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Sensory branding: How, if at all, can it be used effectively for functional products?


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Masters in Business Administration (MBA)
Dissertation Proposal
MBA (Distance Learning)
Student no.: 059021314
Centre: PTC Mauritius
(No specialism)
Discussions with Dissertation Tutor
The area for research and the actual proposal format were discussed with Dr.Nurdilek Dalziel starting November 2009 on the Support Forum for Marketing Dissertation on Blackboard.
A telephone workshop with Dr. was attended on one occasion just before finalising the Proposal.
Sensory branding: How, if at all, can it be used effectively for functional products?
The main purpose of this study is to explore possible relationships between sensory branding of functional products and the different brand constructs of brand experience, brand knowledge and brand equity. Keller’s (2001) conceptual brand equity model represented by the Brand Resonance Pyramid is to be used to establish links between the various elements studied. A quantitative exploratory study is planned with questionnaires distributed to a non-probability sample due to practical constraints of accessing a truly random probability sample. The questionnaires will use a number of pre-determined scales and questions to try and establish links between different brand constructs and sensory branding. The use of a non-probability sample, though acceptable for this exploratory study, will limit the generalisation of the findings to a larger population but can nonetheless provide useful insights to marketing professionals into the effective use of sensory branding for functional products. Future research can use a qualitative approach to probe further into possible relationships and the use of a probability sample can help generalise findings to a larger population. Sensory branding being a relatively new area of research, this piece of research can add insight into the subject of holistic brand experience and its relation to customer-based brand equity and thus, point to new directions for future studies.
The main aim of this piece of research is to explore how sensory branding can be used to market products meant for functional use. The central question is:
How, if at all, can sensory branding be used effectively for products that are not meant for hedonistic use but for functional use?
The role of sensory branding, as part of a holistic experience that can help build brand knowledge and brand equity, will be looked into using literature review on relevant subjects. This will help to gain insight into the following sub-questions:
1)         How is sensory branding related to brand experience?
2)         How does brand experience contribute to brand knowledge and brand equity?
Primary data gathered from the empirical research will help answer the following sub-questions:
3)         What is the extent of sensory knowledge for functional products?
4)         How, if at all, is sensory knowledge related to brand knowledge and brand equity?
Research Interest:
I work for a telecommunications company that has recently successfully used a world-renowned brand to re-brand part of its activities, thus the interest in branding. Furthermore, when going through previous proposals, I read a proposal entitled “The Sound of Marketing: How pop music sells” (Bradley, n.d.), which opened up an interesting world of audio branding. Further readings of articles and journals show that there is a growing interest on sensory branding although not much research on the specific subject. It is felt that an exploratory study into this under-researched area can provide useful insights about the relationships that may exist between sensory branding and a number of brand constructs leading to customer-based brand equity.
Relation to previous research
Nowadays, differentiation is becoming more difficult as competitors often copy product concepts (Hulten, Broweus and Van Dijk, 2009:21) or brand specific values (Nilson, 1998:76). In this new context, branding research is attempting to understand more of the “intangible aspects of brand knowledge not related to the actual physical product or service specifications” (Keller, 2003:596). Kotler and Keller (2006) see brand knowledge as being not only about facts but about experiences, feelings and other brand associations. Sterenberg and Baker (2005) also mention that aspects of a brand make the difference between a mundane and an intense experience and amplify the product experience, which is frequently described in sensory terms.
Back in 1982, Holbrook and Hirschman (1982:135) discuss the experiential aspects of consumption in these terms “This type of consumption seeks fun, amusement, fantasy, arousal, sensory stimulation, and enjoyment.” Holbrook and Hirschman (1982) also mention that consumer behaviour cannot be explained only through an information processing approach but should be complemented by an experiential perspective. This raises previously ignored issues of “the role of aesthetic products, multisensory aspects of product enjoyment” in consumer research (Holbrook and Hirschman, 1982:139).
In fact, Brakus, Schmitt and Zarantonello (2009) establish from literature review in different fields and through empirical studies that there are broadly four dimensions of brand experience that emerge: sensory, affective, intellectual and behavioural. Moreover, Brakus et al. (2009) emphasise that although the different dimensions of brand experience are themselves triggered through brand-related stimuli, this is not necessarily on a one-to-one correspondence. Sensory branding therefore can serve not only the sensory dimension of brand experience but can have incidence on the other dimensions of brand experience as well.
Brand experience is itself a sub-dimension of brand associations in the customer-based brand equity model of Keller (1993, 2001). It is therefore proposed to use Keller’s Brand Resonance Pyramid (Keller, 2001) as customer-based brand equity model to explore the possible relationships between sensory branding, brand experience, brand knowledge and ultimately, brand equity for functional products.
Figure 1: Brand Resonance Pyramid (from Keller, 2001:7)
The two lower hierarchies of brand awareness and brand associations make up the construct of brand knowledge (Keller, 1993). By critically analysing the existing literature, it is proposed to address sub-questions 1) and 2), namely exploring the possible relationships between sensory branding and brand experience and the contribution that brand experience can bring to brand knowledge and brand equity.
It is also proposed to carry out empirical work using functional brands to explore the possible links between consumer awareness of sense stimuli in functional brands, their sensory experience with the brands, their brand knowledge and resulting customer-based brand equity. The empirical work will address mainly the last two sub-questions on the extent of sensory knowledge among respondents and any possible relationships to resulting brand knowledge and brand equity.

Proposed methods
Information for this study will be obtained from literature review, primary and secondary sources.
Literature review:
Relevant information will be acquired from publications such as online academic journals treating the specific subjects of interest, textbooks as well as research magazines to specifically address sub-questions 1) and 2).
Primary sources:
Information will also be sought from an empirical study using a quantitative survey method with one hundred respondents.
A quantitative exploratory method is chosen since the aim is to explore possible relationships between sensory branding and brand constructs for functional products. As Bryman and Bell (2007) argue, quantitative survey-based research is more exploratory than thought, since the structure of inter-relationships is often not yet specified. Although many exploratory studies are qualitative, here the aim is in “exploring relationships and not describing behaviour” (Riffe, Lacy and Fico, 1998:102).
Questionnaires with closed questions will permit to obtain better data accuracy (Panneerselvam, 2004) and limit interviewer bias (McDaniel and Gates, 1998; Paneerselvam, 2004). Questions will be of Likert and dichotomous type and closed questions will be included to collect demographic data. Moreover, questions will be based on brand equity items as defined by Yoo and Donthu (2001), who use both Aaker and Keller brand equity models in their definition, and on the sensory dimension of brand experience (Brakus et al., 2009). In addition, it is proposed to customise and include specific questions used in the Brand Sense survey by Millward Brown (Lindstrom, 2005).
The questionnaire data will be analysed using appropriate software such as SPSS to address mainly sub-questions 3) and 4), namely to explore possible relationships between sensory awareness of functional brands and different brand dimensions leading to brand equity.
A probability sampling method is ideal for quantitative studies (Research methods, 2009), but practical implications of time, access to sample population, limited resources and expected low response rate make this unfeasible. It is therefore proposed to use convenience and snowball sampling methods to generate a large enough sample and to reduce the bias expected by such a choice by choosing respondents from different settings as recommended by Riffe et al. (1998) and Tang (cited in Burns and Grove, 2005).
Moreover, to reduce bias further, it is proposed to use quota sampling to “mimic the known characteristics of the target population” (Burns and Grove, 2005:351). As mentioned by Riffe et al. (1998:85), Rubin and Babbie (2009:149) and Bryman and Bell (2007:202) respectively, non-probability methods such as convenience, snowball and quota sampling are acceptable in exploratory studies. In such studies, even a convenience sample becomes useful since if “strong relationships of interest exist in the larger populations, then they usually will be found even in nonprobability samples” (Riffe et al., 1998:102).
Exemplary studies published in academic journals also use university students as convenience sample for quantitative studies. Some examples are Biedenbach and Marell (2009), Oakenfull and McCarthy (2010), Venkatraman and McInnis (1985), Yoo and Donthu (2001).
Secondary sources:
The Central Statistical Office survey of the population of Mauritius will be used as basis for the quota sampling method chosen.
Regarding conceptual obstacles, although an under-researched area, sensory branding is being studied with respect to more or less well-established brand constructs and concepts, which should help in gaining adequate information for the research.
The potential practical and empirical obstacles identified for the remaining part of the research are time constraint, access to an adequate sample size, validity of data and skills that need to be acquired in a fairly short time for data analysis.
Regarding proposed methods, it has been stated by Jakubiak, Mudge and Hurd (1990:9) that questionnaires are advantageous in that they sometimes provide privacy to encourage more honest responses. On the other hand, issues of accuracy and truthfulness (Blaxter, Hughes and Tight, 2001) have also been associated with questionnaires before. To address these issues, it is proposed to ensure that similar questions are repeated at different places in the questionnaire or that indirect and follow-up questions be used where required to generate more truthful answers (Nargundkar, 2003).
Questions in the survey can also be wrongly understood or interpreted by the respondent. It is proposed to use proven questions on the brand knowledge, brand equity and senses constructs, which have been used in previous studies to avoid language and interpretation issues. Moreover, it is proposed to carry out a pilot survey to verify the correct understanding of the questions and layout of the questionnaire prior to the actual distribution of questionnaires (Nargundkar, 2003).
Another possible issue is the potential bias introduced by the use of non-probability sampling methods such as convenience sampling. Snowball and quota sampling as well as different sample settings are proposed to address the ethics of research as far as possible. It is to be noted that a low response rate for a probability sample can also add bias to the data since the sample no longer represents the target population (Burns et al., 2005).
In a broader sense, the ethical consideration can be on the subject itself. Indeed, sensory branding has been compared to subliminal advertising before (Tischler, 2005). For instance, Lindstrom and Spangenberg (cited in Tischler 2005) both warn about the power and danger of scent and its unintended consequences. In the questionnaire design, it is therefore proposed to include an explanation on sensory branding and its applications, not only to set the context for the research but also to make respondents aware of the subject in their day-to-day life. Respondents will also be reassured as to the confidential treatment of their answers.
Finally, having a science background and having done my first degree in Electrical and Electronic engineering, my role as a researcher may be biased towards the positivist approach. However, a quantitative approach is recognised as being more precise (McNabb, 2010) and is based on hard figures, which are less likely to be biased by my personal stand. Nonetheless, depending on the insights brought by this quantitative exploratory study, it can be interesting to carry out future qualitative research to determine the reasons for relationships that may be uncovered by the present study.
In essence, it is proposed to carry out a quantitative exploratory study on the possible relationships between sensory branding, an emerging concept, and various existing brand constructs with particular focus on functional products. The Brand Resonance Pyramid (Keller, 2001) is chosen as conceptual model for this study. A literature review will be carried out and the main study will use questionnaires.
A non-probability sampling method is chosen due to practical constraints and although it is recognised that the sample can be biased, such sampling is acceptable for exploratory studies as proven by a number of exemplary studies and literature review.
Time being my greatest concern, right after submitting my proposal, I propose to acquire the necessary SPSS skills then design the questionnaire and finally build up the literature review. This should bring me to the date when the proposal results (hopefully positive) will be announced. I will then start my pilot survey, refine questionnaire design and distribute the questionnaires. At a set date, I will start analysing the collected data. The findings together with the literature review should allow me to bring interesting insights into this under-researched area that can be of value to marketing professionals and can be extended to a wider population with future research.
The time table is arranged around the end registration date of 30 June 2011 with the University of Leicester. An extension may be requested shortly but the writer is basing the feasibility of the research only on the currently available time up till 30 June 2011.
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