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Brands and consumer behavior.

Intensely competitive markets are filled with numerous commodities with high homogeneity. The critical issue faced by most companies operating in these markets is how to maintain long-term competitive advantage. Price-down composition may bring in short-term profits for companies. However, for long-term business development, this is never a sound policy. The only solution to survive in markets with high-speed turnover of product is to produce differentiated products for the market. Brand management is the differentiation strategy with the most promise. Kotler (1999) contends that brands can accelerate consumers' information transmission. For users, brands have intensified social and emotional value. Additionally, brands have been found to exert positive and negative effects on the perception of effectiveness of products (Kotler, 1999). Consumers assign a lesser product value to commodities without brands or with weaker brand reputations and a higher value to commodities perceived as highly collectable or socially valuable.

The focus of brand research has been on brand image and brand equity (Faircloth, Capella, & Alford, 2001; Keller, 1993; Ouwersloot & Tudorica, 2001) and on brand equity and purchase intention (Aaker, 1991; Cobb-Walgren, Ruble, & Donthu, 1995). However, there has been little research in which the focus has been on brand image, brand equity, and purchase intention simultaneously. Furthermore, consumers' involvement with products affects their purchase behaviors. Involvement starts from the personal basic perspectives of goals, values, and self-awareness. Depending on the relevance of these to individuals, they are reflected in decision-making behaviors (Zaichkowsky, 1985). Different product attributes cause different degrees of involvement in consumer minds. These differences of involvement result in differences when consumers make purchase decisions. Therefore, when consumers perform consuming behaviors, the extent of their involvement affects purchase intention.

In this research we explored the correlation of brand image and brand equity with purchase intention in consumers' minds. Involvement was treated as a moderator in exploring its effect on purchase intention.

Literature Review

Brand Image

Meenaghan (1995) defines brand image as product knowledge that enables consumers to identify a specific brand. Blackwell, Miniard, and Engel (2005) describe how brand image has both tangible and intangible associations for consumers. Bhat and Reddy (1998) define brand image as an information prompt. It is available for consumers to determine product quality and to trigger their consuming behaviors. Based on various consumer interests, Whan Park, Jaworski, and MacInnis (1986) developed several brand concept images (BCM) divided into functional, symbolic, and experiential. In this research, brand image classification of products was based on the perspective of Whan Park and colleagues.

Brand Equity

Keller (1993) contended that brand equity must start from the perspectives of consumers. From that perspective, brand equity means the differences in brand knowledge among consumers about the marketing stimulus effect given by a certain brand. Aaker (1992) argued that brand equity had five contexts, of which the last four are conducive to establishing brand loyalty while awareness, perceived quality, and brand association relate to customer perceptions of, and response to, brands. In that framework, loyalty means customer-based loyalty.

Aaker (1996) argued that a strong brand image helps consumers develop positive attitudes and feelings and also transfers such feelings to enhancement of the said brand value to increase the perceived value of consumers. Therefore, brand image would be conducive to establishing brand association and would further affect brand equity. Faircloth et al. (2001) explored the influence exerted on brand equity by brand attitude and brand image, and showed that different brand associations (brand attitudes) can result in a positive brand image. Brand image directly affected brand equity, but brand equity was indirectly affected by brand attitudes through brand image. Chen (2010) also explored the effect of brand image on brand equity. Based on the above research, we reasoned that consumer brand image would affect consumers' opinions on brand equity. Therefore, in this research, the first hypothesis was as follows:

Hypothesis 1: Consumer opinions of brand image will positively affect brand equity.

Purchase Intention

Zeithaml (1998) and Schiffman and Kanuk (2009) found that after perceived value was created by consumers, the purchase intention of consumers often depended on the benefits and value they obtain. Zeithaml (1988), Dodds, Monroe, and Grewal (1991), and Grewal, Monroe, and Krishnan (1998) define purchase intention as the possibility of consumers purchasing a product. Greater purchase intention creates a higher probability of purchase. Therefore, purchase intention has been widely applied to predicting actual purchasing behaviors. Further, whether consumers intend to purchase a product and whether or not they recommend a store or a product to others are commonly used as measuring variables of purchase intention.

Aaker (1991) found that brand equity affects the purchase behaviors of consumers. Greater brand equity means consumers are more willing to purchase a given product at a higher price, indicating stronger purchase intention in the consumer mind. Consequently, brand equity has been found to be positively correlated with purchase intention. Cobb-Walgren et al. (1995) and Jung and Sung (2008) also explored how brand equity affects purchase intention. The foregoing discussion shows that consumers' cognition about brand equity affects their purchase intention. Consequently, we proposed the follow hypothesis:

Hypothesis 2: Consumer opinions of brand equity will positively affect their purchase intention.

Biel (1992) argued that brand image is an important factor in the establishment of brand equity. He also explained brand image as a set of product attributes, along with a set of linkages and associations with brand titles in consumer minds, and the joint effect of those on brand associations. Positive brand images add to consumer brand value. For example, consumers are more willing to purchase a certain brand of product at a higher price when a stronger purchase intention is triggered. Therefore, driven by brand equity, brands further affect the purchase intention of consumers. The correlation between brand image and purchase intention may be seen clearly. Raghubir and Corfman (1999) explored the influence on product (or service) brands caused by promoting prices before practical use and found that promoting prices creates a kind of economic incentive that attracts consumers. However, low price promotion also brings negative information. For example, people often assume that the quality of a product is inferior when they hear of a low price promotion even if they have never used the product before. The positive economic incentives are reduced by low price promotion with negative brand evaluation. Brand image is, thus, weakened, reducing the purchase intention of consumers. Further, consumers generally do not repurchase products after low price promotion activities are finished. This means that the purchase rate falls. Based on the foregoing discussion, consumers' cognition of brand image should affect their purchase intention. Therefore, we proposed the following hypothesis:

Hypothesis 3: Consumer opinions of brand image will positively affect their purchase intention.

Involvement

Different product attributes are vested with different involvement strengths by consumers. The differences in strength of involvement lead to differences in consumer decision-making processes and change the way in which consumers make purchase decisions. Warrington, Abgrab, and Caldwell (2000) constructed a continuum of involvement strength. Though individual consumers show different degrees of strength of involvement in different purchasing situations, the level of consumer product involvement has generally been consistent even if different consumers show different involvement strengths. Involvement classification emphasizes the behaviors exhibited when an individual is involved with a certain aspect of involvement. It may be divided into information involvement, product brand involvement, and decision-making involvement (Zaichkowsky, 1986). Involvement essence classification (Houston & Rothchild, 1978) is based on the three types, situation involvement, enduring involvement, and response involvement (the S-E-R model).

Hawkins, Best, and Coney (2001) argued that the decision-making process for consumers contemplating product purchase is orderly and composed of five kinds of activities: issue delineation, information searching, brand evaluation and choice, commodity evaluation and choice, and after-purchase process. It is important for consumers to obtain correct information about products and also sufficient information. Costley (1988) observed that involvement featured stability and endurance, and results were measurable but not controllable. In sum, in this research, information involvement and enduring involvement were treated as variables and their effect on consumer decision making was explained.

As Han (2004) found in his research, brand image and brand reputation both affect brand equity because of enduring involvement. He also found that brand image exerted a significant effect on brand equity because of information involvement. Thus, consumer cognition about brand image and brand equity should show significant differences because of involvement. Therefore, Hypothesis 4 as follows:

Hypothesis 4: Brand image will positively and significantly affect brand equity because of different involvement strengths.

As the review of the literature shows, brand equity and brand image affect the purchase intention of consumers and consumers make their purchase decisions based on different involvement strengths. Therefore, we reasoned that consumer cognition of brand equity and brand image would be affected by different product involvement strengths. Purchase intention would then, in turn, be affected. Based on the foregoing, consumer cognition of brand equity, brand image, and purchase intention should show significant differences because of different involvement strengths. Therefore, Hypotheses 5 and 6 were as follows:

Hypothesis 5: Brand equity will positively and significantly affect purchase intention because of different involvement strengths.

Hypothesis 6: Brand image will positively and significantly affect the purchase intention of customers because of different involvement strengths.

Method

Measurement

All measures used were rated on 7-point Likert scales with anchors of 1 = total disagreement and 7 = total agreement.

Brand image. Brand image was divided into three categories: functional image, symbolic image, and experiential image. Eighteen scale items were constructed for our questionnaire by referring to Whan Park et al. (1986) and del Rio, Vazquez, and Iglesias (2001).

Brand equity. Measurement was primarily of customer-based brand equity (Aaker, 1991; Boonghee, Donthu, & Lee, 2000; Washburn & Plank, 2002). The dimensional measurement proposed by Aaker was applied. However, because the dimension of assets of other dedicated brands was outside the scope of this research, we did not include this in our questionnaire design. We developed 17 items for our questionnaire by referring to Aaker (1991), del Rio et al. (2001), and Washburn and Plank (2002).

Purchase intention. We constructed five items for our questionnaire based on the work of Dodds et al. (1991) and Grewal et al. (1998).

Involvement. Our questions on involvement were mainly based on enduring involvement as defined by Houston and Rothchild (1978) and information involvement as defined by Zaichkowsky (1985). These were measured with eight items in our questionnaire.

Participants and Procedure

Participants in this research were primarily students from universities in southern Taiwan. Because we used a survey methodology, convenience sampling was conducted. We sent out 350 questionnaires with 306 valid replies received (response rate = 87.45%). Of the participants, 38.2% were males and 61.8% females and all were aged between 18 and 22 years. Demographic information supplied by participants included brands they had previously used.

Results

For reliability, Cronbach's [alpha] of brand image was 0.9501; for brand equity, 0.8907; purchase intention, 0.9073; and involvement, 0.7145. The overall reliability was 0.9654. According to Guilford (1965), a Cronbach's [alpha] of over .7 indicates that reliability is high. The reliability levels of all variables exceeded .7, meaning this research had very high reliability.

Our results showed that brand image significantly affected brand equity. We also found that functional image, symbolic image, and experiential image significantly affected brand equity. Thus, Hypothesis 1 was supported. Brand image significantly affected purchase intention and functional image, symbolic image, and experiential image significantly affected purchase intention, supporting our second hypothesis. Brand equity significantly affected purchase intention. Finally, perceived quality, brand loyalty, brand awareness, and brand association all had a significant effect on purchase intention, and these results supported our third hypothesis.

Results revealed that involvement did not affect brand image and brand equity. Consequently, Hypothesis 4 was not supported. Results also showed that involvement had no effect on brand equity and purchase intention, meaning that Hypothesis 5 was not supported. Finally, involvement had no effect on brand image and purchase intention. Thus, Hypothesis 6 was not supported.

Discussion

We found that brand image was positively correlated with brand equity so that brand image affected brand equity for our respondents. These results conformed to those recorded by Aaker (1996), Faircloth et al. (2001), and Chen (2010). Among our results, functional image and symbolic image were the two dimensions most important for brand image in relation to brand equity. The influence exerted by functional image was stronger than that exerted by symbolic image, but the influence of experiential image did not reach a significant level so that experiential image exerted less influence on brand equity for our respondents. On the whole, brand image exerted a significant influence on brand equity.

Brand equity was positively correlated with purchase intention, showing that brand equity affected the students' purchase intention. These results were consistent with those gained by Aaker (1991), Cobb-Walgren et al. (1995), and Jung and Sung (2008). Brand loyalty and brand awareness were the two most important dimensions affecting purchase intention in our study. The influence on purchase intention exerted by perceived quality was less than that exerted by brand loyalty and brand awareness, and brand association was negatively correlated to purchase intention so that there was no significant influence shown. On the whole, brand equity significantly affected purchase intention for the students in our study.

Brand image was found to be positively correlated with purchase intention, showing that in our study brand image affected purchase intention of the students who took part. These results were consistent with those of Biel (1992) and of Raghubir and Corfman (1999). Experiential image exerted more influence than did either functional image and symbolic image but on the whole, brand image significantly affected purchase intention for the students who took part in our study.

The F values of both brand image and brand equity reached significance. Involvement was analyzed using a regression analysis on brand image and brand equity and we found that brand image still significantly affected brand equity. However, after involvement was added, there was no significant effect on brand equity. Between brand image and involvement, only brand image significantly affected brand equity. On the whole, there was an influence exerted by involvement between brand image and brand equity, but no significant effect was found. Our results therefore differ from those gained by Han (2004).

Brands are intangible assets for companies. Firms should make good use of such beneficially differentiated tools for marketing, especially in today's intensely competitive business climate. Consumer attitudes toward brands affect the market value of the brands. Once the relevant brand image has been created in consumers' minds, whenever anything negatively impacts on that image, companies must spend large sums to change the image in consumers' minds. However, when consumers perceive brand equity positively, companies may enjoy stable sales with lower outlays to maintain the brand image. In this research we found that high brand equity is significantly related to purchase intention. This means that whenever brand equity has a high value, consumers naturally give it a positive response.

In this research we explored the internal dimensional correlations. Brand loyalty was found to be the key. Once consumers use a product, firms should spare no effort to enhance the brand loyalty of customers. Management of customer relationships is quite important. Furthermore, when establishing a brand image the emphasis should be on the experiential image and functional image. This means that goods and services provided by companies should ensure consumers have an excellent experience, along with the functions and services required by consumers from the goods or services. The purchase behaviors of consumers would be enhanced through word-of-mouth marketing. In addition, in view of the correlations for involvement against brand equity and purchase intention and involvement against brand image and purchase intention, according to our results it appeared involvement might affect purchase intention, but no significant effect was found. This may be because the marketing information was directly accessible on the Internet in our study, resulting in lower involvement for our respondents.

http://dx.doi.org/ 10.2224/sbp.2012.40.1.105

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CHIH-CHUNG CHEN, PING-KUO CHEN, AND CHIUNG-EN HUANG

Aletheia University

Chih-Chung Chen, Department of Knowledge Management, Ping-Kuo Chen, Department of Industrial and Business Management, and Chiung-En Huang, Department of Knowledge Management, Aletheia University.

Correspondence concerning this article should be addressed to: Chih-Chung Chen, Department of Knowledge Management, Aletheia University (Matou Campus), No. 554 Wunsian Rd., North District, Tainan City 704, Taiwan, ROC. Email: jason556@niail.au.edu.tw
Table 1. Regression Analysis

                              Brand equity

Brand image               .821 ***
  Functional image                      .461 ***
  Symbolic image                        .298 **
  Experiential image                    .131

Brand equity
  Perceived quality
  Brand loyalty
  Brand awareness
  Brand association

[R.sup.2)                 .674          .678
Adj. [R.sup.2)            .671          .671
F                      272.441 ***    91.299 ***

                            Purchase intention

Brand image               .738 ***
  Functional image                      .293 ***
  Symbolic image                        .243 ***
  Experiential image                    .300 ***

Brand equity
  Perceived quality
  Brand loyalty
  Brand awareness
  Brand association

[R.sup.2)                 .545          .551
Adj. [R.sup.2)            .543          .547
F                      362.888 ***   123.336 ***

                          Purchase intention

Brand image
  Functional image
  Symbolic image
  Experiential image

Brand equity              .757 ***
  Perceived quality                     .281 **
  Brand loyalty                         .529 ***
  Brand awareness                       .208 ***
  Brand association                    -.124

[R.sup.2)              .572             .649
Adj. [R.sup.2)         .569             .638
F                      176.761 ***    59.661 ***

Note: * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.

Table 2. Regression Analysis

                                          Brand equity

                                M1            M2            M3

Brand image                    .821 ***      .775 ***      .609 **
Involvement                                  .073         -.070
Brand image * Involvement                                  .282
Brand equity
Involvement
Brand equity * Involvement
Brand image
Involvement
Brand image * Involvement
[R.sup.2]                      .674          .677          .679
Adj.[R.sup.2]                 .671          .672          .671
F                           272.441 ***   137.269 ***    91.546 ***

                                       Purchase intention

                                M1            M2            M3

Brand image
Involvement
Brand image * Involvement
Brand equity                   .757 ***      .558 ***      .455 *
Involvement                                  .360 ***      .263
Brand equity * Involvement                                 .178
Brand image
Involvement
Brand image * Involvement
[R.sup.2]                      .572          .663          .663
Adj.[R.sup.2]                 .569          .658          .656
F                           176.761 ***   128.710 ***    85.373 ***

                                       Purchase intention

                                M1            M2            M3

Brand image
Involvement
Brand image * Involvement
Brand equity
Involvement
Brand equity * Involvement
Brand image                    .757 ***      .558 ***      .455 *
Involvement                                  .360 ***      .263
Brand image * Involvement                                  .178
[R.sup.2]                      .545          .581          .585
Adj.[R.sup.2]                 .543          .579          .581
F                           362.888 ***   209.002 ***   140.963 ***

Notes: * p < .05, ** p < .01, *** p < .001.
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Author:Chen, Chih-Chung; Chen, Ping-Kuo; Huang, Chiung-En
Publication:Social Behavior and Personality: An International Journal
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9TAIW
Date:Feb 1, 2012
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