Is collaboration really necessary for high legitimacy in branding?

19 Nov 2021 | Published by Erik Hans Klijn

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Collaboration is often mentioned in the recent literature as crucial to achieve legitimacy. The popular claim is that including stakeholders in different processes will enhance their acceptance of the outcomes. This is usually referred to as output legitimacy.

An interesting question is then whether a high level of collaboration is a sufficient condition for achieving high output legitimacy? Or to formulate it more directly: if we see a high level of collaboration, do we always see a high level of acceptance of outcomes as well? To answer this question, we used a prominent branding campaign in the city of Rotterdam (Rotterdam makers district) as an example and investigated how various companies were involved in that campaign.



Branding: Creating images and influencing perception

Branding is a new form of governance in which brand initiator tries to influence perceptions of various stakeholders. Brands can be defined as “a symbolic construct that consists of a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of these, created deliberately to identify a phenomenon and differentiate it from similar phenomena by adding particular meaning to it” (Eshuis and Klijn, 2012). So why is Bill Clinton using the Fleetwood Mac song “Go Your Own Way” in his 1992 campaign? That is because 1. He wants to create the association of young and upcoming with his audience and 2. He wants to connect with voters who were young when this was a hit – and communicate that he is one of them. Thus, he uses the song to create an association, in this case with voters. Hence, branding aims to create support (and legitimacy) by binding actors to an idea and creating identity.

In our case we looked at place branding – attempts to create an image of a place that enhances economic value and attractiveness for companies that choose this location. The brand campaign we examined promoted the idea of creating a new image of part of the old Rotterdam harbour district and was launched by the Municipality of Rotterdam in 2017.  In the branding campaign, emphasis was laid on the “Makers” concept. Makers are innovative manufacturing industries that focus on new technologies such as additive manufacturing (including 3D printing), robotization, and material science.


Is collaboration necessary?

We explored the research question: Is collaboration necessary for output legitimacy in place branding processes? by looking at 30 companies involved in a place branding campaign in Rotterdam – the Merwe-Vierhavens neighbourhood and the Rotterdam Droogdokken Maatschappij area, branded as the ‘Rotterdam Makers District’. For each company we assessed five aspects:

  1. The degree of output legitimacy for that company, measured by the company’s agreement with the goals of the campaign, willingness to promote the brand, and whether they used the brand in their own communication.
  2. The degree of collaboration, that is whether the company was involved in the creation of the brand.
  3. Whether companies identified themselves with the placeplace identity.
  4. Whether they experienced that this place was crucial for their activities (place dependency).
  5. The character of the company, mainly if they had national or international customers.

Surprisingly, our analysis showed that although collaboration is an important condition, it was not necessary for achieving output satisfaction or legitimacy. Other combinations of conditions were also important. For instance, we found that in the case of internationally oriented companies place dependency was more important than their involvement in a collaborative process of constructing and rolling out of the brand. Nationally oriented companies that showed high output legitimacy were characterized by both a high level of collaboration, but also a high level of place identity. This shows that their perception of the place was also very important.

To conclude, our study shows that to achieve high legitimacy it is not sufficient to have a collaborative relation only. Perceptual characteristics, like place identity or place dependency, are also very important. Consequently, if you want to achieve legitimacy, you also must work on such perceptual elements.



To read more about this research, see the full article (open access): The necessity of collaboration in branding: analysing the conditions for output legitimacy through qualitative comparative analysis (QCA)