How brand exposure and experience impact brand recall

Dr Chris Baumann

  • Associate professor, Macquarie University
Dr Chris Baumann is an associate professor at Macquarie University in Sydney, researching competitiveness, education, East Asia and customer loyalty. He has authored more than 50 refereed journal articles and conference papers with more than 350 citations. He has been awarded for his research and teaching, including from the Australian government for enthusiastic approach to education. Dr Baumann is also visiting professor at Seoul National University (SNU) in Korea and at Aarhus University, Denmark. He introduced ground breaking concepts: Competitive Productivity, Latecomer Brand, Premium Generic Brand (PGB) and the ‘country of origin of service staff (COSS)’ effect. He has a long-standing relationship with Simon Fraser University (SFU), Canada, as MBA Alumni and research collaborator.

One of the most important dimensions in brand management is for consumers to remember our brands. New research by Macquarie University gives brands fresh insights as they grapple with the relationship between brand exposure, brand trust and brand recall.

Australian and global brand ambassadors are always hunting for more effective ways to target consumers with their marketing efforts, and hope their brand will be the first one that comes to mind.

While the importance of this ‘brand recall’ in the race to secure the largest slice of the consumer’s wallet is undisputed, what is less clear is what ultimately leads to consumers being able to actually recall a brand name. If they can’t recall a brand, they are less likely to purchase it. So what can marketers do to build these brand memories?

Macquarie University has scientifically investigated the roles brand experience (using a brand) and exposure (via advertising) have in brand recall. The research has closed the gap on related research undertaken thus far by establishing the importance of the way consumers experience a brand that will impact their affection for a brand, ultimately building brand recall.

The research was tested in two product categories – fast moving consumer goods (FMCGs) and durable goods. It found trust is a key factor mediating between exposure and brand recall of FMCGs (such as shampoo), and also between experience and brand recall for durable goods (such as car marques).

In other words, consumers are heavily influenced by advertising when it comes to FMCG, and that builds trust and brand recall. Whereas for cars, consumers need to have driven them to build that trust and brand recall.

Our research also tested whether a higher emotional attachment to a brand leads to better brand recall. The research team introduced a new term to capture these emotions in brand building: Affectional drivers.

Participants were asked to rate independent variables related to exposure, experience and affectional drivers including perceived brand image, self-image congruence and brand trust. Participants were then asked to list the first three automobile and shampoo brands that came to mind, and that reflected their brand recall.

As this study focused on the affectional drivers of brand recall, the actual brands recalled questions were not of particular interest. The first brand of each type recalled was treated as a reference point for the remaining questions regarding the predictors of brand recall, meaning brand recall was measured in this study, rather than merely self-reported. This approach adds to the scientific credibility and reflects the study’s rigorous methodology.

Shampoo test

Despite advertising spend aimed at increasing brand imagery in the shampoo, beauty industry and other FMCG sectors, our research found perceived brand image did not actually increase brand recall. Instead, consumers purchasing shampoo are more influenced by brand trust, which implies the products consumers use for their hair is of personal importance.

With shampoo and other personal care products such a toothpaste and tissue paper, consumers form trust to a brand based on media exposure such as advertising, rather than based on product use where the actual quality of many FMCG products is quite challenging to judge simply from everyday use.

This means brand recall for shampoo comes from exposure in the media, rather than from experience. Again, this could indicate consumers are unable to judge the quality of shampoo brands, and subsequently there is little perceived difference between the products available to the consumer.

All up, we can still say improving brand image is necessary for FMCG brands, given that it does not yet contribute to brand recall. But marketers and brand managers need to focus on a more effective approach to ensure their brand image will ultimately also lead to brand recall.

Brand imagery

While there is a clear relationship between exposure and brand image, this doesn’t actually lead to brand recall. A possible explanation for this incongruity could be that perceived brand images of FMCGs are not sufficiently refined for consumers to notice a difference.

In other terms, consumers can distinguish to what degree they trust an FMCG brand, leading to brand recall, but the images may not be distinct or unique enough to really make a difference in the consumers’ minds. Ultimately, this means brand images do not lead to brand recall.

The results of our research have both theoretical and practical implications, particularly for FMCGs wishing to develop strategies that help increase brand recall for existing as well as potential customers.

The study also indicates exposure to advertising is more relevant for FMCG brands, while experience via personal usage is of greater importance for durable goods, in terms of the development of affection and brand recall.

Similarly, the research uncovered a difference in how a consumer’s exposure and experience impact affectional drivers of brand recall. For durable goods for example, experience is the key driving factor in brand recall, while for FMCG, exposure has the most significant influence.

Automotive trends

However, it’s a completely different matter in the automotive sector. Because of the possible implications of the research findings to the automotive industry, we decided to investigate the brand recall of first-time buyers of automobiles. To achieve this, the research was conducted using Australian metropolitan university students.

This consumer segment has the potential to provide relatively high lifetime value to a brand, compared to the general car-buying population. Customers in their early 20s may yet buy five to 10 cars in their lifetime, and building a relationship with a car brand early may have the potential to form a loyalty that spans over the consumer’s lifetime. The research subsequently asked these students about their perception of a brand’s overall image, rather than specific image attributes.

This new research will provide valuable insights for both the automotive and shampoo industries and of course other providers of durables and FMCG, if not even services, and help both target marketing strategies more effectively increase the brand recall of their brands for existing and potential consumers.

The study should also be useful to brands operating in both FMCG and durable product categories to identify what aspects of business is more important to improve brand recall, as consumers’ feelings prior to making a purchase are generally not readily available to these firms.

The full study can be found via the Science Direct website: www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0969698914001532

The paper is co-authored by Dr Hamin, Dean at the Krida Wacana Christian University (UKRIDA) in Indonesia, and by Amy Chong, who completed her Masters studies at Macquarie University.

Tags: market research, brand strategy

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