Why is it that branded products are able to charge up to 37% premium over unbranded products with similar quality? Why can branded products with superior quality charge up to 50% premium while unbranded products with superior quality cannot? (Apelbaum Gerstner, and Naik 2003). Does having a brand name give companies the leverage to deviate from their main goal of customer satisfaction? The answer lies in the way a consumers consumes a brand versus a product. According to Veloutsou and Moutinho (2008), people no longer consume products for their utility, but for its symbolic meaning. Therefore, consumers have need which cannot be full-filled by just consuming a product; they require both product and brand consumption.
The way we define brand has changed over time. One of the first brand definition stated that a “Brand is a name, term, sign, symbol, or design, or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors” (American Marketing Association, 1960, p. 8). Not too long ago, brands were seen as symbols and not as carriers of identity and relationship. Brands were considered the producers property. They were responsible for all the communication and activities in the process of building the brand. However, the contemporary approach to branding sees all the stakeholders as the creator of the brand identity and its owner. A brand name, logo and designs are just brand markers (Holt, 2004). Without a history, these markers are empty and the brand has no meaning. The brand comes to life when the stakeholders (consumers) fill these empty markers with ideas and experiences related with the brand (Hatch and Rubin 2006).
Ideas and experience change from time to time and from person to person. People experience brands in different settings, situations and psychological states and build a meaning around a brand based on it. A brand is a source of meaning to the customer in particular and the market in general (Levy, 1959) and its meaning is the result of the way the consumers live and perceive their experiences with it. Therefore, a brand cannot be built in a vacuum (Grönroos, 2001). It is necessary to understand marketing as a continuous creative process strongly influenced by the relationship of customers with the brand.
According to Schultz and Schultz (2004), brand relationship is a sort of bond which brings the brand buyer and seller together. However, brand relationship is not just what managers intend for them, but if it defined by what consumers do with the brand and how it adds meaning to their life (McCracjen 1986). This relationship that a consumer has with the brand is based on their experiences. Grönroos (2001) furthers this idea by showing that a brand is a result of an interaction with the customer. The customer-brand contacts (experiences) form a relationship that gives meaning to the branded objects. In this sense, the definition of brand corresponds to the brand image, that is, a brand is something that exists in the customers’ mind and they are the real brand builders. And the brand managers role is to create frames for the development of a brand in the minds of customers, by providing an appropriate physical product, service process and supportive communication using various means of planned marketing communication” (p. 287).
The strength of a brand stems from the consumer’s experiences with it (Keller, 2000). In today’s “postmodern” world, we do not just consume functional features of a product but it’s symbolic meaning (Burton, 2002:792), for example, consumers drink Starbucks for the experience associated with it, and not just for the quality of the coffee. Thus, Firat and Schultz (1997) correctly define humans as homo consumericus – “a creature defined by consumption and experiences” (p. 193) because “experience is the core of consumption” and “the decomposition of the individual’s life” (Addis and Podesta, 2005:404).
According to Schmitt (1999) the focus of marketing has moved from a products features and benefits to a consumer experiences. It’s not just about identifying a brand but the experience a consumer has with it: “a brand is a rich source of sensory, affective, and cognitive associations that result in memorable and rewarding brand experiences” (Schmitt, 1999:57). Therefore, a consumer relates to the way a brand affects their sense, stirs their emotions and makes them think.
To end this note, Brands are an epitome of CONSUMERISM. They symbolize our existence with a need for identity and status. And with the advent of the digital era – lets hail to the mighty “homo consumericus”.
Author: Atul Todi
[Photo Credit: Michelle Meiklejohn's portfolio at www.freedigitalphotos.net]