Brand is a collection of “meaning”. Different from brand positioning, which answers “who is the brand”, brand meaning mainly answers the fundamental question of “what is the brand”. Digital technology gives brand new features of interactivity, transparency and anonymity, which makes the importance of brand meaning increasingly prominent in the digital era. Brand meaning is gradually changing from a vague and unclear concept to an emerging marketing term. However, the connotation of brand meaning in the existing marketing literature, especially in the new context of digitalization, is still in an early scattered and fuzzy state.
In view of this, this paper systematically analyzes the connotation of the new marketing term “brand meaning”, from the perspective of perception, situation and interaction. Brand meaning is representation of individual-level perception, outcome of cultural construction, even more, the unique evolving emotional and cognitive understanding that different subjects endow with brand through the process of social negotiation. Brand meaning is closely related to brand association, brand image, brand identity, brand culture and brand personality, but there are significant differences. Brand meaning is not the aggregation of many traditional marketing terms such as brand association and brand image. In contrast, brand meaning answers the core question of “what is the brand” from a new perspective of “perception, situation and interaction”. On the basis of analyzing the connotation of brand meaning, this paper combs the research topics of brand meaning in the digital context. With the development of digitalization, digital technology has formed a subversive impact on the perceptual, situational and interactive nature of meaning, bringing a new underlying logic for brand meaning and emerging topics for brand meaning research. The first issue is co-creation of brand meaning. Digitalization changes the basic logic of “perception” of brand meaning, and the generation of brand meaning is changing from “perception” to “co-creation”. Brand meaning is not controlled by any stakeholder or the enterprise itself, but is created by multiple stakeholders through interaction, dialogue, exchange and resource integration. The second issue is elimination of brand meaning. Digitalization has also changed the basic logic of “situation” of brand meaning. Brand meaning is undergoing a transformation from “construction” to “elimination”. The “gap, conflict, co-destruction” of brand meaning has become the second emerging topic in brand meaning research. The third issue is reconstruction of brand meaning. Digitalization has changed the basic logic of “interactivity” of brand meaning. While digitalization brings co-creation of brand meaning, it also provides opportunities for brand meaning reconstruction. Therefore, reconstruction of brand meaning has become the third emerging topic of brand meaning research.
At the end of this paper, we summarize the evolution of brand meaning in a digital environment, and look forward to future research directions. This study will help theorists to better understand the complex nature of brand meaning and its emerging topics in the digital context, and provide new inspiration for the traditional brand management in the digital context.