A six-stage model of brand loyalty for sport consumers: Integrating theories of enduring involvement, identity and loyalty
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This thesis explores the formative antecedents and stages leading to consumers’ enduring involvement (EI) and loyalty with brands and products. This aim was pursued by conducting a study of sport consumers, of varying duration and intensity of EI and loyalty. A further aim was to determine whether the motives of consumers’ transitions between these stages of EI provide insights that explain their transitions between stages of brand loyalty and/or product loyalty. Of particular interest was discovering the motives of consumers’ transitions towards the highest stage of fortitude loyalty; a steadfast, lifelong commitment to brands found among many sport fans (Oliver, 1999). The literature review revealed that little was known about the origins of EI, or how it evolves, due to a lack of macro approaches in research design. Similarly, among loyalty literature, a dearth of macro studies had limited current knowledge of how and why sport consumers, who consume experientially (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982; Holt, 1995) and within in a social context, appear to transition to a deeper stage of loyalty than consumers of many other product categories (Funk and James, 2001; Oliver, 1999). This study comprised multiple case studies that included biographical investigations of sport consumers, each with extensive histories of EI in sport, being participants of ethesis-submission-form.doc May 2009; reviewed January 2010 3 grassroots sports and/or spectator fans of professional league sports. An interpretivist qualitative research design, incorporating multiple depth-probing interviews, gathered rich data on informants’ life histories of their EI within sport. Adopting holistic macro design uncovered the relevant influences of all social structures informants belonged to, including family, school, work, intimate relationships, marriage and other interest groups. Several important findings fulfilled the research aims. Critical to this research was adopting holistic- qualitative interpretivist methods (Golden-Biddle and Locke, 1993; Hogg and Maclaran, 2008) that enabled the previously untold stories of informants to surface. This data identified their childhood inhibitions (from within family and school), which formed the source of their primaryantecedent motives for establishing an EI in sport. These primary antecedents of consumers’ EI incorporated deeply held self-esteem and identity-development goals (life themes), which remained constant and pervasive throughout their lives. Secondary antecedents of consumers’ EI in sport were motives categorised by selfexpression and socialisation. These motives were subject to change, as their changing life projects (e.g., transitioning from goals of being a good student to becoming a good employee) reflected changes in their life-cycle stages (e.g., transitioning from teenager to young adult) and/or life-circumstances (within their social structures). A consistent process explained how sport consumers evolved and maintained their EI in sport. Of the six-stage model that emerged, the research identified that the first four stages established EI for all sport consumers. They included pre-involvement, trial, engagement and immersion. Sport consumers came to realise that their EI in sport brands enabled them to perceive and/or experience having a sense of control over the development and maintenance of their self-esteem, through a process of identity development. Seminal research of identity theory linked to self-esteem supports these findings (Burke and Stets, 2009; Cast and Burke, 1999; 2002; Ervin and Stryker, 2001). The fifth and sixth stages of EI were integration and fortitude. They were found among sport consumers exhibiting product loyalty and/or brand loyalty. Identifying these final two stages of EI revealed motives that have received little attention among identity theorists in terms of how and why individuals maintain deep commitments to social groups. Sport provided a social context that enabled the individual to engage in important identity supporting roles, the benefits of which carried ethesis-submission-form.doc May 2009; reviewed January 2010 4 over to other social contexts through a proactive process of integration. These benefits (and processes) were significant to the development of fortitude loyalty. Ironically, fortitude loyalty was only realised when sport consumers were able to rebuild their self-esteem after it had been diminished through adversity (e.g., within relationships, at work, or due to health issues), by reengaging in sport in ways that enabled them to reconstruct and/or stabilise their sense of identity. In terms of key processes, when consumers commenced new important life projects (e.g., intimate relationships, work roles, or parenting roles) reprioritisation of their critical needs sometimes occurred, which affected their EI behaviour. A number of outcomes followed such as the temporary or permanent cessation of EI, or switching to an alternative brand within the same product category, in order to maintain their involvement and continue their newly identified life projects. Where changes to EI behaviour included a temporary cessation of involvement, all consumers took deliberate actions to reengage their EI behaviour with their sport brands and/or products. The findings of this research contribute to our understanding of EI and brand loyalty by establishing crucial links between EI, loyalty and identity. This study also provides insight into how consumers employ motivated reasoning to explain their involvement in brands and product categories. Ideas for future research are discussed, including the need to investigate further the link between childhood inhibitions and the evolution of EI with particular brands and product categories. Management implications are also discussed including the implications of the research for how professional and grassroots sports design and communicate their brands.