Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
Lazaridis School of Business and Economics
Dr. Sarah Wilner
Increasingly, stakeholders are demanding greater accountability from firms and their respective brands. This in turn has pressured firms across industries to address social issues that were once inconceivable in relevance to their operating mission, requiring many businesses to pivot towards embracing a social purpose as part of their corporate brand identity. Purpose in management has been defined as the greater values that promote societal welfare within and outside the firm (Hollensbe et al., 2014) and, as such, purpose-driven firms are those that link their governance practices with the greater pro-social values they espouse(Kim et al., 2016). This dissertation studies the purpose-driven firm, its managers, employees, and their motivations in two papers.
Paper One asks: for firms that define themselves as “purpose-driven”, how does purpose inform and shape their corporate brand identity? Extant corporate brand literature has acknowledged the importance of vision, culture, and image in order to build a strong corporate brand identity and attain competitive advantage in the marketplace. However, it is less clear on how purpose-driven firms leverage their declared pro-social intent into shaping their corporate brand. One of the tools firms utilize is an externally validated, third-party certificate called the B Corp certificate; ostensibly, such public validation can provide firms with the guidance to incorporate their vision throughout the organization, thereby informing a robust purpose-driven corporate brand identity. This thesis unearths, articulates, and elaborates the process by which organizational actors see that occurring. Drawing upon semi-structured interviews of 40 top management executives at 25 Canadian firms that have certified or are in the process of certifying, triangulated with documentation and participant observation data, this study finds that while for many purpose-driven firms the B Corp certificate serves as a blueprint for codifying many components of their purpose-driven corporate brand identity, other purpose-driven firms forego the certificate, relying on their own structure for staying committed to purpose. For certifying firms, in addition to a blueprint, the certificate provides firms a way to signal their purpose-driven identity to stakeholders and build communities of purpose with other like-minded organizations. Finally, for many concerned with “lofty” goals such as sustainability, the pursuit of profit can seem profane. Because B Corps are for-profit organizations, the certification serves as a means by which they can pursue a “higher purpose” (i.e., one that can be presented as “sacred”). The process framing profit as an enabler of purpose rather than something which defiles it, can also assist firms in achieving their purpose-driven corporate brand identity.
Paper Two examines the role of employees in purpose-driven firms. Within purpose-driven organizational cultures, employees are considered a key stakeholder, yet the topic of employees as stakeholders has been underexplored in the marketing literature, despite the view that they serve as the critical interface between a brand’s internal and external environments. As such, this paper asks: given that employees are critical stakeholders, what is the role of employees in purpose-driven firms and their relationship with the firm’s corporate brand identity? Fifteen semi-structured in-depth interviews with employees at B Corp firms in Canada provide data for findings that extend extant work on societal constituents, particularly the work of Handelman (2006) as well as Da Silveira et al. (2013). Specifically, while Handelman considers the importance of external social actors in influencing and shaping corporate brand identity, I identify a critical category of societal constituents who play a powerful role in engaging and enacting the corporate brand identity internally. I focus on these internal stakeholders and label them as “organizational constituents,” and define them as employees who leverage organizational resources to enable purpose-specific goals and in turn possibly influence, enhance, or at minimum, engage with the organization’s purpose-driven brand identity.
My findings show that not all organizational constituents with a claim on moral legitimacy are the same, resulting in a typology of four modes: devoted, developing, detached, and dormant. These types differ from one another in terms of how relevant the firm’s purpose is to the employees, how aware they are of the firm’s purpose-driven identity, their engagement with purpose and their mobilization of purpose-driven initiatives. Furthermore, this study highlights that management and employees are engaged in an ongoing negotiation of the corporate brand identity even as the brand is simultaneously being determined by their external stakeholders, thus extending Da Silveira et al.’s (2013) brand identity framework to include employees as critical entities. Lastly, the findings also show that for many organizational constituents, even though they identify with the brand, their attachment is often to the purpose first rather than the corporate brand, and that despite identifying with the brand’s values, their loyalty and bonds of membership with the organization may not be as strong as perceived, thus providing a nuanced extension to the brand identification literature (Muller, 2017; Piehler et al., 2016; Punjaisri & Wilson, 2011).
Taji, Asfiya, "Constructing A Company On Purpose: Understanding The Role Of Purpose On Firms' Corporate Brand Identity" (2022). Theses and Dissertations (Comprehensive). 2470.
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