Effective Relationship Links in Consumer Marketing

Although most trade and academic articles and conference speakers agree that relationship marketing brings an important new dimension to business, it is still unclear how product-customer relationships are created and sustained, particularly in consumer marketing.

The academic concept of relationship marketing has been analyzed primarily in the context of business-to-business marketing as the following definition by Jackson suggests: Relationship marketing is "marketing oriented toward strong, lasting relationships with individual accounts." Other definitions of relationship marketing have been broader such as the following by Berry: "Relationship marketing is attracting, maintaining and--in multi-service organizations--enhancing customer relationships." Berry's definition provides a platform for analyzing consumer relationships as well as business-to-business.

Customer bonding, which is another term for relationship marketing, is defined by Smith and Cross as a systematic way of maximizing customer loyalty that makes the most of mass media to create awareness and brand identity and of database-driven marketing to build customer relationships. This definition clearly moves the concept of relationship marketing closer to the everyday concerns of consumer marketers. It also unlocks the notion of bonds--the ties that cement the relationship between a product and its customers. This study will investigate the nature of the links that create customer bonding, particularly in high-profile areas of marketing such as consumer package goods and services.

Relationship Marketing

What is a relationship? That's a question Iacobucci explores as she analyzes two different approaches to its definition: 1) a relationship is what occurs when a company actually cares about people or 2) a relationship occurs when a company employs a set of practices designed to facilitate repurchase.

Some may observe that relationship marketing is nothing new but rather an "old-fashioned" way of doing business similar to how mom and pop stores operate. The local turn-of-the-century grocer, for example, met and knew every one of his customers on a one-to-one basis. The difference is that now with databases and more tightly targeted media it is possible to extend this type of personal relationship to a mass market.

Transactions and Relationships There is a difference between a transaction and a relationship. Strandvik and Liljander explain that a relationship consists of a number of episodes over time. One episode, such as the transaction involved in an initial purchase, would not represent a relationship. In other words, although some attitudes toward a brand can be developed by a single transaction or interaction, particularly a negative one, most evolve gradually. The brand or corporate image (also referred to as reputation) is the accumulation of all these attitude creating encounters.

Relationships are created through repeated experiences based on customer's accumulated knowledge of products, brands and companies. McKenna suggests that rather than battling against skeptical, critical, and uninformed publics, companies should learn from them. He suggests that companies should develop mechanisms to elicit feedback from customers, then adjust their products and strategies to better meet these needs.

Drivers What are the driving forces behind the recent emphasis on relationship marketing? First, relational management systems have evolved as a function of the quality movement where the Baldridge Award program requires that manufacturers work more closely with suppliers and customers to create quality products.

A second reason is the industry-wide concern about the decline of brand loyalty and what that means for the effectiveness of branding. McKenna asks: "What is a successful brand but a special relationship?" He points out that, "in a world where the customer has so many options, a personal relationship is the only way to retain customer loyalty." Relationship marketing has captured the attention of marketers and academics as an approach that promises to deliver that special relationship that used to be the province of brand image.

A third reason is the development of customer-focused marketing strategies which run counter to the transactional focus of many marketers who are only concerned with making an immediate sale. Their view is that the sale is the culmination of a marketing effort rather than the initiation of a relationship. The transaction philosophy runs counter to the customer-based strategies that have been taking a more central position in cutting-edge marketing programs. Varva says that "marketing must change its mentality from completing a sale to beginning a relationship; from closing a deal to building loyalty."

Objectives of Relationship Marketing Frequency or relationship marketing seeks to identify, maintain, and increase the yield from best customers through long-term, interactive, value-added relationships. It has two primary objectives: 1) improving customer retention and 2) improving the share of customers.

In a marketplace where products are becoming increasingly commoditized and brand differentiation is losing its focus, relationship marketing can become an important competitive advantage. It may be that the relationship between the customer and the brand, one which is based on a relational database, is the only point of differentiation for the product. In the new marketplace, it may very well be that competitive advantage then lies with the sophistication of the database tool and the way it is employed to add value to the marketing encounter.

The objectives of relationship marketing vary with the marketing situation and product life cycle. For a new product, the objective, of course, is to establish the relationship. For a mature product that is a product leader or follower, different sets of objectives are needed to maintain a relationship. For example, McKenna in his book on relationship marketing explains the orientation of a market leader:

"When you own the market, you do different things and you do things differently, as do your suppliers and your customers. When you own the market, you develop your products to serve that market specifically; you define the standards in that market; you bring into your camp third parties who want to develop their own compatible products or offer you new features or add-ons to augment your product; you get the first look at new ideas that others are testing in that market; you attract the most talented people because of your acknowledged leadership position."

In other words, the value-added objectives of market leaders focus on defining and extending the standards, extending the lines, finding product co-marketing opportunities, testing innovations, and searching for ways to customize the product.

McKenna's conclusion is that different markets and different product categories create different levels of "consumer energy." By that he means that there are stages in a the market's development, as well as the product's life cycle, where a product surges, is absorbed, dissipates, and finally dies out. These stages demand more or less of the consumer and have more or less impact on the customer's level of allegiance. The objectives then are determined by the desired impact on "consumer energy" given the marketplace situation in which the product or brand finds itself. It would be interesting to know if there is a higher sense of loyalty or consumer energy for customers of market leaders than market followers.

The Brand Relationship

Relationships are usually talked about as occurring between people--a salesperson and a customer, for example. People do have relationships, however, with the brands they buy and some are more intense than others. This study seeks to investigate the nature of this relationship between a person and a brand. In order to do so, it must also consider the concept of brand loyalty, which is the term applied to a relationship that has endured over time and across many purchases.

A brand, according to global branding consultant Interbrand Schechter, is the promise of an experience. The company explains, "Decisions made by individual and organizations relating to purchase behavior, investing, and even career choice are all strongly influenced by their anticipation of that experience." They conclude that a powerful brand enhances awareness, differentiates the organization, and commands a premium in today's highly competitive marketplace."

According to Schechter, brand identity includes the definition of a brand's core positioning and personality so that these characteristics can be communicated most effectively. The goal of a brand strategy then is to ensure that all elements of a brand are aligned with one another--or consistent-- and with the brand or corporate vision.

According to Nilson , while the brand can be the most powerful communicator of value, it is also the one the marketer can directly control the least, because a brand's image is the sum of activities of the past, in other words, a bundle of experiences. The logo, slogan, and signature only serve as the flags, or immediate identifiers of the brand. They cue the associations, but they do not carry them.

Brand Loyalty Brand loyalty is based on the creation of relationships over time with customers. John Philip Jones explains in his book, What's in a Name?" that when we build brands, we're acquiring regular customers, not just sales. In other words, we are building a long-term franchise. He also notes that repetition is of particular importance with packaged goods than with most other categories because of high rates of product use and repurchase. The problem with repetition, however, is that it allows opportunities for inconsistent messages or misperceptions to play havoc with the brand image.

Jones believes, however, that the idea of a hard-core group of loyal buyers is largely a myth. He explains the myth as the notion that when sales of a brand decline, they reach and maintain a rock bottom level, which represents the use of the brand by its hard-core loyal users. The underlying idea is that a loyal group repurchases the brand at an above-average loyalty. Although numbers of customers may decrease, they make up for the decline by their higher levels of repurchase. Jones suggest that the only brand which have a regularly above-average rate of purchase are those with high absolute levels of penetration. Penetration is the one consumer measure that has the greatest influence on a brand's sales. In other words, brand loyalty has less to do with the special characteristics of the brand than with its overall level of penetration. In his view, big brands always have higher penetration, and thus higher levels of loyalty--a premise that deserves testing.

Jones is not alone in his more realistic appraisal of brand loyalty. Enrenberg, the most prominent researcher in repeat buying behavior, claims that brand loyalty is something of an illusion. Furthermore, it is rarely exclusive. In fact, most experts believe that consumers operate with a set of acceptable brands that operates like a menu from which they make their decision. Other factors, then besides loyalty, come to play at the point of the decision. The question is: what are these other factors and how important are they in the decision process?

Brand Equity Brand equity, therefore, is the accumulation of consumer's perceptions of an established brand. Equity is a financial concept and is defined as the value of a brand on a balance sheet. In other words, a well-known brand like Campbell's Soup dominates its category and carries with it a great deal of marketing clout that contributes to its bottom-line success. Accountants struggle to find ways to express this financial aspect of branding, but all marketing executives know that brand equity exists.

Customer loyalty is the end result of a relationship marketing program. Brierly suggests that achieving customer loyalty entails going beyond traditional impersonal marketing techniques and entering into a relationship. He observes that many of the leading U.S. marketers are beginning to realize how important long-term relationships are for their profitablity, and how much can be gained by cultivating existing relationships and focusing marketing efforts on building new ones. He ? describes the following steps as fundamental to relationship marketing:

1. build the framework

2. establish the relationship

3. develop an on-going dialogue

4. maximize the value of the relationship

5. reward brand loyalty

6. sustain the relationship

Constructs of Relationships

We have mentioned trust already as a key component of reputation. In the academic marketing literature, much attention is paid to the "constructs" of relationships, the psychological underpinnings that create the bonds and links. Foremost among them are trust, commitment, and consistency. Others that are referred to in the literature include affinity or social dimensions, customer satisfaction, and liking. So another question focuses on the actual importance of these various constructs as decision factors in brand loyalty.

Searls notes that relationship activities are designed to gain the trust and satisfaction of key customers. Johnson agrees and writes that "business people must realize that people buy trust first, products second." Morgan and Hunt have written that partnerships and alliances fail because in power-based relationships there is a lack of commitment and trust. Creating the integration upstream with suppliers and downstream with customers and the trade requires the marketer to intensify the level of trust throughout the marketing channel. Message believability is an important factor in the trust equation. Credibility on which trust is based then should become an important sustaining value providing the brand with a competitive edge.

Commitment is believed to be another important construct of relationships. Soellner identifies two sources of commitment in organizational relationships: 1) the amount at stake and 2) the relationship's contribution to survival. In other words, companies building up specific and nontrivial amounts at stake in an exchange relationship face high switching costs and therefore stay in a relationship because "they have to." The second source of a company's commitment in a relationship is the perceived contribution of the relationship to the company's main objective which is long-term economic survival.

Consistency was discussed earlier, as a critical ingredient for a coherent position but there are many dimensions to the consistency construct. Consumers, for example, may occasionally be swayed by price differences, but for the most part people shop for products that have consistently performed well and they visit stores where they have consistently had good shopping experiences. They are also influenced by marketing communications that reflect a consistent position, as opposed to messages that are not integrated. Cato explains, "A Safeway customer will not defect to [another store] just because of money temporarily off beans; but they will shift their allegiance if [the new store] consistently delivers on price and makes them feel better."

Affinity, empathy or some kind of social connection are also mentioned as constructs of a relationship. People are loyal to products and services associated with people with whom they feel an affinity. The product itself doesn't have to create the affinity, but there must be some basis for a sense of belonging. For example, NASCAR racing fans are an affinity group in which people get together to go to races and talk about their favorite sport. Products that support racing are by association brought into the NASCAR affinity group. As an article in Automotive Marketing (1995) noted, "The dedicated loyalty of NASCAR fans is second to none, and the fans support the products that support the sport."

Sometimes the affinity group becomes formalized as a program or club which provides support for the ongoing relationship. Frequency programs, for example, reward customers for repeat business. Fan and other types of loyalty clubs are a low-cost, effective way for marketers to create ongoing relationships with customers. Pampers has such a relationship with its new mother clubs. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Fan Club generates long-term customer relationships and product sales through coupons offered to members. (Fitzgerald, 1994)

Satisfaction, which is thought by some to be an important relationship construct, is also a debatable factor in relationship discussions. A number of experts have noted that people can be completely satisfied with a brand and still switch to another brand. Reichheld, for example, argues that customer satisfaction may not lead to retention. He notes that between 65 percent and 85 percent of business-to-business customers who defect say they were satisfied or very satisfied with their former supplier. On the other hand, Storbacka notes that customers seem to have a "zone of tolerance" and are able to absorb some unfavorable evaluations before expressing them in terms of net dissatisfaction. This would suggest that customers may be dissatisfied with an occasional interaction and still be satisfied with the relationship.

Liking is a construct that comes from the advertising literature where industry experts are speculating that there is a relationship between liking an advertisement and liking the product. The idea is that liking the product builds a positive link with the brand that can motivate action. Disliking an ad or a brand, then, is a reason for disassociation.

The Links in a Relationship

There are a number of links that hold a relationship together. Many of them are thought by marketing managers to be created by marketing strategy decisions such as the attractiveness of the price, the product design and its features, or the convenience or status of the distribution point. Other marketing factors include the product's position, its market leadership, the degree it is liked, and the brand image or reputation. So the nature and importance of these various types of links is another area for investigation.

A study reported in Marketing & Research Today found that measures of corporate image are positively correlated with the loyalty measure. In other words, the relationships among corporate image masers can provide a global model for predicting customer loyalty.

A relationship is based on linkages created in the value generating process, according to Wehrli and Juttner. In other words, a relationship is valid to the degree that it provides something of value to the customer, something that links the brand, product, or company to the customer and contributes to a sense of allegiance.

A link is also created through the consistent application of a positioning strategy that gives the customer some notion of what the brand or company is all about and how it relates to other competitors in the marketplace. McKenna explains why consistency is so important in the establishment of a position: "All of marketing's components--competitive strategy, pricing, packaging, distribution, service, support, communications--are interrelated in positioning strategy." McKenna refers to "dynamic positioning" which means that positioning affects the attitudes of employees, as well as customers and other stakeholders. His point is that people enjoy working for and patronizing a company they can identify with, especially if the company or brand is recognized as a market leader.

Relationships with customers are thought to differ in length, intensity, business volume, strength, product liking, and so forth. Storbacka has assembled a group of dimensions that may be considered to be the basis for creating a relationship including the following:

the degree of contact between the customer and the employee

the frequency of contact

the length of the interaction

the degree of control exercised by the customer

the degree of personalization

the diversity of demand

the degree of complexity and divergence in the interaction

the extent of fluctuation in demand

the degree of customer involvement

the customer's disposition to participate

the degree and modes of customer participation

the content of the interaction

From this list, Storbacka identifies four key dimensions: 1) the frequency of interaction over a given period of time, 2) the regularity of interaction, 3) the time elapsed since the first interaction, and 4) the monetary or other content of the interaction.

The notion of linkages was applied in the area of retail and catalog marketing by Haggin who said that few companies select the key attributes (appealing merchandise, compelling benefits, generous services, reasons to buy, and so on) and emphasize them consistently in order to achieve the deepest emotional connections possible between company and customer, catalog and customers, and product and customer.

Customers also are thought to feel a bond with products and services that have taken the time to become an information resource and educate them about the benefits and uses of their products, particularly in the area of major purchases. The link, then, is an approach that sets the company up as a resource, a learning organization into which the customer can tap. A question for consumer research might investigate how important this information link actually is to customers.

In his book Why People Buy, O'Shaughnessy suggests that there is a personal or emotional element to a relationship. He explains that when brand loyalty occurs, it is more likely that the relationship has become personalized, particularly with personal services such as a hair stylist, so that any change creates emotional overtones. These intangible benefits and feelings are a key element in long-term relationships. Cato explains that "consumers have always had emotional relationships with brands; Chanel perfume has never been just a nice smell, it has always been a dream of Parisian femininity, a rite of passage into mature womanhood." Do people who are brand loyal acknowledge this emotional dimension in their discussions of their relationships with products?

IMC Links

Integrated marketing communication (IMC) is an approach to marketing that seeks to maximize the synergies of the messages being received by customers and other important stakeholders. The philosophy recognizes that every dimension of a marketing mix--the product, the price, the distribution, as well as the official marketing communication efforts--send a message. The objective is to make them all work together strategically. In Duncan's model of IMC there are three factors that contribute to integration: message consistency, interactivity, and mission marketing. Consistency has been discussed several times here as an important factor in relationship building and brand loyalty. Let's review the other two: interactivity and mission.

Two-way communication is an important factor in creating customer links because it is the interactive platform on which trust is built. In order for trust to evolve, there must be continuous feedback loops built into the product and message delivery, and that means two-way communication systems.

Communicating with customers and other important stakeholders involves listening as well as talking. McKenna notes that, "It is through dialogue that relationships are built and products are conceived, adapted, and accepted." He observes that direct communication is proliferating through seminars, user-groups, workshops, industry trade shows, customer and dealer advisory councils, and trade associations.

An important dimension of two-way communication is a feedback loop. People need/want to communicate with companies that produce products that they use frequently or feel a sense of loyalty to. They will take the opportunity to communicate with a company about its products and what they would like to see changed. Morall explains that "Marketers are guilty of thinking they can think like a customer and can figure out what they need and want, but what they need is to hear from the customer and listen."

McKenna explains that "the new marketing" requires this feedback loop; "it is this element that is missing from the monologue of advertising but that is built into the dialogue of marketing." He sees the feedback loop as connecting the company and the customer making it possible for the company to adapt in a timely way to the changing needs of the customer and believes that it is central to relationship marketing. Feedback, however, demands sophisticated and well staffed communication systems, either through group or personal contact managed by meetings, 800 numbers, or on-line systems.

Mission marketing is the third component in IMC. At the most basic level, it involves integrating the company's stated mission into all its marketing communication activities. Apple computer is an example of a company whose mission--to build an easy-to-use computer for the rest of us--is both socially redeeming and a communication platform that drives all of its marketing communication.

On a higher level, mission marketing seeks to enrich a brand's reputation by integrating a non-commercial socially responsible value system into a company's business plan and operations. Ben and Jerry's and the Body Shop are two good examples of companies that have built their business reputation, not on image advertising, but on the perception of doing good for society.

What all this leads to is brand reputation, which is the accumulation of past experiences and word-of-mouth comments by customers and other stakeholders, rather than brand image which is the product of self-managed advertising. Reputation is related to brand equity in that it is the trust that consumers have built up in a brand or company with which they are familiar. Trust is an important construct in relationship building so reputation and brand relationships are interrelated. Word of mouth, on which reputations are built, is probably the most powerful form of communication in the business world and it can either hurt a company's reputation or give it a boost in the market. A company's reputation can be only tracked through the words of its customers and other important stakeholders. So another question is: how important is word-of-mouth, as well as reputation, as factors affecting brand decisions?

This Research Project

Many of the comments in this review focus on business-to-business marketing and that tends to be the area where there is the most interest and theory building activities in relationship marketing. Brand loyalty discussions, however, often focus on consumer marketing, particularly in the areas of package goods and services marketing.

There has been some reluctance to try to link relationship marketing with package goods where the purchases are often minor and made in self-service environments such as grocery stores, discount stores, and drug stores. Some marketers, however, are taking that leap. Heinz, for example, spends twice as much money focusing on developing a one-to-one relationship with its customers who are finding brand loyalty increasingly irrelevant due to the volume of similar products inundating U.S. markets.

This study, then will focus on consumer relationships with the products and services they buy. It will attempt to determine the links that sustain these relationships and analyze their importance in brand decision making.

Methodology

There are two parts to this study. The first part is an exploratory study that asked a convenience sample of consumers to identify products with which they were brand loyal and to explain why they felt this loyalty. The second part was a survey that probed these relationship links to determine which ones were more important in brand loyalty for package goods and services.

Part I: The Exploratory Study

The purpose of this exploratory study was to determine the underlying causes of why people feel loyal, or feel they have formed a relationship, with certain products. The interviewers were IMC graduate students at the University of Colorado. These students interviewed a convenience sample of 48 people. Each interviewer framed his or her own interview with questions that would probe the below-the-surface force that fueled long-term relationships. Responses were recorded by the interviewers through written transcription and their findings are summarized here.

The following list gives a general overview of the survey questions asked of respondents. Answers from these questions were then grouped, labeled and tabulated.

1. What product or service do you have an ongoing relationship with?

2. Why do you continue to use this brand?

3. How long have you used this brand?

4. Do you ever do business with competitors of this product or service?

5. What type of feedback mechanisms does this company have in place?

Findings The following results identified the main reasons respondents gave to the question: "Why do you continue to use this brand."

33% Quality of product or specific feature of the brand

16% Price

14% Convenience

13% Investment in the relationship/habit

11% Added value given to customer

5% Recommendations from others

4% Personal affiliation with the brand

3% Trust the brand

<1% Mission of the brand

Generalized Conclusions The investigators determined that the primary factors related to the nature of the brand/customer dialogue and the product category

1. Factors relating to dialogue with the customer. The companies whose products and services received the most positive responses were the ones who engaged in one-to-one marketing. Interviewees found the personal touch to be at least as important, if not more important, than price.

Examples:

AT&T helped a customer design a phone system.

Centennial Automotive knows customers name and reminds them of service.

Tom's restaurant saves a customer's favorite booth.

A Texaco station sends notice in the mail as a reminder for an oil change, along with a coupon. The employees know him and addresses him by his first name.

Interviewers also found that "Few businesses actively solicit feedback from customers. One interviewer observed, "I was amazed at the low number of two-way dialogues between the consumer and the product or service. Many lower priced products should try to add value in another way than price, since people are willing to be loyal to a certain product for more than just financial reasons."

2. Factors relating to the product category. Interviewers found a number of factors that are derived from the type of product or the product category:

Instead of desiring a relationship with the company or brand, these respondents seemed more concerned with the offering of the product itself. Products and services may be relatively undifferentiated these days, but many of these respondents apparently do not think this is the case.

When the product is related to the value system of the individual, there is more loyalty to the product, for switching would constitute too large a risk.

Relationships can be developed with lower-priced items, not only high-ticket purchases.

Lower-ticket items tend to rely on convenience and price. High-ticket items require more added value and service oriented benefits -- which provide more of a basis for a relationship.

3. Other Comments Other factors that contribute to a relationship include service, referrals by relatives and friends, switching costs, fair treatment, and price. The investigators explain their findings in these areas with the following comments:

Service of the purchase is a main reason for added value.

Referrals are a powerful took in establishing relationships. If it is a good relationship, people like to talk about it. Peer and reference groups play a major role.

Switching costs and the risk associated with trying a different brand is important.

Perception of being treated fairly by the company is important.

You get what you pay for. A good product at a good price.

The topic of convenience comes up frequently in the interviews. However, consumers seem to be referring to two different forms of convenience: 1) physical access to the service or product, and 2) ease of sticking with the same, or the familiar, rather than going to the extra trouble of switching or trying another brand. Perhaps this second definition is seen more as habit forming, rather than convenience. This was also referred to as switching costs. When the stakes are higher, one would assume that consumers are likely to remain with a current brand with which they are satisfied.

Finally there was some indication that brand relationships are not very high on the consumer's list of concerns as one of the interviewers noted: Consumers are not concerned with a relationship -- their purchase decisions are on auto pilot.

Further Study Additional research needs to look at which product categories are subject to high switching costs, and which types of consumers are more likely to view switching costs as high -- i.e. is it those with high risk aversion? Additionally, convenience needs to be better defined since it can be interpreted the convenience of a location or as laziness in some situations, where the philosophy of, "If it ain't broken, it doesn't need fixed" comes into play.

Also some consumers are satisfied with their current portfolio of brands and others continually seek something better -- something that will make their laundry brights brighter and their pearly whites whiter. Research needs to determine what will make these switchers want to remain loyal. Rewards? Dialogue?

Price is another relationship factor that needs additional research since it wasn't clear from this study exactly how much impact this factor had on loyalty. Some remaining questions from this study include:

Is it possible to gain loyalty from a price shopper? In all product categories, or only a few?

Is a penny pincher always a penny pincher, or does it matter more what stage of life he or she is in?

How should products appeal to consumers in each stage of his/her life, accounting for the various priorities (i.e. saving money, looking good, peer acceptance, self actualization)?

Part II: The Survey

The second part of this study was a survey that isolated various marketing mix factors, relationship constructs, and IMC components to determine their impact on brand links.

Sample A stratified sample was designed that targeted men and women in three age categories: student (high school and college age undergraduates), adult (24-49), and senior (50+) for a total of six demographic groups. Although the sampling was conducted using a stratified format, the specific respondents were located by convenience rather than a randomization procedure.

A total of 96 interviews were conducted with six being unusable for a total sample of 90 respondents or an average of 15 for each demographic group. Approximately 63 percent of the respondents came from the Boulder/Denver area. The remaining 37 percent came from a variety of areas being visited by the researchers such as Pennsylvania, California, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, Missouri, and Chicago.

Research Questions The literature review as well as the exploratory interviews suggested that a number of factors affect product relationships in some way, such as past experiences with the brand; the constructs of a relationship such as commitment, consistency, trust, social affinity, liking and satisfaction; branding links such as referrals and psychological factors; marketing strategy links such as pricing and convenience of distribution, as well as positioning; and communication links such as reputation and interactivity. From this discussion, the following research questions have emerged:

1. Is there any difference in loyalty between package goods and services?

in terms of frequency of purchase and length of time of use

in terms of various types of brand links

2. Is there any difference between high and low loyalty brands? Are there any differences in brand links between people who consider themselves brand loyal and people who don't (buy store brands, try different products)?

in terms of frequency of purchase and length of time of use

in terms of brand links

3. Is there any difference in loyalty between different consumer age groups and genders?

in terms of frequency of purchase and length of time of use

in terms of brand links

4. How important are the relationship constructs (commitment, trust, consistency, social affinity, satisfaction, liking) in loyalty?

5. Are there any differences in how brand links such as social connections, psychological links, marketing leadership, and marketing mix decisions relate to loyalty?

6. How important are the IMC constructs (consistency, interactivity, mission/reputation) in determining loyalty?

Survey Design The questionnaire asked the respondents to name package goods and services brands with which they felt 1.) high loyalty or 2.) no loyalty. This made it possible to probe the differences between high and low loyalty brands in the same category. For each of those four brands, information was gathered about the frequency of their purchase and the length of time the brand had been used. After these foundation questions were answered, the survey then asked the respondents to go through a list of factors that were hypothesized to be relationship links and rate statements about their importance in terms of a 5 point agree/disagree scale.

Findings

The survey responses were tabulated and averaged to determine items and categories of questions that were high or low. Cross tabs were then run to identify factors that might help explain patterns of high or low interrelationship.

Research Question #1: Package Goods and Services The first research question sought to determine if there is any difference in loyalty between package goods and services? Specifically it looked at variables such as the frequency of purchase and length of time of use and then it compared package goods and services in terms of the importance of the various brand links.

This study found there is little difference between the package goods category and the services category in terms of how loyal people are. Both scores were very close to 3.0 which represents the response "occasionally" on the survey.

Table 1: Loyalty Ratings
Products Services
Loyalty (mean scores) 2.582.70

However, people buy products more frequently than services. This isn't too surprising considering people need to buy toothpaste more often then they need to have their carpets cleaned.

Table 2: Frequency of Use
Products Services
Frequency MonthlyBi-annually

The length of relationships differs by 1.5 years with people having slightly longer relationships with their package goods choices rather than with services. However, keep in mind that the range of responses for products was 45 years and the range for services was 50 years. In other words, these respondents accounted for both short and long-term relationships and they did not see one category as dramatically more likely to produce long-term relationships than the other.

Table 3: Length of Relationship
Products Services
Length7 years 5.5 years

In conclusion, people are more loyal to package goods in terms of both frequency of purchase and length of time of relationship. This is due mainly to the fact that people need to replenish their supply of products more often than they need to have a service performed.

In terms of brand links, however, the loyalty between products and services was almost identical. For both categories, the highest scored responses on the five-point scale were for consistency, convenience, interactivity and respect:

Consistency is a big element. The highest score in terms of all of the brand links in both the product category (4.6) and the service category (4.0) was in response to the question: "I expect this brand/company to be the same wherever and whenever I buy it/buy from it."

Convenience is an important determinant of loyalty. Respondents rated the question: "It is convenient to buy this brand" at 4.25 for package goods and at 3.9 for services.

People base their loyalty to a product or service on the interactivity link as well. The mean scores for products was 3.82 and for services was 3.5 in response to the question: "I feel I can get a response from this company if I need to."

And lastly in terms of the most important brand links, respondents rated respect a 3.3 for products and a 3.4 for services in their response to the question: "I respect the company that makes this brand."

At the other end of the scale, there were three responses that ranked the lowest in terms of influencing loyalty. They all scored below a 2 which means they fall into the disagree category. These response patterns were consistent in both the package goods category and the services category. The factors that seemed to have little or no influence on people's buying habits are: commitment, brands as self expression, and social affinity.

In response to the commitment question "I feel disloyal if I don't buy/patronize this product/service," the average response for package good products was 1.7 and for services was 1.75. In other words, people are responding to something other than the emotional feeling of being loyal to a product when they buy it--or don't buy it.

The self-expression question: "This brand helps me express myself or my individuality" received the lowest loyalty scores on the whole survey with 1.6 for package good product and 1.7 for services. This means either people didn't want to answer the question honestly because it shows they are a little vain, or that in the 1990s, allegiances to products are no longer based on feelings of personal expression.

The most important finding had to do with social affinity as voiced in friend/relative recommendations. There is a lot of talk today about "advocate bonding" and how important it is to satisfy your customers so that they will take up your company's megaphone on your behalf. However, responses to the question "I buy this or use this because a friend or relative recommended it" both received very low ratings --1.75 for package goods and 2.25 for services. Either scholars have missed the mark in terms of the importance of third-party referrals, are question didn't probe deeply enough, or our sample was abnormal.

Middle-of-the-road responses in which a 3.0 - 3.3 was the response (representing no opinion or a sometimes response) were given for the questions concerning product leadership (being #1 in its category) and for the trust question, "I trust this brand." It isn't surprising that people don't feel a product needs to be #1 in its category to be loyal to it, but it was a surprising finding that people didn't think trusting a company or a brand plays a big role in their relationship with that brand. After all, nearly every relationship personal or professional is based on some element of trust.

Research Question #2: High and Low Loyalty Brands The second question focused on the differences between high and low loyalty brands. It investigated that question in terms of frequency and length of purchase as well as the various brand links.

There were a number of differences between high and low loyalty brands . According to Table 1, high loyalty brands have been used almost twice as long as low loyalty brands. These averages indicate that the relationships people have with their high loyalty brands, particularly for package goods, can last for many years in contrast to the much shorter time of use for low loyalty brands.

Table 4: Length of Use
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 9.7 years 4.2 years
Services7.3 years 4.5 years

Likewise low loyalty products are rarely bought whereas high loyalty products are bought much more often. (Table 2) Packaged goods were bought the most frequently, which makes sense since packaged goods may have a perishable quality. Most people in this study did not need services--i.e. plane trips, travel agents, etc.) as often as package goods. The low loyalty frequency is very low for both services and packaged goods which indicates that the majority of people are not choosing that product even though they are obviously using another product in the same product category with much more frequency.

Table 5; Frequency
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 2.7 (week-monthly) 5.8 (twice a year-yearly)
Services3.1 (monthly-quarterly) 5.9 (twice a year-yearly)

This study found that there are several differences between high and low loyalty brands in terms of the hypothesized brand links. The most important similarity was observed in response to the consistency question: "I expect this brand to be the same wherever and whenever I buy it." It is clear from the following table that the scores are very close for both high and low loyalty package goods and services.

Table 6: Consistency
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 4.884.25
Services4.54 3.45

The data in Table 1 indicate that all the numbers above average (a score of 3). Consistency of the brand's importance is important for both high and low loyalty brands. In other words, it is important at all times, but not a distinguishing variable between high and low loyalty brands.

In terms of those factors that did distinguish between high and low loyalty brands, the marketing mix questions were the most relevant. In response to the question: "I feel this brand is number one; it is the best product in its category," there was a great difference between high and low loyalty brands, particularly for package goods. In other words, people would not use a brand unless they think it is the best in the category (See Table 2)

Table 7: Category Leadership
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 4.401.50
Services4.17 1.58

The quality of the product and its design was the focus of another question that separated the high and low loyalty brands. Quality of the product is a key to creating high loyalty in services and even more so in package goods. (See Table 3) If companies can connect this quality product with category leadership, then they can have a strong brand loyalty relationship.

Table 8: Product Design
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 4.461.80
Services4.02 2.27

Another question asked respondents to evaluate product performance and similar scores were obtained. (Table 4) Consistent delivery of a certain expectation of the product leads to high loyalty. Once again, this was more important for package goods than services.

Table 9: Product Performance
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 4.652.29
Services4.24 2.09

Other factors turned out to be brand loyalty links in addition to the marketing mix dimensions. Interactivity, which was the focus of the question: "I feel I can get a response from this company if I need to." The differences were not as great for this question as for the marketing mix questions, as can be seen in Table 5, but it did separate the high and low loyalty brands. Interactivity, or a willingness to participate in a dialogue, is perceived as beneficial to long lasting brand relationships.

Table 10: Interactivity
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 4.462.98
Services4.22 2.67

Another important variable in determining the difference between high and low loyalty brands was the respect dimension. Although not as discriminating as the previous questions, you can see in Table 6 that respect is still a factor that splits out high and low brand loyalty. This factor is also the first one to be more important for services than for package goods. People do care whether or not the company is reputable, particularly for service companies.

Table 11: Reputation/Respect
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 3.922.67
Services4.40 2.35

We began the discussion of this question with consistency, which was a factor that was similarly high for both high and low loyalty products and package goods and services. Let's look now at a group of factors that turned out to be similar but low in importance. Surprisingly, price is one of those factors according to our respondents. In response to the question, "I buy this brand because it has a low price," the ratings were low for both high and low loyalty brands as well as for both package goods and services. (See Table 7) This suggests money is not a factor that the respondents wanted to admit was an issue in creating high or low loyalty. When matched with the earlier questions about the product dimensions, it would seem these respondents are willing to pay more for products that are well designed and perform well.

Table 12: Price
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 2.092.16
Services2.82 2.24

Another surprising finding is that social affinity, as in friend or relative referrals, does not distinguish between high and low loyalty products. (See Table 8) This suggests that for these respondents, referrals are not very important, contrary to what most of the marketing literature is suggesting.

Table 13: Social Affinity/Referral
High Loyalty Low Loyalty
Packaged Goods 2.131.32
Services2.75 1.74

Research Question #3: Demographics The third question looked at differences in terms of the demographic categories. In terms of gender, this study found that men (4.44) and women (4.34), though very different in many ways, do not seem to differ greatly in their responses to questions dealing with brands.

The findings do vary, however, according to age groups as Table 14 indicates. Students, defined as 18-23, had an average rating of 4.24; adults, defined as 24-54, had an average rating of 4.70; and seniors, defined as 55 plus, had an average rating of 4.27. Adults had consistently higher brand loyalty rates and the students and seniors were similar in their brand loyalty levels. (The findings used in this analysis combined the means of both the packaged goods category results and the services category for both high and low loyalty products.)

To compare the sexes, the mean responses to most of the survey questions did not vary by more than 0.2. At times, the means were exactly the same. Two questions stand out as having a different pattern from the rest, although the differences were still not great. The statements referring to advertising and the respect of companies produced mean variances of greater than 0.4. The advertising question produced means for high loyalty products and services of 2.84 for males and 2.12 for females, a difference of 0.72. This was the greatest difference found in this analysis. In other words, advertising was more important to males than females. The statements referring to respect for companies produced a combined mean for the high loyalty brands of 2.77 for females and 2.3 for males, producing a difference of 0.47. In this area, females rated respect as more important than did males.

When comparing the three age groups, more variation could be observed. Seniors were usually on the low end of the results. The student age group tends to be comparable (within 0.3 of each other) to the adult age group in their combined means for the statement responses.

The greatest difference was observed when the senior age group was compared to the student age group regarding their high loyalty brands. The statement that refers to expectations of brand consistency produced a mean of 4.83 in the student age group while the seniors' responses averaged a 3.74 rating. The difference is 1.09, the greatest difference recorded out of all the comparisons. Students, in other words, expect consistency in their packaged goods and services more than seniors do.

The only other important difference between seniors and students was a 0.6 difference between combined means regarding the statement of brand and self expression: "This brand helps me express myself or my individuality; who I am." In the high loyalty brands and services, the student age group showed a combined mean of 2.45 and the senior age group rated this question 1.85. Both are low, but they show a meaningful difference between the young and comparably older individuals who are much less concerned about identifying with the brands they choose.

In 4 other questions, mean results in comparisons between the adult and senior categories differed by more than .5.

Table 14: Demographic Differences

Age Category I feel disloyal....

(Hi Loyalty)

Like advertising

(Lo Loyalty)

I respect the company.... (Lo Loyalty) I like the way....

(Lo loyalty)

Adult2.18 2.533.1 2.43
Senior2.75 1.932.22 1.81
Difference 0.57 0.60.88 0.62

Although the mean ratings do not represent profound differences in attitudes, they do represent meaningful change between age categories. When considering the differences between students and seniors, students are more likely to identify their self-images with a brand or services than seniors. When considering brand linkage between adults and seniors, for the most part, adults tend to consider low loyalty brands more than seniors. However, in the area of feelings of disloyalty for not patronizing a brand, seniors are more likely to rate that higher for their chosen brands.

Research Question #4: Relationship Constructs Commitment, trust, consistency, social affinity, satisfaction and liking were hypothesized to be important relationship constructs in determining loyalty for packaged goods and service brands. On a scale of one (disagree) to five (agree), for high loyalty brands, this study found that three of the five constructs-- consistency: 4.8, trust: 4.5, and liking: 4.30-- averaged close to 5 on the scale. (See Table 15)

Table 15: Relationship Constructs--High Loyalty Brands
Construct Hi Pkg G Hi Serv Hi Ave
1. Consistency 4.884.54 4.71
2. Trust4.60 4.384.49
3. Liking 4.424.18 4.30
4. Commitment 2.512.45 2.48
5. Affinity 2.132.75 2.44
6. Satisfaction 2.092.20 2.15

The other three constructs were all close to or below the midpoint of the range (2.5). Commitment averaged 2.48 in response to the question, "I feel disloyal if I don't buy this brand." "Social affinity" averaged 2.44--"I buy this brand because a friend or relative recommended it." Satisfaction received the lowest scores and averaged 2.15 in response to the question: "I have never been disappointed in this product's performance. "This pattern held for all the constructs in the high loyalty evaluations except for the social affinity construct which moved up to fourth place ahead of commitment for service products.

On the low loyalty averages (See Table 16), social affinity move up to third, satisfaction was fourth, and commitment dropped to last for both package good products and services. In other words, social affinity is more important in maintaining some small level of loyalty even for these low loyalty products. Commitment, as one might expect, is the least important factor for low loyalty products. The difference in order between high and low loyalty products is largely a factor of the lack of commitment for low loyalty products.

Table 16: Relationship Constructs--Low Loyalty Brands
Construct Lo Pkg G Lo Serv Lo Ave
1. Consistency 4.243.45 3.85
2. Trust2.17 2.262.22
3. Liking 1.721.78 1.75
4. Affinity 1.321.74 1.53
5. Satisfaction 1.251.41 1.33
6. Commitment 1.241.23 1.23

These numbers reflect the importance of at least three of the loyalty constructs in the purchase decision. In other words, high loyalty goods and services tend to be purchased more frequently, based on consistency, trust, and liking of the brand or company/store. Predictably, brand and service switching occurs more often with low loyalty goods, since these relationships are more dynamic and the level of commitment is low and, thus, commitment fails to be a factor at all for low loyalty brands.

Research Question #5 : Brand Links This questions investigated where there are any differences in how different types of brand links--social, psychological, and marketing mix--relate to brand relationships?

Of the three different categories, marketing mix links were considered the most important with an average of 3.68 for high loyalty brands. Psychological or emotional factors were second with an average of 3.23 and the social dimension was third with and average of 2.44 (See Table 17). For the low-loyalty brands, the marketing mix factors continued to lead (2.23), but the psychological factors (1.54) and the social factors (1.53) were virtually tied.


Table 16: Categories of Brand Links
Brand Link Hi Pkg G Hi Serv Hi Ave Lo Pkg G Lo Serv Lo Ave
1. Marketing Mix 3.623.73 3.68 2.282.18 2.23
2. Psychological 3.263.19 3.23 1.491.60 1.54
3. Social 2.132.75 2.44 1.321.74 1.53

Let's look in more depth at the marketing mix category. There were seven factors that were average together to determine the overall marketing mix rating. However, there are some interesting differences in the way these seven factors were rated (See Table 17). The order is not the same for both high and low loyalty brands. The highest one for both high loyalty brands was product performance which averaged 4.44; The highest rated factor for the low loyalty brands was convenience with an average score of 3.61.

Beyond that, the order changes between the high and low loyalty brands. For example for the high loyalty brands, convenience (4.39) was second, followed by brand leadership (4.29) at third, product design was fourth (4.24) and advertising was fifth (3.5). At the bottom of the list for the high loyalty products was sales promotion's added value (1.91); next to the last was price (2.46).

For the low loyalty brands, the second place was tied with price and advertising both averaging 3.5, followed by product performance (2.19), product design (2.04). Brand leadership was at the bottom of this list (1.54) with sales promotion next to the last (1.84).

Table 17: Marketing Mix Links
Marketing Mix Link Hi Ave Marketing Mix Link Lo Ave
1. Product Performance 4.44 1. Convenience 3.61
2. Convenience 4.39 2. Price 3.50
3. Leadership 4.29 2. Advertising 3.50
4. Product design 4.24 4. Product performance 2.19
5. Advertising 3.50 5. Product design 2.04
6. Price2.46 6. Sales promotion 1.84
7. Sales promotion 1.91 7. Leadership 1.54

Obviously the important factor in why people choose the brands that they do is convenience, which in this study was represented by the question: "It's convenient to buy this brand." Factors relating to the quality of the product--performance, leadership. product design--were also important in determining high loyalty brands. In contrast, people buy low loyalty brands for reasons related to price and advertising. The quality factors were far less important. An interesting finding is that these respondents claim that special promotions are not a factor in choosing either a high or low loyalty brand. This response, of course, is counter to industry practice which is driving bottom-line sales with such promotions. One can only conclude that people either didn't under stand the question or are adverse to admitting how much they respond to these motivators.

Generally the scores were similar between package goods and services with the brand link being higher for package goods. The only place that differed for the high loyalty brands was for sales promotion where the services rating was higher. For the low loyalty brands, two factors--price and product design--were rated higher for services than for package goods.

The psychological or emotional category only measured two factors--one relating to self expression ("This brand helps me express myself or my individuality") and the other was the liking question ("I really like using this brand"). There were big differences between the two sets of responses as can be seen in Table 18. There was only one social connection question: "I buy this brand because a friend or relative recommended it" and the data for that question is also recorded in Table 18.

Table 18: Psychological and Social Brand Links
Psych Link Hi Pkg G Hi Serv Hi Ave Lo Pkg G Lo Serv Lo Ave
1. Liking 4.424.18 4.30 1.721.78 1.75
2. Self Expression 2.092.20 2.15 1.251.41 1.33
Social Link
1. Referral 2.132.75 2.44 1.321.74 1.53

As noted earlier, this social affinity or referral question scored unexpectedly low. The investigators speculated that people have a limited memory for referrals and simply can't remember, particularly for products they have been using for a long time, whether someone recommended it.

Research Question #6: IMC Links This question looked at the three components of Duncan's IMC model--consistency, interactivity, and mission or reputation--to determine what impact they have on brand relationships. It will also consider how these factors differ in terms of their relevance to the various demographic groups.

Consistency is an attempt by the marketer to control the brand presentation. While the brand can be the most powerful communicator of value, it is also the one the marketer can directly control the least, because a brand's image is the sum of past activities and consumer experiences. The logo, slogan, and signature only serve as the flags, or immediate identifiers of the brand. They cue the associations, but do not carry them. A manager controls for consistency by constructing an integrated communication environment in all communication materials in an effort to convey the same themes and messages.

Two-way communication (interactivity) is an important factor in creating customer links because it is presumed to be the interactive platform on which trust is built. In order for trust to evolve, there must be continuous feedback loops built into the product and message delivery, and that means two-way communication systems. McKenna states that it is through dialogue with key stakeholders that relationships are created.

Mission marketing seeks to enrich a brand's reputation by integrating a non-commercial socially responsible value system into a company's business plan and operations and communicating that mission in all of its communication activities. The measure of a reputation is respect.

This review, in part, is to discover the importance of IMC constructs (consistency, interactivity, and mission marketing) in determining brand loyalty. Table 19 summarizes the findings that reflect the IMC links that sustain these relationships and analyze their importance in brand decision making. Consistency is the most important IMC link with an average score for high loyalty products of 4.71, followed by interactivity with an average rating of 4.45 and mission or reputation in third place with an average rating of 4.16. The same pattern can be observed for the low loyalty products.

Table 19: IMC Brand Links
IMC Link Hi Pkg G Hi Serv Hi Ave Lo Pkg G Lo Serv Lo Ave
1. Consistency 4.884.54 4.71 4.243.45 3.85
2. Interactivity 4.674.22 4.45 2.982.72 2.84
3. Mission 3.924.40 4.16 2.672.35 2.51

For high loyalty products, consistency and interactivity were slightly more important for package good products than for services. However that pattern reversed for mission. Generally people who always bought the same package good (3.92) respected the company that made the brand but this factor of respect was even more important for services (4.40).

In terms of the relative importance of the IMC links, they can be compared with the categories of brand links discussed earlier--marketing mix, psychological, and social links. As can be seen in Table 20, the averaged ratings for the three IMC components are higher than any of the other categories, including the marketing mix factors. This suggests that the IMC components are critical elements in brand relationships.

Table 20: Categories of Brand Links with IMC
Brand Link Hi Pkg G Hi Serv Hi Ave Lo Pkg G Lo Serv Lo Ave
1. IMC Links 4.494.39 4.44 3.302.84 3.07
2. Marketing Mix 3.623.73 3.68 2.282.18 2.23
3. Psychological 3.263.19 3.23 1.491.60 1.54
4. Social 2.132.75 2.44 1.321.74 1.53

Generally speaking, there was very little difference in attitudes between men and women in terms of the three IMC components as can be seen in Table 21. Both genders leaned toward the higher end of the scale which indicates that the integrated constructs were important to them for their high loyalty products. The only striking difference between men and women was the interactive link (package goods) in which the men averaged a 3.77 compared the women's 4.24 average. This indicates that women who are brand loyal feel that it is important that they be able to get a response from a company if they need to.

Another notable point is the mission or reputation ratings. Although women consistently rated the mission link higher, both men and women gave it high marks.

Additionally, the averages showed a significant difference between package goods and services. Men and women did not feel that respect for a company was as important in the package goods industry as it was in the service sector. It would seem that the study revealed that people, especially women, attribute more respect to restaurants, retail stores, and airlines than they do to a candy or soap company. Consistency, however, was very important for package goods and less so for services.

Table 21: IMC--Gender Cross Tabs
Package Goods Male Female
1. Consistency 4.504.41
2. Mission/Respect 3.863.97
3. Interactivity 3.774.24
Services
1. Mission/Respect 4.274.52
2. Interactivity 4.054.38
3. Consistency 4.04 4.0

Overall, all age groups scored relatively high on the IMC construct questions as can be seen in Table 22. The averaged ratings ranged from a low of 3.06 to a high of 4.65. The only interesting difference between age groups was in terms of interactivity. Comparatively, students did not find that interactivity was as important to them as it was to the other groups. Students scored an average of 3.06 to the 4.10 and 4.24 of adults and seniors. This indicates that the perceived need for interactivity for people aged 18-23 is much lower than for people who are older.

The study also revealed a difference in the mission marketing construct between package goods and services. Across the board, the mission link scored lower for packages than for services. Students, adults, and seniors averaged a 3.85, 4.05, and a 3.88 respectively for package goods. Those scores increase significantly for services with 4.28 for students, 4.65 for adults, and 4.28 for seniors. This indicates that respect for a company is more important for a service than for a package good product across all age groups and reinforces a similar finding in the gender comparison.

One other notable difference. Consistency rated higher for package goods than for services across all age groups. Like the gender study, consistency seemed more of a factor for things that you might buy in a grocery store than it was for restaurants and other services. Both comparisons would seem to indicate that there is a certain level of expectations for package goods to be the same that are not expected for services. Scores for package goods were 4.38, 4.63 and 4.40 for students, adults and seniors respectively. Those averages dipped for services, scoring a 4.03 for students, a 4.12 adults, and a 3.93 for seniors.

Table 22: IMC-Age Cross Tabs
Package Goods Students Adults Seniors
1. Consistency 4.384.63 4.40
2. Mission/Respect 3.854.05 3.88
3. Interactivity 3.064.10 4.24
Services
1. Mission/Respect 4.284.65 4.28
2. Interactivity 3.884.52 4.25
3. Consistency 4.034.12 3.93

Conclusion

In terms of the most important findings from this study, a number of interesting, even surprising, findings stand out. In terms of the individual brand links, the four highest--consistency, convenience, interactivity, and respect--contain one marketing mix element and all three of the IMC components. This was supported by the analysis of the categories of brand links which found the IMC components to be the most important, followed by marketing mix decisions, psychological factors, and last the social element.

In the IMC category, consistency was the most important factor, although the mission/respect element became more important for services. In the marketing mix category, convenience was high for both high and low loyalty brands. The various product dimensions, such as design, performance, and leadership, were high for high loyalty products. Price was not an important factor for high loyalty brands but price and advertising became more important in decisions to use low loyalty brands.

One of the weaknesses of this study is that the survey only included one question that probed the social dimension. That question continually rated low as an important brand link in all of the different analyses approaches. This may suggest that affinity and referral are not as important as the literature would suggest, or it may represent a problem with the question and the way people remember the impact of other people on their brand decisions. Certainly this is an area that needs additional study.

Another important finding is in the area of relationship links. A number of factors have been hypothesized to be important constructs of a relationship, particularly in business-to-business marketing, but there has been little investigation that compares the relative weight of these constructs and virtually nothing has been done in the area of package goods and services. This study determined that the most important constructs for package goods and services are consistency, trust, and liking. Commitment, which is frequently cited as one of the most important constructs, was rated near the middle of the list for high loyalty brands and at the very bottom for low loyalty brands. In other words, commitment does play a role, but is in determining the brands to which there is little loyalty rather than in identifying brands that are valued.

This study found that there it was possible to identify some distinguishing characteristics of high and low brand loyalty products. These distinguishing factors were mostly in the area of the marketing mix-- for example, leadership, product design, and product performance clearly split the two categories. Another set of factors, however, were interesting to note although they did not distinguish between high and low loyalty. Consistency, for example, was rated an important brand link for both the high and low loyalty products. On the other hand, price and social affinity/referral were both rated to be low brand links. We've already discussed the surprising finding about the social dimension, but finding price in that same category was also a surprise.

Few differences were found in loyalty patterns between package goods and services, although most of these brand links were consistently more important for package goods than services. The study also found that package goods exhibit more loyalty in terms of both time of use and frequency than do services.

This study also investigated demographics and found few differences between men and women and the various age groups. In terms of gender, the only differences occurred with advertising which was rated higher by men, and mission/respect which was rated higher by women. In terms of age categories, as might be expected the most differences were found between students and seniors. Students rated consistency, in particular, and self expression to be higher in importance. Seniors were more concerned about mission/respect.

There are a number of limitations with this study, of course, because of the limited number of people interviewed. The wording of various questions also can cause some problematic readings of the data. More questions are needed to probe some of the surprising findings such as the low ratings for price and social dimensions as brand links. Overall, however, this is a significant first step in the development of a better understanding of how consumers establish relationships with the brands they buy.











Effective Relationship Links in Consumer Marketing

by

The Message Effectiveness Graduate Seminar





Suzanne Cohen

Leslie Dotson

Lauren Durchsprung

Jeremy Hebert

Monica Teufel Kurtz

Stacey Neri

Dave Taubler

Kristen Zoellner

Sandra Moriarty, Instructor

Fall Semester, 1995
















Appendix