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BRAND ASSOCIATIONS AND CONSUMER PERCEPTIONS OF VALUE OF PRODUCTS BY NZUKI KITHUNG’A PETER UNIVERSITY OF NAIROBI PAPER PRESENTED TO SUPPLY OF ACADEMIC PCS (SAP) CONTENTS Page 1. Background 3 Meaning ofa brand and Its Importance 2. Theoretical Framework on Brand Associations 4 Perceptual Dimensions ofBrand Associations Brand Associations and Value Creation Brand Association and Value Creation Model 3. Measurement of Brand Associations 9 Less Structured Approaches Structured Approaches 4. Research in Brand Associations 10 Brand Extensions Branding Country ofOrigin Celebrity Brand Preferences Product Attributes Brand Associations and Brand Equity 5. Critique of Research in Brand Associations 12 Techniques used Operational Definitions Clarity of Image Brand Association Strength Other Constructs Moderating Variables 6. Future Research Directions 14 Theoretical and Practical constructs Techniques Used Multiple Segments Industrial goods and Services 7. References 15 1.0 Introduction A successful brand is the most valuable resource a company has. In fact, one authority speculates that brands are so valuable that companies will soon include a “statement of value” addendum to theirbalance sheets to include intangibles such as the value oftheir brands. Brands are used as external cues to taste, design, qualify, prestige, valueand so forth. In other words, consumers associate the value ofa product with the brand. For example, the value ofKodak, Sony, Coca-cola, Toyota and Marlboro is indisputable. One estimate of the value ofCoca-cola, theworld’s most valuable brand, places it at over $35 billion. How does a brand create value to the customer? Why do certain brands have more value than others? Naturally, companies with such strong brands strive to use those brands globally (extend them). The purposeofthis paper is to review literature on thecore associations ofbrands used to position brands as strategies to create competitive advantages. 1.1 Meaning of a brand and Its Importance Abrand is a distinguishing nameand/or symbol! intended to identity thegoods or services of either one seller or a group ofsellers, and to differentiate those goods or services from those of competitors (Aaker, 1991; Stanton, 1994, andKotler, 1996). A brand thus signals to the customer the source ofthe product, and protects both the customer and the producer from competitorswho would attempt to provide products that appearto be identical. Ancient history provides evidence ofthe importance ofbrands. In those days, names were put on suchgoods as bricks in order to identify their maker (Farquhar, 1989). It is also known that tradeguilds in medieval Europe used trademarks to assurethe customer and provide legal protectionto the producer. Inthe early sixteen-century, Whisky distillers shipped theirproducts inwooden barrels with the name of theproducer burned intothe barrel. The name showed the consumer who the maker (brewer) was and prevented the substitution of cheaper products. In 1835, a brand of scotch called “Old Smuggler” was introduced in order to capitalize on the quality reputation developed by bootleggers who used a special distilling process (Aaker, 1991). Although brands have long had a roleto play in commerce, it was not until thetwentieth century that branding and brand association became so central to competitors. In fact, a distinguishing characteristic ofmodern marketing hasbeen its focus upon the creation of differentiated brand associations to accentuatethe bases ofdifferentiation. Theidea has beento move beyond commodities to branded products - to reduce the primary ofprice upon the purchase decision. Consumers associate the valueofthe product with thebrand. Thebrand can convey either a positive or a negative message about the productto the consumer (Kim and Chung, 1997, p.361). Theunderlying value of abrand is often based upon specific association ofa “use context” such as heart attackprevention can provide a reason-to-buy which can attract customers. Such an association representsthe product’s meaning to customers. Brand associations represent bases forpurchase decision and for brand loyalty. There are a host of possible associations that a firm can build in a brand. Not all associations need to be built but ratherthose that directly or indirectly affect consumers’ buying behaviour. Product attributes(customer benefits) are an important class ofassociations, but there are others that can be important in some contexts (Aaker, p. 114). The following section dealswith the brand associations that a firm canbuild and how they createvalue to both the firm and consumer. 2. Theoretical Framework on Brand Associations 2.1 Perceptual Dimensions of Brand Associations As noted elsewhere in this paper, brand association is anything that is linked in memory to a brand (Aaker, p.109). The association reflect the fact products are usedto express lifestyles whereas other associations reflect social positions, and professional roles. Still others will reflect associations involving productapplications, types of people who might use the product, stores that carrythe product,or salespeople who handlethe product or even thecountry of origin. Keller (1998) defines brand associations as informational nodes linked to thebrand node in memory that contains the meaning ofthe brand for 4 consumers. These associations include perceptions of brand quality and attitudes towards the brand. Keller and Aaker both appear to hypothesize that consumer perceptions of brand are multi-dimensional yet many of the dimensions they identify appearto be very similar. The image that a good or a service has in the mind ofthe consumer - how it is positioned probably more importantto its ultimate success than are its actual characteristics. Marketers try to position their brands so that they are perceived by the consumer to fit a distinctive niche inthe marketplace - a niche occupied by no other product (Schiffman and Kanuk, 1994) Accordingto Aaker (1991) there are at least nine brand associations. The associations convey either the concept, or the meaning ofthe product in terms of how it fulfils a customers need. Intodays highly competitive environment a distinctive product image ismost important. As products become more complex and the market place more crowded, consumers rely moreon the products image than its actual attributes in making purchase decisions. Oneofthe brand associationsthat a firm canuse in differentiating its productis Customer benefit Customerbenefit refers to theneed that is satisfied by a product. For example, cavity control by a toothpaste isa customer benefit. Customerbenefit may be rational, psychological (emotional) benefit, or self- expressive benefit. Arational benefit is closely linked to a product’s attribute and would be part of a “rational” decision process. A psychological benefit relates to what feelings are engendered when buying and! or using the brand (Aaker, p. 119). An example ofa rational benefit for a computer to a consumer would be its ability not to loose work whereas a psychological benefit would be the feeling ofbeing professional. For a car, the emotional benefit would be the feeling of safety when driving it as a driverof a Volvo car would testify. The self-expressive benefit relates to the ability ofa brand to help a consumerto communicate his or her self-image. Since consumers have multiple roles, the consumer has an associated self-concept and a need to express that self-concept. The purchase and use of brands is one wayto ftilfil the need for self-expression(Aaker, 1991). He gives the example ofa consumer who may define him/herselfas successful and powerful by driving a Mercedes Benz, 5 Product attributes These refer to a product’s characteristics. Attributes are associated with a product’s rational benefit. Forexample, a Volvo car’s attribute is durability. Similarly, a shampoo’s attribute would be its safety to useevery day. Amarketer requires to identify an attribute that is important to a majorsegment and not already claimed by a competitor, e.g an attribute that offers something extra (like featuresor services that offer something better). The identification of an unmet customer problem can sometimes lead to an attribute previously ignore by competitors (Aaker, p. 115). Indeed, unmet needs are strategically important because theycan represent opportunities for firms that want to make major moves inthe market. Use / application Amarketer can associate a brand with a particularuse or application. For example, a beer canbe associated with good friends in a warm social setting. A study ofthe coffee market revealed that there were ninerelevant use contexts for coffee (Glen, et al, 1984). User/ Customer Another wayof positioning a brand is to associate it with a type ofuser or customer. This involves identifyingthe brand with its target segment. For example, a brand can be associated with those who areinterested in weight controlas would be the caseof a new drug. Celebrity /Celebritv This is the individual who endorses a brand. Linking a celebritywith a brand can transfer associationssuch as reliability, strength, performance, and so on. The extend to which the association can be linked to the celebrity depends on how crediblethe person is perceived by the audience. Specifically, a source is morepersuasive whenthe audience perceives him or her as highly credible than when perceived s being low incredibility (DeLozier, 1976). In otherwords, the person need not be credible but it is howthe consumers perceive him. Lifestyle / Personality ‘The brand can be viewed as a person. Like a person, a brand can be perceived as being competent, trustworthy, active, or youthful (Aaker, 1996). Abrand personality may help communicate a product’s attribute and thus contribute to a functional benefit. Similarly, it can help create a self-expressive benefit that becomesa vehicle forthe customerto express his or her own personality. Competitors Afirm positions its brand using the organization’s attributes such as innovation, a drive for quality, and a concern for theenvironment. Afirm can position its brand with respect to a competitor. Sometimes it is not important how good customers think a firm is, but how they believe it is better thana given competitor. Whilethis brand association canbe accomplished by comparative advertising, it is not usually allowed in some countries (Cateora, 1996). Country of Origin One more strategic option that a marketer has is to associate a brand with a country. The country of origin has an effect on the market’s perception of a product - either a positive or a negative perception. Cateora (1996) asserts that a company competing in global markets may manufacture products world-wide and when thecustomer becomes awareof the countryof origin, there isthe possibility that the place ofmanufacture will affect product/brand image (p.349). Theinfluence may be to add credibility or to lower it. 2.2 Brand Association and Value Creation Brand associations areuseful to marketers. Marketers use brand associationsto differentiate, position, and extend brands, to create positive attitudes and feelingstowards brands, and to suggest attributes or benefits ofpurchasing or using a specific brand (Aaker, 1991). However, brand associations are ofmoreuse to the customerthanthe marketer. The way a brand association creates value to the customer will depend on the customer’sperception of value. For each individual, reality isa totally personal phenomenon, based on that person’s needs, wants, and personal experiences. Customers everywhere respond to images, myths, and metaphors that help them define their personal identities. Thus, different customers will perceive reality differently. Indeed, Schiffrnan & Kanuk et al (1996, p.161) contends that although two individuals may be subject to the same stimuli under apparentlythe same conditions, the way they recognize them, select them, organize them, and interpret them is a highly individual process based on each person’s ownneeds, values, and expectations. Theunderlying value of a brand name often is its set ofassociations — its meaning to people. Associations, according to Aaker (1991) represent the bases for purchase decisions and forbrand loyalty. There are a host ofpossible associations and a variety of waysthey canprovide value (p.110). He identifiesthe following asthe possible ways in which associations createvalue to the customer: helping to process/ retrieve information about abrand; generating a reason to buy, and creating positive attitudes / feelings. 2.3 Brand Associations and Value of Products Model Brand associationshelp consumers judge the value ofa product. For example, country of origin influences consumers in makingjudgements asto whethera product is of value or not. Consumers tend to have broad but somewhatvague stereotypesabout specific countries and specific brands that theyjudge “best”. For example, French perfume, Italian leather, Japanese electronics and soon (Cateora, 1996; p.349). Usingthe example of country oforigin asa basis forjudging value of products, a model forbrand associations and consumer perceptions ofvalue ofproducts can be depicted schematically as in the following diagram (Figure 1) Associations Value • Process / Retrieve • Product attributes • Relativeprice Information • Use / Application • Reason-to-buy • User/ Customer • Create Positive attitudes • Celebrity / Person • Life Style/Personality • Competitions • Country ofOrigin Figure 1: ConceptualFramework of the effects ofbrand association on perceived value. The model shows that a product is of valueto the customer and hence it can be bought to satisfy a need depending on its attributes, its use, or whether it can be associated with a particular customer group. Similarly, a consumer will consider a product as being valuable if he/she can associate it with a certain celebrity, lifestyle or country of’origin. Proponents ofbrand positioning suggest that brands should develop distinct images and that these images will attract specific consumer segment (Hoek, et al, 2000). Consequently, the consumer segment will see the brand as being valuable to them. How’ do marketers determinethe brand associations that convey the value of a brand to the consumer? Association research (research on brand associations) is important to marketers since they would want to gain an insightful picture of how a brand is perceived by consumers as well as its competitors. The techniques that have been utilized by firms to measure brand associations form part ofthe next section. 3. Measurement of Brand Associations One of the key functions ofbrand management isto keep onejump ahead ofcompetitors by imprinting the brand firmly on the consumerpsyche — and keep it there (Emerald, 2000). A firmtherefore requires understanding consumerperceptions of itsbrand(s) vis- a-avisthose of competitors. This calls for the measurement of brand associations. The techniques used to achieve this objective can be grouped intotwo categories — less- structured and structured techniques ( Aaker, 1991; Low & Lamb, 2000). 3.1 Projective Techniques The central feature ofall projectivetechniques isthe presentationot’an ambiguous, unstructured object, activity, or personthat a respondent is asked to interpret andexplain (Aaker, et al, 1998). Thesewriters arguethat projective techniques are usedwhen it is believed that respondents will not or cannotrespond meaningfully to direct questions about (1) the reasons for certain behaviours or attitudes or (2) what the act ofbuying, 198). Respondents may be unwilling or owning, or using a brand meansto them (p. unable to reveal feelings, thoughts, and attitudes when asked direct questions for a number ofreasons. First, they may be unwilling becausethey feel the information is 9 embarrassing or private (Aaker, 1991; p 136). Alternatively, respondents may simply b unable to provide information as to why they buy certain items because they do not kno tile real reasons. Man of projective techniques employed in the measurement ofbrand associationsare meant to address problemsaforementioned since they allow the respondent to project h self or him-selfinto a context, which bypasses the inhibitions, or limitations of more direct questioning (Aaker, p. 136). The techniques involve focusing on a discussion upo the use experience, the decision process, the brand user, or off- the- wall perspectives such as considering thebrand to be a person or an animal. Another characteristic of projection research isthe use of ambiguous stimuli, wherein there is freedom to project experiences, attitudes, and perceptions. There are many projective (indirect)approaches to understanding brand associations. The commonly used methods are word association, picture completion, Thematic Apperception Tests, sentence completion, and story completion (Aaker, 1991; Kotler an Armstrong, 1996; Aaker, et a!, 1998). 3.2 Structured Approaches According to Aaker (1991), structured approaches involve scalingbrands upon a set of dimensions. He argues that scalingapproaches aremore objective and reliable than qualitative approaches since they are less vulnerable to subjective interpretation. Scaling consumer perceptions involvesthe determination ofperceptual dimensions, identification ofthe target segment. and the interpretation ofthe brand profiles. The perceptual dimensions may include the product attributesand benefits, user ofthe brand, or relevant competitors (Day, et al, 1979). Scaling methodsthat marketers have utilized include semanticdifferential (Fry and Claxton, 1971), Likert scale, conjoint analysis, and natural grouping (Aaker, 1991). 4. Research in Brand Associations Research interest in brandingcontinues to be strong in the marketingliterature (Alden, et, power of brands manifest in the recent efforts of many companies to build strong Internet “brands” such as amazon.com and msn.com (Narisetti, 1998). The way consumers perceive brand is a key determinant of long-term business — consumer relationships. Hence, building strong brand perceptions is a top priority for many firms today (Morris. 1996). Many ofthe studies involving brands have focused on the product attributes or benefits. Aaker and Stayman (1991) conducted a study to test whethertwo brands ofbeer had established associations with their use contexts in terms ofwhetherthe consumers felt “warm”, “friendly”, “healthy”, and "wholesome” in using the beers. They employed picture interpretation as a techniqueto achieve their objective. The findings were that one brand ofbeer was associated with “warm” and “friendly” dimensions whereas the other brand was evaluated higher on “healthy” and “wholesome”. Hoek et al (2000) using qualitative interviews examined the descriptive and evaluative attributes employed by consumers in choosing products ofvalue to them. Their findings revealed that descriptive attributes determine the proportion of consumers who hold favourable attitudes aboutthe brand. However, the findings did not provide knowledgeon how descriptive attributes affect consumer’s behaviour. Although descriptive attributes could be predicted, the attributes had only a weak relationship with usage behaviour and so provided brand managers with little guidance. Again, the study suggested that longitudinal work was requiredto examine whetherover time, users ofa product category who associate descriptive attributes with a brand theydo not currently use eventually go on to purchase that brand. While many studies have focused product attributes, others have pursued the line of brand extensions (Keller, 1990; Smith and Park, 1992; Broniarczyk and Alba, 1994, Srinivas, et al, 1994). Othershave tended to dwell on branding (Rooney, 1995) and brand preferences (Aireck and Settle, 1999). Studies that have focused specifically on brand associations arethose ofKim and Chung (1997), Till (1998), and Chen (2001). Kim and Chung (1997) in their study on the effect ofcountry of origin and thevalue ofa product identified that thebrand can convey either a positive or negative message aboutthe productto the consumer on the basis ofwhere it is made. Till (1998) attempted to identify how celebrity endorsers can beused effectively in advertising. Although the study did not focus on the effect of celebrity as creating the value of a product, it shed light on how endorsers can be used to help consumers to retrieve information on a brand to buy (a value to the consumer). Ihe study by (Then (2001) may be regarded as one of the studies that were directly related to brand associations and how they’ create value ofproducts. The purposeof the research was to identif the types of brand associations and to examine therelationship hetween association characteristics and brand equity. The findings revealed that therewere two brand associations — functional attribute and organizational attribute that contribute to a brand’s equity — either low or high equity. 5. Critique of the Researches in Brand Associations Marketing researchershave not used consistent definition or measurement technique to assess consumer perceptions of brands and the value they attach to such brands. Keller (1998) considers brand associations as consisting ofbrand image, brand knowledge, and brand awareness. Hefurther says that brand associations include perceptions of brand quality and attitudestowards the brand, These constructs can be labelled as product attributes according to Kotler and Armstrong (1996). Yet Aaker (1991) clearly saysthat the concepts relateto distinct categoriesof brand associations, each signifyinga different aspect ofthe brand. He argues that a brand manager will be primarily interested inthose associations that directly or indirectly affect buying behaviour and whetherthey are strong and shared by many or weak and differ from personto person (p. 113). Keller and Aaker both appear to hypothesize those consumer perceptions ofbrands and hence associations are multi-dimensional, yet many ofthe dimensionsthey identify appear to be very similar. Furthermore, Aaker’sand Keller’s conceptualisation of consumers’ psychological representation ofbrands have not been subjected to empirical validation. Consequently, it is difficult to determine ifthe various concepts theydiscuss, such as brand attitudes, perceived quality, and customer benefits are separate dimensions of brand associations(multi-dimensional) as theypropose, or theyare simply indicators of brand associations(uni-dimensional). The second criticism levelled against studies on brand associations is the measurement techniques employed. Many ofthe methodsused such asthe projective techniques tend to be more subjective and employ small samples (Aaker, 1991). Even those that are regarded as being objective and reliable than qualitative approaches i.e., scalingmethods facetile problem ofvalidity. Aaker (1991) observes that there is always a concern with the validity ofthe scaling task. Can a respondent actually position beers on an “aged a long time” dimension? He observes that there is the possibility ofunfamiliaritv with one or moreof the brands, Theother problem is that the respondent may be unable to understand operationally what “aged” means, or howto evaluate a brand on this dimension (p. 151). Thus any ambiguity inthe scaleor inability of a respondent to use the scale will affect validity and reliability ofthe results. The measurement of brand associations needs to be done wit.h respect to a specified segment within the context of a competitive set of brands. This implies that brand associations and consumerperceptions of value ofproducts should bedone for one segment. However, much ofthe time the scaling task should be done for multiple segments (Aaker, 1991). The implication here is that any relevant segment defined by age, income, usage rate will have different perceptions from others. Marketers may not only be interestedin theassociations with the brand but also with the association strength, that is, how confident the consumers are about the associations with thebrand. Similarly, the marketer may be interested in understandingwhether the consumers havea clear image of thebrand association. There is yet another criticism on studies on brand associations. Thereappears to be other emerging constructs forbrand associations. Aaker (1991) provides eleven types ofbrand associations, which Kotler and Armstrong(1996) consider to be part of the levels ofa product. The question here is how significant these constructs areto a brand association measurement? Again, which associations discriminate between buyers and nonbuyers? Lastly, the model used as a basis foridentifying brand associations and how they create the value of products isitselfquestionable. Narisetti (1998) observes that technology plays a big role in brand associationsand value ofproducts. Where doestechnology fit inthe model? Similarly, familiarity with a brand appearsto moderate the dimensionality ofbrand associations. Wherecan this aspect be shown in the model? 6. Future Research Directions There isgrowing importance ol brands and consumer perceptions ot brands among marketing researchers. To address this issue, marketers need to develop extensive conceptual treatments of b dand associations and related issues. To achieve this objective, itis imperative for the marketers to design practical measurement of the constructs. :\number of’studies that attempt to measure some aspect of consumer brand associations do not use consistent measurement techniques. Again, there is need to use methods that help in discriminating between brands. Indeed, Aaker (1991) argues that a major consideration iswhether the perceptual dimensions discriminate betweenbrands. Ifa measurement technique can be developed to help an attribute to discriminate, i.e.. set one brand off against another, it might be worth. He posits that factor analysis may be a useful tool in reducing a set of factors (associations) to a few factors or dimensions by combining the words or phrases whose meanings are similar (p. 149). Secondly, the empirical works operationally brand associations as uni-dimensional. Yet conceptual models depict the brand associations as multi-dimensional (Kellerand Aaker, 1997). Third, marketers need to employ multiple segments in measuring theusefulness ofbrand associations in helping consumers on the choice of products As noted earlier, any relevant segment defined by age, lifestyle, or user statumay well have different perceptions from others. Forexample, the user and nonuser groups quite often differ in their brand perceptions (Aaker, 1991, p. 151). Lastly, may ofthe studies have focused on consumer goods Specifically,many have been carried among fast-moving consumer goods (brandswith short consumption cycles that are tvpicafly bought from supermarkets) (Hoek, et al, 2000). There is need to focus on industrial goods or on services. It is therefore proposed that a research aimed at identifying thebrand associations of industrial goods or services would be more beneficial to academicians and practitioners. REFERENCES Aaker, D.A (1991), Managing Brand Equity: Capitalizing on the value o f Brand Name (New York: the Free Press) Aaker, D.A; Kumar, \‘and Day. G.S (1998), Marketing Research (New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.) Aaker, D.A (1996), Building Strong Brands (New York: The Free Press) Alden, D. L, Steenkamp, J.B.E and Batra, R (1999)“Brand Positioning through Advertising inAsia, North America, a n d uheRole qf Global (‘it/lure” Journal of Marketing, Vol. 63, January. Alreck, P. 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