It goes without saying that a strong brand is a key asset for a company that can provide a competitive advantage to the company. The strength or value of a brand is usually understood in terms of brand equity, defined by Aaker (1991, p. 12) as “a set of assets and liabilities linked to a brand, its name and symbols, that adds or subtracts from the value provided by its product or service to a firm/or to that firm’s customers”. A strong brand equity can trigger customers’ loyalty, trust and emotional attachment towards products and/or services offered by a company and, as a consequence, increase the likeliness and repetitiveness of customers’purchase intention.
The importance of adopting a strategic brand management approach to nurture brand equity has been widely recognized in marketing. According to Keller (2003, p. 44) strategic brand management involves “the design and implementation of marketing programmes and activities to build, measure and manage brand equity”. Keller (2003, p. 733) also emphasized brand consistency' as a cornerstone of brand management programme, to ensure “that diverse brand and marketing mix elements share a common core meaning, perhaps in some cases literally containing or conveying the same information”.
However, as put forward by Helm and Jones (2010, p. 547), “although brand equity is increasingly being seen as critical to an organization’s future value creation capability, at the same time, it is becoming more fragile". The authors (ibid.) added that “the risks to brand equity of being damaged or dissipated are rising as the potential hazards inherent in managing brands and brand experience multiply ”. Helm and Jones (2010) identified 6 major threats that can undermine the current and future equity of a brand, whatever the industry in which an organization operates: (1) more uncertain and fiercely competitive industry environments, (2) even more empowered customers, (3) line and brand extension proliferation, (4) a growing number of distribution and communication touchpoints, (5) increased use of strategic partnerships in delivery and finally (6) the risks of using social media. All these threats can scatter customers’ experiences of the brand and therefore dilute its consistence and equity.
Due to the complex and fast-paced changing nature of the environment, scholars such as Hatch and Schultz (2010), Helm and Jones (2010) and Ind and Bjerke (2007) among others proposed the concept of brand governance as a new approach for brand management. The role of brand governance is to protect, manage and nurture a brand so it can remain a long-term source of value for a company. Séguin and Abeza (2019) recently brought this idea into sport management literature and further elaborated the concept using the Olympic brand as a case study. They indeed argued that “the preservation of the consistency and coherence of the Olympic brand demands a visionary brand governance approach that transcends strategic brand management” (Séguin and Abeza, 2019, p. 373).
The governance structure of a brand is composed of 3 interconnected systems (see Séguin and Abeza, 2019, p. 374). At the top, brand governance “is a systematic approach for building and nurturing a brand value to become and remain a long-term strategic asset that is built on the vision, mission and values of an organization, developed through long-term policies and governed by processes such as integrity and transparency” (Séguin and Abeza, 2019, p. 374). Stakeholders are also acknowledged as a crucial role in co-creating the brand (Ferrand, Chappe-let and Séguin, 2012; Séguin and Abeza, 2019) and can impact on its current and future’s equity (Ind and Bjerke, 2007). Overall brand governance long-term policies and processes provide the guiding principles for the strategic management of a brand, that is focused on the development of internal capabilities to develop, manage and measure brand equity. If efficiently integrated, long-term focused brand governance policies and strategic brand management capabilities allow for the consistent delivery of the brand at the operational level, that is mainly “concerned with [its] creative and cosmetic" dimensions (Séguin and Abeza, 2019, p. 375). A feedback loop between systems ensure that decisions and operations undertaken at all three levels contribute to the strengthening of the brand’s long-term equity and value.
As highlighted previously, ‘participation’ is at the core of brand governance as a brand is cocreated by a range of internal and external stakeholders (Ind and Bjerke, 2007; Lucarelli and Giovanardi, 2016). Therefore, brand governance is “a negotiated and contested mechanism” (Lucarelli and Giovanardi, 2016, p. 24) that encapsulates political relationships and conflicts between stakeholders. Such an approach echoes with research on organizational governance in which the notions of power, control or regulations lie at the heart of the literature (O ’Boyle and Bradbury, 2013; Winand and Anagnostopoulos, 2019).
Aside the political nature of brand governance processes, one should also acknowledge the role of the broader institutional environment, comprised of “cultural-cognitive, normative and regulative elements” that give meaning to social life (Scott, 2014, p. 48). Put differently, a brand does not develop in a ‘neutral’” social vacuum exempt of institutional dynamics in the forms of social norms, beliefs, attitudes or stereotypes that can influence how brands are developed and/or perceived. As highlighted by Fiss (2008, p. 390), organizations and, the author argues, their brands are indeed “deeply enmeshed in systems of norms and relations that are both culturally and socio-politically constructed”. Governance systems, at the organization or brand levels should therefore be seen “as reflecting underlying cultural narratives or moral orders that define how social relations should be constructed and whose interests has priority” (Fiss, 2008, p. 390).
To sum up, an institutional view of brand governance highlights reciprocal relationships of influence between a brand and its institutional environment. This has at least two implications for this study. First, brands are influenced by larger institutional dynamics that can shape brands’ objectives, meanings and narratives as well as their perceptions by stakeholders and the public. Social perceptions and attitudes towards disability and disability sports are therefore likely to impact the Paralympic brands building, recognition and understanding. In turn, building upon the idea of institutional agency (Giddens, 1984; Lawrence and Suddaby, 2006), it can be argued that a well-governed brand has some hand in the shaping of the institutional environment. Applied to the IPC, it does mean that the Paralympic brand is uniquely positioned to challenge, but also potentially to reinforce, social perceptions, norms and attitudes towards disability and disability sport in society.