Customer-based brand equity in a digital age: An analysis of brand associations in user-generated social media content.
In the academic research of branding, the construct of customer-based brand equity (CBBE) was cultivated to summarize the incremental value provided to a product or service by the brand knowledge structures or associations that exist in customer memory. These associations, when positive, generate value by facilitating customer behaviour that is favourable to the brand. Keller (1993, 2001) offered a conceptualization of CBBE which has been foundational to various areas of research in marketing and has made CBBE a fundamental aspect of brand management in the industry. Therefore, in this dissertation Keller’s (2001) CBBE model is accepted as a representation of the brand associations which generate CBBE. However, the comprehensiveness of an academic construct is defined by the program of theories, the program of methods and context within which it was conceptualised. This dissertation observes that each of these three aspects has changed considerably in the years since Keller’s original conceptualisation. CBBE was conceived in an era when the gestalt of marketing theory was dominated by an exchange-oriented conceptualisation of value and the customers’ context and agency in the creation of value was obscured. The conceptualisation of value currently prevalent in the marketing theory is very different. It is phenomenologically oriented and considers the customer an active co-creator of value. The program of methods has also evolved as novel sources of data such as user-generated content (UGC) and tools of analysis such as text mining offer new avenues for the exploration of theoretical constructs. Social reality or context has also undergone major changes since CBBE was conceptualised. Ease of access to technology has increased, the internet has become widespread and digital social networks have become a ubiquitous part of life for many people. This has changed how people experience and interact with brands, and consequently the psychological associations they form with them. Therefore, the central thesis of this dissertation is that the construct of CBBE must be re-evaluated to address the evolution in the program of theory, methods and context that has transpired since its conceptualisation. Through this re-evaluation, this dissertation aims to update and extend the theoretical construct of CBBE to be a better representation of the associations people link with brands in the current digitally mediated age. To this end, this dissertation adopts an interpretivist approach and conducts a text mining assisted, directed content analysis to extract and interpret the associations people form with brands from UGC. The data used for this analysis includes 206,677 publicly available user-generated comments posted over the year 2015 on the official Facebook pages of 4 popular brands. The key academic contribution of this dissertation is that it proposes contemporary and phenomenologically grounded extensions of Keller’s (2001) CBBE model. It extends the model to cover the dimension of Brand Performativity, and consequently, extends the dimensions of Brand Meaning, Brand Response, and Brand Resonance to include associations of performativity. These extensions update the CBBE model to be a more comprehensive and current representation of the brand knowledge structures which facilitate favourable customer behaviour in a digitally mediated age. An additional academic contribution of this study is the identification of social media websites as platforms which facilitate the public performance of intimacy in customer-brand relationships. The managerial contribution of this dissertation is that the additional associations identified in this dissertation offer fresh avenues of generating or improving CBBE and provide meaningful extensions to industry-based tools used for digital content management and brand equity measurement.
Advisor: Gnoth, Juergen; Parackal, Mathew
Degree Name: Doctor of Philosophy
Degree Discipline: Marketing
Publisher: University of Otago
Keywords: Customer-based brand equity; CBBE; Text Mining; Qualitative content analysis; Social media; User-generated content; UGC; Luhmann; Keller
Research Type: Thesis