Brand Relationship in the Higher Education Context: The Role of the Reciprocal Identity Co-creation

Institut d’Administration des Entreprises de Paris 

École doctorale de Management Panthéon-Sorbonne – ED 559
Equipe de Recherche GREGOR – EA 2474

Brand Relationship in the Higher Education Context: The Role of the Reciprocal Identity Co-creation


Thesis presented and publicly defended on 20th March 2020 for a Doctorate in Management Science by Thi Thu Phuong HOANG



Madame Géraldine MICHEL
Professor, IAE Paris, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne


Madame Laure AMBROISE
Professor, Université Lyon 2

Professor, Grenoble IAE – Université Grenoble Alpes

Invited members:

Monsieur Jean-Pierre HELFER
Professor, IAE Paris, Université Paris 1 Panthéon-Sorbonne

Madame Isabelle COLLIN LACHAUD
Professor, Université de Lille

Monsieur Chan NGUYEN
Professor, Centre Franco-Vietnamien de formation à la Gestion (CFVG)


Nowadays, increasingly fierce competition among higher education institutions highlights the crucial role of branding in gaining differentiated advantages. In effect, a strong brand can attract new students and acquire a solid base of alumni. How to develop strong brands that create strong relationships in the higher education sector? Consumer-brand relationships has been well investigated in the context of products, but little research has focused on the relationship between students / graduates and the brand of school / university. In this context, this thesis aims to better understand the construction and maintenance of strong relationships between students / graduates and their schools / universities.

With those objectives, this thesis is written based on three empirical studies: (1) a netnographic study at two French institutions (IAE Paris) and Vietnamese (CFVG) over a period of three months, (2) a qualitative study of 30 students and graduates from 7 schools or universities and (3) a quantitative study of 400 students / graduates from several schools / universities.

The results of this doctoral study enrich three major literature frameworks: (1) consumer-brand relationship; (2) brand co-creation and (3) brand management in higher education. At first, this research identified reciprocal identity co-creation as a new dimension of the brand relationship. Secondly, this research explains the reciprocal identity co-creation process by highlighting the interactions among three entities: brand, brand community and individual. The identities of the individual, the brand, and the brand community mutually nurture and integrate, which give rise to specific relationships aspects in relation to the relationships already identified in the current literature. Finally, this study shows that the process of reciprocal identity creation occurs when the values ​​of the individual and the brand are initially close and when the values of brand community is coherent with the values ​​offered by the school / university. The reciprocal identity co-creation between the individual and the brand then generates positive behaviors of individuals towards the brand of school/university such as: brand defense, communication support, brand affiliation and an investment to improve the brand.

In conclusion, this research provides an in-depth understanding of the relationship between a higher education brand and students / graduates, which implies new paradigms of reciprocal identity creation.

Key words: brand management, branding, brand relationship, higher education branding, identity co-creation, branding co-creation…