Developing a Scale For Measuring Brand Relationship Quality

Hyun Kyung Kim, Yonsei University, Korea
Moonkyu Lee, Yonsei University, Korea
Yoon Won Lee, TNS Korea
ABSTRACT - Building and maintaining a long-term consumer-brand relationship has become critical to sustaining a competitive advantage. Successful management of the consumer-brand relationship requires a valid and reliable set of measures to assess its quality. The present study develops and tests a measurement scale for evaluating consumer-brand relationship quality. Results are discussed in terms of both theoretical and practical implications.
[ to cite ]:
Hyun Kyung Kim, Moonkyu Lee, and Yoon Won Lee (2005) ,"Developing a Scale For Measuring Brand Relationship Quality", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, eds. Yong-Uon Ha and Youjae Yi, Duluth, MN : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 118-126.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 6, 2005      Pages 118-126

DEVELOPING A SCALE FOR MEASURING BRAND RELATIONSHIP QUALITY

Hyun Kyung Kim, Yonsei University, Korea

Moonkyu Lee, Yonsei University, Korea

Yoon Won Lee, TNS Korea

ABSTRACT -

Building and maintaining a long-term consumer-brand relationship has become critical to sustaining a competitive advantage. Successful management of the consumer-brand relationship requires a valid and reliable set of measures to assess its quality. The present study develops and tests a measurement scale for evaluating consumer-brand relationship quality. Results are discussed in terms of both theoretical and practical implications.

INTRODUCTION

Marketing mix paradigms have dominated marketing thoughts and practices over many years. However, because of dramatic changes in the market environment, these paradigms are changing accordingly. Technological advances are shortening the lengths of product life cycles, the differences among products/brands are becoming less discernible, and customers’ needs are growing more diverse. Many firms find, in such an altered environment, that more profit can be obtained by keeping their current customers than by seeking new customers and that they should emphasize and differentiate not only functional but also emotional aspects of their brands in order to keep the customers. Therefore, consumer-brand relationship (or brand relationship, hereafter) has become crucial factor in today’s marketing environment. In this study, a set of factors determining brand relationship is proposed, quantitative measures for each of these factors are developed and tested, and implications of the measures are discussed from a methodological and practical standpoint.

THEORETICAL BACKGROUND

Relationship Quality

This section deals with some definitions and dimensions of relationship quality proposed by the existing research in the service and product domains.

Defining Relationship Quality. Most studies of relationship quality deal with an interpersonal relationship, defining quality as a set of intangible values that brings expected exchanges between a buyer and a seller and that increases product sales (e.g., Levitt 1986). Relationship quality is described as a higher-order construct with several distinct but related dimensions. But there are diverse views on its dimensions (Crosby, Evans, and Crowles 1990; Dwyer and Oh 1987; Kumar, Scheer, and Steenkamp 1995).

Existing Studies of Relationship Quality. Many studies have been conducted in an effort to examine potential dimensions of relationship quality. In the service domain, Crosby, Evans, and Crowles (1990) identify two dimensions of relationship quality; namely, trust and satisfaction. Wray, Palmer, and Bejou (1994) and Shamdasani and Balakrishnan (2000) also propose these two dimensions as the main elements of relationship quality. In a slightly different context, Moorman, Zaltman, and Deshpande (1992), investigating the relationship between knowledge providers and users of market research services, find that relationship quality consists of perceived quality, commitment, and involvement. They also suggest that trust is an antecedent to a good quality relationship. In a similar vein, Roberts, Varki, and Brodie (2003) define relationship quality as a high-order construct composed of trust, commitment, satisfaction, and affective conflict. Finally, Hennig-Thurau (2001) suggests that the main dimensions of relationship quality are service quality, trust, and affective commitment.

Research effort has also been made in the product domain. Lagace, Dahlstrom, and Gassenheimer (1991) identify trust and satisfaction as the main elements of relationship quality in the pharmaceutical industry. In addition, Kumar, Sheer, and Steenkamp (1995) propose that trust, commitment, conflict, expectation of continuity, and willingness to invest are the main components of relationship quality. On the other hand, Dorsch, Swanson, and Kelley (1998) propose that relationship quality is composed not just of trust, commitment, and satisfaction, but also of opportunism, customer orientation, and ethical profile. In summary, the dimensions of relationship quality that existing studies suggest most frequently in the service and product areas are trust, commitment, and satisfaction.

Brand Relationship

This section describes how brand relationship has been dealt with in past studies. First of all, Belk (1988) suggests that people often regard their possessions as part of themselves and an important component of their sense of self. Likewise, Kleine, Kleine III, and Allen (1995) propose that possessions to which people are strongly attached reflect their sense of self. But they seem to overlook the fact that people or possessors can consider their possessions as partners in interactive relationships in their lives.

Blackston (1993) points out that existing studies of brand image and brand personality view a brand simply as an object of customer attitude. Constructing a communication model that describes a reciprocal relation between brands and consumers, he redefines brand relationship as 'an interaction between the consumers’ attitude toward the brand and the brand’s attitude toward the consumer.’ Thus, he argues that the consumer’s recognition of the brand’s attitude toward consumers should be incorporated into the study of brand image.

In a similar vein, Fournier (1998) suggests that brand relationship is an emotional ties resulting from the interaction between the consumer and his/her brand. Therefore, brand relationship should be thought of as a result of the interactive process between the consumer and a personified brand rather than a simple pattern of repurchase based on the consumer’s satisfaction with a product or a service. Fournier lays an integrative theoretical groundwork for the research in this area and proposes six factors leading to a long-lasting brand relationship: (a) love and passion, (b) self-connection, (c) interdependence, (d) commitment, (e) intimacy, and (f) brand partner quality.

RESEARCH CONSTRUCTS

The focus of this study is to develop a comprehensive scale for measuring brand relationship quality (or BRQ, hereafter). Susan Fournier’s framework (1998) along with other research literature explained above is used in identifying major dimensions of BRQ. The present section elaborates on those dimensions underlying BRQ.

Self-Connective Attachment

Schifferstein (2001) suggests that memories related to a brand evoke one’s attachment to that brand. Self-image or surroundings can also generate attachment to a specific brand. Fournier (1998) also proposes that affective attachment is generated when a brand becomes involved in one’s self-concept and self-image. Such a self-connective aspect of attachment is one of the BRQ dimensions.

Satisfaction

In a retail setting, Westbrook (1981) defines satisfaction as an affective state aroused by an evaluation of the interaction between customer and salesperson. This definition is consistent with that of Anderson, Fornell, and Lemann (1994), who propose that "satisfaction is an overall evaluation based on long-term experience of purchasing and consuming a product or service." According to Storbacka, Strandvik, and Gronroos (1994), customer satisfaction is the 'customer’s cognitive and affective evaluation based on their personal experience across all service episodes within the relationship.’ In fact, satisfaction has been considered one of the major factors determining relationship quality in many previous studies (Bejou, Wray, and Ingram 1996; Crosby, Evans, and Crowles 1990; Dorsch, Swanson, and Kelley 1998; Lagace, Dahlstrom, and Gassenheimer 1991; Roberts, Varki, and Brodie 2003; Wray, Palmer, and Bejou 1994). Thus, it is included in this study.

Commitment

Hennig-Thurau and Klee (1997) indicate that commitment is a matter of the customer’s orientation toward a long-term relationship. Similarly, Moorman, Zaltman and Deshpande (1992) define commitment as 'an enduring desire to maintain a valued relationship.’ In addition, Morgan and Hunt (1994) define relationship commitment as the belief that a consistent relationship with a partner is worthwhile and warrants efforts to maintain it. On the basis of such definitions, commitment has been analyzed in past studies in many different ways. But t is generally dimensionalized as cognitive, affective, and behavioral (Meyer and Allen 1991). Consumers tend to build up commitment when maintaining the relationship yields more benefits than terminating it (cognitive commitment), when they simply feel an emotional bond within the relationship (affective commitment), or when they do not want to switch to other alternatives (behavioral commitment). Likewise, Verhoef, Frances and Hoekstra (2002) distinguish two types of commitment: calculative and affective. Calculative commitment is the state of maintaining a relationship for economic reasons, a concept similar to cognitive commitment (Gundlach, Achrol, and Mentzer 1995). The relationship is usually maintained because the benefits of keeping it exceed those of terminating or altering it (Meyer, et al. 1989). Affective commitment, in contrast, is based on feelings of identification (Skarmeas, Katsikeas, and Schlegelmilch 2002). Since this particular type of commitment is often confused with emotional attachment described earlier, this study confines itself to the cognitive and behavioral aspects of commitment.

Trust

Fournier’s concept of BRQ (1998) is consistent with the notion of trust in the context of interpersonal relationships. The existing literature in social psychology proposes two types of trust: (a) trust in honesty and (b) trust in benevolence (Larzelere and Huston 1980; Rempel, Holmes, and Zanna 1985). Trust in a partner’s honesty is the belief that the partner will perform his or her role effectively and reliably (Dwyer and Oh 1987; Ganesan 1994; Kumar, Scheer, and Steenkamp 1995) and that the partner will keep promises and meet one’s needs (Anderson and Narus 1990). Trust in a partner’s benevolence in economic relationships is a customer’s perception that a firm is concerned about the welfare of customers (Kumar, Scheer, and Steenkamp 1995; Rempel, Holmes, and Zanna 1985) and his/her confidence that a salesperson will behave in a way that serves the customer’s long-term interests (Crosby, Evans, and Cowles 1990). Trust is also incorporated in this study.

Intimacy

Altman and Taylor (1973) define intimacy as a deep understanding and knowledge of a partner; Davis and Latty-Mann (1987) consider it the mental closeness of the relationship between partners. In short, intimacy is associated with the depth of one’s knowledge of one’s partner. Our pilot study indicates that intimacy also has an affective aspect. Thus, in this study, intimacy is included with two sub-dimensions of knowledge depth and affective ties.

METHODOLOGY

The objective of the present research is to develop a measurement scale for brand relationship quality based on the procedure proposed by Churchill (1979). Two pilot studies were conducted prior to the main study.

Pilot Study 1

In the first pilot study, we conducted face-to-face in-depth interviews to confirm the dimensions of the BRQ model. The respondents varied in age and sex, i.e., four respondents each in their 20’s, 30’s, and 40’s, and two males and two females in each age group. After choosing a favorite brand of product or service, interviewees were asked why they liked that brand in particular. We further asked them to describe the elements that contributed to the quality of their relationship with the brand. We found that the younger interviewees were, the more deeply attachment and commitment based on satisfaction and trust affected BRQ; the older interviewees were, the more likely they were to buy habitually on the basis of satisfaction and trust. The dimensions of relationship quality offered by interviewees were very consistent across age and sex, although there were slight differences according to the type of product or service.

Pilot Study 2

Since the existing studies of relationship quality have focused primarily on the service domain, the measures used there are not totally applicable to the physical product area. Hence, the measurement items drawn from past studies as well as those from the first pilot study were revised by marketing professionals in the second pilot study. Respondents were 40 brand professionals and graduate students in marketing. Presented with a list of measures, they were asked to choose and rank five items that would best explain the determinants of brand relationship quality. Table 1 shows the items selected through the two pilot studies.

Main Study

Respondents were asked to complete a survey with their favorite brands in mind. As the pilot studies revealed some differences in relationship quality dimensions for products and services, the main study distinguished between product and service brands. In the study, three product and three service categories were presented. Respondents chose one category of product and another of service and evaluated their favorite brands in those categories. A convenient sample of 361 respondents participated in the survey. Among them were undergraduate and graduate students at a metropolitan university as well as office workers.

TABLE 1

INITIAL MEASUREMENT ITEMS DEVELOPED THROUGH PILOT STUDIES

RESULTS

We ran exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses to assess the reliability and validity of the measures. In this section, we describe the results for product brands first and explain those for service brands.

Results for Product Brands

Refinement of Items. Out of 361 respondents, 210 respondents (57%) were male and 161 (43%) female; 235 (70%) were in their 20’s and 194 (53.8%) were students. The data indicated five factors, as proposed earlier; each item was categorized into one of the five. Reliability was tested by exploratory factor analysis. To verify the factor structure, we deleted items with factor loadings below 0.6. For all the dimensions, Cronbach’s alphas were above 0.8, indicating a high level of internal consistency. Composite reliability, which needs to be above 0.6 (Bagozzi and Yi 1988), was also confirmed. Table 2 shows the internal consistency for all indicators.

After testing for the reliability, we examined the validity of the factors through confirmatory factor analysis, using LISREL 8.5. To investigate both convergent and discriminant validity, we checked all factors in a measurement model, including exogenous and endogenous factors (Bollen 1989). A measurement model makes an overall evaluation of the construct validity and a confirmatory assessment of the convergent and discriminant validity (Campbell and Fiske 1959). To determine convergent validity using LISREL, we used factor loading l and standard error. We assumed that if the factor loadings were statistically significant (t>2.00), convergent validity was achieved (Anderson and Gerbing 1988). The results showed that the values of coefficient l, which linked items to the corresponding construct, were all significant; thus convergent validity was confirmed. To check discriminant validity in LISREL, we tested the null hypothesis, assuming all constructs to be the same ('=1.0). If all values of coefficient ' were not equal to 1 at a 95% confidence level, discriminant validity was established (Anderson and Gerbing 1988). As presented in Table 3, the model was found to have discriminant validity. In addition, although items used in the survey were extracted from previous studies, they were examined again by marketing professionals for ensuring content validity.

Model Re-estimation. To optimize each construct, we estimated GFI, AGFI, RMR, and NFI. A confirmatory factor analysis of the initial measurement model using a covariance matrix indicated that the performance of the measurement model was not good (GFI=0.84, AGFI=0.79, Standardized RMR=0.059, NFI=0.84). Thus, the research framework was modified and re-examined. A re-test with the modified showed improved performance (GFI=0.92, AGFI=0.89, Standardized RMR=0.047, NFI=0.91). Table 4 exhibits the items that were eliminated and those retained.

Results for Service Brands

Refinement of Items. The same respondents answered the questions regarding their favorite service brand. The first factor analysis yielded six factors. A reliability test was conducted through exploratory factor analysis. Items were divided among the six dimensions of the BRQ, and Cronbach’s alphas were calculated for each of the dimensions. To reduce the number of factors, a second analysis was run with only five factors, and the result showed that five factors explained 65% of the variance. The same BRQ dimensions were identified with these factors, and each item was found to be properly categorized. Among the items in each factor, those with factor loadings over 0.6 were selected. Cronbach’s alphas for each dimension were reasonably good with scores over 0.8, indicating a high level of internal consistency. Composite reliability was also confirmed, as all values exceeded 0.6 (see Table 5).

TABLE 2

RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY TESTS OF THE STRUCTURAL MODEL: PRODUCT DOMAIN

TABLE 3

COEFFICIENT ' VALUES IN DISCRIMINATE VALIDITY TEST: PRODUCT DOMAIN

TABLE 4

FINAL ITEMS FOR EACH DIMENSION AND MODEL FIT: PRODUCT DOMAIN

We ran confirmatory factor analysis to test convergent and discriminant validity. The values of coefficient l were all significant, indicating convergent validity. Additionally, the values of ' were not equal to 1, suggesting discriminant validity (see Table 6). Because the study used the same items as those in the products domain, content validity was also assumed to be acceptable.

Model Re-estimation. Again, we tested GFI, AGFI, RMR, and NFI as we did in the product domain in order to optimize each dimension. A confirmatory factor analysis was run for the initial measurement model using a covariance matrix. The measurement model was not found to be adequate (GFI=0.86, AGFI=0.82, Standardized RMR=0.049, NFI=0.86). Therefore, the research framework was modified and estimated again. With the modification, a second estimation showed improved fit (GFI=0.92, AGFI=0.89, Standardized RMR=0.045, NFI=0.91). Table 7 shows the items that were deleted and those retained.

DISCUSSION

Summary of Findings

The main goal of the current study was to develop a scale for measuring brand relationship quality. Drawing from existing theories, we have conceptualized a model describing the determinants of brand relationship quality, developed a new set of measurement items, and empirically tested it for products and services.

Product Brands. The BRQ model developed through exploratory and confirmatory factor analyses in this study is consistent with the existing research models. Dimensions underlying BRQ are self-connective attachment, satisfaction, commitment, trust, and intimacy. We have found that self-connective attachment is correlated with BRQ more strongly than any other factors.

The results differ from the proposed model in several ways. First, the research model hypothesized two sub-dimensions of commitment, behavioral and cognitive, but the latter was eliminated during analysis. Thus, consumer commitment to a product brand does not seem to have a significant cognitive aspect. In other words, with regard to the measurement of BRQ, commitment is fully represented by the concept of behavioral commitment. Second, intimacy was expected to entail both knowledge depth and emotional ties in our initial model, but knowledge depth was eventually eliminated in the analysis. The affective aspects of intimacy, such as comfort and familiarity, appear to account fully for the role of intimacy in BRQ.

Service Brands. The results for service brands were quite similar to those for product brands. BRQ consists of the five factors described earlier; the cognitive aspects of commitment and intimacy do not appear to play a significant role in maintaining a long-term relationship with a service brand.

Comparison of Results. We conducted separate analyses for products and for services, expecting that the BRQ dimensions for the two areas would differ from each other. However, the study results point out only one meaningful difference, i.e., with product brands, commitment explains BRQ better than trust does, whereas with service brands, trust accounts for BRQ better than commitment does. The final dimensions of brand relationship quality for both products and services are summarized in Table 8 (Note that C5 applies only to products, SC3 and ST6 only to services.).

Methodological and Practical Implications

The notion of consumer-brand relationship, pioneered by Susan Fournier (1998), has inspired many studies in this area. Fournier viewed brand relationship as a relationship between a consumer and a personified brand, akin to a relationship between two people. Her data, however, were drawn only from qualitative research. The present study contributes to the field by adopting a quantitative approach to measuring brand relationship quality.

Brand management is becoming more important to the marketers who are struggling to achieve sustainable competitive advantage in today’s marketplace. The BRQ measurement scale developed in this study will offer brand managers and marketers useful insights and tools for conducting consumer research and formulating brand strategies. For instance, since self-connective attachment is found to be the single most critical factor in BRQ, managers, as they develop strategies for establishing and maintaining long-lasting consumer-brand relationships, need to find ways to reflect consumers’ desired or ideal self-images.

Limitations and Future Research Directions

There are several limitations of the present study which need to be addressed and overcome in future research. First, since the data were collected from a convenience sample, the study results were limited in terms of generalizability. Respondents of diverse characteristics should be selected on a more systematic basis in future studies for a higher level of external validity of results. Second, this study established an empirical model which identified a set of determinants of BRQ. More research effort should be made in enhancing the explanatory and predictive power of the model by examining potential mediating and moderating factors. One of the immediate extensions would be a study investigating relative differences in the impact of the BRQ determinants caused by consumer and product characteristics.

TABLE 5

RELIABILITY AND VALIDITY TESTS OF THE STRUCTURAL MODEL: SERVICE DOMAIN

TABLE 6

COEFFICIENT ' VALUES IN DISCRIMINATE VALIDITY TEST: SERVICE DOMAIN

TABLE 7

FINAL ITEMS FOR EACH DIMENSION AND MODEL FIT: SERVICE DOMAIN

TABLE 8

MEASUREMENT ITEMS FOR CONSUMER-BRAND RELATIONSHIP QUALITY

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