Brand image is the key concept intervening between the brand and its equity. It is the driver of brand equity. The image of a brand can adjust brand value upwards or downwards. When the coconut oil is ‘Parachute’, its value moves upwards. This shift is the result of a brand name. The name adds visual and verbal dimensions in consumer’s mind and acts as intervening variable moving the value upwards. The name Rolex or Omega add radical value to the product. A customer who is not familiar with brands like Rolex or Omega will most probably assess the value of these brands as just another watch (a product) because these brands mean nothing to her/him. In such a case, these brands are unlikely to alter value because there is no intervening variable between the brands and their valuation.
A brand exists as a complex network of associations in a consumer’s mind. Alexander L. Biel proposed that types of brand associations can be hard and soft and brand sub-images consist of three elements: an image of provider, image of a product, and image of the user.
Hard Associations: Hard associations include consumer’s perceptions of tangible or functional attributes of a brand. These involve brand’s physical construction and performance abilities such as the economy, quality, reliability, sturdiness, etc. For example, the hard associations of an automobile can include its power, speed, fuel economy, etc.
Soft Associations: Associations of this type are emotional in nature. Such associations can be positive or negative. A motorcycle can be visualized as male, tough, exciting, youthful, etc. For instance, Bajaj Auto has managed to associate its Pulsar motorcycle with maleness, toughness, youthfulness and excitement. As a consequence of negative associations, consumers associate Indian Airlines with dullness, old age, indifference, and inefficiency.
Image of provider: This refers to the image of a manufacturer. Consumers also carry in their memories a network of associations about companies. For example, Apple computers create associations such as unconventional, exciting, user-friendly, creative, innovative, and cool. When consumers visualize Delhi Cloth Mills (DCM), the kind of associations that may emerge are likely to be old, dull, cloth; Rath Vanaspati (vegetable oil): unchanging, and unexciting. An inappropriate corporate image may tarnish the image of an otherwise good product.
Image of product: Products also carry an image of what they carry and have aspects such as functional characteristics, technology intensiveness, emotionality, old, or modern that go with them. Products such as laundry detergents, cold remedies, mosquito repellents etc., tend to be driven by functional attributes and rationality. On the other hand, fashion clothing, perfumes, cold drinks, expensive watches, and many alcoholic beverages tend to be associated with emotions and substantial symbolism. Therefore, brand image has to be shaped within structural limits imposed by the product image.
Image of the user: The brand image brings to consumers’ minds the image of its users. The image of a brand may indicate the age, sex, occupation, lifestyle, interests, and personality attributes. For example, the image of Raymond suitings is that of a “complete man.” The user image dimension reflects the brand’s personality. According to Leon G. Schiffman and Leslie Lazer Kanuk, a study found that beer, coffee, cigarettes, cars, credit cards, haircuts, legal services, scotch, sneakers, and toothpaste were found to be masculine. Products perceived as feminine included bath soaps, shampoo, facial tissue, clothes dryers, washer, and dishwashing liquid.
Brand image management requires determining brand concept. This concept embodies the central meaning of the brand that the company chooses and is derived from basic consumer needs. The more strongly the brand satisfies these needs, the more differentiated and strong the brand image customers carry. These needs can be put into three broad groups.
Functional needs refer to performance related aspects of customer’s living. These needs may relate to solving existing problems or avoid future problems. For example, the need to get rid of dandruff, have relief from cold, insuring for health, or protection against burglars. Some examples of functional brands include Bisleri (pure and safe water), Pepsodent (fights germs causing dental problems), Fevi Quick (bonds in a snap), and Disprin (relief from a headache).
Symbolic needs are learned needs as a result of living in a society and include wants for esteem, self-enhancement, identification with desirable groups, etc. Some examples of symbolic brands include Raymond (the complete man), Omega (the sign of excellence), Louis Philippe (upper crest), and Ruggers (be casual).
Experiential needs refer to sensual gratification that comes from brand usage experience. People seek pleasure through their senses, including cognitive stimulation and variety. Some examples of experiential brands include Mother Dairy (pleasure of taste), Armani (the power of smell), Ford Ikon ‘Josh’ (driving experience), Dove (doesn’t dry your skin), Gillette (the best a man can get), and Fisher Price Toys (cognitive stimulation).