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  • Writer's pictureMelissa Archpru Akaka and Hope Jensen Schau

Reflexive Opportunities for Brand Engagement

Updated: Feb 2, 2022

The start of a new year is often full of reflection and promise. Resolutions are made. Intentions are set. As the clock strikes midnight and a new year begins people make commitments and embark on transformative journeys of health, wealth and wellbeing. However, as the first month of the year comes to an end many find themselves cutting corners on commitments or quitting altogether. Journeys end and the new is made old again.

We begin our blog with a reminder that journeys ebb and flow. That we can pick up where we left off and continue to move forward. As brand managers, owners, marketers and entrepreneurs we can play a key role in supporting customers in their life journeys. We not only provide and promote solutions to support important transformative journeys, but we can also spark moments of reflexivity to remind and inspire customers to remember why they are on those journeys in the first place.

We are marketing professors who grew up by the ocean and spent our pre-academic lives in the sand, sun and surf. Our experiences with surf culture shaped who we are and how we view the world. It also provided a unique opportunity to study markets and marketing in general and branding more specifically. Growing up in Hawaii (Melissa) and California (Hope) opened doors to study cultural and communal undertones of surfing brands, which reveal meaningful relationships among brands and consumers that drive value creation and innovation, not always in that order.

We’ll use this blog to shine a spotlight on academic research (ours and others) that helps us to better understand consumer cultures and the extended space they provide for value creation and innovation. We’ll provide takeaways for marketing geeks like us to leverage scientific findings to cocreate better brands with customers. After all, our customers help create our brands whether we like or not.

We'll start off with our stuff on consumption journeys and the importance of creating reflexive opportunities for our customers. Our research on surfer journeys pinpoints reflexivity as a very specific driver of continued engagement on a consumption journey. Reflexivity is a moment where people reflect on who they are in the world. Much like a New Year’s reflection or intention, when people pause to consider how they spend their time and who they spend it with, they make purposeful decisions to continue or discontinue their life journeys. We found that as surfers’ lives evolved, people got “real jobs”, moved away, and had families, they paused to contemplate their identity as a surfer. These reoccurring reflexive moments often propelled their journeys. In situations where they could not surf (changes in schedule or place) but wanted to keep their identities as surfers, they used brands (e.g., media, contests, apparel) to maintain their connections to surf culture. Although we study surfing in this paper, we recognize that brands can trigger reflexive moments across a plethora of consumption journeys.

With this research, we also partnered with a financial organization to explore the applicability of reflexivity to other transformative journeys. In exploring financial journeys, we identified particular reflexive opportunities – milestones (graduated from college), goals (saving for a car), or major accomplishments (bought their first house). Recognizing these opportunities is the first step in sparking reflexivity. Rather than focusing on how your customer engages with your brand, focus on the transformative life journeys your customer might be on and which one(s) your brand can/does support. Identify specific moments where you can insert your brand to provide a reflexive opportunity for your customer. Your brand will be front and center as they reflect on their identities. Aligning your brand identity with theirs and keeping them on their life journeys is a powerful way for your brand to develop deeper relationships with your customers.

We have conducted dozens of interviews, read hundreds of articles and books, and spent countless hours observing surfers and surfing. Our research has led to a stream of research projects that reveal surfing as more than a sport. It is a subculture of consumption that supports vibrant communities and transformative life journeys. However, we believe that surfing is not unique. We are currently exploring other consumer experiences, cultures and consumption journeys. We continue to find that many different life journeys bring people together and enrich their lives, and have the capacity to drive social change. Importantly, we believe that marketing and branding plays a critical role in enhancing these consumer experiences and cultures as well as consumption journeys. If you agree, this is the place for you. If you don’t, stick with us, maybe you’ll change your mind. All are welcome on this ride!

Stay stoked!

Melissa & Hope

Key Branding Takeaways:

Steps to Sparking Reflexivity

1) Recognize opportunities for your brand to participate in transformative life journeys.

2) Identify specific moments along a journey where you can insert your brand.

3) Provide reflexive opportunities for your customers to consider who they are in the world.

4) Continually work to align your brand identity with that of your target audience.

Deep Dive:

Akaka, Melissa Archpru, and Hope Jensen Schau. "Value creation in consumption journeys: recursive reflexivity and practice continuity." Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science 47.3 (2019): 499-515.

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