3.5 The relevance of brands to consumers
There is a strong interaction between brands and consumers. We all buy particular brands and, for some products, we have a brand preference. It is in the interests then of an organisation to enhance the relevance of their brands to consumers and the wider market. To achieve this, organisations need to understand how brands are relevant to consumers.
We can illustrate the relevance of brands to consumers and how organisations manipulate this to increase their market share through the example of the sportswear brand Reebok®. By the early 21st century Reebok® sports trainers were losing market share to Nike and levels of customer loyalty were low. Its brand image was further harmed by selling the brand’s running shoes at low prices in supermarkets.
We will now look at some insights into why consumers seek out brand relevance, using the Reebok® brand as an example.
Brands help consumers to identify the products/producers they like, simplifying the buying process and reducing the perception of risk in buying a new product (Berthon et al., 1999; Berry, 2000).
When buying sports shoes, you can identify easily the Reebok® brand and distinguish it from any other sports brand by its unique logo. This identification provides consumers with the quality guarantee of the product and helps them make securer purchasing choices.
Brands as individual expression
Consumers often identify themselves with the symbolic meanings of a brand and develop a bond with certain brands that express their personality, self-image and beliefs. By consuming certain types of products/brands consumers convey who they would like to be, contributing to their self-identity (Ellwood, 2002; Keller, 2003). For example, consumers may buy organic food to show they care for the environment and animal rights. Organisations underline this by clearly stating such aspects in the definition of their brands.
Reebok® tackled its problems through a branding agreement with the rap artist 50 Cent, producing a range of fashion trainers using 50 Cent’s branded clothing range – G-Unit. The rationale was to encourage 50 Cent’s teenage fans to purchase G-Unit branded trainers made by Reebok®, as shown here with 50 Cent:
This Reebok® advertisement features 50 Cent enticing teenagers to consume the G-Unit branded trainers. Note how the desired consumer identity and identification with the brand are personified in the rap artist:
If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here:
If consumers use brands to create their own sense of self-identity, it follows that consumers will use brands to distinguish themselves from other individuals. Part of prevalent culture is that we are all individuals and through consumption we express our individuality (Fog et al., 2010).
You can see this individuality reflected in this Reebok® advertisement that uses the line ‘I am what I am’ while focusing on the individual, his personal aspirations and reality:
If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here: Reebok AD 2012 - (I Am What I Am)
Brands as social expression
Very often, to be part of a social group, consumers need to share the attitudes and beliefs of that group and, ultimately, seek allegiance by consuming brands that the group likes. The symbolic meaning of a brand is affected by the social group with which the consumer interacts (de Chernatony et al., 2011).
In this Reebok® advertisement the brand becomes the stage for social interaction. With a common interest in fitness, people get together and create a sports community that allows them to integrate in this social setting.
If you are reading this course as an ebook, you can access this video here: Reebok CrossFit: The Community
Stop and reflect
- What other benefits do you think brands may have for consumers?
You may think about aspects such as cultural expressions that come from brands. For example, brands being reflected in pop art by artists like Andy Warhol and his Campbell Soup cans.
From analysing the relevance of brands, you should now understand why it is important to manage a brand properly. In fact, as we noted in the introduction to this course, brands are valuable intangible assets. The example given earlier of how Coca-Cola outperforms its competitors in terms of brand asset values illustrates brand relevance. The underlying principle is that a branded product performs better in the market, and thus will have a positive financial impact on the organisation.
To address this idea of brands as assets and their favourable impact on business performance, marketers borrowed the notion of ‘equity’ from finance. In branding terms we refer to ‘brand equity’. In the next section we explore this concept in more detail.