2.3 Brand Association
2.3.1 Definition of Brand Association
Brand association refers to anything that the consumer connects to the brand (Aaker 1996). These associations will then help the consumers to remember and process relevant information that will enable them to make a purchase decision (Aaker 1996; George, et al. 2000). According to Keller (1993), there are different levels of abstraction for various brand association. In his study, he introduces a conceptual model of brand association, by dividing it into three different groups based on level of abstraction.
On the first level of abstraction, I find brand attributes. This group consists of the tangible and intangible attributes that make up the product features. The second level is the customer benefits (Keller 1993). This level relates to the consumers’ individual valued benefits from the use of the attributes. Finally, the third level of abstraction is brand attitude. It is seen as a function of the associated brand attributes and customer benefits (Keller 1993). Brand attitude can be described as a multiplicative function that, apart from the extent to which consumers believe a brand has certain attributes and benefits, also consider whether these attributes and benefits are positive or negative for a consumer.
The brand associations can, in turn, be of different levels of importance, based on strength, favorability, and uniqueness. Strength relates to how strongly the brand association dimension is linked to a particular brand. Favorability is the degree to which consumers find that the brand association dimension is favorable for a certain product category or brand. Finally, uniqueness describes how divergent a particular brand association dimension is for a brand in a certain product category. These levels of importance are factors that will determine consumers’ overall perceptions of a brand.
2.3.2 Brand association and brand image
A concept that closely relates to brand association is brand image. In Keller (1993), brand image is defined as a consumer’s general brand perception. It is generally accepted to connect brand image to the associative network memory model, which explains how the consumers’ perceptions of a brand are related to the associations in their memory. Keller also concludes that different brand associations have a cause and effect relationship with brand image, which is further confirmed by Faircloth et al. (2001). Simply put a change in brand association results in a change in brand image. I will elaborate on this relationship and its implications further in our discussion.
2.4 Product knowledge
A lot of research show that consumers’ knowledge and experience regarding a product could impact the way a product is evaluated (Fu ; Elliott 2013). Maheswaran (1994) defines product knowledge as the knowledge that consumers have regarding a certain product. In this thesis, I will define product knowledge as the level of knowledge consumers has about a certain product, as perceived by the consumers themselves.
According to Alba (1983), people with higher levels of product knowledge are able to recall more total information about explicit product features, compared those with lower levels of product knowledge. Moreover, Maheswaran (1994) suggests that a consumer’s product knowledge acts as a moderating variable for country of origin in product evaluation. In his study, Maheswaran found that when product attributes are explicit, consumers with high product knowledge tend to rely more on these attributes rather than country of origin, when evaluating products.
2.5 Hypothesis development
2.5.1 Brand origin effect on brand association
I want to test the effect brand origin will have on brand association in terms of my chosen dimensions. In Samiee (1994) it was concluded that brands associated with a certain country, could either positively or negatively affect consumers’ perceptions of a brand. In addition, Han (1989) and Schooler (1965), also suggest that country of origin has an effect when consumers evaluate brands. This leads us to my first hypothesis:
H1: Brand origin will have a significant effect on consumer’s brand association in terms of my chosen brand association dimensions
2.5.2 Brand association dimensions
To test my research question, we identify five brand association dimensions: quality, innovation, CSR, prestige, and safety and integrity. Based on Keller’s theoretical definition of brand association, the term in itself is determined by the consumers’ own perceptions of brand attributes, consumer benefits, and brand attitude. Testing for brand association dimensions will, therefore, test consumers’ perceptions. In this thesis, the use of the terms quality, innovation, CSR, prestige, and safety and integrity will refer to consumers’ perceptions rather than objective measures. These brand association dimensions are selected because they are considered to have theoretical and managerial relevance for my research field.
In my study, I refer to quality as the degree to which the product attributes of a specific product satisfy the wants of a specific consumer (Gilmore 1974). The quality dimension of brand association shows to be affected by country of origin, according to various studies (Wang and Lamb 1980; Bilkey and Nes 1982). This dimension is therefore relevant when testing for the brand origin effect as well. Previous studies that have tests country-of origin and brand origin show that the quality differs, depending on country of origin (Bilkey and Nes 1982).
Chinese companies are still considered low quality compared to other more developed countries (The Economist 2015). In addition, since the smartphone market today, consists of brands primarily originating from more developed countries. My hypothesis will thus be:
H2a: Ethiopian consumers will rate a brand originating from China lower in quality, compared with brands from other countries.
In this thesis, innovation is referred to as the creation of new knowledge and ideas to facilitate new business outcomes, aimed at improving internal business processes and structures and to create market-driven products and services (Du Plessis 2007, p.3). Innovation is an important dimension for all companies, in order to be competitive (Pauwels et al. 2004). Adding innovation as a brand association will provide a new and interesting insight to research on the brand origin effect. Furthermore, innovation has been included in as a dimension in many other marketing research studies, although not in the field of brand origin (Aaker 1996).
The reason why this is relevant in the context of brand origin is that China had, and still has an image of being good at “copying, absorbing and adapting existing technology and knowledge from around the world” rather than inventing new innovations, according to (Roth et al. 2015). The hypothesis will thus be:
H2b: Ethiopian consumers will rate a brand originating from China lower in innovation, compared with brands from other countries.
In my thesis, corporate social responsibility (CSR) will refer to “the continuing commitment by business to behave ethically and contribute to economic development, while improving the quality of life of the workforce and their families, as well as of the local community and society at large” (World Business Council for Sustainable Development 2008). CSR has gained much attention in recent years within the academic world and it is generally agreed that the importance of CSR in the management of business-society relationship is increasing (Klein and Dawar 2004; Porter and Kramer 2006). Moreover, CSR has been proven to be especially important and valuable for global organizations, and for defining global reputation and brand (Valor 2005; Lewis 2003).
I am including this dimension as it provides a new and highly relevant perspective on how brand origin might affect the brand association dimension, and in turn also the perceived brand image. China is becoming more globally integrated, and its corporations are gaining more economic and social influence. Thus, much attention is being put on CSR among Chinese companies, often from a critical perspective including business scandals, food scares, labor and environmental issues (Ip 2009). My hypothesis will thus be:
H2c: Ethiopian consumers will rate a brand originating from China lower in CSR, compared with brands from other countries.
In this thesis, prestige is referred to as an element that satisfies an emotional desire for a consumer, in terms of a product’s subjective benefits that could be viewed as a signal of status (Vigneron and Johnson 1999). Apart from consumer benefits that originate from the physical features of a product, hedonic motivators are as equally important and relevant for marketers to keep in mind, according to Arnold and Reynolds (2003). Research tells that consumers often tend to evaluate products and services in terms of emotional consumer benefits, such as social belongingness and identity. Since research suggests that prestige is directly related to symbolic and hedonic value (Vigneron and Johnson 1999), I have therefore chosen to include this as a dimension. Moreover, recent marketing research (Matarazzo and Resciniti 2013) includes prestige as a dimension when studying country of origin effect. This makes it interesting and relevant to test this brand association in a new research context such as mine.
Many reports have revealed that international brands are perceived more prestigious compared with local brands among Chinese retail consumers (Deloitte 2010). At the same time, Chinese brands are not considered very prestigious by international consumers (Fan 2006). Bearing this in mind, our hypothesis will thus be:
H2d: Ethiopian consumers will rate a brand originating from China lower in prestige, compared with brands from other countries.
18.104.22.168. Safety and integrity
I define safety and integrity as the feeling of personal integrity, trustworthiness toward a brand and the absence of danger, risk or threat when using a product or service. Similar to prestige, this is also a dimension that focuses on the emotional consumer benefits of buying certain brands. This dimension is especially interesting to consider due to the political views in China regarding censorship and privacy concerns, that are to a great extent different from the ones in Ethiopia. Just like CSR, this is a dimension that has most likely been affected by international media reports (Ip 2009). The increasing amount of Chinese firms that enter the Ethiopian market is often portrayed by Ethiopian media in a skeptical way, often remarking risking our national security and personal integrity
(Palmstierna and Dreyer 2009; Nordlund 2017). Due to this, our hypothesis will thus be:
H2e: Ethiopian consumers will rate a brand originating from China lower in safety and integrity, compared with brands from other countries.