Brand concepts are defined as unique, abstract meanings associated with brands. These meanings arise from a particular combination of attributes, benefits, and the marketing efforts used to translate these benefits into higher-order concepts. Although brand concepts reflect both tangible (i.e., what the brand actually does) and intangible (i.e., the way people think about the brand abstractly) aspects of the brand, over the years, both practitioners and academics have grown to realize that establishing abstract brand concepts on the basis of motivational and emotional meanings induces more favorable consumer responses than focusing on superior functional attributes. This explains the increasing prevalence of abstract brand concepts imbued with human-like values, goals, and emotions through processes such as anthropomorphization (e.g., California Raisins), personification (e.g., Jolly Green Giant), or user imagery (e.g., the Mountain Dew “dudes”).
For multinational companies (MNCs), one of the biggest challenges lies in carefully managing these abstract brand concepts across different cultures. This implies that global brands need to convey abstract concepts that not only are consistent across borders but also resonate with consumers of different cultures. Consistency in brand concepts across borders allows MNCs to lower marketing costs and more easily manage advertising and promotions across countries. However, MNCs also need to localize advertising and promotion by incorporating concepts and ideas that align with local cultural value priorities. The expectation is that a “cultural matching” between the abstract brand concepts and consumers’ value priorities will facilitate brand penetration in the local markets. However, because considerable variation exists in value priorities across cultures, several issues arise. For example, are there specific abstract brand concepts that match different cultural value priorities? When attempting to localize a brand, are there particular brand meanings that are (in)compatible with an existing brand concept? If so, what is the combined effect of adding a novel brand meaning that is incompatible with an existing brand concept but congruent with consumers’ value priorities?
To answer these important questions, the authors propose a perspective of abstract brand concepts based on human values that overcomes the lack of cross-cultural generality of past efforts to measure the human characteristics of brands (e.g., the brand personality measure), while facilitating linking knowledge about brand concepts to extant research about differences in cultural value priorities (or cultural orientations). Specifically, the authors find empirical evidence that a structure of brand concepts based on the value dimensions of self-enhancement (i.e., luxury brands that symbolize status or personal accomplishments), self-transcendence (i.e., prosocial brands that promote the welfare of others and of nature), openness (i.e., exciting brands promoting the pursuit of emotional interests in unpredictable ways), and conservation (i.e., traditional brands promoting the certainty that the status quo provides) is particularly useful for predicting brand meanings that are compatible (vs. incompatible) with each other and consequently, more (less) favorably accepted by consumers when added to an already established brand concept.
In addition, this research identifies brand concepts that are more likely to resonate with consumers with differing cultural orientations. Specifically, the authors find empirical evidence that although both self-enhancement (emphasizing individual concerns with status achievement) and openness (emphasizing individual concerns with being free and living an exciting life) seem equally appropriate in individualist cultures, an openness brand concept is more appealing for consumers with a horizontal individualist (HI) orientation (i.e., those who view the self as separate from others, but having the same status as others) but less so for those with a vertical individualist (VI) orientation (i.e., those who view the self as separate from others, but having a higher status than others). In contrast, a self-enhancement brand concept is found to be more appealing for consumers with a VI orientation but less so for those with an HI orientation. Similarly, although both self-transcendence (emphasizing collective concerns with the welfare of others and of nature) and conservation (emphasizing collective concerns with maintaining traditions) brand concepts seem equally appropriate in collectivist cultures, the authors find that a self-transcendence concept is more appealing for consumers with a horizontal collectivist (HC) orientation (i.e., those who view the self as both interrelated with others and having the same status as others) but less so for those with a vertical collectivist (VC) cultural orientation (i.e., those who view the self as interrelated with others, but having a higher status than others). In contrast, a conservation brand concept is more appealing for consumers with a VC orientation but less so for those with an HC orientation.
Finally, the authors’ framework predicts the combined effect of adding a new brand meaning that is compatible with consumers’ value priorities, but incompatible with an existing brand concept. Specifically, they show that the decrease in brand evaluations due to the addition of an incompatible abstract meaning to an existing brand concept is significantly less under a match between the newly added abstract meaning and the cultural orientation of consumers. For example, when a luxury brand (with a self-enhancement brand concept) attempts to promote an incompatible self-transcendence meaning (i.e., promoting a prosocial agenda), although the incompatibility triggers a negative consumer response (i.e., negative brand evaluations), this negative reaction toward the brand is attenuated among high- (vs. low-) HC consumers for whom the incompatible self-transcendence image matches their cultural orientation.
Taken together, the studies provide a comprehensive framework that allows managers to better understand the complexities of being consistent in brand meanings across markets, while also being relevant to local markets. Using this framework, managers can assess the extent to which localizing a promotion strategy using added meanings is a good strategy. The findings are also helpful for planning a brand’s global expansion.
Carlos J. Torelli is Assistant Professor of Marketing, Marketing and Logistics Management Department in the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. He applies his knowledge of cross-cultural psychology to identify the key cultural factors that drive consumers’ reactions in a globalized economy and to uncover the underlying sociocognitive processes for these reactions. Professor Torelli’s research specialties include global branding, the social psychology of power, cross-cultural consumer behavior, self-regulation, and persuasion. His work has been published in several books and in top journals in psychology and consumer behavior, including Journal of Marketing, Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Consumer Psychology (where one of his articles is ranked in the top 20 most cited articles in the past five years), and Social Cognition, and Social and Personality Psychology Compass. Professor Torelli received his PhD in Business Administration from the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign. Before moving to the University of Minnesota, Twin Cities campus, where he teaches Brand Management and Marketing Management courses for undergraduate and executive education programs, he worked as Marketing Vice-President for Citibank in Venezuela and Turkey.
Ayşegül Özsomer is Associate Professor of Marketing at Koç University. She received her PhD in Marketing from Michigan State University and has conducted research, taught, and consulted in the United States before joining Koç University in 1997. Her research focuses on global marketing strategy with a particular emphasis on standardization–adaptation issues, global brand management, and market orientation and its relationship to firm performance. She has published in top scholarly journals, including Journal of Marketing, International Journal of Research in Marketing, and Journal of International Marketing. Her Journal of Marketing article titled “The Effects of Entrepreneurial Proclivity and Market Orientation on Business Performance,” coauthored with Ken Matsuno and the late John T. Mentzer, received the 2011 Gerry Hills Best Paper Award for its ten-year impact on entrepreneurial marketing research. Dr. Özsomer was a visiting scholar in the Marketing Department at the University of California, Los Angeles (2002–2003) and at the University of Michigan (2008–2009).
Sergio W. Carvalho is Associate Professor of Marketing in the Asper School of Business at the University of Manitoba. His research focuses on identity and consumer behavior, prosocial behavior, health marketing, international marketing, international advertising, cross-cultural consumer behavior, and consumer biased behavior. Dr. Carvalho received his PhD in Business/Marketing from Baruch College/The Graduate School of the City University of New York, his MBA in Finance from Northeastern University, and his BBA from the University of Fortaleza, Brazil. Dr. Carvalho has published and presented papers reflecting his research interests in the links between national identity and consumer behavior. He has presented his research at the Conferences of the Academy of International Business, Association for Consumer Research, European Association for Consumer Research, Society for Consumer Psychology, and American Marketing Association.
Hean Tat Keh (PhD, University of Washington) is Professor of Marketing in the UQ Business School at the University of Queensland. Professor Keh’s research interests include services marketing, brand management, cross-cultural consumer behavior, and marketing strategy. He has published in Journal of Marketing, Journal of Marketing Research, Journal of Consumer Research, Journal of Retailing, and Marketing Letters, among other journals.
Natalia Maehle is a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Research in Economics and Business Administration, Norway. Dr. Maehle holds a Master in International Business and PhD in Marketing from Norwegian School of Economics. She has been teaching courses in marketing, brand management, and consumer behavior. Her research focuses on a variety of issues, including brand management, advertising, consumer behavior, and international marketing. She is a member of European Marketing Academy. She is a regular presenter at international conferences such as EMAC, Association for Consumer Research, and European Association for Consumer Research and has published several studies in international journals.Journal of Marketing, Volume 76, Number 4, July 2012
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