Brand-Specific Leadership: Turning Employees into Brand Champions

Felicitas M. Morhart, Walter Herzog, & Torsten Tomczak
Journal of Marketing
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Executive Summary
In an era of rapid growth of service firms, both researchers and practitioners have come to acknowledge that employee performance plays a vital role for the success of a service brand. Thus, the task of getting employees to build and strengthen an organization’s brand image—that is, getting them to act as “brand champions”—is a major challenge for service firms in many industries. Although it is generally believed that leadership plays a critical role in this process, this assumption has not yet been subject to empirical investigations. This article aims to fill this gap by addressing the central question of what managers can do to have their followers act on behalf of the corporate brand. The authors report findings from two empirical studies.

Study 1 examines how brand-specific transformational (i.e., value-based) leadership and brand-specific transactional (i.e., exchange-based) leadership affect customer contact personnel’s brand-building behavior and how these two leadership styles interact to produce effects. The results from an online survey among customer contact employees from the business-to-business division of a Swiss telecommunications company show that brand-specific transformational leadership is superior to brand-specific transactional leadership in eliciting employee brand-building behaviors. Indeed, brand-specific transactional leadership can even produce dysfunctional effects on employees’ brand-building behaviors. This finding contrasts with common managerial wisdom as to the positive effects of transactional leadership behaviors on employee outcomes. Moreover, brand-specific transformational leadership and brand-specific transactional leadership work together in producing effects. Concretely, a combination of a high level of brand-specific transformational leadership and a moderate level of brand-specific transactional leadership yields the most positive effects.

Study 2 examines whether it is possible for managers to learn brand-specific transformational leadership. The results from a field experiment with managers of a Swiss financial services company who went through a leadership training program show that brand-specific transformational leadership can indeed be learned.

Felicitas M. Morhart is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Center for Customer Insight at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. She obtained her PhD in Marketing from the University of St. Gallen and was a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. Her research focuses on the integration of phenomena in leadership and marketing using covariance structure analysis. With her work on brand-specific transformational leadership, Felicitas received a scholarship from the Swiss National Science Foundation and won an American Marketing Association best-paper award in 2007. Felicitas is a trainer in leadership and human resources management for numerous companies, specifically in the financial, automotive, and sports industry.

Walter Herzog is Assistant Professor of Marketing in the Institute of Marketing, University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He obtained his PhD in Marketing from the University of St. Gallen and was a visiting scholar at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor. His substantive work focuses on the concept of autonomy in behavioral marketing research. He also conducts methodological research on the general latent variable model and Rubin’s causal model. His research is currently sponsored by the Swiss National Science Foundation.

Torsten Tomczak is Professor of Marketing and Business Administration at the University of St. Gallen, Switzerland. He also serves as a director of the university’s Center for Customer Insight, where he is in charge of research on
strategic marketing and innovation, as well as consumer behavior and brand management. In 2008, he cofounded the Center for Innovation at the University of St. Gallen. Torsten is board member of the Swiss Marketing Association (GfM) and advisor of the Sponsoring Community of Interest (IG Sponsoring). Moreover, he is coeditor of the marketing magazine Marketing Review. His publication list comprises more than 300 articles in national and international journals. Furthermore, he is author and coauthor of approximately 30 books, including textbooks on marketing planning, consumer behavior, and brand management. Torsten works as a marketing consultant to numerous companies, especially in the automotive, financial services, and fast-moving-consumer-goods industries.

Journal of Marketing, Volume 73, Number 5, September 2009
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Felicitas M. Morhart, Walter Herzog, & Torsten Tomczak
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