CORVALLIS, Ore. - There is a reason Starbucks patrons and Apple computer users are so loyal to their brands, and that reason has been the subject of research by two Oregon State University business professors.

Now that study has been named one of the 10 most-cited scholarly works in the study of marketing.

According to Google Scholar, a new search engine designed to scour the Internet for scholarly literature, "Building Brand Community" is among the top 10 works cited by other marketing researchers in their own published scholarship. The research paper is the work of James H. McAlexander and Harold F. Koenig, both associate professors of marketing at OSU's College of Business, who first published it in the Journal of Marketing in January 2002.

John W. Schouten, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Portland, contributed to the article.

According to the article's abstract, brand communities are the "fabric of relationships in which the customer is situated." These communities not only create relationships between customers and the product, but among customers themselves, as well as between the customer and the company.

Brand communities foster a sense of loyalty to the brand that can last for quite a long time, the researchers say.

"What this says to the owner is 'this company cares about me,'" McAlexander said. "'They understand me and my lifestyle.'"

McAlexander and Schouten began their research into brand communities by studying brand loyalty. They first considered Harley-Davidson products and investigated the strong loyalty that Harley-Davidson customers build to the Harley brand.

After attending several motorcycle events, including the famous Sturgis, S.D., rally that brings together 300,000 people annually, the authors found that what they termed the "Harley experience" created a strong bond between customers and the company. They also found that customers were able to unite with each other based on their commitment to the brand.

Their research later expanded to include Jeep customers. While studying this group, McAlexander and Schouten found that their idea of a "Harley experience" could be transferred to Jeeps.

Vehicle companies such as Harley-Davidson and Jeep boast some of the most visible signs of brand community, but McAlexander points out that Starbucks coffee and Apple computers are also strong examples.

Consumer products are not the only things to which the brand community idea applies. Universities also try to create long-lasting bonds and loyalty with students and alumni, often doing so through athletic programs, for instance, or Greek systems.

This could explain why, even 20 years after graduation, alumni still feel a strong interest and investment in the accomplishments of their alma mater, the researchers say.


Jim McAlexander, 541-737-3182

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