Measuring Brand Equity Among Thai Consumers: an Individual Consumer Approach

ABSTRACT - Though brand equity has become a major marketing issue, non-proprietary research on brand equity at an individual consumer level has been rare. One of the reasons for this is a lack of an agreed-upon measure of brand equity. This study developed and tested a brand equity measure with Thai consumers. Acceptability and purchase intent were used as criterion variables. The key measure of success for a brand equity measure was its ability to predict a differential brand response. The results showed that the equity of one brand predicted negative responses to other brands. Nonetheless, the model worked well only when brands competed with each other in consumer’s mind.



Citation:

Saravudh Anantachart (2002) ,"Measuring Brand Equity Among Thai Consumers: an Individual Consumer Approach", in AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, eds. Ramizwick and Tu Ping, Valdosta, GA : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 360-365.

Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5, 2002      Pages 360-365

MEASURING BRAND EQUITY AMONG THAI CONSUMERS: AN INDIVIDUAL CONSUMER APPROACH

Saravudh Anantachart, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand

ABSTRACT -

Though brand equity has become a major marketing issue, non-proprietary research on brand equity at an individual consumer level has been rare. One of the reasons for this is a lack of an agreed-upon measure of brand equity. This study developed and tested a brand equity measure with Thai consumers. Acceptability and purchase intent were used as criterion variables. The key measure of success for a brand equity measure was its ability to predict a differential brand response. The results showed that the equity of one brand predicted negative responses to other brands. Nonetheless, the model worked well only when brands competed with each other in consumer’s mind.

Since brand equity has become one of the major issues, research has been done to define as well as measure the concept in various perspectives. The measurement of brand equity is a top priority among issues for brand equity research. Baldinger (1991) practically stated that measuring brand equity is of critical interest to senior executives because it means the efficient management of corporate assets and a company’s long-term survival. Notably, many of the measures have been financial-based (e.g., Simon and Sullivan 1992), and there have been a few studies focused on the view of consumers. Some existing consumer-based brand equity measures were developed and used in certain businesses. Some other measures may be difficult to use or may require intensive efforts to accomplish tasks. Therefore, up until now, it could be concluded that there has been a lack of agreed-upon measure of consumer brand equity to be generally used by the public and easily applied across situations.

These problems highlighted opportunities for research in brand equity measurement. Hence, this study was intended to: (1) conceptualize brand equity from an individual consumer perspective, and (2) empirically test a measure of consumer brand equity with consumers in Thailand, a Southeast Asian country, from a marketing communications approach. These focuses might differentiate the current study from previous and typical marketing efforts on the study of brand equity. That is, it concentrates on the primary use of the results in evaluating marketing communications campaigns, rather than the use of brand equity in further decision on brand extensions.

CONCEPTUAL BACKGROUND

Reviewing Consumer Brand Equity Definitions

Most of consumer brand equity studies have been conducted by research firms on a proprietary basis. The specific operations of their measures have not been detailed entirely to preclude others from "stealing" the measures they sell (Ehrenberg 1997). Further, these measures tend to be aggregate measures, not individual consumer measures.

One interesting aspect of most aggregate-level models of brand equity is that they are based on traditional hierarchy-of-effects models. Dyson, Farr, and Hollis (1996), for example, measure the percentage of customers who believe that a brand having presence, also believe the brand has relevance. The percentage who believes the brand having presence and relevance is reduced to the percentage who believes that the brand has presence, relevance, positive product performance, and so on. The resulting percentage of "bonded’s" is the measure of equity. This reduction of percentages occurs across a hierarchy similar to familiarity, positive attitude, trial, satisfaction, and preference to brand loyalty. These type of analyses produce the ladder, or stacking, effect which shows the percentage of the sample at different levels of awareness, trial, satisfaction, and preference. The shortcoming of this approach is that equity is determined and reported at the aggregate level. It does not allow for the study of the relationship between individual levels of consumer brand equity and individual consumer behavior responses.

One of the classic models that has been used to explain the long-term effects of advertising and other marketing communications is the Lavidge and Steiner’s (1961) hierarchy-of-effects model. Under the model, advertising and marketing communications are proposed to be communication tools that can lead an audience or a consumer from unawareness to decision-making through a series of steps: awareness, knowledge, liking, preference, conviction, and actual purchase. Other researchers (e.g., Maloney 1966, cited in Batra, Myers, and Aaker 1996; Moore and Thorson 1996) developed a post-evaluation process; a consumer may or may not be satisfied with the product. If satisfied, this leads to an effect, which can be termed brand equity. That is, the equity gradually is built in the consumer’s mind, from the time of exposure to the time of use.

Keller (1993, 1996) conceptualized consumer brand equity as the differential response that brand knowledge has on consumer reactions, to the marketing of that brand. Brand knowledge is the key concept and is identified by brand awareness and brand image. Brand awareness is assessed through brand recall and brand recognition tests. However, it may be more complex to measure brand image since it must be evaluated from the characteristics of brand associations, their types, favorability, strength, and uniqueness. One also can assess the impact of brand knowledge on consumer response to different marketing activities.

Meanwhile, Aaker (1991) proposed brand equity as a construct composed of four dimensions: name awareness, perceived quality, brand association, and brand loyalty. Name awareness is the ability of a potential customer to recognize or recall a brand name or symbols. Perceived quality can be defined as the perception a consumer has towards the overall quality or superiority of a product with respect to its intended purpose and relating to alternatives. Brand association links the brand to the consumer’s memory; a strong association can provide value to a brand by helping the consumers to process or retrieve information, differentiating the brand, giving consumers a reason to buy, creating a positive attitude in consumers’ minds, and providing a basis for extending brands. Finally, brand loyalty is defined as a measure of the attachment that a customer has to a brand. The customer’s brand loyalty reflects the likelihood that a customer will switch to a new brand.

Aaker’s model further states that the value of brand equity is determined by the sustainable competitive advantages of the brand based upon the weighted average of an appraisal on the four dimensions of brand equity. Brand equity would provide values to each consumer by enhancing his/her information processing, confidence in purchase decision, and use satisfaction.

Among existing literature on brand equity, Aaker’s (1991) model was accepted as the most appropriate perspective for this study. Aaker’s model incorporates the best of all the different conceptualizations of brand equity. The most important aspect to note is that this perspective views brand equity as a predictor of consumer response to various brands, not a predictor toward a single, specific brand. In other words, the Aaker conceptualization recognizes that consumer brand equity for one brand is relative to the equity a consumer has for competing brands.

Measuring Brand Equity at the Individual Level

Cobb-Walgren, Ruble, and Donthu (1995) published the only study that reported the researchers’ measures of individual consumer brand equity with specific, replicable, and operational definitions. Others have been published, but none offered specific operational definitions because of the proprietary nature of their measures.

Cobb-Walgren et al. (1995) examined brand equity at the individual consumer level by using Aaker’s perceptual components of brand equity, excluding brand loyalty. In their study, the researchers measured name awareness, brand associations, and perceived quality and then combined the various ratios to arrive at a brand equity score for each brand. The individual measures of brand equity scores were then used to predict a consumer response. Consumer response is, consumer brand preference and purchase intent between two competing product and service brands, in the same category. Most brand equity studies used brand preference as the dependent variable. In other words, brand equity predicts brand preference.

While the Cobb-Walgren et al. (1995) measures fit Aaker’s conceptualization, the measures used are difficult to administer and require comprehensive tasks. These limitations preclude the use of these measures in telephone or mail surveys, the two most widely used methods in consumer attitude and branding research. To move more brand equity discussion from the arena o conceptualization to the arena of statistical testing, a reliable and valid measure of brand equity useful for survey research is needed.

Developing Foundations for the Consumer Brand Equity Model

Consumer preference generally gives a direction to attitude and behavior in regard to choosing one course of action over a number of courses of action. It can indicate the impact of the brand on the consumer evaluation (Aaker 1991). Spence and Engel (1970) define preference as the expression of strong intention to buy a specific brand for the next purchase. A customer who has strong preference for a brand can show a heightened awareness, knowledge, liking, and sensitivity to advertisements or other marketing communications which support his/her preference. Exposure to an advertisement can enhance the liking for the brand independently of cognitive dimensions or contextual associations: Affect for a brand has a linear relationship with the exposure frequency (Baker, Hutchinson, Moore, and Nedungadi 1986). Therefore, when exposure to an advertised brand increases, affective reactions to the brand increase as well.

As the outcome of a consumer’s evaluation process before purchase, preference is commonly used to predict product choices (Lefkoff-Hagius and Mason 1993). Nevertheless, other factors, for example, brand availability, perceived reaction of friends (Higie and Sewall 1991), might also affect purchase. Thus, once consumers have preferred brands or choices of brands in their minds, they will update their preference through trial (Carpenter and Nakamoto 1989). Crosby and Taylor (1983) showed a two-stage evaluative process for voters that can be applied to a consumer decision process. The first stage of the model explains that after a consumer has belief and expectation, an attitude is created. From attitude, preference results. After that, intention and choice behavior are developed. Finally, a consumer makes an actual purchase. The second stage shows that, in the post-purchase process, a consumer will develop satisfaction or dissatisfaction with the brand. If the outcomes resulting from the consumption experience are positive, the consumers are then satisfied with the products or services.

Consumer satisfaction can be defined as a consumer’s evaluation that the chosen alternative is consistent with their prior expectations (Yi 1990). The key variables affecting consumer satisfaction are expectation, disconfirmation, perceived performance, and prior attitude. After consumers use a product, they may respond in two ways. If they are dissatisfied with the product, they may take no action, switch brands or curtail patronage, make a complaint to others, or tell others about the unsatisfactory product (Yi 1990). However, if they are satisfied with the product, they are likely to repurchase and reuse the product. This helps the brand to become a "strong" brand.

The discussions above suggest the use of satisfaction and preference as indicators of consumer brand equity. Further, there is ample theoretical and empirical evidence to limit the variables in the proposed model to satisfaction and preference. In other words, brand equity can be measured by using measures of satisfaction and preference.

The proposed individual model for measuring individual consumer brand equity is mostly influenced by Maloney’s (1966, cited in Batra et al. 1996) consumer demand profile. This model consists of awareness, acceptance, preference, brand bought last, and brand satisfaction. A unique element of this model is the brand satisfaction. Satisfaction can be conceptually thought as a final picture of consumer’s memory after purchase decision process. It is mainly composed of the intensity of preference toward the brand accepted and bought. Following the aggregate models, this hierarchy and the relationship between satisfaction and preference in the hierarchy suggests that an individual consumer’s brand equity is related to the level of satisfaction with a brand and the degree of preference for that brand compared to competing brands. Hence, from the notion that levels of satisfaction are precursors to levels of preference in the hierarchical models, it is suggested here that the satisfaction-preference relationship can be broken down into the components of preference and satisfaction stated earlier.

This relationship can be inferentially equivalent to the scientific notion of density; the ratio of the mass of an object to its volume. In other words, the greater mass the brand has (preference) among satisfactory alternative brands (volume), the more equity the brand has over its competitors. If a person’s preference for a brand is equal to the satisfaction the person has for alternative brands, the person would have maximum equity and be brand loyal. Stated another way, if the person is satisfied with a brand, it will be difficult for a competing brand to influence the person to switch brands; the brand would have equity. This is consistent with the concept of brand equity predicting a differential response (Keller 1993). Brand equity is thus determined by comparing consumer response to a variable for the selected brand versus other brands under the same variable.

Operationalizing the Consumer Brand Equity Model

Consumer brand equity can be operationalized as the function of preference and satisfaction a consumer has toward the brand that may be attributed to satisfaction toward all brands in his or her choice set. In other words, the equity of a brand, mathematically, should be equal to a person’s preference for a brand multiplied by the person’s level of satisfaction with the brand, divided by the sum of the person’s level of satisfaction with alternative brands in a choice set:

    Brand A Equity = (Brand A Preference x Brand A Satisfaction)

                                (Satisfaction with all Brands in a Choice Set)

From a "density" perspective, a brand with high equity will have greater mass (preference x satisfaction) relative to the sum of the satisfaction a consumer has with all brands in the category or all brands in question (volume). An object with greater mass is more difficult to move. A brand with greater mass (equity) will be more difficult to take share from. A person with equity for a brand will be more difficult to persuade to try or switch to an alternative brand.

To test the validity of this model from the differential response perspective, the brand equity scores should be negatively related to the consumer’s reactions to competing brands. This differential response perspective suggests testing consumer responses to alternative brands, not responses to the specific brand whose equity score is being tested. Rice and Bennett (1998) added that such consumer’s attitude toward alternative brands is crucial for understanding the level of commitment that the consumer has to the brand being tested.

This perspective is not like traditional brand correlation approaches which typically correlate brand scores with ratings for the same brand on different variables. In other words, through the correlation analysis, the major emphasis was not on an individual brand’s equity prediction (e.g., familiarity with Brand A), but rather using one brand’s equity score to predict familiarity with n alternative brand (e.g., less familiarity with Brands B or C). The anticipated results are that: (1) the relationship of the equity of the selected brand to a variable for that brand should be significant and positive, and (2) the relationship of the equity of the same brand to the same variable for other brands should be significant and negative, or uncorrelated. While "uncorrelated" does not allow a reject of the null hypothesis, "uncorrelated" would indicate brands whose responses were unrelated, suggesting the two brands be in less direct competition in consumer’s mind (Anantachart 1998; Anantachart and Sutherland 1998).

Propositions

Based on the differential response perspective suggested by the current brand equity conceptualizations, the following propositions were addressed:

P1: Individual brand equity is negatively related to acceptability of a competing brand.

P2: Individual brand equity is negatively related to purchase intent for a competing brand.

These propositions suggest that as equity for a specific brand increases, acceptability of alternative brands will decrease (P1) and intent to buy alternative brands will decrease (P2).

METHOD

Most of brand equity research in the past has been confined to developed countries or Western contexts (especially the United States). In an era of globalization and global markets, it is imperative that brand equity issues be researched in other country and cultural contexts. From this perspective, the emerging markets of Southeast Asia offer a good research opportunity. The current study employed a self-administered questionnaire to collect the data from consumers in Thailand, a country in the Pacific Rim region, which though recently facing some setbacks, is still considered an important economic region, at least in the long run.

Besides the demographic part, the survey questionnaire covered questions regarding the respondents’ acceptability, purchase intent, preference, and satisfaction toward the tested brands in each category. Consumer preference and satisfaction were the keys to measuring brand equity; the other scales were measured to serve as dependent variables to test and validate the proposed measure of brand equity. To ensure the reliability and validity of the scales, the researcher borrowed them from previous research (Haley 1985; Haley and Case 1979; Westbrook 1980), and adjusted them into five-pointed, Likert-typed scales (ranging from 1 to 5), except the brand preference scale was a constant-sum, eleven-pointed sale (allocating 0 to 10 to three brands in the same category). Since Thailand does not use English as its mother language, the researcher translated all questions into Thai. Then, two professors who completed their graduate degrees in the United States checked for the correctness of the translation.

Two product categories represented low and high involvement situations, as well as one service category were used. This allowed testing the model’s performance in measuring equity of brands for different types of information processing. Specifically, regular shampoo and sneakers were chosen because they were already shown as representatives in the different degrees of involvement in the previous Foot, Cone and Belding (FCB) Grid’s studies (e.g., Vaughn 1986). A credit card was added to represent the service part. In addition, the nature of working age partially fitted the demographics of the category users. Further, each category included three brands that had different levels of market share and advertising expenditures in Thailand to prevent the problems of range restriction (e.g., ceiling effect, floor effect) in the validation process (Crocker and Algina 1986).

A two-step sampling process was used. First, the researcher randomly sampled eight out of 36 business districts of Bangkok metropolitan to be potential survey areas. Then, 407 working people, aged 20-45 years old, in such areas were conveniently requested to participate in the study during October 2000. They were 286 females and 121 males. About three-fifths of the samples hold bachelor’s degrees. Forty-seven percent of them (191) worked for private companies while 25% (101) worked in public sectors.

FINDINGS

The means and standard deviations for acceptability, purchase intent, preference, and satisfaction are first summarized in Table 1. For regular shampoos, Pantene (a brand by Procter and Gamble) received the highest scores in all variables measured when comparing with Sunsilk (a brand by Lever Brothers) and Feather (a Japanese brand). Nike sneakers received the top scores in terms of acceptability, purchase intent, preference, and satisfaction when matching with Reebok and Pan sneakers (a Thai brand). In the credit card category, American Express and Citibank achieved high scores on all variables while Thai Military Bank (TMBCa Thai bank) obtained lower scores

Next, the equities of the tested brand were measured by using the model developed in this study. For each brand, preference score was multiplied by satisfaction score. Then its product was divided by the sum of satisfaction scores with all three brands. The scores were varied from 0.00 to 7.14. The results are presented in Table 2.

As might be expected, Pantene shampoo received the highest brand equity mean score, followed by Sunsilk, and then Feather, respectively. In the sneaker category, Nike’s mean score was higher than Reebok’s and Pan’s. American Express and Citibank credit cards had almost the same level of brand equity scores while TMB received the lower equity score.

Brand Equity, Acceptability, and Purchase Intent

Brand equity score calculated for each brand was tested by using the acceptability of, and purchase intent for all the brands in order to study the relationship between them. In addition, because the proposed measure of brand equity used preference and satisfaction as key determinants in the model, this study tested the relationships of brand preference, brand satisfaction, and the brand equity formula to consumer responses, using all three brands. The idea was that the brand equity formula should provide better results than brand preference alone, or brand satisfaction alone. The results from the correlation analysis were confirmed (not shown in this manuscript).

TABLE 1

MEANS AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS OF VARIABLES MEASURED FOR EACH BRAND

TABLE 2

MEANS, RANGES, AND STANDARD DEVIATIONS OF CONSUMER BRAND EQUITY SCORES

Differential effect, which is established by comparing consumer response to a variable for the tested brand versus other brands under the same variable (Keller 1993), was used to test the brand equity score. As mentioned earlier, the anticipated results were: (1) the relationship of the equity of the selected brand to a variable for that brand should be significant and positive, and (2) the relationship of the equity of the same brand to the same variable for other brands should be significant and negative, or uncorrelated.

Brand Equity and Acceptability. Correlation coefficients of brand equity and acceptability in Table 3 (under the columns named ACC) supported the first proposition (P1). As shown for the regular shampoo, Sunsilk equity was significantly and positively related to the acceptability of Sunsilk, and significantly and negatively related to the acceptability of Pantene and Feather. In the same direction, Pantene equity and Feather equity were significantly and positively related to the acceptability of the brand itself while significantly and negatively related to the acceptability of the other brands. Therefore, the differential responses occurred in the relationships between brands.

In the sneaker category, Nike equity was positively (and negatively) correlated with the acceptability of Nike (and Reebok and Pan). Pan equity was positively correlated with the acceptability of Pan while negatively correlated with the acceptability of Nike and Reebok. However, Reebok equity was positively correlated with the acceptability of Reebok and negatively correlated with the acceptability of only Pan, not Nike.

For credit cards, besides its positive relationship with the acceptability of the brand itself, Citibank equity was negatively related to only TMB, not American Express. American Express equity was positively correlated with the acceptability of American Express while negatively correlated with the acceptability of the other two brands. TMB equity was also positively related to the brand itself and negatively related to Citibank and American Express.

TABLE 3

CORRELATION COEFFICIENTS OF CONSUMER BRAND EQUITY TO BRAND ACCEPTABILITY (Acc) AND PURCHASE INTENT (Pi)

Brand Equity and Purchase Intent. The results of the correlations between the tested brands and purchase intent supported proposition two (P2). They are shown under the columns PI in Table 3. When Sunsilk equity was correlated with purchase intent for Sunsilk, the result was significant and positive. The relationships between Sunsilk equity and intent to purchase Pantene and Feather also were significant in the proper direction. Pantene and Feather equity were significantly and positively correlated with intent to purchase the brand itself, but negatively related to intent to purchase the other brands.

The relationship of Nike equity to Nike purchase intent was significantly positive. In addition, it was negatively correlated with purchase intent for Reebok and Pan. This result provided a differential response. Pan equity was positively correlated with purchase intent for Pan and negatively correlated with purchase intent for Nike and Reebok. Reebok equity was positively related to purchase intent for Reebok while negatively related to purchase intent for Pan. Nevertheless, the correlation between Reebok equity and purchase intent for Nike was not significant.

For credit cards, Citibank equity was positively correlated with intent to purchase the brand itself; it was also negatively correlatedwith intent to purchase TMB, but not American Express. There were associations between American Express equity and purchase intent for the brand itself and the other two brands in the expected direction. While its negative correlations with intent to purchase Citibank and American Express were significant, TMB equity was positively related to purchase intent for the brand itself.

DISCUSSION

The results of this study lead to the conclusion that the brand equity model, as conceptualized and exploratory tested, is proposed as an optional method for measuring brand equity at the individual consumer level. The key to validation of the measure was the differential response. Based on Keller (1993), the differential response is determined by comparing consumer response to one brand versus other brands under the same brand equity. The proposed brand equity model empirically predicted the differential responses.

In seven out of the nine brands tested, the differential responses were fully shown across product and service categories. For example, while consumers had equity for Sunsilk, they would accept and have intent to purchase Sunsilk (i.e., significant and positive correlation coefficients between Sunsilk equity and the acceptability of, and purchase intent for Sunsilk). At the same time, they would not accept and not have intent to purchase Pantene and Feather (i.e., significant and negative correlation coefficients between Sunsilk equity and the acceptability of, and purchase intent for Pantene and Feather). Therefore, it can be assumed from the findings that the brand equity measure works well for competing brands, at least from the consumers’ mindset. In this case, Pantene and Feather did compete with Sunsilk when consumers had equity for Sunsilk. In other words, the degree of acceptability of, and purchase intent for Pantene and Feather declined when a person had strong Sunsilk equity.

In the other two brands (Reebok equity and Citibank equity), the differential responses were partially shown. For instance, while consumers had equity for Reebok, they would accept and have intent to purchase Reebok, and not accept and not have intent to purchase Pan. However, they would be neutral on Nike (i.e., non-significant correlation between Reebok equity and the acceptability of, and purchase intent for Nike). One explanation for this is that Nike was not a substitute (competitor) choice for consumers with equity for Reebok. Alternatively explained, the proposed model might not effectively work for brands which did not compete with each other, in the consumers’ mindset.

This proposed model, when being used to measure equity of brands, could predict which are, and are not, the brand’s competitors, from consumer’s viewpoints. The competitors are shown having differential brand responses or having no differential brand responses between brands in comparison, respectively.

Another important finding is the issue of global brands. As seen from the current study using the Thai marketplaces, brands with high equity in each category tested were global brands from global companies, that is, Procter and Gamble’s Pantene shampoo, Nike sneakers, and American Express credit card, while local brands were weak. With huge budgets and careful management, these brands can be built across borders and cultures to become successful, at least among Thai consumers.

The present study had some limitations. Due to an exploratory nature of the current study, the emphasis was on generating ideas and insights for measuring brand equity at the individual consumer level. The researcher chose three brands as representatives in each product/service category; such a manner would not exactly be consistent with the operationalization using brands from a consumer’s choice set, and limit the explanations to apply only on those product/service categories and brands. However, this should provide useful structure for researchers studying brand equity. Further research would be needed to validate and utilize the proposed brand equity model in making specific predictions relating to consumer responses.

In addition, the current research limited the sampling areas only in Bangkok with a small number of samples. The research scope should be broaden in the future to get the picture of the whole country while reducing the representative problem faced in this exploratory study.

For managerial implications, as Aaker (1991) stated that if brand equity can be conceptualized in a certain framework to measure it, other problems become manageable. The proposed brand equity measure at the individual consumer level is offered as one possible solution to the problem. It should be a useful tool so marketers can easily examine and maximize the scores through which their marketing communications activities strive to keep their brands standing in the minds of consumers. In addition, it can be used to compare their brands’ with other brands’, competitors’, or industry norms. Marketers can then manage their brands in the proper direction.

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Authors

Saravudh Anantachart, Chulalongkorn University, Thailand



Volume

AP - Asia Pacific Advances in Consumer Research Volume 5 | 2002



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