11 questions, 12 beer drinkers and some insights into brand relationships.
I undertook a pilot-study to understand consumers’ brand relationships with their beer and what achieving “brand resonance” entails. A convenience sample was administered an 11 item questionnaire in order to explore whether Keller’s Customer Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model (or Pyramid) could shed light on understanding how consumers respond to their brand of beer and to what extent this is influenced by the different elements of the integrated marketing communications strategy of the brand.
In order to explore this, simple open ended questions were designed to investigate whether the 6 elements that make up Keller’s CBBE Pyramid were evident in the subjects’ brand selection. The questionnaire was administered to a convenience (non-random) sample of known beer drinkers. Drinking an SAB brand was not a criterion for eligibility as the aim of the pilot-study was understand “beer drinkers” brand relationships broadly rather than just SAB beer drinkers brand relationships.
Before discussing the findings Keller’s Consumer Based Brand Equity Pyramid will be introduced followed by an introduction of the survey questions and which aspect of the Pyramid each relates to.
Keller calls the effect that brand knowledge has on consumer response to the marketing efforts of a brand, brand equity (Keller, 1993). Brand equity occurs when the consumer knows the brand and possesses strong, positive and differentiated brand associations (Keller, 1993). The building of a strong brand requires the achievement of “resonance” with the customer. “Resonance” is the apex of Keller’s CBBE pyramid; but according to the model there are several steps that need to be accomplished along the way.
The first step, at the base of the Pyramid, is “Salience”. This is creating the basic identification of the brand, linking it to a specific product category or need (Keller, 2003). This step basically places the brand on the consumers’ radar, whether or not they choose to engage it happens at subsequent steps along the pyramid.
The next two tiers of the pyramid can be seen to be divided into two segmented columns which only meet again at the apex, or “Resonance” level. The one column is characterised by objective brand characteristics (“Performance”) and any subsequent objective “Judgements” based on these characteristics; whilst the twin column is concerned with the subjective “Imagery” (values) projected by the brand and the subsequent “Feelings” this elicits from the consumer. This section of the Pyramid can be seen to be requiring a cognitive engagement by the consumer. When exposed to objective and subjective information (and or stimuli) the consumer will either reach a positive or negative objective judgement about the brand; and simultaneously will associate a negative or positive feeling towards the brand. Keller called this “brand response” (2003).
The final step is “brand relationships”; this is where a positive brand response is translated into “an intense, active loyalty relationship between customers and the brand” (Keller, 2001). This is “Resonance”. Just as an un-plucked guitar string will begin to vibrate and eventually sound in the presence of music of the right pitch, so too will the consumer resonate with the brand.
Based on the CBBE Pyramid’s logic of progression from salience to resonance (and all the steps in between) the following questions were posed in the questionnaire.
Questionnaire Item (Followed by Rationale)
1) What is the brand you buy most often?
In order to establish brand.
2) When did you become aware of the brand?
In order to determine when salience occurred.
3) Was there a defining moment which brought the brand to your attention?
In order to determine if the significance of the “moment of salience”.
4) How big a role did technical, brewing and nutrient value information etc. (delivered through adverts) play in your decision? Please explain briefly.
In order to determine the role of “Performance” as per the CBBE Pyramid.
5) Based on the above information how would you objectively judge your brand against the rest of the market?
In order to determine the role of “Judgement” as per the CBBE Pyramid.
6) What does the beers image represent to you?
In order to determine the role of “Imagery” as per the CBBE Pyramid.
7) How does the brand make you feel? (Drunk is not an appropriate answer here )
In order to determine the role of “Feeling” as per the CBBE Pyramid.
8 ) Even if you occassionally purchase other brands would you say you are a loyal consumer of the brand identified in question 1?
In order to determine loyalty and perhaps even “Resonance” as per the CBBE Pyramid.
9) Was there ever a time when you were more staunchly loyal to your current (or another) beer brand?
In order to determine the consumers trajectory through the product category; and possible previous “Resonant” relationships.
9i) What was different about you at this time?
To further explore conditions contributing towards item 9.
9ii) What was different about your environment/surroundings at this time?
To further explore conditions contributing towards item 9.
Due to the context and exploratory nature of the research a convenience sample of known beer drinkers was selected over a random sample for several reasons. Firstly the data was never intended to be quantitative, or to be submitted to the rigours of statistical analysis. Secondly, and most significantly the researchers are aware of the demographic and psychographic characteristics of the respondents which allows for some degree of assumption and hypothesising behind the analysis of the results; without having to cater for a battery of questions aimed at determining these characteristics within the questionnaire itself. This background knowledge of respondents coupled with an analysis of the questionnaires performance would also help to inform the design of a more robust and sophisticated tool should anyone wish to explore this research on a larger or more formal scale.
Analysis of Responses
The results drawn from this sample are by no means statistically representative of a larger population, but it does highlight some very important gaps and contradictions which integrated marketing communication strategies and brand equity models need to somehow engage. The analysis will follow the logic of the CBBE Pyramid, working from “Salience” towards “Resonance”.
Of the 12 respondents the following brands were represented: 1 Fosters; 1 Millers; 1 Amstel; 2 Windhoek Lagers; 2 Castle Lites; and 5 Black Labels. There was a fair degree of diversity and divergence from the CBBE model across and within the brand specific consumer responses as will be discussed below.
For the sake of brevity the discussion will not detail the minutiae of every response (these are available as an addendum) but will rather discuss trends.
The first thing that became apparent is that the word “taste” was used 15 times (not counting the word “flavour” or taste-related adjectives). Now “taste” in the meaning of one of the “five senses” and not as an “aesthetic” must require that it be placed under the objective “Performance” column of the CBBE Pyramid. It cannot be confused with aesthetics or imagery. For example; pilchards taste of pilchards; hops taste of hops: these are objective facts. Whether you like the taste of pilchards, or hops, is exercised in the “Judgement” phase; and not the “Feeling” phase.
Fosters and Millers were the furthest off the CBBE model. The Fosters case may well be an outlier as the respondent is an expatriot who is simply supporting the cheapest brand in the pubs of his new country. What is significant here is that price-leading is evidenced to be the strategy which has attracted this consumer; and might be a worthwhile strategy to deploy in a cosmopolitan market where there is a low representation of a traditional or chronically-loyal consumer base.
The Millers response was very interesting. Here the respondent places a positive emphasis on taste; as well as the way it leaves him feeling physically after “a night of quaffing” (which is better than other brands). These are objective “Performance” characteristics and their associated positive “Judgement”. Expectedly these responses are met with an affirmative response to item 8. This is a loyal consumer. What is unexpected from the perspective of the CBBE Pyramid (which unintentionally encourages one to see a holistic congruence) is the response to the items which explore “Imagery” and “Feeling”. The response is copied below:
“That sort of thing doesn’t really occur to me when it comes to what beer I drink. I’m not even sure what image the advertisers are going for with Miller. The TV adverts of metro-sexuals prancing around annoy me.”
In this case one would have to declare that loyalty and “Resonance” are not the same; but if loyalty is enough to ensure purchases are made what is the role of “Resonance”? As will be explored below, one might argue that “Resonance” is that factor which keeps the loyal from experimenting or straying.
The two Castle Lite drinkers rate “Performance” (and quality under this) positively. The taste and alcohol content are delivered whilst quality and healthiness are maintained. Under item 6 which is investigating “Imagery” the two responses are:
1) A fresh, crisp, refreshing drinking experience, and
2) Cool, light, fresh, cold.
These two almost encapsulate the advertising imagery. Something is happening here, both respond “yes” to being loyal consumers but it may still be short of “Resonance”. The “Imagery” this brand generated for the consumer is of the beer itself, and to a much lesser extent an image of themselves, the consumer of the brand. For item 7, “How does the brand make you feel?” the responses were:
1) Content, and
2) Makes me feel metro and sophisticated
The second respondent might be lost to Millers. Although “content” signifies a degree of satisfaction this brand relationship seems to lacks the passion one would expect of “Resonance” when compared to the findings below.
In comparison to the other brands the data for the Black Label brand rolls across the analysis matrix like the “Four (in this case five) Riders of the Apocalypse”. Compared to the other brands whose respondents for the most part have only been consumers of their current brands for no more than four years; all of the Black Label respondents have all been aware of the brand (and it appears consumers of the brand) since the mid-1990’s around the time they all finished high school.
The moment of “Salience” is also reported with much more clarity and the influence of social groups here, rather than an IMC strategy is glaringly evident:
– “A neighbour swore by it.”
– “Yes… the moment Flea said, ‘Ziggs… have a sip of this golden magic…’”
– “Introduced to the beer at a friend’s house.”
– “It was the brand most of my friends were drinking when I was growing up”
When it comes to item 4 which looks at what role “Performance” apart from taste had on their decision they all reply “None” with impunity.
– “All based on taste.”
– “Black Label has never claimed to be technically proficient, extra matured or nutritionally better for you.”
– “It is about the taste and not the calorie count or how it is brewed.”
One response even begins to touch on the role “Imagery” plays for the brand:
– “None, but the adverts were always of these fris big fellas drinking after a hard days work.”
Of the 4 responses from this group to item 5 which asks them to objectively compare the brand to others the word “Best” appears in 3 of the 4 responses. Here again the brands image is included with their objective responses:
– “It has the status of being a manly man’s beer… if they had the same adverts with guys opening a Hunters Dry, it wouldn’t have the same effect.”
The influence of packaging on its position also comes out here:
– “New packaging adds to the appeal.”
By the time the analysis gets to looking at the subjects responses to “Imagery” and “Feeling” one might be forgiven for wanting to visit their nearest liquor-store to buy a case of Black Label Quarts. The enthusiasm of this group is gathering momentum. Item 6, “What does the beer’s image represent to you?”
– “Black Label has an almost cult following associated with it.”
– “More reward at the end of the day.”
– “Real man’s beer (strongest alcohol percentage too if I may add… ;).”
– “A beer of the average guy, not a show off beer.” (Stark contrast to Millers and Castle Lite imagery)
– “A hard man’s beer.”
But it doesn’t stop there. Item 7, “How does the brand make you feel?”
– “Like I’m drinking manly beer.”
– “Deserving and satisfied.”
– “Black Label in my hand makes me feel like I’m drinking real beer.”
– “Loyalty to my country’s product.”
When asked about loyalty the responses don’t only include “yes” (as all other brand consumers used), but the phrases “Hell Yeah!”; “For Surely”; and “Very much so.”
Compared to the other brands the Black Label responses give an overwhelming sense of “Resonance”. This is beyond loyalty. Just reading this analysis makes one think “I could do with some of what these guys have.”
Discussion of findings
The Black Label Cult
Based on the above cursory analysis the root of Black Label’s “Resonance” in the beer market is built upon the following.
1) A good taste and high alcohol content. Other items of “Performance” like calorie count and brewing technique don’t matter.
2) “Salience” that is socially transferred and transmitted inter and intra-generationally.
3) An image that creates a “cult-like following” and an identity for both consumer and the brand.
But “Resonance” is not a criterion for loyalty. Brands which serve niches (low-calories, sophisticated, or metro-sexual) will still be able to compete even if the relationship they have with their consumer is qualitatively different from the Black Label Cult.
Other Important Strategic Issues Arising From the Analysis
IMC is only one of multiple roots that bring about “salience”. Word of mouth and peer influence play a role in this. The IMC challenge therefore is to get consumers speaking about their brand.
Only one of the respondents cites promotional activities as leading to salience at subsequent “loyalty”. Although it is a very small non-random sample this aspect of IMC might be worth exploring further, it accounts for 8% of the consumer choices here.
3) Socialisation and the Culture of Beer Drinkers
Beer as a product is complex in that it does not only possess a simple quantifiable utility value but is inextricably linked to the individual’s socialisation, culture and the taste cultures (their aesthetic). A mix of factors come together to provide that critical mass which results in “Resonance”, look at the Black Label examples above. There is more happening in the environment that influences these brand relationships than the IMC strategy can account for alone. If this could be unpacked and mapped there would be scope to inform other and future IMC strategies. You will not necessarily end up being able to recreate the Black Label Cult phenomenon but you could use it to leverage a brand to other loyal niches or consumers who are moving between brands on their brand consumption trajectory.
4) Brand Consumption Trajectories
As mentioned above, beer brands are closely linked to socialisation and culture. The non- Black Label drinkers all had changed brands in the recent past and the reasons cited range from their increased purchasing power as they grew older and earned more; the fact that alcohol-cantered socialising is playing a diminishing role in their lives; to the physical toll on their bodies from other brands. If marketers can map out the brand consumption trajectories of different demographic and psychographic groups they can cater for these transitions from young-adulthood (teens and 20’s) where price and group influence play a large role; to adulthood where consumers can afford to be more discerning and find themselves in different social milieus and social rituals to those that dominated their youth.
All societies use ritual to celebrate and support its members through moments of transition; birthdays, puberty, young adulthood, graduation, marriage, parenthood, career change, etc. These moments of transition can impact brand consumption trajectories through influencing the consumer’s brand relationship. These transitions may be ripe hunting grounding for targeted IMC to develop a brand’s market through capturing all those who find themselves on the fringe of brand and social relationships due to the stage of their life trajectory.
Conclusion and Recommendations
It is evident that the mechanisms which influence brand equity can be very complex, and that resonance is not entirely the same as simple product loyalty. Further the different elements that make up “Performance” in the CBBE Pyramid are not all equally weighted across different consumer segments. What has also been revealed through an overview of the responses is that consumers are not static, but rather dynamic entities exposed to different influences over time which can alter the characteristics that determine resonance in their brand relationships. IMC strategies need to take cognisance of this to ensure they can out leverage competitor brands.
How many men start “settling down” or become more health conscious and drink light beers without any enthusiasm, without resonance in their brand relationship? By way of example, men who drink light Woolworths store branded beer are not getting the same product experience as Black Label drinkers (This author gets sad just thinking about this demographic). This study suspects there are legions of men who are drinking “responsible” beers without enthusiasm or resonance. Imagine if SAB could give them a healthier brand (Performance) which delivers powerful taste, powerful imagery and powerful feeling. Imagine if SAB could give them a resonant brand relationship; then imagine the money to be made.
Keller, K., 1993. Conceptualising, Measuring and Managing Customer-Based Brand Equity. Journal of Marketing. 57(1), pp. 1-22. **
Keller, K., 2001. Building Customer-Based Brand Equity. Marketing Management. 10(2), p.14-19.**
Keller, K., 2003. Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring and Managing Brand Equity, 2nd ed. New Jersey: Prentice Hall.**
Kuhn, K., and Alpert, F. (?) Applying Keller’s Brand Equity Model in a B2B Context: Limitations and an Empirical Test. Griffith University. Publication details unknown. [available online] http://www98.griffith.edu.au/dspace/bitstream/10072/2338/1/26187_1.pdf [Accessed April 2011]