What is a brand, and why are brands important?
Ronn J. Smith, assistant professor of marketing in the Sam M. Walton College of Business, replies:
A brand is a name, term, symbol, or unique element used to identify a product. From a company perspective, brands are important because they help differentiate companies’ products. Additionally, a brand represents a company’s marketing message, while reflecting consumer perceptions. Companies conduct marketing research to ensure perceptions are consistent with what is intended and either reinforce or reposition that message as needed. From a consumer perspective, brands are important for identifying and distinguishing products, as well as serving other purposes.
Brands act as personal anchors. For example, a consumer might use Tide® laundry detergent because her parents used it during her childhood, and now Tide’s odor elicits many nostalgic thoughts – regarding childhood and family. In this instance, Tide® is a constant in her life; and these brand effects can even operate at an implicit level.
Brands are used in identity construction and serve as signs indicating group association. One semester I noticed some students in class always wearing Polo® hats. Apparently, these students belonged to the same fraternity, and Polo® served to identify membership in an organization that was important to them.
Unfortunately, consumer usage of brands in identity construction can have a dark side. Consumers can make poor financial decisions while striving to associate themselves with specific brands. For example, consumers might try to associate themselves with the image represented by the brands of luxury automobiles, clothing, housing subdivisions – just to name a few – and financially overextend themselves in order to “consume” and be seen “consuming” these brands.