Brand Personality, Self-Congruity and the Consumer-Brand Relationship

Hae Ryong Kim, Konkuk University, Korea
Moonkyu Lee, Yonsei University, Korea
Francis M. Ulgado, Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S.A.
ABSTRACT - It is critical to the survival and growth of a company to build and maintain a long-term relationship between a brand and its target customers. The present research examines the emotional process by which a consumer-brand relationship is formed. It focuses on the potential effects on the relationship process of the congruity between brand personality and consumer self-concept. The results of this study show that congruity between brand personality and consumer self-concept kindles such emotions as love, pride, and joy, and ultimately fosters a long-term consumer-brand relationship through brand attachment or self-esteem-building process. The implications of the results for researchers and marketers are discussed.
[ to cite ]:
Hae Ryong Kim, Moonkyu Lee, and Francis M. Ulgado (2005) ,"Brand Personality, Self-Congruity and the Consumer-Brand Relationship", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 111-117.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 111-117

BRAND PERSONALITY, SELF-CONGRUITY AND THE CONSUMER-BRAND RELATIONSHIP

Hae Ryong Kim, Konkuk University, Korea

Moonkyu Lee, Yonsei University, Korea

Francis M. Ulgado, Georgia Institute of Technology, U.S.A.

ABSTRACT -

It is critical to the survival and growth of a company to build and maintain a long-term relationship between a brand and its target customers. The present research examines the emotional process by which a consumer-brand relationship is formed. It focuses on the potential effects on the relationship process of the congruity between brand personality and consumer self-concept. The results of this study show that congruity between brand personality and consumer self-concept kindles such emotions as love, pride, and joy, and ultimately fosters a long-term consumer-brand relationship through brand attachment or self-esteem-building process. The implications of the results for researchers and marketers are discussed.

INTRODUCTION

The effect of the consumer-brand fit on product evaluations has been an important research issue in marketing, and it has been dealt with under the rubric of self-congruity effect (Kleine, Kleine, and Kernan 1993; see Sirgy 1982 for a review). However, it is not yet clear how the congruity between consumer self-concept and brand image influences product evaluations. Thus, the focus of this study is to examine the processes by which the consumer-brand fit determines product evaluations, or more specifically, consumer-brand relationships.

There has been a considerable amount of interest in the concept of brand personality and how it relates to the self-congruity effect (e.g., Aaker 1999). Brand personality is defined as a set of human characteristics associated with a brand (Aaker 1997). In other words, a brand is considered as an active relationship partner rather than a passive exchange object, and is endowed with human characteristics (Fournier 1998). In this study, self-congruity effect is examined in relation with the concept of brand personality on the basis of past research.

In sum, the purpose of our study is to empirically investigate the psychological processes involved in the formation of a positive relationship with a brand and explain the role that self-congruity plays in those processes. We focus especially on such constructs as emotion, which consumers experience as a result of self-congruity and brand commitment, a fundamental determinant of long-term relationships (Gundlach, Achrol, and Mentzer 1995). Also examined in our study are the roles of brand attachment and self-esteem. Brand attachment, an affective concept related to love (Fournier 1998), is associated with one’s identity (Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995), and self-esteem implies an overall affective evaluation of the importance and value of one’s self (Judge, Bono, and Locke 2000).

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Self-Congruity Effect

Self-congruity is defined in this study as the parallel between consumer self-concept and brand personality that consumers feel or experience in the course of forming a consumer-brand relationship. Consumers tend to like, prefer and ultimately maintain a long-term relationship with a brand which has an image consistent with themselves (Aaker 1999; Fournier 1998; Keller 2003). The self-congruity effect on a long-term brand relationship can explained in relation with the concept of commitment, which has been considered to be a crucial element in the formation of a successful long-term relationship (Gundlach, Achrol, and Mentzer 1995; Morgan and Hunt 1994). Researchers have defined commitment as "an implicit or explicit pledge of relational continuity between exchange partners (Dwyer, Schurr, and Oh 1987)" or "an enduring desire to maintain a valued relationship (Morgan and Hunt 1994)." In accordance with these definitions, brand commitment can be described as a construct with the attitudinal aspect of brand loyalty (Oliver 1999) or as the intention to maintain a continuous relationship with a brand (Fournier 1998). Existing literature suggests that consumers go through one of the following processes when they form a long-term relationship with a brand.

Brand Attachment Process Through the Emotion of Love. Consumer attachment toward a brand is a strong affective concept (Fournier 1998). Consumers become attached to a specific brand in the process of defining and maintaining their sense of self (Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995). The concept of attachment and its formation have been dealt with in the context of infant behavior (Bowlby 1969, 1973, 1980) as well as in the area of adult relationship, especially romantic relationship behavior (Collins and Read 1990; Feeney and Noller 1990; Hazan and Shaver 1987). The concept has been also studied in explaining the formation of consumer-brand relationships (Fournier 1998).

Attachment is basically te process of developing an emotional bond (Collins and Read 1990), which is facilitated by consistent and repeated experiences between relationship partners (Perry 1998). It can be measured on the basis of dependence, anxiety, and closeness (Collins and Read 1990). Attachment provides psychological comfort and pleasure, and its loss evokes strong distress (Perry 1998). The formation of a romantic love between adults can be explained in terms of the attachment process; the more secure the attachment that lovers have, the more positive aspects of love they experience (Hazan and Shaver 1987). Fournier (1998) also describes love and passion as part of the affective attachment involved in the consumer-brand relationship, and reports that attachment is a condition of emotional dependence involving separation anxiety and irreplaceability.

Self-Esteem Process Through the Emotions of Pride and Joy. Self-esteem is an overall affective evaluation of one’s importance and values (Judge, Bono, and Locke 2000), which involves a multidimensional perspective (Feeney and Noller 1990; Noller and Shum 1988). Self-esteem consists of self-appraisal and reflected appraisal (Laverie, Kleine, and Kleine 2002). It is suggested that by using a brand with self-congruent personality, the consumer expresses his or her own values (leading to self-appraisal) and goes through a social adjustment process (resulting in reflected appraisal) at the same time (Hogg, Cox, and Keeling 1998).

Cognitive appraisals elicit various emotions (Lazarus 1991; Lea and Webley 1997; Luce, Payne, and Bettman 1999; Richins 1997). For example, self-esteem is closely associated with the positive consumption emotions of pride and joy (or happiness). Pride itself is sometimes regarded as an attitude, but is usually conceptualized as an emotion induced by a high self-esteem. It includes primary pride that results from one’s own achievement and secondary pride that occurs in an ordinary life (e.g., possession). Of the two types of pride, the latter, in its broader meaning, is referred to as a source of a high self-esteem (Lea and Webley 1997). Joy or happiness is another emotion involved in self-esteem (Luce, Payne, and Bettman 1999). It often occurs when the consumer uses a brand with self-congruent personality. It is closely related to materialism and such concepts as satisfaction and well-being in life (Richins 1997; Richins and Dawson 1992).

RESEARCH HYPOTHESES

Brand Attachment Process

Consumers show a strong attachment to anything self-expressive, that is, an object congruent with the self, which reflects the extent of "me-ness" (Kleine, Kleine, and Allen 1995). Likewise, in the infant-parent relationship, similarity of personality or temperament increases the extent of emotional bond (Perry 1998). Experimenting with different brands enables consumers to expand and develop a variety of self-concepts (Belk 1988).

As stated previously, consumer’s love of a brand is an attachment process (Fournier 1998; Hazan and Shaver 1987), and attachment implies emotional dependence and separation anxiety (Collins and Read 1990; Fournier 1998) [Based on preliminary research, the present study proposes that attachment can result in emotional dependence and separation anxiety, which should be distinguished from the emotion of love itself. Through the preliminary research, which was based on the psychology and marketing literature concerning attachment types (e.g., Collins and Read 1990; Fournier 1998), the dimension were refined in explaining the consumer-brand relationship properly.]. The more attached consumers are to a brand, the more dependent they are on it and the more anxious about it when unable to use it (e.g., Remember the consumer response when New Coke was introduced). Due to separation, consumer’s love of a brand can actually become stronger. When the separation ends, consumers may feel joy (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001; Hazan and Shaver 1987) and more intense love (Fournier 1998). Thus, the following hypotheses are put forward:

H1: Brand personality/self-concept congruity is positively related to emotional dependence and separation anxiety.

H2: Emotional dependence and separation anxiety evoke positive emotions related to brand attachment such as love and joy.

Self-Esteem Process

As mentioned earlier, a high self-esteem is the result of experiencing pride and joy (Lea and Webley 1997; Luce, Payne, and Bettman 1999; Richins 1997). The emotions of pride and joy are caused by positive self- and reflected appraisals, which are often evoked by the consistency between brand personality and consumer self-concept. Johar and Sirgy (1991) suggest that the relationship between a brand and the actual or ideal self produces a positive self-appraisal and has an influence on the level of actualization of one’s own present and ideal self, which occurs regardless of other people. On the other hand, the correspondence between a brand and the social or ideal-social self can generate the satisfaction of fulfilling other people’s expectations, eliciting their positive appraisals. Therefore, two more hypotheses are proposed:

H3: Brand personality/self-concept congruity is positively associated with self- or reflected appraisal.

H4: Positive self- or reflected appraisal evokes positive emotions such as pride and joy related to self-esteem.

Emotion and Brand Commitment

Although commitment in the consumer-brand relationship is an affective concept, it should be differentiated from other constructs of emotions (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001). Consumers who once experienced a positive emotion as a result of using a brand are expected not to hesitate to maintain a long-term relationship with the brand (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001). As suggested in the attachment theory, such an emotion contributes to building and maintaining an individual’s long-term relationship with a brand. Thus, the following hypotheses are set forth:

H5: Positive emotions such as love and joy in the brand attachment process are positively associated with brand commitment.

H6: Positive emotions such as pride and joy in the self-esteem process are positively associated with brand commitment.

The research model with the hypotheses proposed thus far is presented in Figure 1.

RESEARCH METHOD

Research Sample and Procedure

Various product categories were examined in this study. Twelve products and services in which brand personality was important in the consumer-brand relationship were selected on the basis of past literature [Product categories examined were cellular phones, personal computers, digital cameras, clothing, cosmetics, jewelry, food/beverages, stationeries, consumer goods, family restaurants, and shopping malls.]. Respondents were asked to choose a brand that they purchase and use most frequently in a given product and answer the questions with that brand in mind. A convenient sample of college students and residents in metropolitan areas participated in the survey. Out of 538 questionnaires collected, 450 valid ones were used for the analysis. Among the respondents, 43.4% were male and 56.6% female, and the majority was college students (67.3%) in their 20s (85.8%).

Construct Measures

The reliability and validity of the construct measures in the research model were assessed. Alpha coefficients were computed for testing the reliability of each construct, andconfirmatory factor analysis was conducted for checking unidimensionality of the measures. Confirmatory factor analysis was first done for each construct and then for all of them a la Steenkamp and van Trijp (1991).

Self-Congruity. Brand personality/self-concept congruity was directly measured based on the self-reports of the associated brand personality (Sirgy, et al. 1997). The consistency of brand personality with self-concept (i.e., actual, ideal, social and ideal-social) was measured on a 7-point Likert scale based on existing literature (e.g., Jamal and Goode 2001; Sirgy, et al. 1997; Sirgy and Su 2000). Since self-concept is a holistic as well as a multidimensional construct and was also proved to be a higher-order construct (Bollen 1989), a second-order analysis was performed with actual, ideal, social, and ideal-social self-congruity as its subordinate categories. The results suggested a good model fit (c2=153.48, df=16, p<.01, GFI=.92, AGFI=.82, NFI=.94, NNFI=.91, CFI=.95, RMSEA=.13, RMR=.08), and the alpha coefficients for all self-congruity constructs were above the required level (Nunnally 1978).

FIGURE 1

RESEARCH MODEL

Emotional Dependence and Separation Anxiety. In terms of brand attachment, emotional dependence was evaluated on five items such as "I want to associate myself completely with this brand," and separation anxiety on six items such as "Something is missing when I do not use this brand," based on the results from the preliminary study as well as past literature (Collins and Read 1990; Fournier 1998). The final measures were refined down to three items for emotional dependence and four items for separation anxiety, and the results of the confirmatory factor analysis also indicated a good model fit (c2=68.306, df=13, p<.01, GFI=.96, AGFI=.91, NFI=.96, NNFI=.95, CFI=.97, RMSEA=.09, RMR=.03).

Self-Appraisal and Reflected Appraisal. Measures for self- and reflected appraisals as part of the self-esteem process were developed based on past studies (Laverie, Kleine, and Kleine 2002). Self-appraisal, defined as 'one’s own thoughts about using this brand’ and reflected appraisal, regarded as 'other people’s thoughts about using this brand’ were both assessed on a 7-point bipolar scale of 'notable/ordinary,’ 'excellent/poor,’ 'spectacular/terrible.’ One item with a low alpha coefficient (notable/ordinary) was excluded from the analysis. Again, the confirmatory factor analysis provided evidence for a good model fit (c2=40.283, df=1, p<.01, GFI=.96, AGFI=.61, NFI=.97, NNFI=.83, CFI=.97, RMSEA=.2, RMR=.01).

Emotion. The study deals with such positive emotions as love, pride and joy (Aaker 1999). Previous research implies that such emotions are the ones that consumers experience most frequently in their consumption life (Izard 1977; Plutchik 1980; Richins 1997; Shaver, et al. 1987) [Shaver, et al. (1987) propose that joy, love, sadness, anger, and fear as five basic emotions under the superordinate constructs of positive and negative emotions; most of the basic emotions are negative except for joy (or enjoyment), a typical positive emotion, as in Izard (1977) and Plutchik (1980). Also in Richins= study on individual consumption emotions (1997), joy, love, and pride are listed as important positive emotions.]. As mentioned above, love and joy are associated with brand attachment, and pride and joy are related with self-esteem. It has been suggested that understanding individual emotions is more important than understanding abstract emotions in the study of consumption emotion (Westbrook and Oliver 1991; Richins 1997).

To assess emotions, respondents were asked to answer the question, "What kinds of feelings are generated when you use this brand?" on a 7-point Likert scale. Measurements of love focused on such general aspects as 'loving,’ 'warm-hearted,’ 'sentimental,’ and joy was evaluated on items including 'happy,’ 'pleased,’ and 'joyful’ (Richins 1997); pride was measured on such items as 'self-esteem,’ 'self-regard,’ and 'pride’ (Laverie, Kleine, and Kleine 2002). The statistical analysis again indicated a good model fit (c2=183.943, df=24, p<.01, GFI=.91, AGFI=.84, NFI=.95, NNFI=.93, CFI=.95, RMSEA=.12, RMR=.07).

Brand Commitment. Brand commitment is defined as the intention to continue the relationship with a brand, implying a certain amount of effort and sacrifice (Aaker, Fournier, and Brasel 2004). It is generally considered as an indicator of brand loyalty (Gundlach, Achrol, and Mentzer 1995). Commitment was measured on four 7-point Likert scales, based on past studies (Aaker, Fournier, and Brasel 2004). The results of the confirmatory factor analysis indicated a good model fit (c2=13.364, df=2, p<.01, GFI=.99, AGFI=.93, NFI=.98, NNFI=.95, CFI=.98, RMSEA=.1, RMR=.03).

Confirmatory Factor Analysis for All Items. Before the hypotheses were tested, all measurement items were estimated by confirmatory factor analysis. The result showed a good model fit (c2=815.32, df=1398, p<.01, GFI=.90, AGFI=.87, NFI=.93, NNFI=.95, CFI=.96, RMSEA=.05, RMR=.04), and all phi-values, which measured the correlations between constructs, were not equal to 1, which indicated discriminant validity of the measures. Also, all the reliability coefficients exceeded the minimum value. The results of the confirmatory factor analysis are shown in Table 1.

TABLE 1

RESULTS OF CONFIRMATORY FACTOR ANALYSIS FOR ALL MEASURE ITEMS

RESULTS

The hypothesized model was estimated by LISREL. The results indicate a marginal fit of the data with the conceptual model (c2=1641.19, df=445, p<.01, GFI=.82, AGFI=.79, NFI=.86, NNFI=.88, CFI=.89, RMSEA=.07, RMR=.12). The results, presented in Table 2, suggest that brand personality/self-concept congruity increases the consumer’s emotional dependence upon the brand (y=.50, t=11.59) and evokes separation anxiety (y=.33, t=8.11). Then, emotional dependence causes love (B=.51, t=8.94) and joy (B=.50, t=7.72); separation anxiety also generates love (b=.24, t=5.78) and joy (B=.41, t=8.22). These results indicate support for Hypotheses 1 and 2.

In addition, brand personality/self-concept congruity produces positive self-appraisal (y=.52, t=11.22) and positive reflected appraisal (y=.50, t=10.76). Subsequently, positive self-appraisal create pride (B=.35, t=7.83) and joy (B=.17, t=4.02), and positive reflected appraisal elicits pride (B=.31, t=7.19). Although reflected appraisal does not show evidence of a significant influence on joy, most of the results support Hypotheses 3 and 4.

Finally, love (B=.13, t=2,38), joy (B=.36, t=7.62), and pride (B=.25, t=6.17) triggered in the brand attachment or self-esteem process are all proved to increase the consumer’s long-term brand commitment. This indicates that brand commitment is formed on the basis of consumer emotions; thus, Hypotheses 5 and 6 are supported.

DISCUSSION

Summary of Results

The present study reveals the importance of brand personality in the formation of brand-consumer relationships. In particular, it empirically proves that consumers establish more intense brand commitment through the experiences of love, joy and pride induced by the process of brand attachment or self-esteem. This finding supports the argument that such emotions, the determinants of commitment, should be conceptually and empirically differentiated from commitment per se (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001).

The current study suggests that consumers experience a feeling of attachment in a relationship with a self-congruent brand. The brand attachment process involves the emotions of love and joy, which increase as a result of emotional dependence and separation anxiety. Joy is a positive emotion that consumers usually feel when using the brand they like (Chaudhuri and Holbrook 2001). This feeling of joy is a starting point in forming an emotional bond with the brand and in developing more profound emotions such as love. Oliver (1999 refers to commitment based on love as 'unfailing commitment,’ emphasizing its qualitative difference from attitudinal loyalty based on other emotions.

TABLE 2

HYPOTHESIS TESTING

In addition, according to the analysis, brand personality/self-concept congruity affects emotional dependence relatively more than does separation anxiety. From an empirical perspective, this result is presumably related to the characteristics of the product categories or situational factors, but it also implies that the essence of attachment is dependence (Perry 1998).

As indicated by the results, consumers feel pride in using a brand with self-congruent personality, and this emotion has a positive influence on a long-term commitment. This supports the idea that the self-congruity effect can be explained by self-concept motives (Johar and Sirgy 1991; Sirgy, Grewal, and Mangleburg 2000), especially by the actualization of the self-esteem process (Judge, Bono, and Locke 2000). Additionally, the fact that pride is evoked from positive self- and reflected appraisals is consistent with the past research which shows that a high self-esteem is achieved by the expression of one’s own value as well as social adjustment (Hogg, Cox, and Keeling 1998). Joy does not have a significant relation to a positive reflected appraisal in the self-esteem process, but it seems to be a result from a positive self-appraisal; thus, the study supports the notion that joy is also relevant to self-esteem.

Implications and Future Research Directions

The role of brand personality in a consumer-brand relationship is examined in the present research. In particular, it is proved that brand personality/self-concept congruity has an effect on the formation of long-term relationships and the effect is mediated by the brand attachment or the self-esteem process. Moreover, in this study, the concept of attachment is defined and applied to the research context of consumer-brand relationships. The concept is distinguished conceptually and empirically from the notion of commitment. It is believed that these concepts will serve as a basis for future studies in this area.

The results of this study also provide insight for brand managers and marketers. According to the study findings, brand personality can play a critical role in the formation of the relationship between a company and its consumers. Based on a branding strategy that incorporates the target customers’ self-concept and distinct, congruent brand personality, a firm can induce the feelings of brand attachment and commitment from its customers, and thus, build a long-term relationship with them.

However, the present study has some shortcomings, which need to be addressed and overcome in future studies. First, the study is limited in terms of the product categories that were investigated and the respondents who participated. Future research should examine more various product categories with more diverse groups of respondents for a higher level of generalizability of the results. Second, further studies are needed, which explore potential moderating variables in the research model, such as consumer and product characteristics, for instance. Finally, this study is also limited in the sense that it does not examine which dimension of brand personality is related to which emotion in brand personality/self-concept congruity. Future studies are expected to shed light on these issues.

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