Customer-Based Brand Equity in the Digital Age: Development of a Theoretical Framework: An Abstract
In online purchasing, the ability to draw on the experience of other consumers may lead to decision-making based more on product facts and less on the emotional attachment to a brand (Simonson and Rosen 2014; Thomson et al. 2005). Obviously, there is a shift from traditional brand management in which the company created the image of a brand to shared experiences between consumers about brands in the online environment (Quinton 2013). Hence, we developed a conceptual model of consumer-based brand equity (CBBE) which is adapted to the paradigm-shift from manager-ruled to consumer-ruled brands. Our model builds on the four brand equity dimensions of Aaker (1991), namely, brand awareness, brand image and associations, perceived quality, and brand loyalty and relates these dimensions with electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM). Based on qualitative interviews with consumers and company representatives, our study reveals a consistent influence of (product) functionality on brand equity compared to established models, where (a) functionality varies substantially by category and where (b) brand equity is based on a strong emotional attachment of the consumer to the brand (Keller 2001). On the contrary, consumers doing their online purchases rather separate the product(s) from the brand and refer to product-related eWOM. However, the impact of eWOM on CBBE diminishes with an already pre-existing brand image of the consumer. Nevertheless, unknown brands can benefit from positive online reviews, as consumers may indeed develop a new brand image based on eWOM. Additionally, the focus laid on the product itself in eWOM becomes evident. Thus, we conclude that the effects of eWOM might solely address a specific product instead of the whole brand in the online environment. In that case, eWOM directly influences purchase decisions, without affecting the appropriate brand equity dimensions, if the consumer strictly separates the product from the general brand. Apparently, product performance outperforms CBBE in the online environment but according to our model rather for unknown brands. Well-established brands still benefit from their brand image – even in the light of negative eWOM – to which consumers seem to refer while purchasing online.