|BY KEVIN LANE KELLER|
|Branding continues to be a high-priority topic for academics and practitioners alike. Even in an increasingly digitally connected world, consumers still seek and value brands, and marketers still make significant investments in brand development and management. Not surprisingly, this interest in branding is reflected in a collection of six recent articles in the Journal of Marketing.
Given the variety of research topics that fall into the branding category, it is also not surprising that these recent JM branding articles cover a lot of ground. They deal with topics related to brand elements, brand positioning, brand relationships, brand metrics, brand extensions and brand management over time.Brand Elements: “The Double-Edged Sword of Foreign Brand Names for Companies from Emerging Countries”One crucial decision in branding is what brand name to use, especially in a global context where meanings of names may vary. In their 2012 study, authors Valentyna Melnyk, Kristina Klein and Franziska Völckner show how foreign branding—using brand names that are spelled or pronounced in a foreign language—can evoke foreign associations, which affect consumer evaluations differently for different types of products. The authors focus on situations in which a brand name reflects a country of origin (COO) that is different from that of the actual COO—an increasingly common occurrence as marketers attempt to leverage the inherent semantic meaning of the brand name, itself, for brand-building purposes. For example Häagen-Dazs ice cream may sound Scandinavian, but it is actually American, the Haier appliance brand sounds German but is Chinese and Laneige cosmetics sounds French but is Korean.
The study findings suggest that, for hedonic products, such as a luxury watch or perfumed shower gel, incongruence between the implied COO and the actual COO resulting from foreign branding can backfire and actually result in lower purchase likelihood. (That incongruence has much less of an effect on purchase likelihood for more utilitarian products, such as a sports watch or antiperspirant shower gel, the study found.) They also found that incongruence decreased purchase likelihood more when the actual COO was an emerging (Bangladesh or Uruguay) rather than a developed country (Germany or France). In short, foreign branding as a strategy has some important constraints.
A popular positioning strategy in recent years, lifestyle branding involves equating a brand with a certain lifestyle or type of user so that the brand evokes those meanings. As a consequence, consumers can use lifestyle brands as a means of self-expression, and marketers can use lifestyle brands to enter more diverse categories than suggested by the product’s physical characteristics.
Relationships form the basis of human life and have been the focus of much research in the branding realm. The challenge is how to take such a powerful but abstract concept and provide meaningful structure and guidance. In their 2012 study, Carlos J. Torelli, Ayşegül Özsomer, Sergio W. Carvalho, Hean Tat Keh and Natalia Maehle consider how abstract brand meaning affects the relationships that consumers form with brands in different parts of the world. They introduce a structure of abstract brand concepts as representations of 11 brand values that vary in terms of two unrelated, orthogonal dimensions: self-enhancement vs. self-transcendence, and openness to change vs. conservation.
Parallel to the study of brands has been the study of customers and the relationship between the two. In many ways, brand equity and customer equity can be thought of as two sides of the same coin. There can be no brands without customers, and vice versa.
Brand Extensions: “The Asymmetric Effects of Extending Brands to Lower and Higher Quality”
One of the most important, and potentially the trickiest, issues in branding involves vertical brand extensions whereby brands extend to different quality or price levels. In particular, while seeking to expand their market, marketers worry about the potential cannibalization and dilution effects that may result from downward stretches.
All brands have their ups and downs in the marketplace, and at some point, may encounter a downturn in their fortunes. Although the textbook advice of being “swift and sincere” offers some general guidelines, Kathleen Cleeren, Harald J. van Heerde and Marnik G. Dekimpe’s 2013 study provides more specific guidance in terms of the optimal pricing and advertising actions at the brand and category level in the time of a crisis.
Collectively, these six articles show both the strength and the complexity of brands. Brands can take on significant meaning that affects how consumers think, feel and act, and thus brands crucially determine the success of marketing actions. Yet, at the same time, these effects depend on a wide range of different factors related to consumers, to the brand itself and to other contextual considerations. Understanding those moderating factors is crucial to effective long-term brand management.