Executives use market labels to position their firms within market categories. Yet this activity has been given scarce attention in the extant literature that widely assumes that market labels are simple, prescribed classification brackets that accurately represent firms' characteristics. By examining how and why executives use the nanotechnology label, we uncover three strategies: claiming, disassociating, and hedging. Comparing these strategies to firms' technological capabilities, we find that capabilities alone do not explain executives' label use. Instead, the data show that these strategies are driven by executives' aspiration to symbolically influence their firms' market categorization. In particular, executives' perception of the label's ambiguity, their avoidance of perceived credibility gaps, and their assessment of the label's signaling value shape their labeling strategies. In contrast to extant research, which suggests that executives should aim for coherence, we find that many executives hedge their affiliation with a nascent market label. Thus, our study shows that in ambiguous contexts, noncommitment to a market category may be a particularly prevalent strategy.
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