Branding and the Concept of Self-Congruity, Article Review Example
Words: 3324Article Review
Aligning customer persona with the brand’s image is one of the challenges that firms often struggle with. There are some important perquisites to complete the task, such as understanding the target market, correctly positioning the product and brand, increasing brand value, and understanding customer behavior. The below paper is designed to examine how customer behavior and preferences influences a company’s branding strategy. This concept is more relevant to luxury brands, as they aim to fulfill higher needs of customers, such as self-esteem and a sense of belonging, self-actualization (Maslow,1943). While several authors have already studied the relationship between branding and customer behavior, the author has selected Liu et al.’s (2012) research to demonstrate the above mentioned correlation, and test the theories related to marketing, branding, and influencing customer perceptions about the brand.
According to Roper & Parker (2006), brands developed as soon as the recognition of trademarks and their protection was introduced in the western world. However, the importance of brands only recently became more significant, due to the increased competition for customers. As the authors (Roper & Parkeer, 2006, p. 57) confirm: “Modern day consumers relate to brands and modern day brands communicate in a myriad of ways with consumers”. One of the main trends that the article identifies is that brands are no longer simply about logos, processes, and balance sheets, but also the relationship with their customers. Initially, the purpose of branding was to make sure that the product is offered to the right person. Today, however, it goes much further than that. Companies are trying to make sure that customers value their offering more than that of the competition, through differentiation and meaningful messages that potential buyers can relate to. This process of creating the brand persona is one of the most important steps. The persona should always be in line with the preferences of the target customer. In the 1990-s, according to the historical review, as a result of globalization, branding became emotionalized, focusing on building relationships, and the personification of marketing (Roper & Parkeer, 2006, p. 58). Brands today are also viewed as assets: a value is assigned to each brand, and it is often a unique identifier.
One of the main trends that occurred in recent years is highlighted in Achouri & Bouslama’s (2010) study. The authors state that the frameworks that were designed to describe and analyze human personality have been transferred by researchers to brands in order to determine the persona of the given brand. This revolutionary approach to marketing has several benefits when examining the relationship between the company and the customer: the more relevant the persona of the target customer to the brand is the more they can relate to the message, products, and the more likely they will be to buy. The first definition of brand personality comes from Aaker (1997), who defines it as “a set of human characteristics associated to a brand”. Researchers only recently started creating frameworks to measure brand personality. According to the theory of self-image, relating to how an individual refers to themselves, the connection between the brand and one’s inner image should be created, instead of focusing on external characteristics of the individual. Another theory, mentioned by the article talks about self-image as “the total sum of thoughts and feelings through which an individual can describe himself as an object”. This theory can also be related to brands, assigned personalities.
Sirgy (1982) defines self-congruity as “extension of mismatch or match among the individuals’ perceptions of the brand and product”. This definition is still used today to describe the alignment of the brand image with customers’ expectations and preferences. In the 70-s, authors focused on the impact of self-image on product preferences and purchasing habits.
Aguirre-Rodriguez et al. (2011) examined the impact of self-congruity on consumer decision-making using a research methodology. Today, most authors focus on branding methods that are able to build meaningful relationships with the target market, influence customer behavior, and increase brand value. Using relevant theories to confirm hypotheses, several researchers have covered the topic in recent years. Some research studies related to the connection between self-congruity and purchasing decisions will be analyzed in the methodologies section of the current paper. However, before the author could evaluate research related to the issue, it is important to review related theories developed to explain branding and create effective frameworks.
Achouri & Bouslama (2010) provides an overview of theories and theoretical approaches examining the relationship between customer behavior and brand identity (persona). The psychological approach that was used to describe one’s personality has been applied to brands with success. The authors state that one of the most commonly used frameworks to identify brand personality is the Big Five Model, consisting of O (open-mindedness), C (Conscientious trait), E (extroversion), A (friendliness), and N (neuroticism or emotional stability). Later, authors claimed that brands’ personality cannot simply be described through dimensions, but as a process, and it is a result of a global construct (Achouri & Bouslama, 2006). Aaaker’s dimensions (2001) propose another framework for assessing brands’ identities, such as competence, excitement, sincerity, sophistication, and ruggedness. The above description and assessment framework is currently utilized by several researchers. However, assessing the identity of the brand and its personality does not provide researchers with the answer: “how can a brand successfully connect with customers, make them decide to purchase the product, and develop positive emotions towards it?”. Researchers had to come up with theories that can measure the impact of brand personality on buyer decisions. First, it was necessary to distinguish among different types of self-congruity. Saleki et al. (2014, p. 48) define the subtopics that need to be examined separately as: actual self-congruity, ideal self-congruity, social self-congruity, and ideal social self-congruity.
There are several study areas that can be focused on when trying to determine how branding determines customer decisions. Saleki et al.’s (2014) study provides a comprehensive list of areas that researchers can focus on, such as switching intentions and brand loyalty. One of the main questions asked by researchers is what makes customers stick with one brand, and which personalities are more likely to increase brand preference.
Shu et al. (2013) focused on one important factor that might influence buyer decisions: consumer ethnocentrism. This is a commonly ignored area of marketing, and in the globalized world many companies focus on building an image of being a national and local company to offer alternatives for customers to cheap goods from abroad. Everyone can remember boycotts on companies that outsourced the manufacturing of their goods to developing countries, and one of the methods utilized by companies to differentiate their offering and brand image is to have strong national traits (Shu et al., 2013). Drawing on the social identity theory, the authors find that a strong sense of belonging to the same group as the product would create a positive emotional connection that would influence buying decisions. Concluding, the authors (Shu et al., 2013, p. 46) confirm that “self-image is also a crucial component of social identity and has a strong influence on consumer perception”.
A conceptual framework to determine switching intentions is created by Saleki et al.’s (2014) states that actual self-congruity, ideal self-congruity, social self-congruity and ideal self-congruity all have an impact on buyers’ switching intentions.
Researching the moderators of self-congruity on buying decisions, Aguirre-Rodriguez et al. (2011) identified various frameworks and evaluation criteria in order to examine the relationship. Stating that the model is most relevant to value-expressive brands, the author found that self-motive type, brand personality facet, cognitive elaboration, product stimulus abstraction, and the impression formation process had moderating impact on customer behavior and brand preference. Further, the author found that product class stimuli influenced buyers’ decisions just as much as brand stimuli, therefore, the identification of the brand with a particular group of people or products should be a part of the branding process.
Kuester et al. (2007) created a cross-cultural model, which is extremely relevant for firms looking to expand to new markets. In order to appeal to a new group of customers, brands need to understand the cultural differences that influence brand preference, self-congruity, and behaviors. Comparing the impact of self-congruity in different cultures on buying decisions and brand connectedness, the authors found that the three cultural aspects: individualism, masculinity, and power distance had an influence on customers’ brand preference and connectedness. One of the main findings of the study was that brands were utilized by customers in all four examined countries (France, Germany, South Korea, and the United States) as a tool for self-expression. This finding confirms that today brands have new, more complex dimensions than usefulness and features. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs (1943) model represents the different levels of connection with brands. While it was created for examining human behavior, the model is often utilized for brand analysis, in order to determine which human needs to product or service is promising to fulfil. According to the model, the higher levels of needs are self-actualization and esteem, and the more the brand can fulfil these human needs the higher value customers will assign to it. However, without aligning the brand’s personality with the customer’s cultural beliefs and expectations, it cannot fulfil the need, and will not generate a strong enough relationship to influence buyer decisions.
Klipfel et al. (2014) states that the theory of self-congruity is beneficial for marketing professionals when determining the brand’s market segmentation strategy. One of the most important thoughts represented in the article is that customers tend to assign products (and services) with a symbolic meaning, and develop an emotional connection with them. As it has been noted before, the stronger the connection is with the brand’s persona, the more likely customers will be to have a strong brand preference. The main question, however, is, whether the symbolic meaning is related to one’s actual or ideal product-user image. One of the clearest and most relevant explanations of self-congruity is provided by this article, and it clarifies what influences buying decisions: “Congruence with the consumer’s social self-image occurs when the symbolic qualities of the shoe match up with the consumer’s perception of the qualities others believe he or she has” (Klipfel et al., 2014, p. 131). As the authors confirm, there are other influencers of of brand preference and one’s association with the brand, such as social approval gained from buying the product, increasing the positive attitudes of buyers towards the product, and consequently the brand as well. One of the shortcomings of the article, however, is that it talks about products, instead of brands. While the study focuses on individual items, the theories represented can also be applied to entire brands.
When looking at today’s brands’ reputation and image, many marketing professionals use questionnaires to measure customer and target market attitudes. Interestingly, very often questions are written in a manner that they assign brands with certain human characteristics, and ask the respondents to indicate whether or not they believe that those qualities apply to the brand. This approach seems to confirm that brand personality development and its alignment with the customer’s perception of the self has a great importance in positioning it on the marketplace, as well as market saturation.
One of the latest approaches of examining what makes customers have positive emotions about the brand, and how the connectedness between individuals and brands can be increased is focusing on brand loyalty, self-congruity, and relationship quality at the same time. Hapsari’s (2014) article reflects the recent shift in marketing. Instead of looking at sales as a simple exchange of products and services to money, many brands are now focusing building long term relationships. According to the analytical research presented by the author, the quality of relationship between the brand and the customer has a direct impact on brand loyalty. That stated, it can be presumed that the deeper, more valuable the relationship between the two are the higher the brand preference will be. This will result in greater level of brand loyalty, and decrease switching motivations. The research provides an important resource for companies that are looking to keep existing customers, and sell them even more products. While decades ago managers would have focused on marketing activities, organizing sales, engaging in price competition, or adding value, many of today’s successful brands are realizing the importance of building long term brand-customer relationships.
The majority of studies recently focus on the branding mechanisms of luxury brands, as they have more levels where they can create a connection with customers. Just like the currently examined article (Liu et al., 2011), Hapsari (2014) mentions luxury brands as the primary benefactors of branding and aligning the brand’s personality with customers’ self-congruity. Focusing on the fashion industry, the study states that this particular segment of the market is determined by acquired needs or learned needs, instead of genuine ones. This type of differentiation between products and services can be beneficial for theorists and business professionals alike. This approach also assumes that the connection between the brand and the target customer is present on an emotional and psychological level. Further, the socialization impact of using a product or service should not be neglected, either. As Hapsari (2014, p. 29) confirms: “customers often use product brand to show who they are among the others”. This behavior can also be described as a motivation to buy or choose one product over another one. Reflecting back to the hierarchy of needs theory, it is evident that the need of self-actualization is fulfilled by fashion items, as well as luxury brands. The alignment with the brand’s personality (self-congruity) – according to the author’s research – has a positive impact on shopping motivation, as well as brand preference and loyalty. The motivation is explained in the article as follows: the customer who admires the given brand will be more likely to buy it, being motivated to enhance their self image. This, in turn, is the reason for a phenomenon called conspicuous consumption.
As recent research has confirmed, the quality of brand relationship has an impact on both brand loyalty, and consumption patterns. Hapsari (2014), however, goes further than examining the relationship as an interaction in one direction. One of the hypotheses represented by the research is that relationship quality can be influenced by self-congruity, just like a positive customer-brand relationship can influence the level of alignment between the customer’s self-image and the brand’s persona. The second hypothesis confirmed is that the higher the quality of brand relationship is the greater the customer’s loyalty is . This finding is extremely relevant to luxury and fashion brands for several reasons. First of all, the market of luxury products and services on a global scale is extremely saturated. When customers are looking for an evening dress online, they might see thousands of similar items, featuring the same colors, and almost the same material. What makes customers choose one dress over another? It is the brand name. The more positive the association of the customer with the given brand is the more likely they will be to choose it over others.
The research created by Hapsari measured the correlations, in the case of MANGO customers. The only hypothesis that was clearly confirmed based on the sample of 100 customers was that brand loyalty was influenced by self-congruity. This finding, however, can aid researchers and managers in developing branding strategies that make companies easy to relate to and connect with.
Finally, based on the above review of the related literature, it is necessary to examine the relevance of the selected article. Liu, Li, Mizerski & Soh (2011) embarked on a research that focused on creating competitive advantages for luxury brands through brand alignment. Instead of calling customers’ perceptions brand image, the authors used the phrase: brand attitude, which clearly describes the emotional nature of the connection. One of the points missing from the above reviewed research studies and reviews is clarifying that customer decisions are often made on an emotional ground, based on personal traits and preferences.
The research concluded by Liu et al. (2011) provides researchers and theorists with multiple benefits. First of all, it does not simply focus on one brand’s customers, and takes into consideration more than two variables. The main purpose of the research – according to Liu et al. (2011, p. 922) the authors are looking to find a correlation between customers’ self-congruity, the brand’s personality congruity, and other aspects of personality alignment in order to determine the influencers of luxury fashion brand loyalty.
The study looks at the three types of self-congruity separately, in order to examine to what extent they can influence customers’ attitude and loyalty towards the brand. The three types of self-congruity examined are brand personality congruity, brand user imagery congruity, and brand usage imagery congruity. The concept is somewhat revolutionary, as no other authors separated the different aspects of self-concept in this way, to examine how they individually impact customer preferences and behaviors.
One important statement that the authors make is that brand loyalty can be defined as a preference that has both behavioral and attitudinal facets. The conceptual model created based on the results of the research describe the relationship among brand personality congruity, brand user image congruity, brand usage imagery congruity, brand attitude, and brand loyalty as those being interconnected, and constantly influencing each other. The three facets of self-congruity are correlated, and all of them have an impact on both brand attitude and loyalty. The emotional aspect of luxury brand buying decisions is also emphasized, and the authors state that the main motivators of customers are showing a status, rewarding one’s self, and gaining confidence. All these influencers exist on an emotional level, instead of rational, and this indicates that the more connected the brand’s image is with customers’ self-concepts, the more likely it will be able to influence buyer behaviors. The study also confirmed that brand usage image congruity had the strongest impact on loyalty and attitude.
The above review of articles, theories, and frameworks has revealed the main benefits of studying branding and brand personas. It has also been confirmed that self-congruity has an impact on buying decisions, as well as brand preference, brand loyalty, and attitudes towards the brand. The quality of relationship between the customer and the brand was found to have a direct impact on customer behavior. The findings of the currently researched study, however, went further than other publications. First of all, it examined the three facets of self-congruity and their impact on loyalty and attitudes. Secondly, it revealed that buyer motivations in the luxury market are deeply motivated by emotional connections and higher needs. This finding can provide marketing professionals with a useful tool to enhance the brand’s performance, improve customer loyalty, and reinforce positive relationships with target customers.
Aaker, J. L. (1997). Dimensions of brand personality.Journal of marketing research, 347-356.
Achouri, M. A., & Bouslama, N. (2010). The effect of the congruence between brand personality and self-image on consumer’s satisfaction and loyalty: A conceptual framework. IBIMA Business Review,2(2), 34-49.
Aguirre-Rodriguez, A., Bosnjak, M., & Sirgy, M. J. (2012). Moderators of the self-congruity effect on consumer decision-making: A meta-analysis. Journal of Business Research, 65(8), 1179-1188.
Hapsari, L., & Adiwijaya, M. (2014). The Relationship Between Self-Congruity, Brand Relationship Quality, and Brand Loyalty (Doctoral dissertation, Petra Christian University).
Kuester, S., Hess, S. C., Hinkel, J., & Young, J. (2007). Brands as means of self-expression: A cross-cultural study. Australia & New Zealand Marketing Academy, 1670-1677.
Liu, F., Li, J., Mizerski, D., & Soh, H. (2012). Self-congruity, brand attitude, and brand loyalty: a study on luxury brands. European Journal of Marketing,46(7/8), 922-937.
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Roper, S., & Parker, C. (2006). Evolution of branding theory and its relevance to the independent retail sector. The marketing review, 6(1), 55-71.
Saleki, R., Saki, M., Nekooei, J. (2014) A Review on the Effect of Self-congruity Dimensions on Customer’s Switching Intention. IOSR Journal of Business and Management Volume 16, Issue 2. Ver. II (Feb. 2014), PP 48-53
Shu, S. T., Strombeck, S., & Hsieh, C. L. (2013). Consumer Ethnocentrism, Self-Image Congruence and Local Brand Preference: A Cross-National Examination. Asia Pacific Management Review,18(1), 43-61+.
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