This study examines how the degree of fit between the brand extension and the parent brand, in the case of heritage sites, affects the extension's brand equity-formation, considering the mediating role of brand attitude and brand credibility and the moderating role of the tourist's level of experience of the parent heritage brand. An experimental design is applied, in which two different levels of fit between the parent heritage brand and the brand extension are controlled between subjects. Suggestions are provided for effective ways of enhancing heritage brand equity and therefore contributing to destination promotion and competitiveness.
Cultural heritage is considered a key factor in the socioeconomic development of territories in general (neighborhoods, cities, regions, and countries) (Bowitz & Ibenholt, 2008; Henche & Salvaj, 2017) and in that of tourist destinations, in particular (Carbone, 2016; Halpenny et al., 2018; Henche, 2018). When a heritage site is designated a World Heritage Site (WHS), this high-profile recognition constitutes a powerful heritage brand (Timothy, 2011) that enjoys significant status, perceived quality, and authenticity (Ryan & Silvanto, 2009). This heritage brand exerts a positive effect on demand patterns in the territories concerned (Halpenny et al., 2018; Poria et al., 2011), reducing tourist perceived risk associated with choosing a destination (Halpenny et al., 2018) and, ultimately, increasing tourist confidence in the destination in question (Hassan & Rahman, 2015). Therefore, heritage sites that carry the WHS hallmark are a focus of significant appeal for tourists and drivers of wealth-creation for the territories in which they are located. They also constitute an enormous source of potential for destinations’ on-going economic development through the creation of brand extensions—a topic of particular interest to marketing scholars (Aaker, 1990; Kim et al., 2019; Reast, 2005).
As bringing new brands to market is a costly endeavor, many firms opt instead for the brand extension strategy, which has been critical for business growth in recent decades (Aaker, 1990; Buil et al., 2009). While several factors are known to influence brand extension success, the perceived fit between the parent brand and the extension plays a particularly significant role (Aaker & Keller, 1990; Buil et al., 2009; Miniard et al., 2018; Reast, 2005). Perceived fit is derived from consumers’ perceptions of the extent to which the parent brand and its extension share a likeness or similarity.