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Branding: Roles, Customers, Relationships and Influences

Think about the meaning brands have for consumers, the roles brands play, and the views customers have of brands developed through marketing and non-marketing influences.

In her 1998 paper Susan Fournier argues that customers have relationships with brands.

1. Explain what Fournier means by "having a relationship" with a brand. (20%)

2. Using two brands chosen from the categories below, explain whether or not you believe that customers have relationships with those brands. (40%)

3. Expand your thinking and explain whether, based on Fournier's paper, your own experience and your knowledge of other people, customers have relationships with all brands. (40%)

There is only one case reading, Susan Fournier's 1998 article in which, amongst other things, she argues that consumers have relationships with brands. Other marketing academics have said that they don't, (e.g. Vargo and Lusch, (2004), in a Journal of Marketing article state that "inanimate items of exchange cannot have relationships"). Perhaps they do but only under certain circumstances? That is for you to consider.

In order to answer this question you are required to identify ONE brand from each of TWO of the three categories shown below and explore Fournier's idea that consumers have relationships with them.

The three categories are:

Brand of SUPERMARKET OR GROCERY STORE (ie. Raley's or Safeway).
Brand of Do It Yourself (DIY) (ie. a black and decker drill) TOOLS .
Brand of MUSICIAN OR OTHER PERFORMING ARTIST.

Select ONE brand from TWO of these three product categories, (e.g. you might choose a brand of supermarket, say and a DIY tool brand, or, alternatively, a brand of musician, and a brand of supermarket.

Note that it is not assumed that you will agree with Dr. Fournier that people have relationships with brands, nor is it assumed that you will necessarily disagree. Clearly marketing scholars disagree about this so you can too! You might choose two brands, examine them, examine what it means to "have a relationship with a brand" and conclude that this idea does not hold water and has no benefits for marketers, in the process explaining why Dr. Fournier is wrong in your opinion. On the other hand you might conclude that her idea holds for one of the brands you have examined and not for the other, or perhaps holds for some people and not for others. Contrasting the two will be very important in that instance. Or you might conclude that it holds for both.

In addition, you needn't assume that relationships are necessarily good ones.

Case-related article:

Fournier S. (1998, Mar). Consumers and their brands: Developing relationship theory in consumer research. Journal of Consumer Research. 24, (4). Retrieved from Proquest July 19, 2009.

4,134 words

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BRAND - RELATIONSHIP:

In fact, of course, consumers do develop loyalties to both companies and brands. They do develop strong, long-lasting relationships that see them going back willingly time after time to do business with a particular firm. They come to rely on companies with which they do business, to trust them, and to feel comfortable doing business with them. Brands become a defining part of the consumer's persona; they take on importance and meaning.

If there was ever any doubt about the existence of brand loyalty and relationships, it is dispelled in a wonderful article by Susan Fournier ("Consumers and their brands: developing relationship theory in consumer research," Journal of Consumer Research, vol. 24, no. 4, March 1998) in which the author describes in vivid detail the results of conversations with ordinary consumers about the products that they use in their daily lives, brands that truly mean something important to the consumers involved.

Not Only Alive but Doing Very Well
Some authors and commentators on modern society have decreed that loyalty is dead. They point to what they describe as an increasingly fickle consumer, bombarded on all sides by advertising and an amazing array of products and services. Couple this with the ease of switching brought about by advances in technology, the accessibility afforded by the Internet and the extremely competitive marketplace made more so by globalization, and it is de rigueur to point to consumers as butterflies, flitting from brand to brand, company to company, with little thought of developing anything approaching loyalty.

But such is a supply-side view of what's going on in the lives of consumers-a view that focuses on changes in the marketplace, not what's going on in the minds of consumers themselves. True, the marketplace has changed dramatically in recent years. What has not changed is the inherent need of consumers to be able to rely on people and organizations. Based on thousands of interviews and surveys in which I have been involved on behalf of clients over more than 30 years, I can conclude with no fear of contradiction that customer loyalty is alive and well. In fact, it is no less a fact today that there exists a natural human need to develop loyalties, not only to friends and family, but to organizations and to brands.

What role does loyalty play in the lives of consumers? A very large percentage of consumers have an innate desire to develop loyalties, to put down roots. They go back again and again to companies where they are treated well and where they feel "comfortable"-a wonderful consumer emotion. Loyal retail customers, for example, talk about having a certain comfort level with their favorite store. Loyalties also serve, of course, to reduce risk for consumers. They talk about going back to companies they trust, that they can rely on. Why? "I know what I'm getting there!"

Repeat Buying Does Not Loyalty Make
Loyalty is essentially an emotional concept, like relationships, and yet many firms seem not to understand or appreciate this. Many businesses continue to define loyalty in behavioral terms. At a recent meeting, for example, a senior marketing executive of a national retail chain referred to the fact that its loyal customers appear to be spreading more of their business across a number of competing companies. When I asked how they were defining loyal customers, I was told that loyalty was captured as a combination of number of visits to its stores and total spend. This narrow (even misleading) view of customer loyalty was compounded by the fact that the data used to measure loyalty were obtained only from customers who use the company's credit card.

There is a great tendency in business to measure or define loyalty entirely in behavioral terms-number of visits, frequency of visits, total spend, share of category spend, number of years as a customer, etc. There is a tendency to confuse loyalty with retention-two concepts that are related, but certainly not the same thing. Retention is a behavioral concept; loyalty is not. A focus on retention creates a high-risk situation where a company may think its customers are a lot more loyal than they really are.

Why, then, do some businesses define loyalty primarily if not exclusively in behavioral terms? The answer is often as simple as "that's what we are able to measure most easily." In fact, many companies today capture such information automatically every time a customer interacts with the firm. To obtain a list of our most "loyal" customers, we simply request the information from the customer database. Loyalty defined behaviorally is also a much easier concept to understand, without having to get into all that consumer psychology.

It's About Points, Not Loyalty
Frequent-flyer and frequent-shopper programs give the illusion of loyalty-in fact, they are often mislabeled loyalty programs. What is it that they are really designed to accomplish? Repeat buying behavior; in other words, retention. The basic premise behind such programs is to reward customers for giving the company a greater share of their business. The rewards are extrinsic-points, "free" merchandise or trips. Where true loyalty exists, the rewards are largely intrinsic. One shopper recently observed in an interview that the frequent-shopper "club" of which he is a member feels nothing like any other club to which he has belonged. It never meets. He rarely gets to associate with other members. Such programs often lock customers in. They create barriers to exit, but they don't often lead to true loyalty.

Of course, customer retention may have little or nothing to do with loyalty. Customers may come back again and again because they perceive no alternative, or they may feel that it's simply too much trouble to switch, or that the competition is no better. Or, there may simply be the fact of customer inertia-they never get around to changing, or they feel switching is just not worth the effort.

There is an obvious need for companies to develop a better understanding of customer loyalty and of the factors that drive it. A focus on behavioral loyalty or retention is potentially misleading, as a company may be experiencing a very vulnerable form of loyalty. In retail, for example, where customer behavior data are increasingly available, it is useful to examine what motivates and satisfies a retailer's "loyal" customers. A recent such project in which I was involved examined a large sample of such customers, selected from the retailer's customer database. A combination of qualitative and quantitative research revealed that loyalty may be best described, not as a ...

Solution Summary

Think about the meaning brands have for consumers, the roles brands play, and the views customers have of brands developed through marketing and non-marketing influences. - Explain the meaning behind having a relationship with a brand and show examples with two different brands.

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