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Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research

Susan Fournier
Journal of Consumer Research
Vol. 24, No. 4 (March 1998), pp. 343-353
Published by: Oxford University Press
DOI: 10.1086/209515
Stable URL:
Page Count: 31
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Consumers and Their Brands: Developing Relationship Theory in Consumer Research on JSTOR


Although the relationship metaphor dominates contemporary marketing thought and practice, surprisingly little empirical work has been conducted on relational phenomena in the consumer products domain, particularly at the level of the brand. In this article, the author: (1) argues for the validity of the relationship proposition in the consumer‐brand context, including a debate as to the legitimacy of the brand as an active relationship partner and empirical support for the phenomenological significance of consumer‐brand bonds; (2) provides a framework for characterizing and better understanding the types of relationships consumers form with brands; and (3) inducts from the data the concept of brand relationship quality, a diagnostic tool for conceptualizing and evaluating relationship strength. Three in‐depth case studies inform this agenda, their interpretation guided by an integrative review of the literature on person‐to‐person relationships. Insights offered through application of inducted concepts to two relevant research domains—brand loyalty and brand personality—are advanced in closing. The exercise is intended to urge fellow researchers to refine, test, and augment the working hypotheses suggested herein and to progress toward these goals with confidence in the validity of the relationship premise at the level of consumers' lived experiences with their brands.

Author Information

Susan Fournier
Susan Fournier is assistant professor of business administration at Harvard University Graduate School of Business Administration, Cambridge, MA 02163. This article evolved from the author's dissertation at the University of Florida. Special thanks are extended to the author's thesis committee (Richard J. Lutz, chair; Greg Neimeyer; Alan Sawyer; and Barton Weitz), to David Mick, to the JCR reviewers and editors who helped shape the manuscript, and, above all, to the three women who shared the stories that inspired this work.