The brand association base: A conceptual model for strategically leveraging partner brand equity

Received (in revised form): 7th June, 2004

is a researcher and a consultant within the field of brand management. He received his BA in cognitive psychology and his PhD in marketing from Stockholm University. His current research interests cover brand leverage and brand architecture. He has published four books and has contributed book chapters. He lectures globally on new trends in brand management.

This paper introduces a conceptual framework for managing the transfer of meaning between brands using a structured and strategic approach. A model is introduced that distinguishes between four components: the leader brand, the partner brand, institutional associations and the customer’s image of the brand. An overview of the model is presented and then each component of the model and the paths of transfer of meaning to and from brands are described in greater detail. Finally, issues related to leader and partner brand architecture are presented and a research-derived checklist for leader brand territory expansion is suggested.

The present paper offers a theoretical and pragmatic response to concerns raised by an international authority on strategic brand management about the necessity of obtaining a greater understanding of how meaning ‘transfers’ to and from brands:1
‘In what ways do the images of country of origin or country of brand, celebrity spokespeople or retail store, etc, change or supplement the image of a brand? At the same time, it is important to understand how the meaning of a brand transfers to other brands, products etc.’

Henrik Uggla KTH Industrial Economics and Management, Lindstedtsva ¨ gen 30, 100 44 Stockholm, Sweden. Tel: ϩ46 8 790 8734 E-mail:

Obtaining a greater understanding of how meaning transfers to and from brands is envisioned as one of five research imperatives for strategic brand management in the future. Moreover, this paper presents ideas relevant to the selection of a value chain partner brand that enables the brand to extend

past its traditional competencies.2 The ideas developed in the present paper also partially contribute to developing more refined models of specific application areas in branding, particularly co-branding, ingredient branding and complex brand architecture in relation to a strategic design of brand identity and brand equity systems. Co-branding, in which key dimensions of a partner brand are incorporated into a leader brand strategy, is becoming increasingly popular among marketers and brand managers. The phenomenon is a good example of a broader marketing trend, reflecting strategic alliances between brands. Several powerful forces underpin this new development. The pressures to increase the effectiveness of marketing spend, combined with an increased stress on the brand to accelerate and enhance cash flows, converge to the end of creating shareholder value.3



A basic distinction within the larger field of brand collaboration can be made between ingredient branding, in which key attributes are incorporated into another brand as ingredients (for example, ECCO shoes with GORETEX), ingredient co-branding (Aunt Jemima cookies with Sun-Maid raisins), and more symmetrical co-branding arrangements, such as in the cobranding effort between Siemens and Porsche Design concerning electronic kitchen appliances (for example, a coffee maker and a kettle). The former strategy, ingredient branding, reinforces a single attribute through the presence of a partner brand; however, the latter strategy, co-branding, represents a reciprocal commitment in terms of calibration of core values, the identification of discrepancies between attribute profiles and identification of a possible new position for the co-brand. Despite the increasing interest in brand collaboration strategy among theoreticians and brand strategists, the area has been overtly concerned with elementaristic distinctions and narrow problems reflecting a kind of marketing myopia towards this important and growing subject area. Consequently, holistic research aimed at unfolding the strategic links and transfer of meaning between brands has been largely ignored.

FINDINGS FROM RESEARCH Transfer of meaning and the importance of ‘fit’ in brand extension and co-branding
Both brand extension and co-branding represent an attempt to stretch a brand’s territory beyond its core and leverage established brand equity. Despite this

shared strategic intention, however, the fit bases of co-branding and brand extensions diverge in important respects. (Fit refers to the level of psychological congruency between a brand and a category, or between two brands.) The brand extension literature has explored possible bases of fit when a brand enters into a new product category. Brand extension studies have distinguished three bases of fit, namely, complement, substitute and transfer of skill between the original brand and the extension product. Studies also found interactive effects that predict the success of brand extension with different variables. For example, host brand quality is not enough to create a successful brand extension — it must interact with fit to become successfully evaluated by consumers.4 The studies further show that a brand can broaden its own mission and meaning over time using a planned sequence of extensions into new categories.5 Tauber6 developed two criteria for brand extensions: ‘fit’ and ‘leverage’ between the host brand and new product categories. He views fit as a natural link that is established between the brand and the new product, and leverage as the differentiating attribute or benefit in the new category. Brand extension implies a transfer of meaning between brand and category, whereas a brand alliance implies a conjunction and elaboration of meaning from brand to brand with category meanings underneath the involved brands. Conceptually, it is important to distinguish brand extension fit from brand alliance fit. Contrary to the brand extension situation, there is no transferability of manufacturing skills involved in a brand alliance. This is because skill is


channels of distribution. events and other third-party sources. the Intel microchip in personal computers (also GORE-TEX fabrics in apparel and Nutrasweet artificial sweetener in soft drinks). countries. For example.7 In other words. 12. In comparison. Sony and Ericsson have produced Sony Ericsson mobile telephones. In corporate co-branding. In linking the brand to another entity. Valuesendorsement co-branding refers to cooperation where partners align their brand values in the customer’s mind (Le Cordon Bleu French culinary academy endorsing the Tefal Integral range of cookware). 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . values and ingredients. brand associations and brand loyalty.9 From a brand knowledge perspective. meaningfulness and transferability of knowledge of the entity are important in predicting the extent of leverage that can be created.8 Sources of equity in brand collaboration In general. NO. the skill is implicitly embedded in the brand identity of each partner in a co-branding or ingredient branding design. Instead. Co-branding is based on the fit between the brands and the fit between the emerging product to each original brand (for example the fit of Ha ¨ agenDazs Baileys brand to Ha ¨ agen-Dazs ice cream and Baileys liqueur). awareness. the core competence belongs to each brand involved in the alliance and is not judged or evaluated by the consumer on a brand-to-category basis. perceived quality.11 A model of brand equity sharing in a co-branding context suggests four levels with increasing levels of shared value creation.10 In brand leveraging. such as in the case of the Uncle Ben’s brand of rice. there is a brand fit and a category fit. favourability. the co-branding of the Diners Club International credit card with Scandinavian Airlines). brand associations can be further classified by type.12 Reach/awareness co-branding refers to collaboration where a partner increases awareness by quickly gaining access to the other’s customer base (for example. alignment of corporate brand values. brand equity is comprised of four main categories of asset: brand awareness. four sources of brand equity have therefore been identified. based on awareness.13 Access to the brand strategy and associations of the cobranding partner. if the conservative personality of Mercedes can be complemented through the exciting and dynamic personality offered by Swatch. an association with the partner’s marketing com107 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. functional brand fit and brand personality fit. Brand fit involves a psychosocial and connotative dimension. characters. strength and uniqueness. secondary sources of brand equity include other brands. Complementary competence co-branding finally refers to two powerful and complementary brands that combine to produce a new product. product fit. In a study exploring the bases of fit within co-branding. companies. it was found that the criteria most often used in an evaluation of fit are emotional brand fit. 2.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE embodied in the partner brand associations that are transferred. if sauce as a category fits with rice. In a brand alliance context. The third level identifies a branded physical component in the offering — for example. spokespersons. there is a category fit. what emerges is a form of complementary brand fit.

UGGLA Institutional associations Image transfer Association base Identity transfer Partner brand Partner category Customer brand image Leader brand Leader category Figure 1 The brand association base with image and identity transfer between brands munications and. Four important criteria delimit and define the leader brand in a brand alliance or co-branding context: it is the category driver. a new strategic model is introduced for the design of brand alliances that can help to expand a brand’s territory through a transfer of meaning between brands or between a brand and a product category. 12. and the sources of brand equity. Table 1 characterises the different associations. it has status as a modified brand. This paper first presents a definition of the brand association base. it has control over the marketing and distribution system. associated with a secondary brand. ECCO sells quality shoes (category) in its own stores (marketing THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE The brand association base can be defined in the following way: ‘The brand associations managed by a leader brand (category). The leader brand The leader brand is the most ‘downstream’14 brand in a brand alliance context. then describes the model and concludes by explaining the different barriers to and pathways of meaning transfer in the model. meaning for the brand (image) and value (equity). extended through identity transfer or leveraged through image transfer via partner brands (categories) and/or institutional associations that contribute in a positive/negative way to customer-derived 108 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. These are discussed below.’ This is shown in Figure 1. 2. the reach of the corporate co-brand offer equity. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . finally. NO. For example. it is the primary brand.15 The co-brand comprising ECCO shoes and GORE-TEX fabric consists of a leader brand (ECCO) and a partner brand (GORE-TEX). From this overview of the bases of fit in brand extension and co-branding. and is the owner of a customer base.

Partner. sponsor and supplier brands differ in their visibility in the graphic portfolio. 12. the leader brands often appear as organisers of meaning from partner brands. The roles and positions of partner brands will depend upon the more specific product market context where these partners appear. A sign of this strategic direction is that most theme parks now have their own partner brand managers that develop platforms and conditions for brand alliances. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . the leader brand reaches up to a higher market segment through the premium associations transferred through the partner brand. An important strategic con109 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. In the case of Universal Studios. in marketing communication and the amount of space devoted to them in the theme parks. 2. Seiko and Oxford University Press have developed a digital crossword solver that is marketed by Seiko through its consumer products website. In England. sponsors and supplier brands. NO.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE Table 1 Characterisation of different associations Type of association character Category relation Leader brand associations Defining the product/service category Partner brand associations Modifying the leader brand’s product/service category attributes Institutional associations Endorsing leader and partner categories through cultural meaning Socio-culturally defined. In this case Oxford University Press is the contentproviding co-brand. based on cultural conventions Secondary Permeate the value chain Index Oxford University (scientific source associations. heritage) Type of meaning Commercial Commercial Source of brand equity Position in the value chain Semiotic status Empirical example Primary The most downmarket brand Symbol SEIKO Instruments (SEIKO Oxford English Spellchecker) Secondary The most upmarket brand Icon Oxford University Press (digital dictionary content) and distribution). An important strategic consideration for the leader brand relates to how it should be positioned in relation to its partners. Seiko is a leader brand in relation to Oxford University Press. In this case. The leader brand connects to the larger association base through ‘identity transfer’. In the service sector. Ford Explorer is the leader brand that is modified up-market through the Eddie Bauer partner brand. Universal Studios has established relations with a number of partners. the GORE-TEX ingredient brand modifies the ECCO line of shoes for the segment of waterproof shoes (modifier brand). and ECCO owns a customer base of potential shoe buyers. In the cobranding architecture of the Ford Explorer Eddie Bauer Edition. a basic distinction has been created between partners.

and how brands should be co-positioned in a brand alliance effort. Dupont Supplex and LYCRA are ingredient partner brands that cannot be bought outside the leader brand offering.17 Nonetheless. Chiquita and Baileys are ingredient co-brands — brands positioned as ingredients — but in contrast to GORE-TEX and Intel. these brands can be bought outside the immediate co-branding context. Nutrasweet artificial sweetener. partner brands can also be manufacturers’ brands aligned downstream in certain marketing contexts. For example. the leader brand may be used as an umbrella and a portal.UGGLA Figure 2 Bianchi and Ducati mountain bike (reprinted with permission from Cycleurope). people or even places with desirable reputations and high levels of brand awareness. The partner brand Partner brand associations are defined here as associations secondary to the identity and more immediate territory of the leader brand. Togo’s sandwiches serves as an umbrella leader brand in the multi-unit franchising alliance with Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins ice cream. and Baileys Original Irish Cream is a partner brand to Ha ¨ agen18 Dazs ice cream. In a distributionled brand alliance. see Figure 2. Partner brands are often linked downstream in the value chain to leader brands (see Figure 3). Michael Jordan and Ronaldo can also be positioned as partner brands. There is an affinity between partner brand association and Kevin Lane Keller’s concept of secondary brand associations. 2. In product co-branding. Intel processors. 12. More specifically.16 These brands are associated secondary brands that are linked to 110 leader brands. sideration for the leader brand relates to how much of the brand should be transparent in relation to partners. Partner brands can be components. NO. defined by him as brand associations that could be leveraged from secondary sources outside the brand’s own identity. Partner brands contribute brand equity to the dominant leader brand ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. Strong celebrity endorsers such as Cindy Crawford. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . products. The co-brand Bianchi-Ducati mountain bike represents a visible balance between the leader brand (Bianchi) and the partner brand (Ducati). the positioning of the leader brand may be more balanced. Chiquita is a partner brand to the Beechnut leader brand in its baby food line. GORE-TEX fabrics. Indian Oil is partner brand to the VISA leader brand in a co-branded credit card in India.

partner brand associations become so strong and important as drivers for the end consumer’s decision that they become a natural part of the overarching brand structure of the leader brand and transform into a partner sub-brand. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . When this cultural and contextspecific attribution structure becomes linked to the brand resource. it can be transformed into a source of real brand value (ie customer-based brand equity). In some cases. Institutional associations are subtle cultural associations without explicit commercial character. and its association base using a transfer of meaning through asymmetrical or symmetrical collaboration. These associations are the outcome of culturally embedded meaning that can be transformed into meaning and value for a specific brand. one brand is generally more dominant than the other in all respects. An institutional association denotes an association that has meaning and recognition in a given cultural context. NO. The brand used the concept of a ‘Ponds Institution’ and linked itself to technology and research 111 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL.20 A key feature of this kind of association is that because they are already embedded in a larger surrounding context and culture. In contrast. The church and the university are institutions. the Michael Jordan partner brand had that character in relation to Nike (Nike Air Jordan) and Eddie Bauer has a similar relationship to Ford Explorer. 12. These are powerful associations for which meaning is determined by institutional rules and relations. Ponds is a household brand with millions of customers.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE Figure 3 GORE-TEX: a partner brand that transfers its image to leading manufacturers’ brands (reprinted with permission of Peak Performance Scandinavia). In an asymmetrical collaboration. 2. symmetrical collaboration refers to a more balanced relationship between the partner and leader brand. marriage and art are two other examples. For instance. A strategy based on institutionalised associations aims to appropriate a given cultural meaning or value structure and internalise it into strategy.19 Institutional associations Institutions are establishments with a deep societal or cultural meaning. In India. they also have assumed a certain amount of meaning.

associations in an effort to reposition the brand for the skincare market. bowling is considered downmarket. and thereby creates an institutional brand association (see Figure 4). while opera is considered esoteric and upmarket. The brand knowledge changes when a brand becomes linked to another brand or entity. with subtle institutional associations. by linking a brand to a cause. 12. the brand can appear as sincere and socially responsible. Institutional associations can reside in a qualification mark.21 Artists such as Andy Warhol facilitated a transfer of institutional associations from art to consumer brands such as Coca–Cola and Campbell’s Soup.24 A sharp distinction needs to be drawn between institutional associations and institutional brand associations.26 There is ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. The Oxford University shield is a symbol of the university’s heritage and its association with knowledge and education (institutional association). it can provide great and legitimate associations that signal social responsibility.22 A property or event can have a host of institutional associations.UGGLA Figure 4 The shield. 2. an institutional symbol for Oxford University and Oxford University Press (reprinted by permission of Oxford University and Oxford University Press). institutional brand associations are created that can create legitimacy for the brand. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 .25 Brand image The customer derives perceived equity from one or more elements related to the brands sharing the same association base. NO. A qualification mark is a collective non-commercial brand that guarantees the socially responsible way in which a product has been produced. for example. When brands connect to institutions.23 A cause can have institutional associations and. Avon’s breast cancer crusade is one example of this strategy. such as Fairtrade. 112 Seiko UK uses the shield on the package of its Oxford English Spellchecker.

28 as shown in Figure 5. Recent brand tracking also indicates 113 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. the partner brand as an icon and institutional associations as index or endorsing brands. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . endorsing certain brand values such as winning and sports elitism. Consumer brand image can change. in the brand constellation with rum it is perceived as a mixer and an ingredient. In a similar manner. In the first instance. an icon or an index. the leader brand will usually be perceived as a symbol. Michael Jordan was an index for Nike basketball shoes. 2. the dual brand Sony Ericsson is a co-driver brand structure27 that implies other connotations than Sony and Ericsson viewed as distinct entities. Coca–Cola is viewed as an independent soft drink brand. From an individual consumer’s brand image perspective. however. Nike is a symbol for sports fashion. An icon. An index represents an inherent existential link between the brand and the product.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE Figure 5 Partner brand associations from the consumer perspective a difference in brand image between Coca–Cola viewed as an individual soft drink brand and as part of the conjunction of rum and Coca–Cola. A symbol is an arbitrary sign based upon convention. is based on similarity and looks like its object. the brand image crafted from the brand association base will consist of a combined meaning where a brand may be a symbol. GORE-TEX has transformed from icon to index to symbol (‘my GORETEX jacket from Peak Performance’). For some market segments in Scandinavia. NO. 12. Consumers have become used to the idea that ECCO represents shoes and that Virgin represents a boundary-spanning brand from music to airlines to wine. From a brand image perspective. finally.29 A typical brand image with ECCO and GORETEX may be GORE-TEX as an index for waterproof shoes (‘guaranteed to keep you dry’) and ECCO as a symbol for functional quality shoes with a characteristic design.

32 Beyond financial incentives. successful brand collaboration can accelerate and enhance cash flow and increase shareholder value. 12. emotional and symbolic reasons for collaboration (Table 2). Furthermore. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 .30 although GORE-TEX cannot be bought outside the context of these brands.UGGLA Table 2 Benefits from collaboration for leader and partner brands Leader brand Functional benefits Extend brand territory through indirect extension Reinforce and endorse an isolated attribute and benefit Reduce competitive advantage of the market leader Create stronger associations with quality Capitalise on a core competence Reinforce emotional benefits through image transfer of functional or symbolic benefits Image transfer of design and selfexpression Use partner as a silver bullet brand Partner brand Extend to new categories Leverage channel equity Expand the customer base Create more usage Capitalise on brand awareness Emotional benefits Extend the value proposition Create a deeper brand personality Symbolic benefits Image transfer of end-user and usage imagery from the leader brand customer base stronger purchase intent for GORETEX than for its category leading brands. such as Adidas.31 The essence of co-branding is that both partners gain access to the other’s customer base. BENEFITS WITH BRAND COLLABORATION From a financial perspective. 2. a symbol such as Sony may be perceived as an index (for digital content and camera technology) in relation to Ericsson. partners can extend and reinforce their value proposition through brand collaboration. Functional benefits The leader brand can extend its own brand territory indirectly towards the end users by way of collaboration. increase revenues by reaching new 114 markets. Nike. These benefits will now be explored from the perspective of the parties involved in a brand leverage effort through the brand association base — ie the leader brand and the partner brand. NO. Cooperation that involves sharing a brand association base enables firms to lower costs by leveraging established brand equity. and avoid the fixed costs of creating a new brand. A distinction can be made between functional. a stronger attribute profile can sometimes be created together with a partner brand than would otherwise be possible if the leader brand had extended ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. the leader or partner brand can mirror or complement its value proposition through image transfer from a partner brand in the surrounding environment. Strategic brand alliances and cross-promotions can accelerate cash flows through penetration of multiple customer bases and increased responses to marketing activities. In other words. Levi’s and ECCO.

Finally. NO. the leader brand can reinforce the functional dimension of its value proposition through a single attribute or benefit incorporated through image transfer from a partner brand. Gorenje represents function and technology. it also represents an extension for the brand and the GORE-TEX black square logo is positioned in relation to the leader brand.33 Furthermore. Gorenje and Pininfarina have introduced a range of ovens in stainless steel. Ford Explorer has transferred symbolic brand associations from the Eddie Bauer partner brand36 and leveraged the emotional and design-oriented associations. A strongly emotional or symbolic partner brand can also help the leader brand to escape a ‘product category trap’. The silver bullet partner brand can help to revitalise and energise the brand identity of the leader brand through strong symbolic associations.35 and thereby borrow needed expertise and brand equity that it does not possess in its own right. There is often a strong intrinsic symbolic component that spills over to the leader brand in this case. The Eddie Bauer brand has outsold other versions of the Explorer costing considerably less. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . In the car industry. This strategy of collaboration involves core product complementarity that can help the leader brand to reach in to achieve greater market share in its current target market. Every time the GORETEX fabric enters into a new category. 2. or a brand of mountain bikes (for example. These incorporated functional benefits may be perceived as an intrinsic part of the brand identity of the leader brand to a certain group of customers in the growing and dynamic fitness and aerobics segment of the market. In this way. Emotional and symbolic benefits A leader brand can reinforce or borrow symbolic benefits through a transfer of design and self-expressive associations from the partner brand. the leader brand STAY-IN-PLACE sports bra capitalises on the stretch and anti-perspiration attributes offered through the partner brand DuPont Supplex. 12.34 Moreover. A leader brand can sometimes use a partner brand as a ‘silver bullet’ brand. A brand of cookies can use a strong manufacturer’s brand of chocolate or raisins in a similar way. Pininfarina represents 115 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE into this new territory by itself. which spills over to the leader brand. it can capitalise on leader brand awareness and extend into new categories. the leader brand can find a strong strategic advantage and functional incentive in capitalising on a core competency. The co-branding between Gorenje and Pininfarina provides an excellent example of this logic of leveraging the symbolic benefits of a partner brand and using it as a silver bullet brand. a leader brand can differentiate its own position through a strong branded ingredient offered by a partner brand and offset some of the competitive advantage of other brands with similar positioning. The partner brand can leverage the channel equity of leader brands in an effort to move downstream. A silver bullet brand is a brand with the capacity of changing or modifying consumers’ perception of the dominant leader brand. Decathlon mountain bikes) can use the Shimano partner brand to secure and isolate a unique association with quality.

Image dilution through overexposure Too much collaboration can lead to less impact from the image-transfer process to the leader brand. In Sweden. RISKS OF USING THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE MODEL The potential disadvantages of brand collaboration are also reflected in the brand association base model. with the end result of confused positioning for one of the partner brands. she was looked upon more as a liability for the brand than as a brand asset. Both the brands contributed to the alliance and created a better attribute profile than Gorenje as a leader brand or Pininfarina as a partner brand could have done by direct extension. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . Even though more collaboration can make the brand even Loss of control The most obvious risk with brand leveraging is related to control and the loss of control over the brand’s identity. AXA-Ludmila breakfast cereal. that may inhibit the image-transfer process between the brands. The partner brand can extend its value proposition downstream and create and add depth to its brand personality. Particularly. After getting caught for steroid abuse. Confused positioning and lost focus in target groups The wrong selection of partner brands can lead to immediate image losses for the brands involved. the Pininfarina brand was previously only associated with cars. endorsers and living brands are subject to risks in this respect. NO. and some brands are more vulnerable to brand leveraging than others. there is a potential loss of control over the brand to another party. In every instance where brands collaborate. core values and associations. If the brand has entered into many different collaborations and has a whole portfolio of partners. Think of brand endorsers such as Michael Jordan or Andre Agassi in the 1980s and how large their partner brand portfolios were. Brand personalities must have both points of parity and points of difference in order to make up a meaningful co-branding arrangement.UGGLA emotion and a symbolic heritage with Italian design. image dilution through overexposure. and less leverage points and potential in the future. It can also transfer some of the user and usage imagery from the leader brand. the highly successful sprinter Ludmila Enqvist was strongly connected to a major national cereal brand.37 There can also be a loss of distinctive features for one of the partner brands. For example. Brands’ positioning and identity can change over time. 12. but has now broadened its position through association with several brands in different product categories. confused positioning and lost focus in target groups. Brands that choose to collaborate and cross their natural boundaries expose themselves to risks in four areas: loss of control. In fact she had her own sub-brand in a larger endorsement line. 2. Two incompatible personalities can erode associations for each of the brands’ identities. This can be a problem both for ordinary brands and celebrity endorsers or living brands. AXA. celebrity 116 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL.

ten concrete managerial guidelines are presented for when and how to leverage established brand equity structures from partner brands and partner categories in a way that is strategic and efficient. mission and core values for the brand. and go from there into the pertinent issue of co-branding at the product level. McDonald’s uses the McCafe ´ brand as a bridge to institutional associations. Less leverage points in the future When a brand is leveraged in combination with another brand. the brand values and the strategic direction for the leader brand in the future. and therefore not an eternal reputation asset for the company. 2. The guidelines will start with leader brand behaviour in relation to line extensions. and Keller. and Aaker. In contrast. The Clinique brand reinforces a scientific positioning (medical doctor and research association) through its retail staff’s white-collar uniform. What is built in terms of brand equity today can be leveraged and.39 The managerial guidelines follow the conceptual structure of the brand territory. and assess how brand leveraging fits with the overall vision. When the needed expertise is borrowed or bought it is not owned. controlled by the firm tomorrow. A real-world example is given exemplifying each of the guidelines. to a certain extent. Coca–Cola soft drinks in Scandinavia carefully assessed the brand personalities of different car brands before selecting a company car that reflected the future brand vision and values. In the positioning of the brand they use qualification marks such as Fairtrade. Institutional associations should be selected with subtlety and positioned as an index and endorser for the leader brand. Desai and Keller38 have pointed to the urgent need for such pragmatic managerial guidelines in relation to co-branding and ingredient branding. The competence and skill provided by the partner brand will instead be attributed back to that brand in the future. It was decided that the car brand should have an extrovert personality and individualistic values (see Figure 6). brand resources that are borrowed do not transfer their ownership to the leader brand. — Carefully analyse the brand vision. In Scandinavia. the same sources cannot be leveraged in the future. — Expand the cultural or scientific brand meaning through institutional associations. the uniqueness and differentiation of the association may be lost. The guidelines in general and the first three guidelines in particular benefit from the underlying research findings of Keller ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. some of its leveraging potential for the future may be pre-empted. Desai and Keller. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . and Third World in117 BRAND MANAGERS’ GUIDELINES F0R LEVERAGING THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE In this section. proceed with brand extension into new categories. 12. NO.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE better recognised and stronger in terms of higher absolute levels of brand awareness. The reason for this is simple: if sources of brand equity are borrowed rather than built.

UGGLA Brand vision Fit Brand extension Brand alliance Figure 6 The leader brand can either extend its own promise and associations (identity transfer) or it can leverage established brand equity from a partner (image transfer). — Remember that brand alliances and co-branding in particular are special cases of brand extension. — Before developing a partner brand strategy. Alessi transfers skill in Italian design and self-expressive brand associations. carefully assess the possibility of direct line or brand extension from the leader brand. in order to avoid negative spillover effects. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . Does the leader brand (BMW) have skill. For this product line. competence quality associations and complementary associations in the new category (mountain bikes) enough to extend without a partner? If the brand territory cannot be meaningfully expanded through direct extension. a citrus press and a blender. The attitude towards the separate Kudos and Snickers brands among members of the target group can affect their attitude towards the alliance. Remember that the attitude towards the brand before the alliance affects the attitude towards the alliance. analyse the attitude towards each brand before. Moreover. the attitude towards the co-brand can modify a customer’s post-alliance at- ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. Kudos Granola Bars uses Snickers as a co-brand in the conjunction Kudos Milk Chocolate Granola Bars with Snickers chunks. five electrical kitchen appliances were introduced: a toaster. NO. Both strategies should be congruent with the strategic vision for the leader brand gredients such as Espresso Equale. a coffee machine. and that the brand alliance can change or modify future attitudes for the involved brands. 2. consider an image-transfer strategy. Philips Alessi illustrates the subtle link between extension and co-branding. an electric kettle. Before considering a brand alliance of any kind. in order to signal social responsibility. 118 Philips endorses technical and functional product quality. Under the name Philips Alessi. during and after the brand alliance. 12.

a self-branded ingredient could be created. brands such as Boss. both share an association with strong product quality. strive to borrow brand equity. a citrus-shaped logo (more flavour added). In this case both areas of similarity and areas of discrepancy need to be identified. without tarnishing the core identity of the leader brand. The strategy has the potential to increase the brand width. (A self-branded ingredient means an ingredient brand created by the brand owner instead of an external provider. Swatch with its dynamic brand personality may act as a complement to the more conservative personality of Mercedes (points of difference). — If a new attribute is introduced under the leader brand in a lineextension strategy. strong brand awareness and innovative technology (points of parity). 12. 2. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . however. image was transferred through a cobranding arrangement with Baileys Original Irish Cream.41 If the aim is to create a strong co-branding effect and a synergy.40 For example. the partner brand should share the same core values and areas of similarity with respect to positioning. When the liqueur flavour attribute was added to Ha ¨ agen-Dazs ice cream. — If the primary intention with the alliance is one of reinforcing and mirroring current core values. combined with a conservative brand personality dimension. consider using a self-branded ingredient. the values and personality of the partner should reflect that direction in order to create a strong co-branding effect. core competence and expertise through a co-branded ingredient from a brand in the market. The meaning of the Uncle Ben’s leader brand has been broadened from an attribute association with rice towards a provider of quality food in the broadest sense through a strategic sequence of brand extensions. NO.42 — Use a planned sequence of partner categories as a strategic device for broadening and stretching the leader brand’s vision and meaning in a planned sequence of brand extensions.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE titude towards the individual brands in a positive (or negative) way. ranging from complementary brand extensions (sauces) to entirely new categories (pasta and breakfast pancakes). if the aim of the brand alliance is to reinforce the established brand identity of a dressy upmarket person. — If an attribute of the leader brand is modified in a line-extension strategy. The strategy will create long-lasting credibility for the leader brand in relation to further category expansions.) If more lemon flavour is added to Coca–Cola light lemon. If the leader brand must be moved in a desired direction. BMW and Bang & Olufsen share similar attributes with respect to the upmarket brand positioning. 119 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. — Use the partner category to create ‘points-of-parity’ when the leader brand is stretched horizontally. ie the manufacturer has branded the ingredient instead of licensing it from the market. For example.

Consider the risks of losing control over the leader brand in 120 decentralised partner arrangements and that a large portfolio of partner brands can eschew and modify the brand identity of the leader brand. Consider the risks when the partner brand is a living person (for example. it should inspire ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. NO. For example. — Connect a strong partner ingredient brand with high familiarity to a less familiar leader brand and capitalise on the spillover effect. It is the first model that applies semiotic sign categories to the field of brand alliances for the benefit of multiple brand positioning. Balance the risk with ad hoc partnering with a strong brand alliance architecture. a rock star or any other living person). the partner brand architecture should outline the positions of the leader brand and partner brand. The Calvin Klein Watch Company is part of the Swatch Group. a strong ingredient brand may be used by a private brand of computers (a laptop with an Intel Celeron processor). and outline the brand association base structure and the specific type of brand alliance. 12. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . the brand association base acknowledges the idea of intension.UGGLA Figure 7 Leader brands can enjoy strong spillover effects from strong partner brands Calvin Klein consolidated a countryof-origin association when the company extended into the watch category. — Assess the risk with all co-branding arrangements and consider that if brand equity is borrowed. The model should not be viewed as a straightjacket. a sprinter. Ideally.43 The ‘Swiss-made’ brand association creates a quality connotation and establishes necessary points-of-parity with the new category. 2. no new brand equity structures can be built. In addition. rather. The model provides research-based guidelines for links between leader brands and their connection to partner brands and partner categories. CONCLUSIONS The brand association base is a strategic model for transfer of meaning to and from brands. shoes (Decathlon sport shoes with GORE-TEX) or bicycles (a Carrefour T mountain bike with Shimano gears) in order to reinforce its competitive position and offset the differentiation of competing brands44 (see Figure 7).

as part of a leader brand portfolio. a discussion that will be even more important in the networked marketing landscape of the future. there are also obvious disadvantages and limitations to a brand association base strategy. partner brands in the surrounding environment should and could be viewed as an inclusive part of the leader brand’s own extended brand territory. Future research 121 ᭧ HENRY STEWART PUBLICATIONS 1350-231X BRAND MANAGEMENT VOL. ingredients. Collaboration can help a brand to get access to the brand strategy and associations of a partner. structured and flexible. partner brands can grow stronger and turn. including cobranding at a product level (BianchiDucati mountain bikes). co-brands and alliances). causes. general brand alliances and specific brand constellations. Leader brands can lose control to partner brands. leader brands can be vulnerable to negative-feedback effects. for example. and gradually conquers more space in advertisements and retail settings. 2. as opposed to being built up from the bottom line. ingredient co-branding (Chiquita bananas in Beechnut baby food) and limited co-promotions (Mattel toys in McDonald’s Happy Meals). people (employees and endorsers). NO. GORE-TEX obliges its category leading brands in shoes to use GORE-TEX licensed production plants. to borrow needed expertise and to expand brandrelated meaning into new product categories. 105–123 NOVEMBER 2004 . into leader brands. Finally. ingredient branding (Dell with Intel Inside). including various levels of positioning for partner brands in terms of constellations. Michael Jordan incarnates a transformative strategy — he turned from endorser (in NIKE advertisements) to sub-brand (Nike Air Jordan) into the leader brand (his own shoe brand manufactured by NIKE). The brand association base adds depth and texture to the current discussion of brand leveraging. 12. The brand association base offers a novel semiotic description of how secondary brand associations and mature brand equity structures can be shared. co-branding in distribution (Togo’s sandwiches and Baskin-Robbins ice cream). Although the model presented here encourages brand collaboration and transfer of secondary sources of brand equity. Application areas include the design of brand extensions. The model is based on the basic assumption that strategy-wise. over time. The model can be used as a mental map for all sorts of linking between a leader brand and other partner brand associations (sub-brands. in a way that is more holistic. The model suggests that secondary sources of brand equity could be moved for the benefit of the brands involved in the alliance. Besides.THE BRAND ASSOCIATION BASE the brand strategist and academic researcher to assess all the opportunities arising from brand leverage activities offered through brand-to-category and brand-to-brand collaboration. third-party endorsements). leveraged and borrowed. co-brands and ingredient brands. Areas for future research Important areas for future research include the development of more comprehensive brand architectures for brand collaboration. places (country of origin and channels) or things (events. Negative-feedback effects can appear from weak partner brands or endorsers with a bad reputation.

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