One of the first things that must be decided about a product or a brand, before developing any advertising, distribution channels, or imagery, is the determination of the brand image.
Hsieh (2002) reminds us that consumers use associations, or the associative network model by Farquhar and Herr (1993), in developing their belief about a brand. The associations are made of up links and nodes, “links being the relationships (positive/negative, weak or strong) and nodes being the concepts (brand image) and the object (product/brand).” In this model, the consumer evaluates the presented brand image, determines the strength of the fit with the consumer’s life, and develops an association.
Most marketers understand that brand images are developed from one of the following three benefit types: symbolic (i.e. status), experiential, and functional. Since, for most products, any of the three could be conceivably used, it is important to remember Goodyear (1993):
“In less consumerized markets, brand is used as a reference whose role is centered on the product differences (i.e. functional). In markets that are more consumerized, advertising literacy tends to be more emotional and symbolic as the market becomes more competitive and the consumers become more discriminating.”
Hsieh (2002) researched automotive brand images across countries with three distinct levels of economic development (High: Japan, US, France, Germany; Medium: Australia, Britain, Canada, Spain; Low: Brazil, Mexico, India, China). In support of Goodyear’s previous findings, Hsieh discovered a strong link between the type of brand image that was preferred; low economically developed countries gravitated to the functional benefits, while the medium and high economically developed countries accepted the much more abstract status or sensory images.
From a marketer’s perspective, it is important to note that the economic development level of a country could have a great impact on what type of brand image is most appropriate.
Hsieh, M. “Identifying brand image dimensionality and measuring the degree of brand globalization: a cross-national study.” Journal of International Marketing. 10 (2), pp. 46-67.