If you want a beer at the beach bar, the Mexican brand Corona quickly springs to mind. Brands characterised by few, but strong associations, perform better than brands with many associations, shows doctorate study at BI Norwegian Business School.
Brand manufacturers spend a lot of time and resources getting you, the consumer, to choose their brand over their competitors'.
The great challenge here is to influence your associations to the brand.
Brand owners can do this in a number of ways, but often the choice is between one of two main strategies:
- Narrow brand strategies: Select a few well-chosen associations in the marketing of the brand, and be consistent in relation to these.
- Broad brand strategies: Try to build many associations around the brand, place the brand in several different consumption situations, market many attributes and qualities, and make the brand relevant to wide target groups.
On the international beer market, Heineken, for instance, has for many years opted to constantly attach new associations to their brand (e.g. via new target groups, advertisement formats and product areas).
In comparison, Mexican beer manufacturer Corona has adhered strictly to the three associations fun, sun, and beach, and enjoyed success in doing so.
In his doctorate study at BI Norwegian Business School, market researcher Lars Erling Olsen has been investigating which of these two strategies gives the best results.
Three studies in the laboratory
Olsen conducted three experiments in a computer lab with almost 200 participants, to test whether narrow brand strategies perform better because of stronger associations.
The experiments were designed to find how long it takes customers to recall the relevant information from memory when they have to choose between different brands (strength of association).
The stronger the strength of the association, the more likely the consumer is to select a specific brand in the moment of purchase. In the first experiment, he invented two versions of a new brand of shampoo.
In the first group, participants were drilled on many associations to do with the brand. In the second group, the brand was associated with few associations.
Participants were asked which brand they associated with a good pH value. The participants in group two spent the shortest time associating a good pH value with the shampoo in the experiment, as measured in milliseconds.
"This indicates that few associations create stronger associations than many associations," states Olsen.
In the next phase of this first shampoo experiment, the participants were introduced to a new pH-friendly brand of shampoo.
Participants who had learned about the narrow shampoo brand rejected the new competitor to a greater degree and considered it to be worse than their broad brand counterparts did.
Narrow brands perform better
"Brands that focus on consistent brand building and a few well-chosen associations, will have more success in both defence and growth scenarios compared with brands that focus on a rich network of associations in the customer's memory," says Olsen.
In the second experiment, the shampoo brand was introduced in the same two ways (narrow and broad brand strategy) as in the first experiment. But, after having achieved the same results for strength of association, the participants were presented with a brand extension -- sunscreen with a correct pH value.
"Those who had been exposed to the narrow brand strategy were more positive to the brand extension than those who had been exposed to the broad brand," Olsen states.
This means it may be easier for brand manufacturers who select a narrow brand strategy to expand their product range with related products, than those who select a broad market strategy.
Kvikk Lunsj beats M
In the Norwegian chocolate market, the brand Kvikk Lunsj is pitched as the chocolate bar for outdoor activities, while M (M&Ms) is marketed as the choice for the cinema. In his third experiment, Olsen seeks to find out which of these two real chocolate brands has had the most success in developing a narrow brand strategy.
Participants spent less than 1.6 seconds associating Kvikk Lunsj as the chocolate bar for outdoor activities, while it took almost 1.8 seconds to come up with M as the cinema brand.
"Kvikk Lunsj is strongly associated with outdoor activities, while M isn't very strong on neither films/the cinema nor outdoor activities compared with Kvikk Lunsj."
In phase two of the chocolate experiment, participants were asked to consider a new brand of chocolate, marketed as either the new outdoor chocolate or the new cinema chocolate.
The experiment shows that the new cinema chocolate was better received than the new outdoor chocolate. Kvikk Lunsj, with its narrow, strong brand strategy was better equipped to meet competition in the outdoor arena, than M was on the film set.
"This study indicates that it's best to build narrow brands through consistent branding over time," says Lars Erling Olsen. He points out that other factors may also play a part when customers are making their choice.
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