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Quiet branding: how does inconspicuous consumption influence consumers' identity?

Jane Priest, Teaching Fellow

Faculty Blog

Are conspicuous brands losing their appeal? That is the question that Jane Priest, teaching fellow at Edinburgh Business School (EBS), is asking as she embarks on her PhD. With her proposal now approved by the EBS Postgraduate Committee, Jane has got the green light to start her exciting journey.

Evidence is emerging that conspicuous brands are losing their appeal, with ordinary people increasingly turning to more subtle status signals, or 'inconspicuous consumption' (see, for example, Eckhardt et al, 2015). This has important implications for marketers who have, over the years, built their brands on the premise that they signal status to both society at large and narrow social groups. Jane is proposing to explore if, and how, inconspicuous consumption influences consumers' construction of identity, using new mothers as a case study.

Jane wants to use a combination of diary research and in-depth interviews to gain a deep understanding of how women construct identity through consumption in the transition to motherhood. She hopes that her research will provide insight into how marketers of baby and nursery products might better segment the market and position their products in light of societal changes and shifting attitudes towards branding.

Working part-time at EBS and with two children under three, Jane is aware that this is going to be a challenging journey but the PhD has personal as well as professional significance. Jane says: "Fifteen years ago I embarked on a prize-winning dissertation for my undergraduate degree in Marketing. Everything then was about conspicuous consumption and my research aimed to investigate how teenagers used branded clothes to identify themselves in groups. Working with over 250 teenagers in four Scottish schools, I investigated the role brands played in their lives and how brands enabled them to communicate to others, judge and assess others, establish self-identity and answer their fundamental need for group identity.

Those kids will now be in their early thirties and likely to be starting families of their own in this proposed emerging era of inconspicuous consumption. I like to think my research has come full circle, tracking my personal life, academic experience, societal trends and shifting attitudes towards branding. Ultimately, I hope my research will spark debate and further research among academics and help marketers better position their products to appeal to customers of the future."