the other ten held similar relevant senior positions.Interviews lasted, on average around 90 minutes. All interviews were audio recorded and transcribed verbatim. A semi structured interview approach was used allowing for a set of open ended questions to both cover an aide-memoire of themes to be addressed and answers probed when necessary to probe deeper to elicit examples and other insights (Baker, 2015 p154).Main themes of the questions centered around key constructs of the conceptual framework. Similar to the methodology used by Kohli & Jaworski (1990) & Mudambi (2002), we did not always use the word ‘branding’ in interviews when discussing the measures that we constitute to comprise the construct International branding capabilities. Thus avoiding potential misinterpretations whereby branding is confused to be a reductive concept involving mainly such attributes as logo and colour (Inskip, 2004). For example, one MD articulated what branding means to his company:It’s all about performance, we don’t consider branding like the NIKE tick and stuff like that, our markets don’t really require that kind of level of branding, our brand is based on high quality, performance and reliability (Managing Director – ICT & Precision instruments manufacturer)This manuscript makes a significant contribution to the extant literature in three ways: 1) Enables future researchers to guide their efforts towards addressing the impact of international B2B branding to improve both the academic investigation and the resulting understanding of export performance by demonstrating the effects of international branding capabilities: specifically architectural marketing capabilities, executional and funding capabilities on the export performance of B2B companies. Subsequently the relevance of this research stream also improves. (2) As such, this manuscript puts forward a vigorous and relevant framework that could underpin future research efforts in this field. (3) Allows suppliers of B2B customers to derive a more comprehensive understanding of the brand related variables affecting export performance, subsequently realizing improvements to their export performance through appropriate brand management strategies.This study has synthesized various streams of literature drawn from differing theoretical perspectives including the resource based view (RBV) and the contingency paradigm (CP) to advance academic enquiry into improved international brand management and consequent effects on export performance in a B2B context. Qualitative fieldwork facilitated the collection of primary data to support this investigation and aid the formulation of clearly defined research proposals which can underpin future research efforts in this field. Therefore, our objective is principally in theory building rather than theory testing. The results from this research provide several important advancements of theory. Firstly, by providing a comprehensive conceptualization of the key characteristics and inter-relationships concerning antecedents of international brand performance through the development of a new construct; International branding capabilities (IBC). Drawing primarily on dynamic capabilities theory we have described relevant resources and hierarchical capabilities informing the creation of the new construct comprising of three key higher order capabilities required for B2B exporters to effectively manage their brand in international markets, namely: architectural marketing capabilities, executional and funding capabilities. The dimensions and attributes of the hierarchical capabilities described within the new construct inform marketing researchers with a lexicon for future efforts investigating B2B suppliers’ international branding activities.By viewing RBV and CP perspectives as complimentary instead of conflicting has allowed the formation of a more integrative model providing a completer explanation of International B2B brand management. Thus along with inter-firm relationships and the utilization of specific branding capabilities to exploit available resources, subsequent export performance is also contingent on turbulent international market environmental factors. This investigation augments previous international marketing research findings by moving from an export venture (e.g. product) approach to a ‘branded house’ strategy using a corporate umbrella for all of the products a company offers, which is consistent with B2B branding literature in non international settings. Overall the primary data collected provided broad support for both our conceptual framework and research propositions. Examples from B2B suppliers demonstrated international B2B brand management is crucial to initiating and expanding their strategic objectives. Moving away from more isolated and sometimes reductive views on dimensions of B2B branding, the conceptualization and propositions move towards a more strategic consideration of B2B suppliers’ approaches to branding, specifically by aligning and utilizing appropriate capabilities to increase brand performance leading to competitive advantage in global markets.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publication2016 Summer AMA Conference Proceedings
Place of PublicationChicago
Publication statusPublished - 5 Aug 2016
EventAMA (American Marketing Association) Summer Conference: Regaining Relevance: Doing Research that Reshapes the Practice of Marketing - Marriott Marquis Hotel, Atlanta, United States
Duration: 5 Aug 20167 Aug 2016


ConferenceAMA (American Marketing Association) Summer Conference
Country/TerritoryUnited States


  • global branding
  • B2B
  • business to business
  • economic growth
  • qualitative approach
  • exporters
  • resource based view
  • contingency paradigm
  • interviews
  • global markets


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