The nature and effects of consumer identity fusion in consumer-brand relationships
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While existing literature describes strong brand relationships along several dimensions, this research sheds light on the identity perspective of brand relationships through the lens of consumer identity fusion, aiming to understand the extent to which consumers incorporate brands into their self-perceptions. Specifically, this research investigates the nature and effects of consumer identity fusion and its motivational consequences following brand transgressions. Study One examines whether consumer identity fusion out-predicts brand identification in estimating the tendency for consumers to endorse pro-relationship behavior with regard to minor or severe transgressions. The results show that highly fused consumers are more likely to undertake constructive coping strategies and are less likely to engage in destructive coping strategies than are weakly fused consumers. The fusion × perceived severity interaction effect is found only for the exit coping strategy. Study Two assesses how consumer identity fusion influences consumers’ responses to personal-related versus societal-related brand transgressions. The findings demonstrate that the effect of consumer identity fusion is stronger than that of brand identification across different behavioral outcomes; it has a greater effect on participants’ relationship-serving responses to personal-related transgressions than to societal-related brand transgressions. However, the fusion × brand transgression types interaction effect is found only for exit responses. Finally, Study Three incorporates an additional self-affirmation manipulation to determine the interplay of consumers’ personal and social identities, aiming to disentangle the source of the motivational machinery needed for consumers’ pro-relationship behaviors. The findings underscore that highly fused consumers in the affirmation condition are less likely to exit the brand relationship than those in the no affirmation condition when facing personal-related brand transgressions, even though self-affirmation should reduce the negative effect of brand transgressions. Nevertheless, the expected relationships are not found for consumers’ change in brand evaluation and other behavioral measures. The findings of this research together suggest that consumer identity fusion is applicable for understanding connections between consumers and the brand relationship partner in consumer-brand relationships. Implications of these findings and directions for refinement and future research are discussed.