The Consumer-Brand Relationship
Despite extensive research into the role of branding and its impact on the consumer-brand relationship, much of what is implied about this relationship is that all consumers react similarly to brand advertising. However, a recent study from a professor at the Penn State Smeal College of Business finds that consumers are as much the co-creator in the consumer-brand relationship as the marketers because of the way they organize and use brand information based on their own unique biases and traits.
Rajdeep Grewal, Irving & Irene Bard Professor of Marketing at Smeal, and coauthors Sanjay Puligadda and William T. Ross, Jr. examine brand schema, or the way in which individual consumers approach information surrounding brands. Schema is a term often used in psychology to describe the organizing mechanism for human thought. In this particular study, the researchers use the term to classify consumers as either brand schematic or brand aschematic.
“Brand schematicity isn’t an inclination toward any particular brand or brands,” write the researchers. “It is a representation of the consumer’s information processing approach. Just as some people can be race or gender schematic, consumers are predisposed to process information according to brand schema.”
While brand aschematic consumers see brands as merely labels on products, brand schematic consumers place high priority on brands, are more receptive to brand information, and recall this information more readily based on brand images etched in their memory. Furthermore, brand schematic consumers are more likely to align with certain brands based on what their friends use, or make judgments about brands based on the opinions of others.
“Peer influence on consumption-related beliefs begins early in life and continues through adolescence,” write the researchers, “such that it can determine a child’s materialistic orientation. A consumer who grew up with parents or peers who had favorite brands or emphasized the importance of the brand in consumption decisions is more likely to develop consumption schema based on brand information.”
In a series of studies dividing brand schematic and brand aschematic consumers, the researchers measure and predict how consumers interact with and process information about brands. In one study, the researchers validate brand schematicity by asking participants to identify logos of popular companies, such as Apple, Nike, Pepsi, and Target, while recording response times. Those consumers placed in the brand schematic group had quicker response times than those identified as brand aschematic.
A second study shows the difference in the way in which brand schematic consumers organize information about products compared to their brand aschematic counterparts. In deciding between different products made by Rolex, brand schematic consumers extend features like function and durability to all Rolex products based on the “luxury” connotation associated with the brand name. In contrast, brand aschematic consumers are more likely to prioritize product type or price over the association of luxury. Such consumers will extend a luxury association to different products from the Rolex family only if the products’ features also connote luxury.
The findings highlight how consumers who are brand schematic are more influenced by advertising that promotes brand rather than product attributes. This carries significant implications for marketers who spend a considerable amount of money and effort on promoting brands. Because consumers vary based on their predisposition to brands, the researchers suggest that marketers should customize their efforts to maximize the effectiveness of their advertising.
The study, “Individual Differences in Brand Schematicity,” was recently published in the Journal of Marketing Research.