Tracing the drivers of B2B brand strength and value
Abstract: By building a strong brand that is favourably perceived by target customers, a firm can establish a competitive advantage that enables greater revenues and profitability. This is at least what the branding literature always has assumed, and something few marketing and brand managers seem to disagree with. When asked how exactly a brand can be charged with such great value, however, neither academia nor practitioners can provide definitive answers. This is especially true for business-to-business markets (B2B): although some of the world’s strongest and most valuable brands are operating in B2B markets, research on this area is clearly trailing behind business reality. This thesis aims at bridging the fuzzy and subjective customer-based perspective on brands with their potential economic outcomes for brand-owning firms. It does so by studying a single case (a packaging solutions supplier) in great detail, including face-to-face interviews and 678 observations drawn from a survey completed by professional packaging buyers in 8 countries across Europe. The study relies mainly on brand equity theory, together with thoughts from theories on shareholder value, psychology, corporate branding, business relationships and industrial marketing. More specifically, it is concerned with understanding the customer-perceived determinants (brand image) of brand strength and brand value in business markets. Or, in other words: which specific customer perceptions and behaviours make a brand valuable and profitable? The proposed model, which is the main outcome of this study, can be seen as a first step towards an integrated and nuanced B2B Brand Equity Chain. The model divides brand strength into a volume premium and price premium dimension, and includes five brand image dimensions: brand familiarity, product solution, service relationship, company reputation and brand community. The empirical findings support previous work within the area, but also add a number of elements that increases the explanatory power of existing models, and establishes a unique link between branding and bottom-line performance in business markets.
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