Consumer-brand relationships in private cars

In the contemporary competitive business environment, establishing strong customer relationships is a central concept to the success of marketing strategies. Effective relationships with existing customers do not only serve to spur brand repurchases but also lead to the new-customer acquisitions through promotion activities (e.g. word-of-mouth) that the existing customers engage in (Barnes 2003). Such relationships also embody other advantages associated with customer loyalty such as price tolerance and higher socio-psychological change barriers. These relationships could arise through improved levels of customer satisfaction since customer satisfaction is an antecedent to loyalty (Hallowell 1996). Recent studies argue that customer satisfaction is not only limited to meeting cognitive components but also meeting the emotional aspects of satisfaction (Yu & Dean 2001). For entities or their brands to create meaningful relationships with customers, they therefore must create a high level of emotional value to drive satisfaction in addition to addressing cognitive (functional) aspects of satisfaction (Barnes 2003). With customer satisfaction being a relative rating of the perceived value obtained from a transaction compared to that of competing offerings (Hallowell 1996), organizations can influence the perceived value through an effective branding strategy.

Branding is a thus a central aspect to business strategy in the modern era. Brands represent the converging effect of marketing efforts that aim to develop and sustain an image in the customers’ minds that in turn contribute to a firm’s success by generating improved cash flows, and creating an enhanced value for shareholders (Wong & Merrilees, 2007). From a customer perspective brands could also serve a number of functions as elucidated by Kapferer (1997, p. 30). First, brands provide the ability of the consumers to tell apart an entity’s products from those of competitors. Secondly, brands provide a guarantee to the customer that they will find the same quality of products irrespective of the place and time of purchase. By providing such a guarantee, brands present customers with a time saving opportunity that arises with repurchasing and loyalty; an opportunity which would otherwise not accrue when customers have to evaluate different brands at each purchase (Kapferer 1997). Brands also ensure the customer of purchasing the best product and performer in that category for specific purpose. Familiarity and intimacy that arises with use of brand over time further serves as a source of satisfaction to the customers. Such satisfaction is also derived from the attractiveness of the brand, its logo and the communication it offers; and from the brand’s responsible behavior in its relationship to the community (Kapferer 1997). Finally, a brand offers customers a tool to confirm their self-image to other individuals. Customer identification with a certain brand may thus be a way for them to fulfill at least one of these functions. Brands are thus an active partner in the customer-brand relationship. This paper evaluates customer-brand relationship with respect to private cars using Mercedes-Benz (henceforth herein Mercedes) and Toyota brands to provide examples of such relationships. Go to part 2 here.

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