• A practical and theoretical approach to assessing Micro-Enterprise brand image signals

      Davies, Gary; Lam, Wing; Leong, Kelvin; Wang, Dian (University of Chester, 2021-10)
      This thesis aims to investigate how Micro Enterprises (MEs) communicate their brand image to their markets. The research takes a comparative approach and examines firms in both the UK and China. The main theoretical base for the work is that of the Stereotype Content Model (SCM) which holds that entities with humanistic associations (including brands and corporate brands) are automatically judged for their ‘warmth’ (trustworthiness, sincerity, supportiveness) and their ‘competence’ (effectiveness, efficiency). The status (prestigious, glamorous) of the entity is also included in the SCM model but as an antecedent to competence judgements. Recent work alternatively considers it as a dimension of imagery which is automatically judged by customers. The methodology is a mixed method and has three interlinked pieces of work, the first two of which are more exploratory and the last more confirmatory. A case study approach first explored the signalling of 14 MEs using in-depth, semi-structured interviews with their owner-managers. A thematic analysis of content showed that managers emphasize their competence and that fewer provided unprompted examples of status positioning. The second study involved the content analysis of parts of 66 ME websites labelled ‘who we are’ or similar. Competence descriptors were again the most frequent followed by warmth and then status items. The two studies evidence that MEs signal competence, warmth, and status but in that order of emphasis. An experimental study was conducted where the status signalling of a fictitious ME (a gift company) was manipulated. It explored why MEs use the signal less and test whether this changes the perceived competence of the company and the purchase intention and person-brand congruence of potential customers. The increase in status did not increase competence and it reduced outcome behaviour and warmth. As warmth explains consumer attitude best, using the status signal can reduce potential sales. This holds regardless of country (the UK and China), and control variable values. However, perceived higher prices and giving too much irrelevant information mediated and therefore explain the effect of status on consumer attitude. The main effects were positive, but the indirect effects were negative due to perceived higher prices and irrelevant information. Finally, all variables considered in this study were tested using Structural Equation Modelling, adding to the insights from the final study The primary contribution is to better understand how MEs communicate their imagery to their market. SCM thinking is also tested and developed in the context of ME marketing and recommendations made for its adaption.