A consumer-brand relationship, also known as a Brand Relationship is the relationship that consumers, think, feel, and have with a product or company brand (Fournier, 1998; Veloutsou, 2007). For more than half a century, scholarship has been generated to help managers and stakeholders understand how to drive favorable brand attitudes, brand loyalty, repeat purchase, customer lifetime value, customer advocacy, and communities of like-minded individuals organized around brands. Research has progressed with inspiration from attitude theory and, later, socio-cultural theories, but a perspective introduced in the early 1990s offered new opportunities and insights. The new paradigm focused on the relationships that formed between brands and consumers: an idea that had gained traction in business-to-business marketing scholarship where physical relationships formed between buyers and sellers.
Two catalysts can be credited for the brand relationship paradigm. Max Blackston’s 1992 piece, “Observations: Building Brand Equity by Managing the Brand’s Relationships,” highlighted for the first time that brands themselves were active partners in a relationship, and called for attention not just to people’s perceptions of and attitudes toward brands, but also to the reciprocating construct: what people thought the brand thought of them. Fournier took this idea of an active brand partner with her thesis in 1994 titled “A Consumer-Brand Relationship Framework for Strategic Brand Management”.
Nearly 25 years later, there now exists a robust and varied scholarly sub-discipline on brand relationships, with contributions from a range of theoretical disciplines including social and cognitive psychology, anthropology, sociology, culture studies, and economics, and methods from empirical modeling to experiments, ethnography, and depth interviewing. Hundreds of articles, book chapters or books on brand relationships have been published on this topic. Fetscherin and Heinrich in 2014 conducted an extensive literature review on this topic and analyzed 392 papers by 685 authors in 101 journals. They concluded brand relationships is notably interdisciplinary with publications in many different fields such as applied psychology, communication as well as business management and marketing. They identified seven sub-research streams consisting (1) relationship between various constructs such as brand loyalty, trust, commitment, attachment, personality; (2) effects of CBR on consumer behavior; (3) brand love; (4) brand communities; (5) CBR and culture and brand cult; (6) self-brand-connections (e.g., self-congruence); and (7) storytelling and brand relationships.
The Consumer Brand Relationships Association (CBRA) is the world’s leading network for practitioners and academics interested in the study of the relationships consumers have with brands. Their website states that “to promote this field, advance knowledge, facilitate the exchange of information, and encourage collaboration”.
Fajer and Schouten (1995) present the Typology of Loyalty-Ordered Person-Brand Relationships as summarized below in the table.
Later, Fournier (1998) provides a typology of 15 brand relationships derived from phenomenological research
A more abstract typology is also supported that distinguishes exchange versus communal relationships. Aggarwal provides a theory that distinguishes these two basic brand relationship types according to the exchange norms that operate within them.
Hyun Kyung Kim, Moonkyu Lee, and Yoon Won Lee (2005) in their paper Developing a Scale For Measuring Brand Relationship Quality present the following dimensions to measure brand relationship quality.
Many studies evoke the concept of brand love on Sternberg’ triangular theory of love. Some argue that brand love is similar to interpersonal love while others, such as Batra, Ahuvia, and Bagozzi (2012) state that “there are compelling reasons these conceptualizations of interpersonal love should not be applied directly to brand love” (p. 1). Some suggest brand love is more a parasocial love relationship.
Multi-faceted strength notions are also recommended. Among these are Fournier’s Brand Relationship Quality index, which has seven facets:
Through an analysis conducted by Fournier (1998), a six faceted brand relationship quality construct was drafted. There are dimensions in a relationship in which they all determine the strength of a consumer-brand relationship, these dimensions include: love and passion, self-connection, interdependence, commitment, intimacy, and brand partner quality.
Love and passion is the essence of all strong brand relationships. It refers to the depth of the emotional connection between that brand and the consumer. There are many works about brand love. Most notable is the one by Batra, Ahuvia, Bagozzi (2012).
Self-connection is the extent to which the brand conveys important identity concerns, tasks, or themes, therefore communicates a significant aspect of self. A strong brand relationship is maintained by strong self-connections to the brand. This is due to the ever-growing protective feelings of uniqueness, dependency, and encouragement of resilience in the face of negative events.
Interdependence involves regular interactions between the brand and the consumer, increased scope and diversity of brand-related actions, and the increased intensity of personal experiences.
Commitment refers to the stability of the consumer’s attitude towards the brand relationship, and can be seen as the intention and dedication to the longevity of the relationship.
Intimacy refers to how close the consumers feel with the brand, and also refers to the mutual understanding and acceptance of both the brand and the consumer.
Brand partner quality represents what the consumer thinks about the performance of the brand in the relationship. The factors of this quality are trust, reliability, and expectation fulfillment.
When there is a group of people who have the same strong consumer-brand bond, it leads to forming brand communities. A brand community is defined through four structures of relationship. This includes the relationships between a consumer and a product, a brand, a company, and other consumers/owners. There are three traditional principles of community; consciousness of kind, rituals and traditions, and a sense of moral. Consciousness of kind is the underlying connection consumers feel towards each other, and the mutual sense of difference from other consumers not in the community. Next, rituals and traditions are important in aiding the continuity of the community’s meanings, history, and culture. And lastly, Stokburger-Sauer (2010) states that the community members feel a sense of duty towards the community as a whole and also to the individual. Because brand communities are communities with consumers who have a deep sense of responsibility to their brand, they are essential factors of the brand they cherish. This is because even when their brand is gaining negative publicity outside of the community, the brand community, if the bond is strong enough, will still stand by their brand, and will maintain the brand’s attitude and meaning.
Brand intimacy measures the level of emotional connection a brand has with its customers. Using the concept central to emotional branding that an emotional response, as opposed to rational thought, dominates a customer’s buying choice, brand intimacy ascribes a qualitative approach to the emotional connection between brand and customer.
Brand intimacy posits that customers who have strong brand intimacy with a given brand have a powerful, positive emotional connection with that brand. More specifically, it contends that in order for a brand to succeed, it must appeal and connect with a customer’s emotions in a deep and meaningful way.
Compared to Standard & Poor’s and the Fortune 500’s top brands, top intimate brands have been shown to outperform in revenue and profit annually and also over a duration of time.
The brand intimacy model analyzes the relationship a consumer has with a brand. It is described as having three different levels: sharing, bonding, and fusing, each representing an increasing level of trust and emotional attachment a customer has to a particular brand. Mario Natarelli and Rina Papler have written that the occurrence of brand intimacy can be enhanced via the use archetypes to establish and maintain the emotional connections. The goal of brand intimacy is to create long-term purchasing relationships between consumers and particular companies.
Although emotional connection is necessary for brand intimacy, not every customer who has formed an emotional connection with a brand necessarily reaches a stage of brand intimacy. Instead, the forming of an intimate relationship between brand and customer (or user of a brand) is often completed in a series of stages of increasing intimacy.
These stages are:
Six qualities or archetypes have been found to be present in brand intimate relationships. These archetypes are markers or characteristics that through research have been found to be consistently present among intimate brands relationships:
Brand intimacy has been studied in industries such as tech, retail, fast food, financial services, automotive, and in both household and smaller brands. These studies have included analysis at an industry level, as well as brand level. For each brand included in these studies, the brand’s stages and archetypes of brand intimacy have also been analyzed. Studies of brand intimacy have provided data and insight into how both industries and brands are trending as far as their emotional connection with customers.
Among brands, Apple has consistently scored the highest of all brands for brand intimacy, with Amazon and Disney also measuring competitively for brand intimacy. The level of brand intimacy has been shown to not be dependent on size or recognition of brand.
Positive brand relationship outcomes
Negative brand relationship outcomes
Advertisers, for a long time, would spend more money on bringing in new customers rather than on building up relationships they had with current customers, but this has changed completely since then. Now marketers are encouraged to reinforce consumer-brand relationships, and is an ongoing important research topic for many reasons. Having this sort of relationship produces many benefits for the company such as reduced marketing costs, ease of access to customers, acquiring new customers, customer retention, brand equity, and more profit.
Brand relationships produce many outcomes, most of which are positive. The stronger the consumer-brand relationships tend to be, the more likely it is to produce positive results for all parties involved in the relationship, not just the company. The customers’ social needs are satisfied through the relationships they have built and maintained with the brand, while the brand gains adherence and advocacy from these consumers. This loyalty or strong bond with the customers is crucial for when the brand is subject to negative information or negative publicity, as this negativity can be detrimental to the consumer-brand relationship. However, if the consumer-brand relationship is strong enough, it has the capability to aid in the maintenance of the brand attitudes in light of the negative information.
There are gaps in what marketers know about negative relationships, which can cause problems for brands. The negative information consumers hear are more enduring, diagnostic, and conspicuous, and also it is deeply processed in the mind, and is more likely to be shared within social groups than positive information. This would explain why some strong positive brand relationships can readily turn into hateful, antagonistic associations.
There are many different concepts and facets studied and related to consumers’ relationships to brands (e.g., love styles). These relationships can be positive or negative (love hate relationships). Below a few of those concepts studied in brand relationships:
More recently, Fetscherin and Heinrich (2014) present the Brand Connection Matrix. as summarized below in the table.
Fetscherin and Heinrich (2014) also present another taxonomy, the Brand Feeling Matrix as summarized below in the table.