Symbolic And

Topics: Brand management, Brand, Branding Pages: 12 (5582 words) Published: February 2, 2015
An executive summary
for managers and
executives can be found
at the end of this article

Symbolic and functional
positioning of brands
Subodh Bhat
Associate Professor, Department of Marketing, San Francisco State University, San Francisco, California, USA and

Srinivas K. Reddy
Professor, Department of Marketing, University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia, USA

Positioning a brand through a clear and consistent image-building campaign has been a cornerstone of brand marketing practice. Marketers spend millions of dollars each year to create and support brand images. Their efforts seem to have paid off, as evidenced by the enduring, well-defined, and strong images of some of the world’s popular brands (e.g. Marlboro, Ivory, Pepsi). In line with this evidence, theorists and practitioners (cf. Gardner and Levy, 1955; Park et al., 1986; Ries and Trout, 1986) have recommended that developing, communicating, and maintaining a brand’s image is crucial to its long-term success.


Brand image important

The importance of a brand’s image in its long-term success necessitates having a framework for strategically managing the image over the long term (Park et al., 1986). Brand managers have had very little direction for setting up such a conceptual framework. One notable exception is brand concept management (BCM) proposed by Park et al. (1986). BCM proposes that every brand image should be based on a brand concept or a brand-specific abstract meaning. In its general form, a brand concept can be either symbolic or functional, and thus comprises one aspect of a brand’s image. Functional brands satisfy immediate and practical needs. Symbolic brands satisfy symbolic needs such as those for self-expression and prestige, and their practical usage is only incidental. For example, in the category of wrist watches, the brand Casio would be considered a functional brand since its usefulness lies primarily in its ability to tell the time correctly. The brand Movado, on the other hand, would be considered a symbolic brand since it is used primarily for its status appeal, and its ability to tell the time is only an incidental reason for its usage. Once a concept is selected for a brand, Park et al. (1986) advise that it should be maintained over the brand’s life for sake of consistency.

Symbolic or functional

While the notion of brand concept management is intuitively appealing, the proposition that brands can be either symbolic or functional in their appeal to consumers raises a number of interesting issues. The first issue is whether symbolism and functionality are two distinct concepts or are two ends of one brand concept continuum. In addition to the uniqueness of these two concepts, Park et al. (1986) assume that each of these concepts is unidimensional. Whether that is really so has not been examined in empirical research to date. Also, to our knowledge, no measures or scales have been developed that would assess whether a particular brand is symbolic or functional. Thus, empirical research has not directly examined these related issues. An understanding of such issues would also be very useful to marketing managers in planning positioning strategies for their brands. In this exploratory study, a set of scales are developed to assess a brand’s symbolic and/or functional value to consumers. In the process, we


examine the issue of distinctiveness and dimensionality of the two brand concepts.

Two schools of thought

Brand concept

There is a long tradition of research into human needs and motivations. While there are a large number of theories and models that explain the nature of human motivation for consumption behavior, a simple typology would suggest two distinct schools of thought. The rational school or the “economic man” model suggests that consumers are rational and try to...

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