Lethal brands: How VEOs build reputations

Gina Scott Ligon, Mackenzie Harms, Douglas C. Derrick

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


ISIS has run the most effective social media marketing campaign in history. In fact, violent extremist organizations (VEOs) market their ideology and organizations to a global audience in ways that rival even the savviest of conventional organizations. However, applying marketing theory and methodology to study VEOs has not been done to date for the security community. Thus, the goal of the present effort is to use a novel lens used to apply the marketing strategies of conventional, for-profit organizations to examine the impact of VEO reputation and legitimacy on VEO performance. We coded tactics used by VEOs such as ISIS to establish a strong brand reputation, and examined the relationship between branding strategies and markers of performance (e.g., recruitment and fundraising) using a sample of 60 historically notable VEOs spanning a variety of ideologies, cultures, and periods of peak performance. The primary contribution of studying such a diverse sample of VEOs is the identification of how branding strategies can predict recruitment of talented personnel, financial sources, and organizational capacity for violence. Two key findings discussed are (1) VEOs market and differentiate themselves via malevolently innovative attacks, and (2) even negatively-toned media coverage is related to their long-term fundraising viability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)27-42
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Strategic Security
Issue number1-2
StatePublished - 2015

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Sociology and Political Science
  • Safety Research
  • Political Science and International Relations
  • Law


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