To see how the relationship basis model works, consider the personality types of people with whom you have relationships and the nature of those relationships. Some of the types might be as follows: ? Down-to-earth, family oriented, genuine, old-fashioned (Sincerity). This might describe brands like Hallmark, Kodak and even Coke. The relationship might be similar to one that exists with a well-liked and respected member of the family. ?Spirited, young, up-to-date, outgoing (Excitement). In the soft drink category, Pepsi fits this mould more than Coke.
Especially on a weekend evening, it might be enjoyable to have a friend who has these personality characteristics. ?Accomplished, influential, competent (Competence). Perhaps Hewlett-Packard and the Wall Street Journal might fit this profile. Think of a relationship with a person whom you respect for their accomplishments, such as a teacher, minister or business leader; perhaps that is what a relationship between a business computer and its customer should be like. ?Pretentious, wealthy, condescending (Sophistication). For some, this would be or Lexus (with gold trim) as opposed to the Mazda Miata or the VW Golf.
The relationship could be similar to one with a powerful boss or a rich relative. ?Athletic and outdoorsy (Ruggedness). Nike (versus LA Gear), Marlboro (versus Virginia Slims) and Wells Fargo (versus Bank of America) are examples. When planning an outing, a friend with outdoorsy interests would be welcome. Two elements thus affect an individuals relationship with a brand. First, there is the relationship between the brand-as-person and the customer, which is analogous to the relationship between two people. Second, there is the brand personalitythat is, the type of person the brand represents.
The brand personality provides depth, feelings and liking to the relationship. Of course, a brand-customer relationship can also be based on a functional benefit, just as two people can have a strictly business relationship. One important relationship for many brands is a friendship link characterized by trust, dependability, understanding and caring. A friend is there for you, treats you with respect, is comfortable, is someone you like and is an enjoyable person with whom to spend time. This type of relationship was a driver for much of the Saturn programme.
General Foods, in fact, defines brand equity as a liking or a friendship relationship between the customer and the brand. WordPerfect, a software company that has always been a leader in customer service, would rate high on the friendship dimension. A friend relationship can involve very different brand personalities. Some friends are fun and irreverent. Others are serious and command respect. Others are reliable and unpretentious. Still others are just comfortable to be around. A focus on the friend relationship rather than the brand personality can allow more scope and flexibility in the implementation of the brand identity.
Fred Posner of Ayer Worldwide has observed that people live in a world characterized by stress, alienation and clutter. Noting that people cope by developing escape mechanisms and meaningful friendships, Posner suggests that brands can provide these roles by being either an aspirational or a trusted associate. Escape can take the form of aspirational relationships which provide a social lift or trusting relationships which provide some expertise or knowledge of a subject in which a given person is interested.
Posner believes that either relationship can be the basis for real differentiation and competitive advantage. He further suggests that the chosen relationship should be the centrepiece of brand strategy and execution. When considering brand personality, the natural tendency is to consider the brand to be a passive element in the relationship. The focus is upon consumer perceptions, attitudes and behaviour toward the brand; attitudes and perceptions of the brand itself are hidden behind the closed doors of the organization.
Yet your relationship with another person is deeply affected by not only who that person is but also what that person thinks of you. Similarly, a brand-customer relationship will have an active partner at each end, the brand as well as the customer. Max Blackston of Research International has argued that to understand brand-customer relationships, it is necessary to consider what a brand thinks of you. One approach to obtaining this information is to ask what the brand would say to you if it were a person. The result can be illuminating.
Blackston illustrates this approach with a doctor-patient example. Consider a doctor who is perceived by all to be professional, caring, capable and funny ” characteristics that most would like in a doctor. But what if the doctor also felt you were a boring hypochondriac? The resulting negative relationship would be impossible to predict based only upon perceptions of the doctors personality or external appearance. Blackstons approach was used in a research study of a credit card brand. Customers were divided into two groups based on how they thought the personified brand would relate to them.
For one customer segment (labelled the respect segment), the personified brand was seen as a dignified, sophisticated, educated world traveller who would have a definite presence in a restaurant. These customers believed that the card would make supportive comments to them like the following: ? My job is to help you get accepted. ?You have good taste. A second intimidated segment, however, described a very different relationship with the brand. This groups view of the brand personality was similar to that observed in the respect segment, but had a very different spin.
The credit card was perceived as being sophisticated and classy but also snobbish and condescending. This segment believed that the personified card would make negative comments such as the following: ? Are you ready for me, or will you spend more than you can afford? ? If you dont like the conditions, get another card. ?Im so well known and established that I can do what I want. ? If I were going to dinner, I would not include you in the party. These two user segments had remarkably similar perceptions of the brand personality especially with respect to its demographic and ocio-economic characteristics. The two different perceived attitudes of the credit card toward the customer, however, reflected two very different relationships with the brand which in turn resulted in very different levels of brand ownership and usage. Contexts in which it is often worthwhile to consider what a brand might say to a customer include those listed below. Upscale brands with a snobbish spin. Nearly any prestige or badge brand risks appearing snobbish to some in the target market. This risk is often much greater for those on the fringe of or just beyond the target market.
In part, this perceived attitude restricted the market for Grey Poupon, advertised as the mustard of limousine riders. The brand has since tried to soften this message in order to expand its market and the usage rate. Performance brands talking down to customers. Talking down to customers is a common danger for performance brands. Consider the VW Fahrvergnugen campaign. The use of the German word provided some nice associations (especially if one knew German) but risked implying that the brand looked down on those who did not get the clever symbol and campaign.
A discarded campaign for Martel I assume you drink Martel ran the risk of talking down to all customers who were drinking a competitors brand. Power brands flexing their muscles. A brand that has power over the marketplace, like Microsoft and Intel in the 1990s or IBM in the past, has a real advantage as a result of being the industry standard. The risk is that by promoting this advantage, the brand may be perceived as being arrogant and willing to smother small, defenceless competitors.
One respondent in a focus group reportedly said that if IBM was a vehicle, it would be a steamroller and would park in a handicapped space. Intimidated brands showing their inferiority. A brand might risk appearing inferior if it tries too hard to be accepted into a more prestigious competitive grouping. Thus Sears could attempt to associate itself with trendier retailers and simply come off as being pathetic. The humorous thrust of the Sears campaign from Young ; Rubicam, in which a woman goes there for a Die Hard battery but ends up buying great clothes, helps avoid this pitfall.
Any active brand relationship, though, needs to be managed. Sometimes adding a sense of humour or a symbol can help. In one study for a cigarette brand, the brand personality profile was a sophisticated individualist, stylish and corporate but also aging. Further, there was a segment, most of whom did not use the brand, who saw it as snobbish. This segment rejected the brand in part because it felt rejected by the brand. To combat this problem, the brand kept its upscale imagery but added, with gentle humour, a sense of irony about its status and prestige to soften the hard edge of the image.
Research International routinely segments consumers by brand relationship. In a first-phase research effort, fifty to a hundred subjects are interviewed, usually by phone. A series of open-ended questions are asked, including word associations, brand personalization, characteristics of liked and disliked brands, and a dialogue section (based on what the brand would say if it were a person). The first analysis stage involves scanning the data and forming hypotheses about the types of relationships that exist.
In the second stage, respondents are allocated to relationship categories on the basis of the hypothesized relationship groupings. In the process, the relationship typology is refined. The relationships are then formalized into specifications, and coders classify the respondents into those relationships. The groups are then profiled. Often the relationship groupings correspond to like, dislike, and neutral segments. The dislike group for credit cards, for example, perceived the brand as being snobbish; the like group, in contrast, felt that they were accepted by the brand.