While insight into consumer brand engagement, experience, and identification is rapidly developing, little remains known regarding the association of these, and related, concepts, as therefore explored in this article. Drawing on social identity theory and service-dominant-logic, this study develops and tests a model that explores the effect of customers' brand credibility, -value congruence, and -experience on their brand identification, and its subsequent effect on their brand advocacy, -attachment, and -loyalty. We also examine the potentially moderating role of consumers' engagement in affecting these relationships. To explore these issues, we collected tourist-based survey data. To analyze the data, we used confirmatory factor analysis, followed by structural equation modeling. The findings reveal that brand value congruence, credibility, and experience exercise significant positive effects on customers' brand identification, which, in turn, impact their brand advocacy, attachment, and loyalty. Further, brand engagement is shown to moderate the association of these factors. We conclude by outlining key theoretical/practical implications that arise from this research.
1 - INTRODUCTION
Brands play a critical role in developing customer/firm relationships, in turn contributing to business performance (Keller, 2012). For example, by developing a unique set of customer associations with a brand and by offering a clear identity, successful brands are able to differentiate their offerings from those of competitors and build customer loyalty to their brands (e.g., Aaker, 2012; Yoshida et al., 2021). However, at the same time, published research shows rising customer skepticism toward brands, as gaged by plummeting confidence in brands or brand-related communications (Tuskej et al., 2013), which may be exacerbated at times of crisis (Aziz & Long, 2021; Molinillo et al., 2022). Therefore, adept management of the customer/brand relationship has never been more critical than today (Beverland, 2021).
However, despite this recognition, little remains known regarding the drivers and outcomes of customers' brand identification (Appiah et al., 2019; Krishna & Kim, 2021), particularly during the pandemic, which is expected to see unique dynamics (vs. regular market conditions; Hollebeek et al., 2021). For example, while Elbedweihy et al. (2016) argue that brand attractiveness is conducive to yielding customer/brand identification, concerned customers during the pandemic may be primarily driven by safety concerns (Kitz et al., 2021). As another example, Büyükdag and Kitapci ( 2021) identify the role of brand self-congruity in driving customers' identification with a brand, which―during a crisis (e.g., the pandemic)―may be complemented or superseded by factors including the brand's perceived care, protection, or security. In other words, during crises such as COVID-19, consumer behavior is expected to display unique or different dynamics (e.g., by exhibiting elevated perceived risk/fear; Rather, 2021a; Ramkissoon, 2020), thus likely challenging some of the insight professed in the literature under regular market conditions and requiring further investigation.
5.3 - Limitations and future research
Despite its contribution, this study is subject to several limitations, opening up further research opportunities. First, as the proposed framework was developed in the tourism context, the attained results may not generalize to other contexts. We, therefore, recommend testing the model across different contexts/sectors, aiding its validation. Relatedly, researchers may wish to incorporate alternate brand-related constructs in the model (e.g., brand love/commitment/trust) to yield further insight (Rather, 2018a, 2018b; Rather & Hollebeek, 2019; Villagra et al., 2021).
Second, we used a cross-sectional survey for data collection purposes. However, given its snapshot-based nature, researchers may wish to employ longitudinal research to explore the proposed model and its evolution over time, thereby offering enhanced insight into the interplay of these concepts and their respective development over time. We, therefore, expect this study's future replication through a longitudinal design to offer further insight.
Third, while we used CE as a moderating variable, other constructs may also moderate these associations (e.g., customer age/culture; Hollebeek, 2018). Therefore, further research may incorporate additional/alternate moderators, yielding further insight. Finally, given the current COVID-19 pandemic, scholars may wish to replicate our research post-the pandemic.