Keller’s Brand Equity Model: The Hierarchy of Building a Strong Brand

“The basic premise of the model is that the power of a brand lies in what customers have learned, felt, seen, and heard about the brand over time. In other words, the power of a brand resides in the minds of the customers.” – Keller, 2001

It’s well documented that building a strong brand is essential for long-term success. Keller’s Brand Equity Model, or Customer Based Brand Equity (CBBE) model offers a comprehensive framework that helps businesses understand and develop the value of their brands.

Keller’s Brand Equity (CBBE Model) Framework. Source: SketchBubble

Developed by marketing professor Kevin Lane Keller, the Brand Equity Model provides a roadmap for building and managing strong brands. At its core, the model emphasises the importance of creating and nurturing brand equity (which represents the value that a brand adds to a product or service beyond its functional attributes), a foundational element of organisational success which remains as critical as ever. As Asim Zaheer CMO of Glassbox describes:

“Consumer purchase options continue to expand, and rising inflation is limiting affordability in select cases. In this environment, trusted and better-known brands will greatly benefit.” – Zaheer, 2022

By focusing on brand building and management, organisations can create a powerful connection with customers, drive preference, and command a price premium. Research suggests that 81% of customers refuse to do business with a brand that they don’t trust. Whilst other findings show that 43% of customers spend more money on brands they are loyal to, which further highlights the role of equity in driving positive brand outcomes.

Yet Keller explains some obstacles faced by those trying to form a compelling brand:

“The challenge for marketers in building a strong brand is ensuring that customers have the right type of experiences with products and services and their accompanying marketing programs so that the desired thoughts, feelings, images, beliefs, perceptions, options, and so on become linked to the brand. [The model is used to outline] how this ‘brand knowledge’ should be created and how the brand-building process should be handled.”

Keller’s model therefore is used to outline how ‘brand knowledge’ should be created and the process of brand-building.  This comprises four tier levels’; identity, meaning, response and resonance, of which there are six ‘brand-building blocks’; brand salience, brand performance, brand imagery, brand judgements, brand feelings and brand resonance, which organisations can work through.

Identity ‘Who are you?’: The goal at this stage is to create ‘brand salience’, which refers to the awareness and prominence of a brand in customers’ minds. It focuses on ensuring that the brand is recognised and easily recalled. Yet, as MindTools describes “you’re not just creating brand identity and awareness here; you’re also trying to ensure that brand perceptions are “correct” at key stages of the buying process.” Brand salience can be enhanced through effective brand communication, advertising, and consistent brand presence across various touchpoints.

Meaning ‘What are you?’: This takes the form of ‘brand performance’, customers’ perceptions of the brand’s functional attributes and how well it meets their needs. This can often take the form the primary characteristics and features, product reliability, durability and serviceability, service effectiveness, efficiency, and empathy, as well as style, design, and price. By consistently delivering on their brand promise, companies can strengthen brand performance and build trust and credibility with customers. The other component is ‘brand imagery’, which encompasses the brand’s intangible associations, such as its personality, values, and symbols. Brand imagery is built through brand storytelling, visual identity, and brand experiences that align with the desired brand associations. By crafting a compelling brand narrative and leveraging relevant symbols and imagery, companies can create a distinctive brand identity that resonates with their target audience.

Response ‘What about you?’: This tier focuses on customer ‘judgments / feelings’, which reflect customers’ overall evaluations and emotional connections with the brand. Humans by nature are prone to judge, as Visweswaran Balasubramanian explains:

“Judging is simply our attempt to create a hierarchy of better than and less than, superior to and inferior to, and to define worth to everyone and everything that we meet. We have the innate urge to be right, to be better, to be superior—always. Our binary view of the world around us necessitates us to be either right or wrong, so we tend to judge.”

Customer judgement is often broken down into four types: quality, credibility, consideration, and superiority. Brand judgments / feelings are shaped through positive customer experiences, exceptional customer service, and emotional branding strategies. By evoking positive emotions and fostering meaningful connections with customers, companies can create brand loyalty and advocacy.

Relationships ‘What about you and me?’: Finally, the tip of the pyramid focuses on ‘brand resonance’, the ultimate level of customer relationship and loyalty towards a brand, yet the hardest to achieve. It represents the deep, psychological connection and engagement that customers have with a brand and relates to loyalty, attitudinal attachments, as sense of community and active engagement.

Below is an example of the model in practice, using the popular Dutch beer brand Heineken:

Heineken – Brand Resonance Pyramid (CBBE Model). Source: Martin Vaas

By applying Keller’s Brand Equity or CBBE Model, organisation have the foundations to build a strong brand from the ground up, from salience to resonance. Whilst Keller acknowledges “branding can apply to any product or service category; some categories inherently permit stronger brands than others. Nevertheless, all brands can benefit from systematic brand-building activities to better realise their brand potential.” By focusing on these features businesses can create meaningful brand experiences, foster customer loyalty, and differentiate themselves in a crowded marketplace. Investing in brand equity is a strategic imperative for long-term success and sustainable growth.

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