A brand is a design, term, name, or any feature used to identify the products or services of a seller from the ones of other sellers in the market (Jacoby and Chestnut, 1978). Although there is a large body of research on brand loyalty in marketing literature, the relationship between brand loyalty and brand elements has not always been well documented or understood. In this essay, the contention of whether brand elements play a significant role in influencing the loyalty of consumers shall be raised. First, a definition of brand loyalty and brand elements will be outlined, followed by arguments for and against the claim that brand loyalty is dependent on brand elements. In so doing, this essay will draw on marketing and consumer behaviour literature as well as case studies from well-known brands to illustrate the arguments.
Brand loyalty has been considered as the conscious or unconscious decision of a consumer to continually repurchase a brand (Keller, 2007). Brand loyalty has always represented one of the top priorities for a brand. Brand giants such as Coca-Cola and Pepsi for example, frequently bring out brand loyalty promotions such as “My Coke Rewards” and “Pepsi Stuff” in order to retain its committed consumers (Dick and Basu, 1994). Conversely, brand elements refers to the different components that make up a brand. These can include both internal and external elements. Internal elements, for example, include brand personality and promise whilst external elements refer to associations, image and positioning of a brand.
Building from these two key concepts, it may be argued that brand loyalty can only be achieved if a number of effective brand elements are firmly in place. Some have argued that external elements such as brand positioning are critical in cultivating trust between the consumers and the brand (McCole, 2004). Brand positioning refers to the aspects of the brand used in the specialization of the organization, its target market, the unique value of the company and the benefits a consumer would acquire from buying its products and services. Brand positioning also expends effort in differentiating a company over competitors. It is therefore possible that it is only once a consumer acquires greater knowledge and clarity of a company’s specialization, unique value and potential benefits, that he/she will be more likely to repurchase the product and therefore ensuring brand loyalty (Aaker, 1995). In a similar vein, the element of brand promise can also be seen to play a major role in brand loyalty. Brand promise refers to the particular element that consumers expect to be delivered by the company each time the consumer purchases an item and/or service. By this definition, brand promise is a multi-level element as it involves factors such as expectation, interaction of employees to meet these outcomes and delivery (Cowley, 1991). If each of these elements is in place, consumers are much more likely to express loyalty to the brand.
An additional argument that supports the claim that brand loyalty is dependent on brand elements can be drawn from examining one of the internal elements; brand personality. Every brand can be said to carry its own unique brand personality. Brand personality personifies the brand in terms of human characteristics and traits (Kapferer, 2008; Aaker, 1995). A brand without personality and warmth, for example, is likely to garner zero loyalty from consumers and will be much more sensitive to prices (Uncles & Goodhardt, 2004). A positive and distinctive brand personality on the other hand, is much more likely to elicit favourable outcomes such as increased preference, usage and loyalty (Aaker, 1997).
There is a well-established body of literature that highlights that a clear brand personality not only enhances brand preference but improves loyalty (Kressman et al 2006) but also allows consumers to express and project their ideal selves to others (Belk, 1988). The brand becomes an extension of the consumer’s self. Brand personality, can therefore be shown to play a critical role in allowing consumers to connect on a personal level with a brand and hence be more likely to leave a long-lasting positive imprint that leads to repurchase and gradually builds up brand loyalty.
However, it may also be argued that brand loyalty can also be build up, independent of brand elements. This argument focuses on the importance of strategy, rather than brand elements. An example to illustrate the importance of strategy can be seen from the changes that have occurred in marketing over the last decade. For example, due to the advances of web 2.0 and social networks, traditional marketing practices of examining consumer trends, conducting focus groups and assessing demographics have been supplemented by social media marketing on social networks, videos and blogs. The number of companies and businesses leveraging the social network platform to connect with consumers via fan pages is increasing every day and global companies such as Coca-Cola, Mercedes-Benz, Starbucks, Disney, New York Times, Red Bull, to name a few, are now prominent fixtures on social networks. Coca-Cola, for example, allowed two of its fans who created the brand’s Facebook fan page to continue to manage it on Facebook. It is not surprising therefore, that Coca-Cola has now amassed over thirty-four million Likes worldwide. Starbucks has similarly demonstrated the importance of a social media marketing strategy in the creation of “My Starbucks Idea”, a site that allows consumers to submit suggestions that are reviewed and often implemented. As market research has indicated that more than 80% of individuals who “Like” a brand or product on Facebook are loyal consumers (DDB Worldwide, 2010), new strategies of social media marketing and innovative fan pages are increasingly becoming important in the success of a brand. Elements such as brand image and personality may have been important ten years ago, but brand loyalty can now be independent.
One may also adopt a perspective that unites the opposing arguments and postulates that brand elements are important, but not requirements of brand loyalty. Instead, a number of other factors are important such as in the case of “Spurious Loyalty” in which customers may repurchase a brand due to situational constraints or out of convenience. Moreover, it has also been suggested that brand loyalty contains a considerable degree of pre-dispositional commitment towards a brand that has nothing to do with the brand elements (Punniyamoorthy and Raj 2007).
As there are no specific theories and approaches that address the question of brand loyalty and brand elements, it is difficult to provide a definitive answer. However, over the course of the essay, it has become apparent that brand elements do play a pivotal role in brand loyalty and that consumers are likely to repurchase a brand because they perceive the brand to serve their product needs by offering the right features of the product, price, quality and image as well. However, it has also become clear that brand loyalty is grossly influenced by decisions that take place independent of brand elements. In conclusion, a balance between both arguments would definitely be most effective for addressing the claim. In the future, a greater body of work is necessary to aid researchers, scholars and marketers to come closer to understanding the multi-dimensional nature of brand loyalty.
Aaker, D. 1995. Building Strong Brands, Free Press, New York.
Belk, R. W. 1988. Possessions and the extended self. Journal of Consumer Research, 15, pp. 139-168.
Cowley, D. 1991. Understanding Brands, Kogan Page, London.
DDB Worldwide & OpinionWay Survey. Facebook and Brands. October 2010.
Dick, A. S. and Basu, K. 1994. Customer Loyalty: Toward an Integrated Conceptual Framework. Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science, 22, pp. 99-113.
Jacoby, J. & Chestnut, J. 1978. Brand Loyalty: Measurement & Management, Wiley, New York.
Kapferer, J. 2008. The New Strategic Brand Management, Kogan Page, London.
Keller, K. 2007. Strategic Brand Management, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.
Kressmann, F., Sirgy, M., Herrmann, A., Huber, F., Huber, S., and Lee, D. 2006. Direct
and indirect effects of self-image congruence on brand loyalty. Journal of Business Research, 59, 955-964.
McCole, P. 2004. Refocusing marketing to reflect practice: The changing role of marketing for business”, Marketing Intelligence & Planning, Vol. 22 Issue 5, pp.531 – 539.
Punniyamoorthy, M and Prasanna Mohan Raj. 2007. An empirical model for brand loyalty measurement”, Journal of Targeting, Measurement and Analysis for Marketing, Volume 15, Number 4, pp. 222-233.
Uncles, L & Goodhardt, M. (2004), Understanding Brand Performance Measures: Using Dirichlet Benchmarks, Journal of Business Research, Vol.57, Issue12, pp.1307-1325.