Interfirm relationships in marketing channels, such as distribution networks and supply chains, are inherently complex. Typical relationship forms involve multiple parties (firms) engaged in a network-type structure. Understandings of these types of relationships and relationship structures in extant literature have mostly analysed isolated, discrete dyadic relationships. These relational dyads can be conceptualised as agency relationships. Agency relationships are prevalent in marketing and marketing channels (Bergen, Dutta, and Walker 1992). Extant literature has considered these dyads as being comprised of a single principal and a single agent. In reality, multiple, linked relational dyads form relationship networks. The governance of these networks of relational dyads has been scantly considered in extant literature, and is the focus of this thesis. The general aim of this thesis is to develop a better understanding of relationship network governance in marketing channels.
This thesis addresses this general aim of developing a better understanding of relationship network governance in a number of ways. Firstly, an alternative, more general typology for relationship networks is advanced. This typology extends previous descriptive studies on network structures (e.g., Anderson, Hakansson, and Johanson 1994). Secondly, a conceptual framework of relationship governance in a network environment and its performance outcomes is developed. Relational governance, a non-traditional form of governance based on principles of informal socialisation between parties is considered in this framework as an appropriate governance mechanism under network conditions of uncertainty and complexity. Finally, the thesis presents the results and conclusions of an empirical study aimed at testing this conceptual framework and its associated research hypotheses.
The empirical part of this thesis is based on a field survey of 191 relationship managers from 100 firms. Advertising agencies and market research firms participated in this study. Involved and thorough data analysis procedures were undertaken, and the results reported in this thesis provide support for the conceptual framework. It is found that relational governance of external and internal relationships by a focal firm in a channel network has a significant positive effect on the performance of those relationships, which in tum is significantly positively related to overall focal firm performance (marketplace and financial performance). Put simply, relational governance approaches in a channel network context are shown to generate positive performance outcomes at the relational dyad level and the firm level.
In sum, the main findings of this thesis emphasise the importance of relationship network governance, and show that a non-traditional, more informal approach to governing relationships across a relationship network that relies on implicit relational norms as control mechanisms has a positive effect on both relationship performance and firm performance. This represents an important contribution to theory, and a major step closer to the development of a more general marketing theory of relationship network governance. This thesis provides guidance for further theorising with respect to appropriate types of governance systems in a complex and uncertain network environment. Strategic implications for practitioners and implications for public policymakers (particularly for competition regulation) are also considered.
Relationship networks are, by definition, complex, uncertain, and potentially risky for firms within them. In modem, free markets, most firms are unlikely to be able to avoid participating in relationship networks; the cornerstone of strategic competition in a dynamic marketplace is cooperation (Morgan and Hunt 1994). This thesis represents a significant first step towards a more general theory and understanding of relationship network governance in marketing channels.