Brand Wars: What are the paths to the force?

While most companies seek to create a strong brand, the recipe to a strong brand remains unknown. A strong brand is both synonymous with financial performance and marketing performance. We know that a strong brand will influence consumer choice, but how to generate brand strength remains vague

The study by Koll, Raïes, Grohs and Mülbacher, which was recently published in Décisions Marketing, endeavors to remove the vagueness surrounding this question by identifying the recipe, or rather the recipes to creating strong brands.


What brand characteristics to develop a strong brand?

A recipe begins with a list of ingredients. When it comes to “baking a strong brand,” the authors analyzed extant studies on brand equity and identified four characteristics pertaining to brand associations:

  1. The number of associations an individual makes regarding a brand (i.e. the “words” that a person mentions when exposed to the brand name)
  2. The level of brand associations’ favorability (i.e., how positive the associations to the brand are)
  3. The uniqueness of the associations (i.e., are they specific to the brand?)
  4. Perceived consensus (i.e., an individual’s feeling that other people have similar thoughts about the brand than his or her own thoughts).

Past studies show that the more favorable, unique, numerous and consistent associations are, the stronger the brand. However, few studies incorporate perceived consensus, a characteristic that is taken into account in this article.

What “winning combinations” in terms of brand associations for a strong brand?

The study is based on a method (FsQCA) that identifies “winning combinations” that lead to a strong brand. It also compares the combinations of characteristics pertaining to associations between different brands within the same product category.

Conducted on 729 individuals interviewed on 4 brands of sports shoes (Adidas, Nike, New Balance and Puma), this research shows that a brand perceived as strong can result from various combinations of brand association characteristics. In other words, there would be no single recipe for creating a strong brand, but various recipes.

For most brands, favorable, unique, numerous associations or ones that are perceived as consensual may be enough to predict a strong brand. However, not all ingredients need to be present. The favorability of brand associations is a central element in the construction of a strong brand of sports shoes. In other words, a brand cannot be strong if the associations associated with it are not strongly favorable. Consensus perceived by consumers appears to be the second most important characteristic. Finally, in most cases, a brand is strong when consumers perceive a large number of unique and favorable associations as strongly consensual.

What implications for managers?

A general recommendation: to seek to create very favorable associations and to maximize the perceived consensus of consumers regarding the central associations of their brands.

Recommendations according to the type of brand:

  • For highly functional brands, developing a large number of unique and favorable associations seems the easiest to achieve, targeting consumers who are very involved in the product category (expert clubs, for example).

  • Non-leading brands could instead opt for the creation of a limited number of favorable associations that are widely shared with other consumers.

  • Innovative brands could rely on the diffusion, among pioneering individuals, of a small number of favorable and consensual associations.

  • In the case of mass product brands seeking high market shares, getting numerous and unique associations is not necessary to produce a strong brand.

So, may the force be with you, brand managers!

Koll O., Raïes K., Grohs R. et Mülbacher H. (2019), Qu’est-ce qu’une marque forte ? Une approche par les configurations des associations de la marque, Décisions Marketing, 92, 97-113 (in French).

Blog post adapted from Fanny Magnoni’s (in French)

This entry was posted in Branding, Non classé. Bookmark the permalink.

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