Introduction of Brand Image
Most consumers buying decisions are influenced by the image they have of the product. Consumers buy the functional, psychological and aspirational values delivered by a product. The product image is the total of all the information the consumer has about it, and the impressions he has formed about it.
In this competitive world, most products are identical. So consumer preference is developed through brand image. A brand is invested with a set of associations, favorable connotations and psychological overtones. A brand that closely matches the consumer’s desired image can get the favor of those consumers.
Table of Contents
What is Brand Image?
Brand image is the collective perceptions the consumers have towards a brand. These collective perceptions are mostly uncontrollable; consisting of strengths, weaknesses, and plus and minus points, formed over a while through direct or indirect experiences of a brand.
What is Brand Associations?
The brand image evokes a set of associations. Aaker states that a brand association is anything that is linked in memory to a brand. He lists eleven types of associations:
- Product attributes
- Customer benefits
- Relative price
- Product class
- Country/geographic area
Brand Managers study the associations of product categories first, and then of the brand. For example, the associations of the product category “Shampoo” are “removal of dust and oil”, and “shining of the hair”. Clinic All Clear shampoo is positioned as anti dandruff shampoo. Thus the correlation between product category association and brand association provides clues to brand management.
Brand Beliefs and Brand Image
There are associations for each product category. A camera brings sharpness and automatic operation to mind. Restaurants bring ambiance, cost, and cleanliness to our minds. Each brand is positioned on these associations. It is called a brand belief. Brand beliefs together make up a brand image.
The consumer’s brand beliefs are a matter of perception and will vary with experience, and the nature of perception.
One important association of any brand is the organization that markets it. A strong corporate image can help establish the bonafides of the product offering. This is especially valuable to high-risk product categories. The creation of a corporate image involves so many parts of the organization. It is, therefore more challenging than creating just a brand image.
Corporate image can be leveraged. In those cases where a corporate brand name is used as an umbrella brand, the existing awareness and brand values of the corporate image are leveraged, e.g. BPL, Videocon, and Wipro. Formerly, it was a seller’s market where the demand far exceeded the supply. There was no need for companies to have an image.
In a buyer’s market where the supply exceeds the demand, people’s perception of a company does make a difference. How to build a corporate image? Corporate image is based on the discovery of the special quality that sets one company apart from all others. This difference must then be communicated aptly. A corporate brand exists in the consumer’s mind.
It is built through a combination of overall corporate behavior and communications. Corporate brands generally provide credibility by endorsing a product brand. Credibility is a function of the expertise, trustworthiness and likeability of an organization. An innovative corporate image gives leverage in extending the brand name further. An innovative corporate image provides respectability to the brand.
Brand Image and Brand Identity
Brand identity covers the perceptions, which a brand manager would like to be associated with the brand. It means a brand manager would like a brand image to travel to brand identity, which is the goal.
Brand identity is built on reorganizing what the current brand image is. We have three distinct concepts of brand image leading to brand identity. It is diagrammatically shown below.
Images are built on the functional values of the brand and the intangible elements which emerge from these. But as most of the products are functionally similar, we have to resort to non-functional discriminators of emotion and symbolism.
With proliferation of brands, it becomes increasingly difficult to create differentiators. Emotional appeals are a slippery area. True differentiation should be real and deep enough, rather than superficial packaging changes and communication modifications.
Brand values are a continuum for a certain set of brands; at one extreme we have image-driven brands and at the other end functional brands. It is difficult to distinguish between Ariel and Surf Ultra, though advertising tries hard to do so.
Brand Image: a Matter of Perception
As image of the brand is a matter of perception, it can change if the perceptions of the consumers change. There should be concept marketing on introducing a brand, e.g. concept of using a hair-cream.
The frequency of usage can be increased, and there should be more number of occasions for its use, e.g. a thermos flask which formerly was used just to carry beverages to hospitals is now being used for picnics, outdoors, sports events, on beaches. As life style changes, the target market changes its profile. As a result, image also may change. An organization can make a brand contemporary by suitably changing the content of communication.
Brand Image: Associations in Memory
Brand image is a matter of perceptions which is reflected by the associations stored in consumer memory. A brand name is a device to connect to these associations. A brand image may not always be an outcome of the marketing effort. It is manifestation of a brand in consumer mind.
It is a subjective concept. A consumer keeps on stacking attributes or benefits and forms a set of beliefs. Such an image may not be uniform amongst all consumers. A consumer uses is own perceptual filter, and therefore the image formed may not be clear, and may be hazy.
It may be strong or weak. But whatever it is, it is an important criterion for the consumer to decide whether this brand is for me or not.