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Kreuzbauer

Design and Brand


GABLER EDITION WISSENSCHAFT
Marken- und Produktmanagement

Herausgegeben von

Professor Dr. Franz-Rudolf Esch {schriftf.},


Universitat GieSen,
Professor Dr. Reinhold Decker,
Universitat Bielefeld,
Professor Dr. Andreas Herrmann,
Universitat Mainz,
Professor Dr. Henrik Sattler,
Universitat Hamburg und
Professor Dr. Herbert Woratschek,
Universitat Bayreuth

Die Schriftenreihe gibt Einblick in den aktuellen Stand der


Forschung zum Marken- und Produktmanagement. Sie pra-
sentiert richtungsweisende Erkenntnisse sowie wichtige
empirische Untersuchungen und Methoden. Besonderer
Wert wird auf Praxisrelevanz und Anwendungsbeispiele
gelegt. Die Reihe will den Transfer von Forschungsergebnis-
sen in die Praxis fordern und wendet sich daher nicht nur an
Studierende und Wirtschaftswissenschaftler, sondern auch
an Marketingpraktiker in Unternehmen, Agenturen, Beratun-
gen und Verbanden.
Robert Kreuzbauer

Design and Brand


The Influence of Product Form on the
Formation of Brands

Mit ei nem Geleitwort


von Prof. Dr. Hans MUhlbacher

Deutscher Universitats-Verlag
Die Deutsche Bibliothek - CIP-Einheitsaufnahme

Kreuzbauer, Robert:
Design and Brand: The Influence of Product Form on the Formation of Brands /
Robert Kreuzbauer. Mit einem Geleitw. von Hans Muhlbacher.
- 1. Aufl .. - Wiesbaden : Dt. Univ.-Verl., 2002
(Gabler Edition Wissenschaft: Marken- und Produktmanagement)
lugl.: Innsbruck, Univ., Diss., 2001

1. Auflage Marz 2002


Aile Rechte vorbehalten
© Deutscher Universitats-Verlag GmbH, Wiesbaden, 2002
Lektorat: Brigitte Siegel / Jutta Hinrichsen

Der Deutsche Universitats-Verlag ist ein Unternehmen der


Fachverlagsgruppe BertelsmannSpringer.

www.duv.de

Dos Werk einschlief3lich oller seiner Teile ist urheberrechtlich geschutzt. Jede
Verwertung auf3erhalb der engen Grenzen des Urheberrechtsgesetzes ist ohne
lustimmung des V~rlages unzulassig und slrafbar. Dos gilt insbesondere fur
Vervielfaltigungen, Ubersetzungen, Mikroverfilmungen und die Einspeicherung
und Verarbeitung in elektronischen Systemen.

Die Wiedergabe von Gebrauchsnamen, Handelsnamen, Warenbezeichnungen usw. in diesem


Werk berechtigt ouch ohne besondere Kennzeichnung nicht zu der Annahme, doss solche No-
men im Sinne der Warenzeichen- und Markenschutz-Gesetzgebung als frei zu betrachten waren
und daher von jedermann benutzt werden durften.

ISBN-13: 978-3-8244-7594-0 e-ISBN-13: 978-3-322-89189-1


DOl: 10.1007/978-3-322-89189-1
Fur Monica und Isabella
Geleitwort

In einer Zeit, in der es fOr Anbieter von Gotern und Dienstleistungen immer
schwieriger wird, sich durch die technisch-funktionale Gestaltung ihrer Leistungen
von Mitbewerbern zu unterscheiden, tritt die Bedeutung des Werts von Marken ver-
starkt ins Bewusstseins. Ein wesentlicher Teil des Auftritts einer Marke kann das
spezifische Design des damit verbundenen Produktes oder der Leistung sein. Die
Frage nach dem Zusammenhang von Design und MarkenfOhrung bedarf einer ge-
naueren Analyse.

Die hier von Robert Kreuzbauer vorgelegte Arbeit verfolgt zwei zentrale Ziele:
Einerseits will der Autor dem Leser ein allgemeines Verstandnis fOr den Markenent-
stehungsprozess vermitteln, indem er sich intensiv mit markenbezogenen Wahrneh-
mungsprozessen auseinandersetzt. Andererseits entwickelt er einen theoretischen
Bezugsrahmen, der es erlaubt, den Einfluss von Produktdesign auf den Markenent-
stehungsprozess zu erklaren.

Ausgehend von verschiedenen Vorstellungen darOber, was eine Marke ist oder
sein konnte, fOhrt Kreuzbauer seine Leser zu damit verbundenen Erklarungsansat-
zen fOr die Entstehung von Marken. Besonderes Augenmerk schenkt er dabei der
Semiosis. Er erklart den Prozess der Zeichenentstehung im Allgemeinen und identifi-
ziert dann verschiedene Niveaus und Elemente von Markenkommunikation sowie
deren gegenseitige Beziehungen. Er entwirft ein Bild, wie Marken als individuelle
Kognitionen im Rahmen derartiger Kommunikationsprozesse entstehen.

Individuelle Zeichenrepertoires stellen ausgedehnte Netzwerke vielfaltiger Zei-


chenassoziationen dar, die sich laufend verandern. Es ist deshalb verstandlich, dass
sich Kreuzbauer in seinem Bestreben, die Entstehung von Marken im Bewusstsein
von Konsumenten zu erklaren, einer detaillierten Analyse kognitiver Prozesse zu-
wendet, die solche assoziativen Netzwerke entstehen lassen. Trotz der Komplexitat
der ablaufenden Prozesse gelingt es dem Autor, die Entstehung von Superzeichen
wie auch von Marken als System multisensorieller EindrOcke, in sehr einfach nach-
vollziehbarer Weise zu erklaren. Dabei hilft dem Leser die geschickte Verwendung
praktischer Beispiele.

VII
Die Erorterung der Auswirkungen unterschiedlicher Zeichentrager lasst verste-
hen, warum zu starke Abweichungen von Designelementen bei neuen Produkten
Zeichenbedeutungen verandern und damit Probleme in der MarkenfOhrung hervor-
rufen. Besonders wichtig erscheint der Abschnitt Ober die Bestimmung von "Identifi-
katoren", d.h. dominanten Signalen im Rahmen von Identifikationsprozessen, deren
Wahrnehmung zum Abruf von konstanten komplexen Gedachtnisinhalten fOhrt. Hier
wird sehr deutlich, welch grol1en Einfluss Designelemente auf den Markenentste-
hungs- und -abrufprozess haben konnen. Kreuzbauer stellt eine Reihe von empiri-
schen Methoden vor, die der Entdeckung von Identifikatoren dienen konnen.

Insgesamt gesehen liegt hier eine recht anspruchsvolle Arbeit vor, die versucht
unterschiedliche theoretische Ansatze in Bezug auf die Entstehung und den Abruf
von Markenkognitionen miteinander zu verknOpfen und daraus praktische verwertba-
re Aussagen fOr die MarkenfOhrung abzuleiten. Eine fOr einschlagig Interessierte
empfehlenswerte LektOre.

O.Univ.Prof.Dr.Hans MOhlbacher

VIII
Vorwort

Die vorliegende Arbeit ist das Resultat eines vor Jahren und aus nicht mehr
nachvollziehbaren Grunden entstandenen Interesses fUr Design. Die Entscheidung,
mich wissenschaftlich naher mit diesem Gebiet zu beschaftigen, wurde wesentlich
durch meine beiden Betreuer, Herrn Hans Muhlbacher und Herrn Tore Kristensen
beeinflusst. Sie halfen mir, meine zunachst sehr unklaren Vorstellungen die Design-
und Markenthematik betreffend in zahlreichen Gesprachen zu konkretisieren. DafUr
gilt ihnen mein besonderer Dank.
Herm Muhlbacher mochte ich daruber hinaus fUr die beispiellos genaue
Durchsicht samtlicher Kapitel und fUr die unzahligen auch in mehreren Gesprachen
abgegebenen konstruktiven inhaltlichen Kommentare danken.

Weiters mochte ich mich bedanken bei Josef Wallmannsberger, Peter Tschmuck
und bei meinem Bruder Gunther Kreuzbauer fur viele wertvolle Ideen und
Anregungen, die das theoretische Konzept der Arbeit betreffen.

Mein Dank gilt auch Ella Pabis, Davide Tealdi, Thomas Rayer und Klaus Berndt
fUr die UnterstUtzung bei der grafischen Aufbereitung. Bei Gerald Kiska bedanke ich
mich fUr Ideen, Gedankenaustausch und fUr seine Geduld.

Bedanken mochte ich mich schliesslich noch bei John Pengelly-Bennett und
meiner Freundin Monica fUr das Korrekturlesen der Arbeit.
Nicht zuletzt gilt mein besonderer Dank Monica fUr ihre Tipps, ihre Geduld, ihr
Vertrauen und ihre 'motivatorische' UnterstUtzung wah rend der Dissertationszeit.

Robert Kreuzbauer
kreuzbauer@kiska.at

IX
Content

A. Introduction 1
1. The Problem

2. Structure of the Dissertation 5

B. Theoretical Part 6

I. General Brand Conceptions 6

1. Classical Brand Conceptions 8


1.1 The Brand as a logo 8

1 .2 Brand conceptions by attribute lists 10

2. Consumer-Oriented Brand Conceptions 11

2.1 Value System - Brands as Symbols 11

2.2 Brand Personality - Brand Relationship 15

2.3 The Brand as an Identity System 17

2.4 Brands as a Cognitive Structure 18

II. Approaches to Brand Formation 24

1. The Cultural Anthropological Approach 25


1.1 Piaget's Ontogenetic Approach 25
1.2 Levi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology 27
1.3 Cultural Anthropological Approaches in Consumer
Research 29
1.4 The Relevance of the Cultural Anthropological Approach 31

2. The Semiotic Approach 32

2.1 The Semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce 35

2.2 The Semiological Approach of Ferdinand de Saussure 38

2.3 The Relevance of the Semiotic Approach 42

3. The Cognitive Approach 44

XI
4. Selected Approach 48

III. General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand


Communication 52

1. The Different Kinds of Semiosis and Brand Semiosis 52

1.1 Semiosis within Person-Object Relations (P-O Relations) 52

1.2 Semiosis within Person-Person Relations (Human


Communication) (P-P Relations) 55

1.3 Consequences for Brand Semiosis 57

2. Dimensions of Brand Communication 59

2.1 Means of Brand Communication 59

2.2 Subjects of Brand Communication 60

2.3 Components of Supply 61

2.31 Supply in a Narrow Sense 61

2.32 Supply in a Broader Sense 62

2.4 Levels of Brand Communication 63

2.5 Direct vs. Indirect Brand Communication 64

2.6 External Factors Influencing Brand Communication and


Brand Semiosis 65

3. The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of


Brand Communication 68

IV. Cognitive Processes of Brand Formation 75

1. Sign-Theoretical Aspects 75

1.1 The Chain of Brand Meanings and the Super-Sign 75

1.2 Brand Identification within Brand Semiosis 79

1.21 The General Process of Identification within Semiosis 79

1.22 Identification Within Complex Sign-Systems - The


Example of Brands 82

1.221 Two Levels of Brand Identification 84

1.222 Varying Sign-Carriers 84

1.223 Two Kinds of Associations: Trivial, Non-trivial 86


XII
1.23 Determining Identifiers: Strong Signals within the
Process of Identification 88

1.231 Constant Sign-carrier - Content Associations 89

1.232 Main Properties of Identifiers and Identifier-


Content (I-C) Associations 94

1.233 Determining Brand Identifiers within the


Process of Brand Identification 97

1.3 Limitations to Brand Semiosis 99

2. Brand Concept Development - Cognitive Psychological


Aspects of Brand Formation 101

2.1 Introduction 101

2.2 Semiotics and Cognitive Psychology in the Realm of


Brand Formation 101

2.3 Brand Concept Development and Consumer Information


Processing 103

2.4 Fundamental Principles of the Physiology of Concept


Development 105

2.41 The Human Eye 106

2.42 The Retina - Early Visual Information Processing 106

2.43 The Neural Representation of Information and The


Visual Cortex 108

2.5 Two Approaches to Concept Development 110

2.6 The Process of Brand Concept Development 111

2.7 Brand Perception 114

2.71 A Brief History of Perceptual Psychology (Visual


Perception) 114

2.72 The Retinal Image 115

2.73 The Image-Based Stage 117

2.74 The Surface-Based Stage 121

2.75 The Object-Based Stage 125

2.751 Boundary Rules versus Volumetric Primitives 126

XIII
2.752 Biederman's Recognition by Components
(RBC) Theory 133

2.7521 Perceptual Organisation of Objects


according to RBC Theory 134

2.7522 Geon Construction and Relations 135

2.76 An Example to Show how Product Form is


Represented by Geons 139

2.8 Brand Knowledge Representation & Organisation 142

2.81 The Amodal View - Propositional


(Associative/Semantic) Networks 143

2.82 Embodied Cognition - Perceptual Symbol Systems 146

2.821 Neural Representations in Sensory-Motor


Systems 148

2.822 Schematic Perceptual Symbols 148

2.823 Multimodal Perceptual Symbols 149

2.824 Simulators and Simulations with Perceptual


Symbol Systems 149

2.825 Frames (Schemata) 151

2.826 Representing Brand Knowledge within Frames: 158

2.9 Part Salience and Selective Attention - Developing Brand


Identifiers 160

2.10 An Example to Show how Brand Knowledge is


Represented in Form of Frames 164

C. Methods for Determining Brand Identifiers 172

I. General Difficulties 172

II. Requirements for a Method to Determine Brand Identifiers 174

III. Methods of Data Collection for Determining Attribute-


Values 178

1. Interviewing Methods 179

1.1 Parsing 179

1.2 Drawing Tests 180

XIV
1.3 Kelly's Repertory Grid 181

2. Evaluation of Drawing Tests and Kelly's Repertory Grid: 182

2.1 Standardisation 182

2.2 Frame and Attribute-Value Sets 183

2.3 Default Attribute-Value Sets 183

2.4 Visual Processing 183

IV. Content Analysis for Determining Brand Frames 183

V. Evaluation of Content Analysis: 186

1. Standardisation 186

2. Frame and Attribute-Value Sets 186

3. Default Attribute-Value Sets 186

4. Visual Processing 186

VI. Experiments for Determining Default Attribute-Values


(=Brand Identifiers) 187

1. General Considerations on Experimental Research 187

2. Brand Recognition Tests as a Means of Determining Brand


Identifiers 189

3. Evaluation of Brand Recognition Tests for Determining Brand


Identifiers 192

3.1 Standardisation 192

3.2 Generalisability 192

3.3 Default Attribute-Value Sets 193

3.4 Visual and Automatic Processing 193

4. Analysis of the Data Collected by Brand Recognition Tests 193

5. Concept Testing and Final Comments 194

D. Final Comments and Summary 198

I. Limitations 198

II. Further Research 198

XV
III. Summary 200

E. Appendix: 204

F. References: 205

XVI
Part A
I Introduclion and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

JI
Cultural Semiotic Cognitive

........ ,...
Anthroplogical

PartB
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

Different Kinds of (Brand) Semios;s


Person - Object Relations I Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

I I I
Dimensions of Brand Communication
Means of Brand Contents of Brand Levels of Brand DirecUlndirect Brand
Communication Communication Communication Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

Sign-theoretical Aspects

l
-
The Chain of Meanings Construct
I

I
I
Brand Identification -
The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other

I I
Brand Idenlifiers -
Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations

Cognitive Psychological Aspects

I I
I Brand Perception Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation

PartC
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part D
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the dissertation


A. Introduction

1. The Problem

Hardly a marketing or management textbook exists which does not hint at the
tremendous change in present market fields - with the general saturation of the
markets and the increase in global competition (ef. Urban & Hauser 1993, Kotler
1997, Keller 1998). In many industries, more and more new - often only
incrementally modified - products are introduced within shorter time intervals
provoking an ongoing reduction of product life cycles (Trinkfass 1997). In this world
of time-based competition, companies more often see themselves confronted with
difficulties in differentiating their supply by means of primarily technical-functional
benefits.
Thus, in a seemingly endless stream of similar (technical) supply, strategic brand
management has become one of the core competencies in helping companies to
develop products with an unmistakable and clearly identifiable profile. However, in
current economies this identification process depends less and less on technical
solutions but more and more on 'soft tools' like design, promotion, advertising, event
marketing, etc. helping to provide rather emotional-symbolic benefits. Of course,
product design or some kind of promotional activity has existed since the first product
was developed; however, compared to earlier times, these tools have attained a
much greater importance (Bloch 1995, Kotler & Rath 1984, Cooper & Kleinschmidt
1987). A traditionally technically oriented company like Philips for instance, has
doubled its design staff during the past six years and is forging joint ventures with
design leaders such as Italy's Alberto Alessi (Echikson 1999 ).

As we can see from many examples in the consumer world, design elements
constitute essential parts of several brands, which become stored in a determining
position within consumer memory. The Coke bottle of the Coca Cola brand is but one
example. Here, a design element is so centrally stored in consumers' minds that
once they perceive the typical shape of the Coke bottle they immediately recall
masses of knowledge about the entire Coca Cola brand. The color "Coca Cola red"
has even become such a constitutional brand element that one could say, Coca Cola
without the red color is not Coca Cola. The examples show that design, which we
define as a product's form or shape (also including color, graphics, surfaces
etc.), to a great extent influences the process of brand formation, in the sense of how
various supply-signals become transformed into a clear and unmistakable brand
construct in consumer memory (Meffert 1998).
The investigation of this relationship between a brand and the design of a
product, is the aim of this doctoral dissertation.

As in common with other areas of research in marketing, there is a plethora of


definitions and approaches to the brand (ct. de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley 1998,
Esch 1999, Bekmeier-Feuerhahn 1998). Yet, among the main brand approaches
(ibid.), there seems to be agreement, that a brand is somehow mentally constructed.
In their classic 1955 article "The Product and the Brand", Gardner & Levy state:

"A brand name is more than a label employed to differentiate among the
manufacturers of a product. It is a complex symbol that represents a variety of
ideas and attributes. It tells the consumers many things, not only by the way it
sounds (and its literal meaning if it has one) but, more important, via the body of
associations it has built up and acquired as a public object over a period of time."
(p.35)

So, a brand could be seen as a mental concept (construct) about a company's


supply in a particular audience's brain. Further, in conformity with cognitive science
(cf. Anderson 2000, see also NCith 1990), a mental concept comes into existence
within a communication process between two information-processing systems
(company/consumer). Thus, a brand comes into being when information about a
certain company's supply is exchanged between companies and consumers.
As findings from cognitive psychology have shown (ct. Barsalou 1998; 1992a;
1992b), an object's shape or, in this case, a product's form, to a great extent affects
this process of concept development. Product form is a product's "most fundamental
characteristic", since it creates the "initial impression" when a product is perceived
(Bloch 1995). According to that, it is very likely that whenever people develop a
particular brand concept in their minds, design or product form is a determinant entry.

2
During the last few years, brand research has essentially contributed to providing
a proper understanding of how people store and organise knowledge about different
brands in their brains (cf. Keller 1993, 1998). Nevertheless, some questions seem
never to have been asked before: How does this brand knowledge 'arrive' there, as
well as how and which product information is transferred within brand
communication? Although consumer research (cf. Bettman 1979, Mowen & Minor
1998) has yielded valuable insights into how various supply-stimuli become mentally
processed by consumers, the notion of how supply information is picked up by the
senses (brand perception) has not yet been integrated into a general framework of
brand formation. So it could be said that the emphasis in current brand research (cf.
Keller 1998, Esch 1999, Bekmeier-Feuerhahn 1998) lies on brand knowledge
representation and organisation, but not on the process of brand perception. Brand
formation is thus considered as the process where signals about a certain
company's supply become perceived by the consumers, as these signals are
further represented and structured in consumer memory.
Hence, for an in-depth understanding of how a mental brand construct is
developed the entire process of brand formation, that is, from the first supply stimuli
up to mental representation of this specific kind of information, have to be
investigated.

A theoretical basis for a more precise understanding of the influence of design


on the process of brand formation, could help future brand strategy research to better
integrate design into its field of investigation. Rather than a mere tool to create
competitive advantage, product form, in a strategic context, could then be considered
as a fundamental part of (communicated) product information. So it becomes
possible to better manage the factor 'design' within the entire brand message.
In any case, the development of suitable techniques for 'building' or managing
brands requires a proper theoretical understanding of how brands are created as well
as of how diverse supply stimuli influence brand formation within the process of
brand communication.

The aspiration towards a more profound understanding of the design's influence


on the process of brand formation furnishes the main research objectives:

3
1. to provide a general understanding of the process of brand formation,
2. to provide a theoretical framework for how design influences brand formation.

In order to attain these objectives, the following research questions need to be


answered:
• What is the general process of brand formation within brand communication - the
dimensions of brand communication; the process whereby brand signals are
perceived by the human senses, and how they become mentally associated with
each other within consumer memory?
• What are the cognitive processes within brand formation - particularly how does
the consumer mentally represent & organise perceived supply-stimuli.
• What is the product form's particular 'function' within this process?
• Is it possible to distinguish between various design elements as regards their
influence on the process of brand formation?
• What methods can be used for analysing the design's influence on brand
formation?
• What consequences can be drawn from this investigation for further brand
research?

4
2. Structure of the Dissertation

After a review of the main brand literature, a general understanding of the brand-
construct will be provided (Chapter B./). Approaches to brand formation will then be
discussed (Chapter B./I). By means of a general model for the 'semiosis' of brands
we will clarify, from a semiotic pOint of view, how supply·signals are transformed into
brand·signs within a general process of brand communication. Therefore, the various
dimensions of brand communication will also be identified (Chapter B.III, B.III.2). In
order to provide a deeper insight into the cognitive processes of brand formation,
sign-theoretical aspects, exploring how sign-sensory impressions are mentally
associated with each other, are combined with knowledge derived from cognitive
psychology, focusing on the processes of brand perception and brand knowledge
representation and organisation (Chapter B./V). Subsequently, a discussion of
methods for measuring brand identifiers, that is, centrally stored brand knowledge
units, as well as managerial aspects and suggestions for further research will
conclude this research project (Parts C and 0).

5
B. Theoretical Part

I. General Brand Conceptions

One aim of this dissertation is to provide a general theoretical framework for the
brand formation process. Yet, before investigating how brands come into being, it
has to be clarified how brands are commonly considered in marketing and consumer
research. So, this chapter will give an overview of the various brand conceptions
which so far exist in marketing literature. In the next chapters (B. II), the author will
discuss approaches which can provide a theoretical basis for explaining the brand
formation process. In order not to confuse the reader when brand conceptions in
general and concepts of brand formation are involved, the following terminological
distinction is made: Brand conceptions describe a general explanation of the brand
construct while brand formation approaches provide a theoretical basis for an
understanding of how a brand comes into existence within a consumer society.
Certainly the border here is always fuzzy, since brand conceptions also provide some
interpretation of brand formation. Yet the difference is that brand formation
approaches focus directly on the process of how a brand is created, also explaining
where it starts and where it ends (determined by a process of brand-communication),
while the others discuss a brand's general nature. The general brand conceptions
also partly cover a brand's functions, its structure and different attributes.

A brand is no economic phenomenon of modern times. Branded goods can be


traced back to ancient pottery and stonemason's marks, which were applied to
handcrafted goods to identify their source (Keller 1998). In the United States, the
development of widely distributed manufacturer-branded products dates back to the
second half of the 19th century. That was also the time when many of the current
strong global US-brands, for instance, Procter&Gamble, Coca-Cola, Kodak or Heinz,
were created.
It is difficult to say when the first research on brands was done. In "The Capital"
Marx (1867) wrote about the "aura of the product" where he discussed the
phenomenon that a consumed good is transformed into a "sensory-supersensory

6
thing" (ct. Esch 1999, 6). Marx, who discovered that customers show different
preferences for products which seem to be physically alike " was probably one of the
first social-scientists to give his attention to a phenomenon which today we would call
a brand. In a managerial context, scientifically institutionalized brand research came
to be conducted much later, since, for the first time, the development and
management of brands were largely driven by the owners of the firm or their top-level
management (Keller 1998). Yet, in the German-speaking area, the first scientific
brand research was carried out by Oomizlaff, already in 1939, or by the "Nurnberger
Schule" in the early 1930s (Bekmeier-Feuerhahn 1998). But apart from these early
stages of brand research, it is only during the last two decades, that brand has
advanced to a "mega-topic" within marketing and consumer research (Esch 1999).

Since the beginning of brand research, the meaning of the term brand has
continually changed in order to meet the prevailing market requirements. While in the
early days of branding, it was sufficient to distinguish between branded and
unbranded (=anonymous) goods, the term later evolved into a more consumer-
oriented point of view.
One general problem with current brand literature is, that a multitude of distinct
brand conceptions and definitions exist (cf. de Chernatony & Oall'Olmo Riley 1998;
de Chernatony and McWilliam 1989, Bekmeier-Feuerhahn 1998, Esch 1999). Many
of them describe similar phenomena but use different expressions, so that it
becomes rather difficult to compare, synthesize and accumulate the different findings
(Kollat et.al., 1979). A further problem is that brand researchers sometimes do not
precisely distinguish between defining the nature of a brand and describing several
brand functions (e.g., de Chernatony & Oall'Olmo Riley 1998; de Chernatony and
McWilliam 1989). This chapter seeks to provide a structure for the various brand
conceptions which exist in the main brand literature.

It is possible to group the several brand conceptions into two main areas. The
first contains rather classic brand conceptions. These brand conceptions mainly
concern the identifying features and attributes which determine and distinguish
brands from 'non-brands'. Here, the main emphasis lies on the description of
important brand functions and not so much on the effects of a brand on the individual

1 apart from the influence of purely promotional activities

7
consumer. However, in current market situations, brand competition has continually
changed from the issue of "to brand or not to brand?,', to the issue of "how to build
strong brands" in the sense of creating a strong positive and unchangeable "image"
in consumer's minds. Thus, the change of market requirements seeks rather to
understand consumer reactions to certain brand inputs, instead of simply looking for
brand-constituting criteria. For that reason, a new stream of consumer-oriented brand
conceptions has exerted a great influence on current brand research.

In the following chapters, the different brand conceptions will be discussed,


explaining each conception's strengths and weaknesses with regard to the underlying
research questions.

1. Classical Brand Conceptions

1.1 The Brand as a logo

The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a "name, term, sign,


symbol, or design, or a combination of them intended to identify the goods and
services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of
competition". This definition corresponds with what de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley
(1998) understand by the brand as a logo and is similar to the word brand's "literal"
meaning, that goods are branded when they become marked by some kind of visual
sign or symbol. The interpretation of a "brand as a logo" is probably the one which is
mostly used in general dictionaries (e.g., Duden 1996, the Oxford Dictionary 1997)
and in everyday language. According to this view, the brand is a visual 2
characteristic, whose function is to identify and distinguish a company's supply.
The strength of this conception is that it focuses on the importance of the brand's
visual features which facilitate the recall of prior brand experiences and thus enhance
the chance of a company's brand becoming more easily distinguishable from those of
competitors.

2 Can be all kinds of sensory attributes, e.g., a jingle. Due to the dominance of visual logo-attributes,
other sensory characteristics are not taken into consideration here.

8
Yet, it is important to state that the capacity for differentiation is not restricted to
brands only, but, instead, applies to all products, as will become apparent from a
simple example:
Accoding to Kotler (1997), a product is anything that can be offered to a market
for attention, acquisition, use, or consumption that might satisfy a want or need. So,
for example, on a certain market there is a demand for four products (x1, x2, x3, X4).3
But just three products (x1 , x2, x3) are supplied, so there is still a place for the fourth
product (x4) and no product/company has to leave the market place. It can be
assumed that, in current market competition, such an 'efficient' situation will not last
long, so that two reactions can be expected: either one company extends the supply
of its product or new suppliers will appear on the market. At least from that pOint,
suppliers (x1 - x4) have to act in order not to be pushed out of the market. Legitimate
competition presupposes that companies have to differentiate their supplies (e.g.
quality or price). So the criterion of differentiation cannot be the role of the brand
alone since this happens in every market situation. A company which wants to
survive on the market has to differentiate its products from those of competitors.
Consequently, differentiation is significant for every product and company and does
not just happen because a company 'decides' to create a brand.
A further important function of this conception is the brand's ability to facilitate
rapid recall of product-information in memory and speedier purchase decisions as
well as the brand's capacity to show a product's origin (de Chernatony & Oall'Olmo
Riley 1998). The first describes an important economic brand function. It means that,
to be able to recall former buying experiences, the consumer uses a certain brand
name or symbol, so he or she is able to recall numerous attributes by interrogating
his/her memory (de Chernatony and McWilliam 1989, 342-343). Consequently a
brand is something which clearly identifies the specific supply in order to simplify the
customer's buying decisions. This comprehension is based on the economic theory
of transaction costs and gives a rational explanation for the advantage of brands from
an economic point of view. However, it has to be said against this consideration that
it does not consider the possibility that non-customers (non-purchaser) also have
impressions about brands, and therefore do not profit from the brand's cost-reducing
capabilities. It also implicates the consumer as an efficient information searcher and

3 For the sake of simplicity: one company supplies just one product, the demand remains constant
and, for the first time, the products are all homogeneous.

9
processor. But, as is known from findings on product involvement (cf. Mowen & Minor
1998), a customer's motivation to buy a specific product may vary according to the
perceived importance the customer attaches to the acquisition, consumption and
disposition of a product. Thus, there also exist buying decisions where the consumer
does not participate in such an active way.
Furthermore, the brand function of showing a product's origin is also not without
problems in current market competition. Since there exist brands which say little or
nothing about the product's origin, this function has become rather obsolete. For
example, most consumers do not know that Red Bull is an Austrian brand, but this
does not have an influence on their consuming or buying decisions. (Esch 1999).
Although some authors (ibid.) discuss these functions as individual brand
conceptions, they are simply brand functions, since they describe not the substance
of a brand but what it is used for.
However, the brand's visual features are particularly necessary in order to create
a typical appearance for a company's supply, which then becomes clearly identifiable
and more easily distinguishable from other products and brands. So, the strength of
the "brand-Iogo" conception is that it describes the importance of visual or any kind of
sensory brand attributes in facilitating the 'identification process' of a certain supply.

1.2 Brand conceptions by attribute lists

Especially in German brand literature, brands have been frequently defined by a


catalogue of attributes. This means that, when a certain product contains all or some
important attributes of the respective brand-catalogue, it is considered as a brand.
Mellerowicz (1963, 39) for instance, defines a brand according to criteria like
"marking"; "unified lay-out"; "meant for bigger markets" or "constant quality on a high
quality level". However, several brand attributes may change when market conditions
change, as for instance, the attribute "quality". Products become more and more alike
on a functional-technical level, so the importance of quality as a criterion for customer
buying decisions decreases (Kroeber-Riel & Weinberg 1999, Bekmeier-Feuerhahn
1998). Therefore, Oelnitz (1995) argues for a more flexible attribute-oriented brand
definition. According to him, the brand is "a product, which is marked by a brand-sign
or -symbol and which has a temporal constant attribute list" (pp. 254).

10
The main advantage of attribute-oriented brand conceptions is that it is easy to
establish whether a certain company's supply is a brand or not (Bekmeier-Feuerhahn
1998). Yet, it is doubtful if attribute lists can ever be stable for some time and if any
general criteria exist which can cope with the various shapings of "brands" in current
market fields. When a further aim is to help brand managers develop strong brands,
general brand attributes do not necessarily tell anything about the consumer's
reaction to a certain brand. Since consumer reactions to certain products or brands
may vary from product category to product category or from company to company, it
is probably impossible to set up a general list of brand criteria, which are - by
definition - stable for a certain period of time (ct. also Esch 1999, Bekmeier-
Feuerhahn 1998).

2. Consumer-Oriented Brand Conceptions

Due to the difficulties classic brand conceptions have in covering current market
situations, other conceptions have been developed, where the consumer's
interpretation of the respective brand has received greater attention. So, within
consumer-oriented brand conceptions the consumer is the center of interest. Since
the consumer is the final interpreter of a certain brand, he or she is also the one who
qualifies a brand's strength or the effect of a certain brand's attribute (ct. Keller 1998,
Esch 1999).

2.1 Value System - Brands as Symbols

The brand as a value system conception is based on the idea that consumers'
decisions are influenced by personal and cultural values (de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo
Riley 1998). This notion is central to consumer behavior research (ct. Reynolds &
Gutman 1988) and asserts that brand choice decisions are determined by satisfying
specific inner customer values (ct. Shet et al. 1991).
A similar kind of approach is when brand researchers speak about a brand as a
complex symbol that represents a variety of ideas and attributes. It was Gardener
and Levy who in their well known articles "The Product and the Brand" (Gardener &
Levy 1955) and "Symbols for Sale" (Levy 1959) established this way of looking at
brands. They state that:
11
"the net result is a public image, a character or personality that may be more
important for the over-all status (and sales) of the brand than many technical facts
about the product" (Gardener & Levy 1955, 35).
This direction of symbolic brand research as a part of symbolic consumption
theory (cf. Hirschman & Holbrook 1981) became further influenced by symbolic
interactionism and anthropological studies. According to that view, a brand is rather a
means of projecting self-image as something which symbolizes our self-indulgence.
So, a brand has symbolic qualities and is used to express the consumers' role
expectations or self-images. In conformity with that, Solomon M. (1983) further
distinguishes between the social and the individual level of consumption. He argues
that products/brands can either be consumed for their social meaning or for their
private meaning that people have learned through their socialization process. This
means that product symbolism is generated at the societal level but may be
consumed at the level of individual experience (ibid.).
Similarly, Schenk & Holman (1980) claim that the brands which a person buys
and uses in different life-situations are selected on the basis of how closely they fit in
with the person's self-conception. Hence, brands can function as a language or some
kind of non-verbal communication to say something about who you are.

Symbolic brand research as well as symbolic consumption theory, have become


a well established field within so-called postmodern consumer research (e.g.
Hirschman & Holbrook 1981; 1992; Holbrook & Hirschman 1993; McCracken 1988;
Robertson & Kassarjian 1991; Holbrook & O'Shaughnessy 1988). These two
disciplines help us to understand what influence brands already have on our daily life
in western consumer society. Additionally, they show that products and brands
(according to the theory of the symbolic interactionism (cf. Mead 1934; Rose 1968»,
play a dominant role in defining people's position in a symbolically determined
environment.
Yet, both fields of research focus rather on the meanings attached to the act of
consuming the good and not so much on the consumer object itself (Solomon &
Bamossy & Askegaard 1999, 59). That means that academicians belonging to this
tradition of symbolic consumer research, are more interested in the act of
consumption than in the consumer object's meaning (Schiffman & Kanuk 1997, 25).

12
Very problematic within symbolic brand research is the commonly held idea that
the product plus some "symbols" create an "added value". Lannon and Cooper
(1983, 202), for example, say that a product is turned into a brand while "the physical
product is combined with something else - symbols, images, feelings - to produce
an idea which is more than the sum of the parts. The two - product and symbolism -
live and grow with and on one another in a partnership and mutual exchange". Also,
Bradley (1995, 517) argues in that direction when he says that "a brand is a name,
symbol, design or mark that enhances the value of the product, thus providing
functional benefits plus added values that some consumers value sufficiently to buy".
The idea behind that is that a brand consists of two main parts, namely a physical
product and something additional, especially something of 'symbolic value' - so to
speak, a material object plus something symbolic. When it is argued that the brand
(as the sum) is more than the physical product plus the symbolic value (the parts) the
question would be what this 'more' can be and where it comes from. Clearly, every
'phenomenon' in our world consists of elements, attributes and relations
(Chmielewicz 1979). This is not that surprising, as everybody would agree that a car
is not just a collection of sheet metal, plastiC and glass, but these elements also have
different attributes and are assembled within specific relationships. Furthermore,
these relationships can also relate to different phenomena, attitudes, feelings,
images.
According to the above, the so-called 'symbolic value' is not just specific to things
like brands since it applies to a" 'world-phenomena' and, in particular, also to
products. On the other hand, if the definition means that there is still something more
than the physical product in combination with the something (e.g. symbol, images,
feelings), then the sum is more than the elements, attributes and relations together.
The counter-question then would be, what makes the difference and how could it
ever be ascertained? (cf. Chmielewicz 1979).
Furthermore, 'symbolic-'brand research very often does not clearly explain the
interrelation between the product's or the brand's symbolic and functional qualities
(Solomon M. 1983; Levy 1959). Most researchers distinguish between symbolic and
functional utilities (Levy 1959; Landon 1974; Lannon & Cooper 1983). At first glance,
this seems quite logical; for instance, a chair's function could be 'something to sit on'
and it can be a symbol for a certain social stratum (e.g., a coronation throne),
conversely, this implies that a product has an intrinsic function that is predefined by a

13
product's inner nature. But who says that a chair's function cannot also be to
demonstrate one's social stratum and, additionally, to serve as a symbol for a 'sitting-
tool'? So, it could also be the other way round. This problem describes the so-called
"functionalistic myth" (Vihma 1995, 73) which means that an object's function is
determined by its inherent qualities like size, thickness of material, strength. In
contrast to that, Roland Barthes (1964) argued that a tool, for example, refers to its
use when the use is 'thematized'. When this is the case, then the product is also filled
with meaning when it is thematized, which means it is presented to the consumers.
So a product's meaning is determined from outside itself.
In line with that, Vihma says that "all objects that qualify for hammering are not
conceived as hammers. It would be a situation in which only intrinsic properties of the
object would define its identity" (1995, 74/75). Thus a hammer is identified as a
hammer when people decide to do so, as determined by the specific context.
Consequently, a product or a brand will obtain its function according to its use and
not according to its inherent qualities. This means that the distinction between a
product's or a brand's functional and symbolic meanings is determined by the
individual context and will therefore always be fuzzy.

The strength of the brand value or brand symbol conception is that it challenges
the organization to take into consideration not only the functional capability of the
brand, but also the relevance to consumers of symbolic values and meanings imbued
in the brand (de Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley 1998). It also provides an interesting
explanation of the reasons for customer's brand choice decisions - determined by
the brand's fit to individual customer values.
The main problem with both conceptions is that they do not explain the inner
nature of brands in the sense of how the brand-value system or the brand as a
symbol is structured. It further remains open how consumer values influence the
interpretation of brands and if there exist values which are dominant within this
process of interpretation. Therefore, it is also difficult to say how a specific consumer
value system influences brand consumption and brand communication.

14
2.2 Brand Personality - Brand Relationship

Following the idea of "self-expression" (like brand value system and brand
symbol), two further conceptions of brand, called brand personality and consumer-
brand relationship have been established. Both conceptions are based on the
tradition of personality psychology, and are consequently more concrete as regards
the inner-psychological processes of consumers' brand interpretation. Although the
two conceptions are both related to expressions of human personality, they must be
considered as two different brand conceptions. While brand personality focuses on
the personal attributes a consumer attaches to a given brand, brand relationship
stresses the relationship between consumer and brand (ct. Herrmann & Huber &
Braunstein 1999).

Brand personality
Brand personality can so far be described as "the set of human characteristics
associated with a brand" (Keller 1998, 97) and explains the fact that consumers
attribute some kind of personal qualities to their brands. As, for instance, the
Absolute vodka personified tends to be described as a cool, hip, contemporary, 25-
year old (Aaker 1997). Keller (1998, 97) states that "brand personality reflects how
people feel about a brand rather than what they think the brand is or does".
Similar to the brand as a symbol conception, the brand personality construct also
derives from the asumption that brands are consumed in order to express something
about oneself. According to brand personality researchers (cf. Herrmann & Huber &
Braunstein 1999), in times of permanent change of the environment, the individual
always has to adapt to new conditions. This brings the individual to a continuous
process of construction and reconstruction of its personality. In order to facilitate this
permanent process of change or re-definition, the individual seeks some aids, such
as brands. Brands provide some sort of pre-defined personality which renders it
easier to fulfil the consumer's personality transfer (cf. McCracken 1993). The idea
behind that largely corresponds with the brand symbol conception, since also this
conception says that brands can be considered as a means of self-expression, so
that consumers consume rather those brands which seem to bring them to the
desired self-concept (Herrmann & Huber & Braunstein 1999). In the sense of the
underlying brand conception, a brand is a personality which one can "buy" and thus a
means of defining its own self (ibid.).

15
Brand relationship
Consumers create strong relationships with their brands which can be
considered as affective and emotional links, very much like personal relationships (cf.
Fournier 1994). So, Heilbrunn (1995) states that when the brand is considered as a
person, "the relationship between the brand and the consumer can be analyzed as
an interpersonal relationship" (p. 451). Yet brand relationship does not describe the
brand itself but the relationship between the brand and the consumer. However, a
relationship, like some kind of personal interaction, always requires a relationship
partner (Herrmann et.a!. 1999). Thus, also in this conception, the brand is
personified. But, unlike brand personality, which describes a brand via personal
attributes, within the brand relationship construct, a brand is determined by the
strength and quality of the consumer (relationship-partner 1) - brand (relationship-
partner 2) relationship. A similar argument would be that a relationship very much
depends on the relationship-partners and, conversely, has a determining influence on
the partners' personalities themselves.

The main advantage of both conceptions is that, compared to the brand symbol
conception, both brand personality and brand relationship provide a much more
detailed explanation of the internal brand structure. Jennifer Aaker (1997) and Susan
Fournier (1994; 1998) for instance have both revealed concepts on the inner
structure of the brand personality and relationship construct. While Aaker identified
five dimensions of brand personality (sincerity, excitement, competence,
sophistication, ruggedness (Aaker 1997, 352» to cover the core areas of a brand's
personality, Fournier developed a theoretical framework for the consumer - brand
relationship. According to Fournier, the quality of brand relationship depends on six
different quality-dimensions (love/passion, self-connection, commitment,
interdependence, intimacy, brand partner quality (Fournier 1998, 366». So,
compared to other conceptions, brand personality and brand relationship can refer to
much more structured theoretical groundwork.
From a methodological pOint of view, the most interesting aspect is that the
brand personality and relationship conception makes direct use of a metaphorical
construction. Metaphors make it easier to understand abstract phenomena (cf. Lakoff
& Johnson 1980; Lakoff 1987; Johnson 1987; Zaltman 1997). For example, the

16
general language-metaphor love is a journey facilitates the explanation of the
abstract happening love (e.g. when one would have to explain the meaning of love).
So people use concrete ('understandable') attributes from the concrete domain and
mentally attach them to the 'non-understandable' abstract domain (in order to make it
'understandable'). Yet, in addition to this indirect way of interpretation, direct love-
representations also exist in human memory. For instance, when somebody
remembers a specific experience when he or she fell in love. Consequently,
metaphors may help to understand abstract phenomena more easily and thus also
brands, but they cannot fully represent them (Barsalou 1998). Instead, the
imagination of an abstract concept, in addition to a metaphorical link to another
concrete object, also happens via direct experiences of the abstract phenomena
(ibid.). This is different from the cognitive linguistic view (e.g., Lakoff 1987) which
claims that only metaphoric constructions are responsible for construeing abstract
concepts 4 .
The brand personality and the brand relationship metaphors describe a brand by
means of personality-attributes or by the expression of the relationship a consumer
may have to a certain brand. However, these metaphoric constructions are unable to
describe those brand parts which cannot be interpreted by means of personal- or
relationship attributes. This is the case with concrete brand attributes such as price or
the quality of the packaging (Herrmann et.a!. 1999). The same problem arises with
the representation of visual brand attributes (e.g. the visual representation of the
Mercedes "Star"), because it is very unlikely that brand logos, for instance, can be
exactly (metaphorically) described via personality or relationship characteristics.

2.3 The Brand as an Identity System

The most holistic brand conception is that of brands as an identity system (de
Chernatony & Dall'Olmo Riley 1998). According to Keller (1998), "the entire set of
brand elements can be thought of as making up the brand identity" (p. 166). Brand
identity reflects the contribution of all brand elements to brand awareness and brand
image (ibid.). In other words, brand identity is a holistic brand-gestalt engendered by
the various brand elements.

4 cognitive constructs regarding abstract phenomena such as love, anger, fear

17
In fact, brand identity is a very imprecise explanation. It means that a brand is a
whole, made up of culture, personality, relationship, projection, product, advertising
or other brand elements. Despite this, the conception does not say anything precise
on the impact of different brand elements on how consumers qualify a certain brand,
and how these elements interact with each other within this process (cf. Kapferer
1997, Aaker 1996).
A very well-known framework for brand identity has been developed by David
Aaker (1996). He states that brand identity is based on four different dimensions,
namely product, person, organisation, symbol. But, again within Aaker's framework of
brand identity, it is not specified how these dimensions become organised within the
brand. Yet Aaker's conception does consider an important aspect of brands.
According to the general understanding of brand identity, the brand as an identity
system is something which "identifies" a certain company's supply. But, this supply is
not the product alone, it is a fusion of various product-related events and elements,
persons, etc. which become identified by the respective consumers. As, for instance,
the "Marlboro-Man", "who" is a part (of the supply) of Marlboro cigarettes and since
"he" is identified as such, he is a part of the brand.
So, the identity system conception shows that the brand is a system of various
components which include the product, together with other product-related events,
elements, experiences, etc. (e.g., company-history, country, testimonials,
entrepreneurs, design, advertising).

2.4 Brands as a Cognitive Structure

The brand as a cognitive structure is probably the most frequently mentioned


brand construct in current brand literature (e.g., Keller 1998, Meffert 1998, Mowen &
Minor 1998, Solomon et.al. 1999). It is the mental representation of the various
supply-components in the consumers' or the audiences' minds. There, the supply-
components together with other brand- (or supply)-related experiences are
embedded in a wide-meshed net of cognitive brand associations (ibid.). In other
words, the brand cognitive structure is the fusion of all kinds of brand impressions
which become mentally organised in consumer memory. Yet, only those brand
impressions which the consumer perceives as relevant for him in a given situation
become stored (cf. Mowen & Minor 1998). According to this view, the brand is highly

18
consumer dependent, since it is a subjective and perceptual phenomenon that is
formed through consumer interpretation. Consequently, the brand exists solely as a
cognitive structure in consumers' heads.
In conformity with cognitive science (ct. Anderson 2000, Barsalou 1992a, 1998,
Minsky 1975) and consumer behavior research (ct. Malter 1996, Solomon et.al.
1999), the brand is a cognitive structure by means of that, the set of ideas, feelings
and attitudes which people experience via influential 'brand' events (contacts)
becomes organised in the mind. This means that small brand knowledge units
become connected to each other by associative links and form a mental structure of
the acquired supply information (ct. Keller 1993, Esch 1999, Dobni & Zinkhan 1990).5
Compared to the other brand conceptions, the main advantage of this conception
is that it provides a detailed structure as to how specific brand knowledge -
regardless of whether it is concrete or abstract - is organised in consumer memory
(cf. Malter 1996, Keller 1993, 1998). The brand cognitive structure conception
provides an optimal starting pOint for measuring the effect of different brand
management activities, since it then becomes possible to test how certain
management activities affect changes in consumer brand knowledge structures.
One can discover at least modified versions of the brand as a cognitive structure
construct in almost all the various brand explanations, whereas, very often, the term
brand image is used synonymously (cf. Dobni & Zinkhan 1990).

Since this research strives to investigate how product form affects the formation
of brands, the conception of the brand as a cognitive structure seems to be most
suitable in envisaging how various supply stimuli influence the formation of cognitive
brand constructs.

Here it is important to pOint out that the brand's "interpreter" is not always necessarily the person
who buys the brand, but may be any other group (audience) for whom the brand has relevance in a
certain situation. Therefore the word audience or consumer is used for a much larger group - that is
for all the people to whom the brand has a meaning. This is because brands do have meanings also
for non-purchasers.

19
For this reason, we will define the brand as:
a clear and unique representation of a certain company's supply in
consumers' minds. That is, the brand results from diverse supply stimuli which
have been picked up by the consumer's sensory system 6 and become mentally
organised in the consumer memory.

As this definition provides a reasonably precise notion as to what a brand can be


considered, it now becomes possible to discuss several approaches which may
provide the theoretical basis for a general framework for brand formation.

As there are many kinds of brand experiences (promotion, advertising, events, company-history,
country, etc.) which have relevance for the audience.

20
General Brand Conceptions

Conception Definition/Main Attributes


Logo The brand is a visual characteristic whose function is to identify and
distinguish a company's supply.

· stresses the importance of visual brand features

· focuses on functions such as: identifying, distinguishing, showing the


origin of a supply, speeding up buying decisions

Attribute Lists The brand is defined by a list of attributes

· easy to ope rationalize

· problems of universally applicable brand attributes to explain all


kinds of brands

• problem of temporal stability of attributes

Value System The brand is based on a system of consumer values

• brand consumption is based on consumer values

· focuses on non-utilitarian brand attributes

Symbol The brand as a symbol to represent a consumer's self

· attributes cf. "Value System"

Personality Brands are seen as a person and described by means of personal


characteristics

· a metaphorical
phenomenon brand
construction to better explain the abstract

· describes rather how consumers feel about brands than what brands
are

· brands as means of self-identification or used for self-expression

Relationship The brand is defined by the relationship which exists between


consumers and brands

· the brand relationship is similar to a personal relationship

· determined by the strength


relationship
and quality of a certain brand

· the brand relationship influences the consumer's personality

21
Identity System The brand as a holistic gestalt engendered by various brand elements

·• the brand identifies a certain company's supply


the brand is a network of brand-related events, elements, persons,
etc.

· unspecified relations among brand elements

Cognitive Structure The brand as a mental representation of various supply-components in


consumers' minds

· provides an internal (cognitive) structure for brands

· suitable for measuring the effects of different brand attributes in


consumer memory

Table 1: Definitions and main attributes of brand conceptions

22
Part A
I Introduclion and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

II
Cultural Semiotic Cognitive
Anthroplogical

Part B
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

Different Kinds of (Brand) Semiosis


Person· Object Relations I Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

I I I
Dimensions of Brand Communication
Means of Brand Contents of Brand Levels of Brand DirecVlndirect Brand
Communication Communication Communication Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

Sign-theoretical Aspects

I ........
The Chain of Meanings Construct
I
I I
Brand Identification -
The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other

I I
Brand Identifiers -
Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations

Cognitive Psychological Aspects

I I
l Brand Perception Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation

PartC
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part D
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the dissertation


II. Approaches to Brand Formation

Current brand research (ct. Keller 1998, 1993, de Chernatony & Oall'Olmo Riley
1998, de Chernatony & McWilliam 1989) does not investigate the process of how
brands are created. Certainly many textbooks devote much attention to the
management of brands and how to create strong brands (ct. Keller 1998, Aaker
1996, Kapferer 1997), where aspects of "forming" a brand are also discussed.
Nevertheless, there is a difference between "building a brand" in the sense of co-
ordinating marketing activities in order to increase brand awareness and brand
strength, and the question of how a brand is formed in peoples' mind. According to
the later comprehension, brand formation is the process of how a brand comes into
existence.
In contrast to the main brand literature (ibid.) which stresses the study of the
cognitive structure of brand-knowledge organisation, brand formation also calls for a
closer examination of the perceptual processes, that is, how various supply stimuli
are picked up by the consumer's sensory system. Hence, brand formation focuses
not only on supply information stored in the consumer memory, but also on the entire
process of how supply signals are first perceived and cognitively processed within
the entire process of brand communication.

A general theoretical framework for the brand formation process is however still
lacking. Because of that, it is not possible to distinguish between general approaches
to brand formation either in brand research or in consumer research. Yet there are
some disciplines which have already implicitly dealt with this question, as they focus
on the formation processes of similar phenomena in general as well as in the
consumer world. Consequently, these findings should also constitute a basis for a
general theoretical framework for brand formation.

In the following chapter, the hitherto existing conceptions and theories which
focus on the formation processes of "brand-like" phenomena will be discussed. In
particular, three different approaches to "brand" formation can be identified, namely
(1) cultural anthropology, (2) semiotics, and (3) cognitive science. For discussion
purposes, the following structure will be used:

24
• first, each individual approach, and its main streams of thought, will be explained
in general as will their contribution to explaining the formation of brands

• then, within each approach, the applied conceptions and theories in the field of
consumer research which focus on the formation processes of brand as
phenomena in consumer society will be examined

• finally, the relevance of each approach to the given research question will be
discussed.

On the basis of this discussion, at the end of the chapter, those theoretical
approaches which seem most fruitful for the development of a general theoretical
framework of brand formation will be selected.

1. The Cultural Anthropological Approach

Cultural anthropology has established itself as a small but influential subfield in


consumer research (e.g. Levy 1981, 1996, McCracken 1986, 1988, 1989, 1993).
Although the border between cultural anthropology and some parts of research
across the social sciences and developmental psychology is fuzzy, their common
research target is the study and analysis of humans and their actions within their
culture and society (ct. Kicherer 1987). Furthermore, cultural anthropology studies
cultural objects and the use of these objects within society (Kicherer 1987). In
consumer research, cultural anthropology focuses on the cultural significance of
consumer objects. Since we are living in a "consumer culture", this field of research is
specifically interested in the relationship between consumers and consumer goods
(person-object relation) as well as the cultural meanings borne by these goods
(McCracken 1986).

1.1 Piaget's Ontogenetic Approach

Piaget (1971) provides a developmental psychological approach to explain the


person-object relationship. According to him, during their process of development,

25
infants experience and learn about their world by examining several "world-objects"
(Kicherer 1987). In empirical studies, Piaget found that in the first stage of infancy,
children cannot sufficiently distinguish between the inside and outside world, i.e.,
between subject and object (ibid). However, when the child perceives and
experiences different objects through its senses, especially through seeing and
feeling, the human being acquires its knowledge about natural objects, artefacts and
about its own personality. By means of this process, the infant develops its
intelligence and senso-motory capabilities. Thus, by manually experiencing different
objects of the outside world, a child gains an understanding of itself and of the world
in which it lives. Next, the child develops general object- as well as senso-motory
schemata (=scriptsf, which it then can apply to similar persons, objects and
situations. The more experienced the human being becomes, the more sophisticated
the schemata it produces in its brain (ibid).
A person who grows up in a specific culture and thus experiences the cultural
world through his human senses, more or less automatically develops scripts and
schemata about habits, rituals, practices, objects and behaviors which are typical of
the culture (Piaget 1971). So, in consumer society and culture, the child as the "new
consumer" receives its consumer-cultural knowledge (organised by mental
schemata) by simply getting in touch with consumer-objects, -habits, etc. like
commodities, services, brands, advertisings, buying acts, store environment
(Kicherer 1987) or by watching others using or handling the object - then the child
mentally 'gets in touch' with the object. For instance, a child growing up in a western
consumer society and confronted (from early childhood) with all kinds of consumer-
cultural objects (e.g., products from Coca Cola, Kellog's or McDonald's), step by step
develops its individual knowledge of consumer society. The more knowledge a
person acquires about these consumer-objects, the more "developed" this person's
consumer-cultural schemata become.
Thus, according to the ontogenetic approach, for a new cultural member, a
brand, as a cultural-object, comes into existence when it is "learned". So the child
who experiences a certain consumption object, forms a brand schema. The more

schemata or frames are frameworks of knowledge about some object or topic stored in the human
brain. A script is a knowledge structure, in long-term memory, concerning certain events and
actions.

26
information the child gains about the object, the more detailed the brand schema
becomes.
However, the ontogenetic approach has a specific weakness, namely that the
meaning process here is seen from a developmental psychological view. Thus, the
ontogenetic concept focuses mainly on the process of "meaning-creation" during
childhood, which in fact differs from the way in which adults form "meaningful" mental
schemata for cultural objects, because, unlike adults, who already have fully
developed senso-motory capabilities, the infant has yet to develop this capacity
(Kicherer 1987, Piaget & Inhelder 1973) and, consequently, has a constrained way of
ascribing meanings to objects. Especially in developing a "basic symbolic structure"
(ibid. 121) of unknown (new) cultural objects, the infant's meaning-creation technique
differs significantly from that of adults. In early childhood, meaning creation occurs
via direct and detailed physical perception or experience of the object involved, since
the child is not yet capable of understanding abstract objects (like consumer goods),
for instance, via metaphoric constructions (Scholnick & Cookson 1994).

1.2 Levi-Strauss's Structural Anthropology

Structuralism ranges over anthropology, linguistics, biology, mathematics,


psychology (see above), the social sciences, psychoanalysis, history, philosophy,
literary criticism and also consumer research (cf. Levy 1981, Noth 1990). Central to
structuralism is the interest in structure as a relationship among phenomena rather
than in the nature of the phenomena themselves (Noth 1990, 298 after Wilden 1972,
7). Or, as the French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1958) remarks critically,
"the error of traditional anthropology, like that of traditional linguistics, was to consider
the terms, and not the relations between the terms" (ibid, 46). In his structural
anthropology, Levi-Strauss develops a very detailed concept of structural analysis,
which he also applies to various anthropological phenomena such as totemism, rites,
customs, marriage rules, and kinship patterns (Noth 1990). The concept follOWS four
general principles: (1) the shift from the study of conscious phenomena to the study
of their unconscious infrastructures, (2) the shift from the terms to the relationships
between them, (3) the study of the whole system, and (4) the discovery of general
laws within the system (ibid. 33; Noth 1990, 302).

27
Levi-Strauss has made structural anthropological studies of the music, art,
myths, rituals, religions and cuisines of various societies where he always discovered
an analogy between culture and language. Thus he argues that structural linguistics
should become the patron general of the sciences of man (ibid).

In Levy's (1981) investigation of consumer mythology, Levi-Strauss's concept of


structural anthropology was used in research on consumer behavior. There,
consumer's household anecdotes were analysed in order to reveal several
dimensions of meanings of food consumption.

'Consumption System'

Figure 1: Exemplified concept of a brand structural analysis (ace. to Levi-Strauss 1958)

Although the structural anthropological approach has not been directly applied to
brands, the idea of investigating structural systems of consumer goods or
consumption seems promising for the study of brand formation. In this context, the
strength of a structural analysis of brand formation could be that it emphasises the
relationships between different brands within an overall system of consumption (see
Figure 1). Following Levi-Strauss's argumentation, the formation of brands could be
conceptualised as the "shift from conscious phenomena", as, for instance, products,
"to the unconscious infrastructure" of the whole brand system within its relationships
and "general laws" (ct. Levi-Strauss 1958, 33). Here the four principles of structural
analysis could be used for analysing the different stages of the brand formation
process within the system of the culture of consumption. Yet Levi-Strauss's concept
is highly abstract, which makes it difficult to test empirically.
28
1.3 Cultural Anthropological Approaches in Consumer Research

During the past two decades, a diverse body of scholars have made the cultural
significance of consumer goods the focus of renewed academic study (8elk 1982,
Hirschman 1980, Holman 1980, McCracken 1986, Solomon 1983). According to
these findings, a consumer object, besides its practical function has the ability to
carry and communicate cultural meaning. Some authors (ct. Solomon 1983; Levy
1959) work from the assumption that in consumer goods, two distinct poles, namely
the good's practical and symbolic or cultural aspects, can be separated. While the
first concept interprets goods as having a non-referential, utilitarian function, the
symbolic-cultural interpretation refers to the cultural meanings attached to consumer
goods - e.g., Coca Cola as something to drink (practical function) and as a cultural
object for the modern US-society (N6th 1990). However, Douglas & Isherwood
(1979) as well as Sahlins (1976) insist on the fact that objects of consumption are
always permeated by cultural meanings both in their practical utility and in their social
and commercial context (N6th 1990).
"Forget the idea of consumer irrationality. Forget that commodities are good for
eating, clothing, and shelter; forget their usefulness and try instead the idea that
commodities are good for thinking; treat them as a nonverbal medium for the human
creative faculty" (Douglas & Isherwood 1979, 62).

Yet, despite this question of the separability of a good's functional and cultural
parts, all the cultural anthropological approaches in consumer research share the
idea that consumer goods have a significance that goes beyond their utilitarian
character and commercial value. Consequently, in order to study consumer objects
one must not forget to focus also on the object's cultural background, which is the
consumer society.

Probably the most detailed theoretical framework to explain the cultural meaning
of consumer goods has been provided by McCracken in his frequently quoted article
"Culture and Consumption" (1986). He criticises most consumer cultural approaches
for making no allowance for the fact that the meaning borne by goods has a mobile
quality. "Cultural meaning flows continually between its several locations in the social
world, aided by the collective and individual efforts of designers, producers,
advertisers, and consumers" (ibid. 71). McCracken identifies three locations for

29
cultural meaning (see Figure 2). The first is the culturally constituted world, which is
also the original location of the cultural meaning that resides in consumer goods.
"This is the world of everyday experience in which the phenomenal world presents
itself to the individual's senses fully shaped and constituted by the beliefs and
assumptions of his/her culture" (ibid. 72). In a next step, cultural meaning, which first
resides in the culturally constituted world, is then transferred to goods via advertising
and the general fashion system (ibid. 73). Thus, the second location of cultural
meaning is the consumer good itself. Consequently, product categories such as
clothing, transportation, food, housing exteriors and interiors, and adornment all
serve as media for the expression of the cultural meaning that constitutes our world
(ibid.). Finally, meaning is transferred from the good to the individual customer. Here
the instruments for the transfer of meaning (from the second to the last location) are
exchange rituals, possession rituals, grooming rituals and divestment rituals.
McCracken says that "each of these rituals represents a different stage in a more
general process by which meaning is moved from consumer good to individual
consumer" (ibid. 78). At this final stage of the consumer meaning process, we have
the individual, who then uses goods to constitute crucial parts of the self and the
world.

Culturally Constituted World

Advertising Fashion System

l Consumer Goods
l
Exchange Possesion Grooming Divestment
Ritual Ritual Ritual Ritual

t
* Individual Consumer * *
Figure 2: Movement of cultural meaning (McCracken 1986, 72)

The great strength of McCracken's concept of the meaning transfer of consumer


goods is that it focuses on the question of where the meaning of consumer goods
comes from and how it is transferred. He provides a complete theoretical framework
30
for the process of meaning formation of consumer objects, where he does not study
the cultural meaning of the object itself but rather concentrates on the process of how
a consumer good's meaning is created. McCracken uses the general expression of a
consumer good, as representing any kind of consumer object. According to his
model, brand formation could be interpreted as the movement of consumption-
specific (cultural) meaning from the culturally constituted world to the individual
consumer, where the brand receives its existence. These structural and dynamic
properties of the brand determine the particular meaning of the consumer cultural
object (ct. McCracken 1986).

1.4 The Relevance of the Cultural Anthropological Approach

Although none of the currently existing investigations explicitly focus on the


phenomenon of brand formation, several results can be applied also to brands.
According to cultural anthropology, brand formation can, in a very abstract way, be
described as a process of permanent movement of meanings, between the different
stages and objects within consumer society/culture (the whole system) (cf.
McCracken 1986; Levi-Strauss 1958).
The strength of the cultural anthropological approach to the study of consumer
meanings is that it emphasises the cultural context during consumption. The cultural
anthropological approach says that the consumer is an individual in a cultural context
engaged in a cultural project (McCracken 1987). Thus, instead of merely looking at
the individual consumer, the process of brand formation is seen within the context of
the whole consumer culture and in interaction with the various cultural consumer
objects.
Despite the valuable insights cultural anthropology has brought to consumer
behavior theory and research, especially to the field of symbolic consumer research
(cf. Hirschman & Holbrook 1981), the results lack a detailed description of the inner
structure of brands in peoples' minds. Thus, although the concepts described share
the idea that brand formation or brand meaning creation occurs within the
consumer's mind, the cultural anthropological concept of meaning formation does not
look into the cognitive processes which take place during the consumer's meaning
creation. As brands have been defined as cognitive constructs, one needs specific
models in order to gain an idea as to how the brand cognitive structure might look.

31
2. The Semiotic Approach

Semiotics, as the science of signs, studies all kinds of human sign-interactions8


(Bentele & Bystrina 1978). Furthermore, both culture and communication are very
often the objects of examination in semiotic science. Eco, for instance, defines
semiotics as a research program which "studies all cultural processes as processes
of communication" (1976, 8), while according to semiotics, communication takes
place via an exchange of signs between two or more communication partners (cf.
Bentele & Bystrina 1978).
Since many authors consider semiotic theory strongly related to cultural science
(ct. N6th 1990), the distinction between the cultural anthropological approach and the
semiotic approach is not always clear. However, semiotics, unlike cultural
anthropolgy, which is mainly interested in human actions within their culture and
society, emphasises sign-processes which come into existence during interpersonal
communication (ct. Bentele & Bystrina 1978, N6th 1990). Therefore, at the center of
semiotic research lies the understanding that any kind of culture or cultural process
results from communication, which itself happens via the exchange of signs, while
according to Eco (1976):
"A sign is everything which can be taken as significantly substituting for
something else. This something else does not necessarily have to exist or actually be
somewhere at the moment in which a sign stands for it" (ibid. 7).

Accoding to the semiotic point of view, communication processes in various


disciplines like art, film, comics, architecture, design, linguistics, advertising are all
based on sign-processes. The aim of semiotics here is to develop instruments to
enable us to better understand (decode) the "hidden" meaning which lies behind the
obvious message (cf. N6th 1990).
Besides the analysis of sign-processes, semiotics is also greatly interested in the
process of how signs, in particular complex sign-systems, come into being. This
process of sign formation is called semiosis.

8 In fact, semiotics is not necessarily restricted to human beings, since there also exists the discipline
of zoosemiotics, the study of the semiotic behavior of animals. Yet in this case, it is sufficient to
consider merely the semiotics of humans.

32
So the aim of semiotic analysis is not just to identify and interpret several sign-
meanings, but also to look at the process of how the sign obtains its meaning. Since
sign-processes exist in interpersonal communication, semiosis is a part or rather a
product of communication. In other words, a sign obtains its meaning within a
communication process.

It is important to note that when semioticians say that signs are exchanged
among communication partners (ct. N6th 1990), this does not mean that it is the sign
itself which is transferred. Instead, what is transferred are Signals, which (may)
become a sign in the minds of the communication partners (see Figure 3). So, during
the act of communication, communication partners send and perceive signals among
themselves. When a communication partner assigns a particular meaning to a
perceived bundle of Signals, a sign is being created.

Signals
Partner A Partner B
(Signs) (Signs)

Figure 3: Most general concept for the sign-exchange process (=communication process)

Nevertheless, there exist at least two possibilities for semiosis, when signs are
being created within non-communicative situations. The first case describes a pure
person-object or person-event relationship, as for instance when a child first
recognises that smoke is a sign for fire. Since, communication requires at least two
communication-processing units (Bentele & Bystrina 1978), this is semiosis in a non-
communicative situation, because the fire or the burning object does not
communicate with the child. The second case is a more complicated one. It is
possible that by means of "creative thinking", a person attaches a new meaning to a
given object (he or she has already had the object for some time). For instance, a
person who has an empty Coke bottle, finds out that the bottle can also function as a
pipe. So, within an act of creativity, the prior meaning of the sign "Coke bottle" has
been changed into another sign-meaning. This example again describes a process of
semiosis in a non-communicative situation, since here too, the person does not
communicate with the object, that is the Coke bottle. Nevertheless, the second
example need not necessarily be non-communicative semiosis, but could also be a
33
subordinated sign-interpretation of an earlier communicative semiosis. Or, more
specifically; in principle, any kind of object can either be an object of communication
(e.g., when a mother tells her children that Coke is unhealthy) or something which
one uses for communication (e.g., drinking Coke (object) in order to communicate
coolness). So we could take the Coke (drink plus bottle) as being the object of
communication, which a company uses in order to "tell" the consumer something
about their supply. Consequently, "Coke" has become the sign for a certain
company's supply created within a general (company-consumer-)communication
process. At some later stage it may happen that through "creative thinking" a new
meaning becomes attached to the sign "Coke" (e.g., discovering that the bottle also
works as a pipe). Yet, it is not clear if this describes an independent (non-
communicative) semiosis or if it is just a subordinated interpretation within the former
"Coke"-semiosis in a communicative situation.
In any case, it has been shown that sign-formation processes also exist within
non-communicative situations. Although the border between communication and
non-communication is not always clear, it has also been demonstrated that later
"creative thinking" may influence the process of semiosis. Nevertheless, within our
investigation, non- or part-communicative semiosis, that is, semiosis by "creative
thinking" will not be considered in more detail. If we were to do so, semiosis would
not be subject to any kind of restriction, which would lead to a process of sign
formation of complete arbitrariness, whereas semiosis within communication is
restricted by the individual's sign repertoires. That means that a sign is being created
when there is some overlap of each individual's sign-meanings (sign-repertoire)
(Meyer-Eppler 1959). In non-communicative semiosis, the only restriction is the
individual itself.

34
2.1 The Semiotics of Charles Sanders Peirce

As one of the most important American philosophers, Peirce's intention was to


develop a sign-based general theory of logic. Strongly influenced by John Locke,
who was one of the first to suggest that semiotics might provide novel insights into
human understanding (Peirce 1931-1958), Peirce started to examine "the essential
nature and fundamental varieties of possible semiosis" (5.488).
According to Peirce, a sign is a phenomenon of thirdness (2.274). "There is a
first, called representamen (sign-carrier), which stands in a triadic relation to a
second, called its object, 'as to be capable of determining a third, called its
interpretanf " (N6th 1990, 42). In that sense, a sign can be interpreted as anything
which stands for something when somebody interprets it. This triadic process,
determines Peirce's understanding of semiosis. For Peirce, semiosis is the process
of communication, where every kind of message is based on the three components
(see Figure 4).

Object
Icon
Index
Symbol

Sign-carrier (Representamen) Interpretant

Figure 4: Peircian concept of semiosis

In Peircean semiosis, the object is represented by the sign, whereby the sign can
only tell about itself (2.231; cf. N6th 1990). The object can be a material object of the
world with which we have a "perceptual acquaintance" (2.230) or merely a mental or
imagery entity "of the nature of a sign or thought" (1.538; N6th 1990). "It can be 'a
single known existing thing' (2.232) or a class of things" (N6th 1990, 43).
The interpretant is a more complex phenomenon. It is frequently misinterpreted
as the sign's interpreter or as a mere interpretation (cf. Mick 1986). Instead the
interpretant is also defined as a sign: "A sign addresses somebody, that is, creates in

35
the mind of the person an equivalent sign, or perhaps a more developed sign. That
sign which it creates I call the interpretant of the first sign" (2.228). It is Peirce's term
for the meaning of a sign, more specifically defined as "signification" (8.184).
According to Seboek (1976, 7) the interpretant, with reference to Peirce, is "the
interpreter's reaction to the sign". As every meaning refers back to other signs, "each
interpretant is thus a sign leading to another interpretant" (Mick, 1986, 199). Finally
the representamen is the sign's sign-carrier. It is the form and therefore what can be
perceived - "the perceptible object" (2.230). "Theoretically, Peirce distinguished
clearly between the sign, which is the complete triad, and the representamen (sign-
carrier) which is just its first correlate" (N6th 1990, 42). According to Vihma (1995)
the sign-carrier or the form of products has a twofold meaning. "On the syntactic level
it is a technical construction and visual composition. It has, accordingly, technical
qualities and features of visual compositions. Within the semantic dimension 'form' is
a means (sign-carrier) for interpretation and refers to something" (p.65).
The Peircian theory identifies three main sign-types (icon, index, symbol). "From
a semiotic perspective of Peirce, signs are related to objects in one of three ways.
They can resemble objects (icon), be connected to them with some kind of causal or
other relation (index), or be conventionally tied to them (symbo~" (Solomon &
Bamossy & Askegaard 1999,57; Peirce 1931-58).
Vihma further discussed these three sign-types, in the realm of products. In
Vihma's (1995) opinion, a product functions as an icon when the form (sign-carrier)
seems to resemble another form. "Two forms are associated when their features are
perceived to be similar" (p. 68). A telephone may also function as an iconic sign
when its handle refers to a human head with its qualities, impressions, etc. Hence,
this telephone's form may represent the 'other' form (the head) with the help of similar
qualities (Vihma 1995). "An iconic sign may represent an attitude, a mood or a
feeling" (p. 68). For example, the form of the Volkswagen Beetle refers to a similar
form of an insect (beetle). Here the iconic sign is a metaphor - the form of the beetle-
insect (object) is a metaphor for the form of the car (sign-carriet'). The color, material,
style or a similar environment (e.g., kitchen milieu for kitchen products) may also
function as iconic signs (ibid. 1995).
Unlike the iconic sign, an index draws attention by really existing and not by
being similar. An index is contiguous to its object (e.g., smoke is an index for fire)
(Vihma 1995). Some possibilities of how a product may function as an index, as

36
defined by Vihma, are: a trace of a tool, a pointing form, marks of use, light and
sound signals, the sound of use and the noise of a product, the smell of a product (p.
97-99).
Finally, a product may refer to the object in a conventional and therefore fully
arbitrary relationship (=symbol), as, for instance, all kind of graphic symbols, logos or
a symbolic color (e.g., red carpet), material and form. The content of the symbolic
reference must be known/learned to enable its understanding and use (Vihma 1995).

Vihma's work is a most profound semiotic study of products and a most detailed
application of Peircian semiotics to the nature of consumer goods. Therefore, it
provides a very useful tool for analyzing the various potential sign-relations of
products. But her investigation does not explain how products or brands become
signs through the act of communication and so her analysis does not provide a
concept for brand formation.

Yet, in considering the brand as a sign, which means as something (brand)


which stands for something else (product, etc.) when somebody (e.g., the customer)
interprets it, the general Peircian concept of semiosis is able to provide a simple but
illustrative semiotic explanation of brand formation (see Figure 5):

I (e.g., consumer, public, stakeholder)

8 (Shape of the product) (Content of the product) 0

Figure 5: Schema of the triadic brand relationship

The outer shape of the product (product form/design), as the Sign-carrier, stands
for the content of the product interpreted by a particular audience (e.g., customers).
80 a brand is being created within this (triadic) relationship, which means, that for
example to another audience (public) another brand has been formed. All this
happens within the process of communication (cf. N6th 1990). Hence, the Peircean
37
triadic concept can function as a simple model for brand formation. We will further
refer to Peircean semiotics in later chapters.

2.2 The Semiological Approach of Ferdinand de Saussure

The Swiss linguist Ferdinand de Saussure was the founder of the European
tradition of semiotics. In his Cours de Linguistique Generale (1916) Saussure
presented the theory of semiology. Although Saussure's theory was meant to be a
general theory of signs, it has its roots in linguistics. "He maintained that since
language was a system of signs, linguistics should be enveloped by a larger science
of signs within society" (Mick 1986, 197). In fact it is very likely that the language
metaphor which semiotic scholars frequently adapt in their studies (e.g., the
language of arts, the language of advertising, the language of the film), has its roots
in Saussurean semiology.
In contrast to Peirce's system, the Saussurean sign-system is based on a dyadic
relationship, that is a concept (signified), as some sort of a sign-carrier (e.g., lamp)
and the related sound image (signifiet') e.g., the spoken word "lamp". According to
Mick (1986, 197), "Saussure's chief contribution to the study of signs resided in
shifting a longstanding philosophical emphasis on the nature of things in and of
themselves to a relational world view whereby meaning derives from the priorities
human beings construct and perceive among signs in a system".
Saussure further distinguishes between langue and parole. The first is the
general linguistic system with its abstract rules and conventions. The second is the
individual's use of the social sign-systems in speech acts and texts (ct. N6th 1990),
and it is the level where meaning arises "through the differences among words in a
language as they are chosen and combined in actual verbalisations" (Mick 1986,
197).
Another dichotomy was introduced in order to isolate linguistic structures from
their historical evolution, synchrony and diachrony. "Synchronic analysis studies a
sign system at a given point of time, irrespective of its history. Diachronic analysis
studies the evolution of a sign system in its historical development" (N6th 1990, 63).

Besides his structure of sign-systems, Saussure provides a first concept of


semiosis based on a circular process in communication which, thus, overcomes the

38
linearity (sender ~ receiver) of most communication models (cf. Ni:ith 1990, 176).
According to Saussure, within a communication act the receiver is not a passive
"reactor" to signals transmitted, but instead, an active participant (Ni:ith 1990,
Saussure 1916). Saussure called his semiosis model a "speech circuit" (see Figure
6) which contains two fields of circularity. The first is the flow of accoustic signals
(sound waves) in two directions from a speaker to a hearer and back to the speaker.
This is the model of a dialog (ibid). The second circularity occurs in the mental
process which is exactly the relationships between concept (signified) and the related
sound image (signifiet') (ibid.).
The Saussurean semiosis model can also be applied to brands. As part of the
overall brand communication, the level of company-audience communication, for
example 9 , can be demonstrated within a process of circular communication. Here,
brand signals are sent from the company to the respective audience and are sent
back within a feedback loop (e.g., customer reactions to certain marketing activities).
Further, within the second 'circle', the brand is mentally created, depending on the
individual position of the communication partner. This means that every
communication partner creates a different brand. So the second "speech circuit"
provides an important link to the cognitive processes which take place during sign
formation.

Audition Phonation

c = concept
s = sound image

Phonation Audition

Figure 6: Saussure's model "Speech Circuit" (cf. Noth 1990, 177, Saussure 1916, 28)

As Saussure's theory was originally intended as a linguistic theory, it is very


much language oriented (Ni:ith 1990). Thus, it is a useful tool to analyse sign-systems
where the language metaphor can be adopted, for instance, for advertising

9 there also exists the level of audience-audience communication within brand communication

39
messages. Furthermore, the Saussurean semiology is frequently used by consumer
researchers (ct. Holbrook & Hirschman 1993; Floch 1990), since, via its systematic
structure, it provides a fruitful technique for identifying the meanings people derive
from products or any kind of consumer object or event. The particular strength of
semiology in consumer research resides in its qualities for interpreting the meanings
of (product-)symbols. That is why most investigations into symbolic consumer
behavior at least to some extent relate back to the Saussurean tradition (e.g., cf.
N6th 1988).
Yet, semiology is problematic for those sign systems which do not have a typical
grammar-like structure, for instance, pictorial signs (ct. also Sonesson 1994). As
several researchers (cf. Sonesson 1994) have pointed out, a "grammar of pictures" is
not based on syntactic components similar to linguistic structures, so the Saussurean
theory cannot be fully applied to pictorial sign structures. As every consumption
object contains pictorial signs (advertising, package, design, logo) it is difficult for
semiology to explain the entire sign-structure of brands. Here Saussurean semiology
like most other semiotic concepts need to draw on additional knowledge from
perceptual psychology (ct. Arnheim 1974, Gombrich 1960, 1984, Goldstein 1997,
Palmer 1999, Biederman 1987) or visual communication theory (cf. Messaris 1996,
1994) as well as theories of cognitive knowledge representation (e.g. Barsalou 1998)
in order to provide a proper understanding of the specific inner structure of pictorial
sign systems.
Nevertheless, in explaining sign-formation processes, and, in particular, brand-
formation processes, the strength of the "circuit speach" model is that it, more than
the Peircian triad, emphasises the act of communication. Furthermore, it also avoids
the linearity (=passivity of the receiver) of convential communication models.

A most profound application of Saussurean semiology to consumer objects is to


be found in N6th's (1988) "language of commodities". While N6th talks about
"commodities" he in fact means "consumer goods", so, in the following, the term
"consumer good" is used instead of commodities. He criticises the fact that by far the
most extensive explicitly semiotic research into consumer goods has been done "in
the context of the semiotics of advertising" - the study of messages about consumer
goods. The study of consumer goods as messages has so far "remained largely
unexplored within semiotics" (p.174; ct. also N6th 1990). He therefore aims to

40
develop a "language of commodities (consumer goods)", which focuses particularly
on the consumer good itself as the carrier of a certain message.
N6th points out that the semiotics of consumer goods cannot be fully expressed
in dichotomies such as 'utilitarian vs. semiotic' or 'sign vs. non-sign' since this does
not cover the plurality of meanings associated with consumer goods (p. 177). In
particular, he combats the commonly held opinion that there exists a semiotic
threshold between a 'utilitarian or functional' and a 'symbolic or socio-cultural' aspect
of consumer goods (pp. 175). "Brand image research has demonstrated that
consumers certainly associate utilitarian meanings with brands" (p. 177). So the sign
may stand for a practical function and not necessarily for something socio-cultural.
Hence, N6th argues for consumer goods as a "multi-framed 'o " sign (ibid., 177),
which means that consumer goods are perceived by the consumer from various
semiotic perspectives (p. 177). The main frames are the utilitarian, the commercial
and the socia-cultural, including several sub-frames. Within each frame, the
consumer good, as a sign, consists of a signifier (specific content) and a signified
(substance and form). The utilitarian sign is associated with features related to the
practical usage or, from the producer's perspective, the amount of labor or material
required for production. As a commercial sign, a consumer good signifies its
exchange value, that is, for example, the price, service guarantees, product-benefits.
Finally a consumer good may become a socio-cultural sign, so that it relates to the
social group or culture which typically 'consumes' it. Here, the commercial object can
lose its status of a pure "consumer good" and is transformed into a non-commercial
object (ibid.).
N6th further determines three main sources of a consumer good's meanings,
namely, (1) the producer-consumer level, (2) the consumer's personal experience of
the product and (3) the consumer's knowledge of the system of consumer goods.
Yet, it is important to state that "the consumer good is neither always a sign nor
always a non-sign per se. Only in a given pragmatic context does the potential sign
become an actual sign" (N6th 1988, 177).

"The language of commodities (note: consumer goods)" provides an important


step towards a semiotics of consumer goods, insofar as it attempts to explain the

10 Note, that in N6th's work, the term frame is used in a different way than we use it in the chapters
about brand knowledge organisation and representation (cf. Chapter B.IV.2.825).

41
particular structure of the sign-system of consumer objects itself and how the
meaning changes according to the respective contextuality. Although N6th does not
directly refer to the difference between commodities, products and brands, his
semiotic study of consumer goods contains some interesting aspects for brands.
Brands have been defined as cognitive structures relating to a certain company's
supply, whereby this cognitive structure embodies not just commercial entries
(meanings). This corresponds with the idea of the "multiframed"-sign which says that
the brand can be seen from various perspectives, resulting in different sign
meanings. Consequently, depending on the individual' brand knowledge units, the
consumer is able to make various brand (sign) interpretations. For example, in the
utilitarian frame, the consumer imagines the brand's practical usage, whereas, in
another frame, the consumer imagines a brand's socio-cultural meaning. Certainly,
there is always a fusion of various frames when consumers make brand
interpretations.
Since N6th's investigation relates heavily to Saussurean semiology, the concept
of brand formation can also follow the Saussurean argumentation. That is, a brand is
formed or obtains its meaning within the circular process of communication between
company and consumer as well as among consumers themselves, whereas the
brand, as a "multiframed" sign, is the result of several different formation processes
within the different frames (signified and signifier within each individual frame, which
together determine the multiframed brand-sign).

2.3 The Relevance of the Semiotic Approach

Since semiotics is 'the science that studies the life of signs within society'
(Saussure 1916, 16), this discipline lends itself to the study of all kinds of consumer
objects as signs and their particular meanings in the market place (N6th 1988).
The semiotic approach considers brand formation in the context of a complex
communication process between companies and consumers. The strength of this
approach is that it provides suitable methods and theoretical concepts to analyse the
various brand communication elements and the relations between these elements
(e.g., Vihma 1995, N6th 1988, 1990). In order to provide a deeper insight into a
brand's internal structure, semiotic brand analysis divides the brand into its different
'brand-sign-parts'. This, for example, allows a clearer distinction between a consumer

42
good's material, functional, aesthetic or symbolic elements and their role within the
communication process. Further semiotic analysis also studies how a brand is
embedded in a network of meanings derived from relations to other objects, events,
persons, happenings in the consumer world. While the brand is a cognitive structure
that consists of various brand knowledge entries, each of these entries may itself
become linked to other cognitive constructs. For example, Marlboro contains entries
such as "cigarettes", "riding in the wilderness", "the Marlboro-man", "the United
States of America", "adventure". The "the United States of America" entry, for
instance, is itself a sign that embodies various other meanings. However, not all of
the meanings of "the United States of America" are embodied in Marlboro.

Despite these strengths of the semiotic approach to studying the process of


brand formation, this approach does not integrate cognitive knowledge to explain the
mental processes of sign or brand formation. So, semiotics cannot say anything
about the strength of certain brand associations or about the effect of a certain brand
component on the consumer. But this is particularly important since brand managers
need to know what kind of elements are more likely to be stored in memory or to
create strong associations. Consequently, a semiotic study of brands is reduced to
the analysis of the different brand components and the existence of the associations
between these, and does not investigate the intensity of the individual brand
component associations. For example, although semiotics is able to discover that
"the United States of America" is a brand component of Marlboro, it cannot say how
important this entry is within the Marlboro sign.
Nevertheless, many important semioticians (e.g., Peirce, Saussure, Eco, Noth)
consider semiotics to some extent as a cognitive science and therefore partly refer to
findings from cognitive psychology (cf. the "multiframed" sign). Yet, appart from the
realisation that sign-systems are complex mental constructs, no currently existing
semiotic theory is able to give a proper explanation of how these sign-systems are
conceptualised and organised in the human brain (cf. Noth 1990).
Hence, although the semiotic theory seems useful in understanding the
complexity and the different fields of human communication, it still does not say
anything about mental processes within the process of communication or sign-
creation (=semiosis). However, to fully understand the process of brand formation,
some knowledge of cognitive processes is called for.

43
3. The Cognitive Approach

It has been pOinted out that, although both the cultural anthropological and the
semiotic approach provide valuable insights into the process whereby phenomena
such as brands come into being, they neglect the cognitive aspects within this
process. Therefore, the findings of cognitive scientists as to how mental
representations are constructed will be discussed below, with the focus on the
general principles of cognitive processes.

Brands have been defined as cognitive constructs about a certain company's


supply. More specifically, the brand can be called a mental concept (ct. Anderson
2000, Barsalou 1992a, 1998). In general, a concept is the knowledge and
accompanying processes that allow an individual to represent some kind of entity or
event adequately (Barsalou 1998). For instance, a person's concept of car is the
person's mental representation of this specific thing. Yet, the car concept is not a
simple picture in mind of one or more perceived cars, but it is an organised unit of a
general car - derived from several car experiences - which enables the individual to
identify other objects with similar attributes to cars (ibid). Consequently, the concept
determines whether or not a certain object or event belongs to a certain category,
whereby a category is a set of related entities from any ontological type (e.g., robins,
sweaters, weddings, plans) in the human brain (cf. Barsalou 1993, 1998). So, on the
one hand, the concept is the organised set of attributes, features, rules and relations
which represents the entity or event. For example, the concept that someone
construes for car might, in part, include the features 4-wheels, sheet-metal,
consumes diesel fuel or petrol. On the other hand, the concept allows a person to
identify a certain (new) entity or event as a member of a specific category. Still,
concepts, and hence rules, for category membership are never fixed but may vary
from context to context (Barsalou 1983). As an example, the car concept constructed
on another occasion might include the features 4-wheels, synthetics, consumes
diesel fuel or petrol or electricity.

44
In the realm of consumer behavior, but also within marketing and brand
research, a lot of research has been done to discover how concepts for consumer
entities and events, in particular brands, become mentally organised in consumer
memory (e.g. Sujan 1985, Sujan & Dekleva 1987, Keller 1993, Malter 1996, Lawson
1998, Cohen & Basu 1987, Esch 1999). However, brand formation is not restricted to
the structure of conceptual brand knowledge in the mind, but requires a deeper
understanding of the whole process of brand concept development. Thus, in addition
to the mental representation & organisation of brand knowledge, brand concept
development also includes those stages which precede storage of the conceptual
knowledge in long-term memory. Especially, the perceptual level, that is, when the
supply information is picked up by the consumers, is an essential stage in the whole
process of brand concept development. In order to see how different supply
information elements influence the formation of brands, it is necessary to examine
how the individual consumer perceives various supply information stimuli and how
they later become cognitively structured as a brand concept.

In consumer research, the question of how consumers pick up information and


mentally represent it has been investigated within the field of consumer information
processing (cf. Bettman 1979, Mowen & Minor 1998). Concept development is based
on information processing, so this field of research has to be considered.
During the past two decades, consumer researchers have suggested several
models and theoretical concepts for consumer information proceSSing (e.g. Bettman
1979, Macinnis & Jaworski 1989, Macinnis & Price 1987, Mowen & Minor 1998).
According to that literature, consumer information processing is the process through
which consumers are exposed to information, become involved with it, perceive it,
store it in memory, and retrieve it for later use (Mowen & Minor 1998). Consequently,
in a first stage (level of perception), a process called selective attention, focuses
consumers' information processing on information relevant for them. The relevance
of information is very much influenced by factors such as importance or salience of
the stimuli as well as by individual goals (Barsalou 1992a). Whenever stimuli are
considered relevant, attention is selectively focused on them and concepts are
developed and stored in memory. In parallel to this bottom-up process, a given
concept, in a top-down manner, influences the attention to and the perception of
stimuli. This happens for instance when a brand extension is not perceived to be a

45
member of the parent brand. So, the given brand concept does not enable the
identification of the extended brand as a member of the parent brand category. For
example, Xerox computers have not been accepted by the consumers, because their
brand concepts have not been able to idenitfy computers as member of the Xerox
brand category.
The process of brand concept development may be considered as consumer
information processing, since any kind of supply-related stimuli, after being perceived
by the consumer, are transformed into a brand concept within the consumer's long-
term memory. Consequently, the cognitive approach can provide an explanation for
brand formation, emphasising the cognitive processes of consumer brand-
information processing.

The cognitive approach to brand formation stresses the mental processes


involved while a brand is coming into existence. As brands have been defined as
cognitive constructs, the cognitive approach provides a means of understanding how
this cognitive brand construct is developed. Compared to the cultural anthropological
and the semiotic approaches, the cognitive approach is the only one which considers
mental processes during brand formation and can thus be applied to investigating:
• those supply attributes which become predominantly stored in long-term memory

• the strength of various brand associations, that is the relationships between a


certain supply attribute and the corresponding entry in long-term memory

• the respective mental structure of brand knowledge (=stored supply/brand


information) in the consumer's mind

The given research question is to study the influence of design on the formation
of brands. Since the brand is considered as a cognitive construct, only the cognitive
approach enables the individual design elements' effects on consumer brand
knowledge structures to be studied.

46
On the other hand, it has been argued that brand communication determines
brand formation. Brand communication is based on three important levels of
communication (company-company; company-consumer; consumer-consumer)
which are related to their respective environments. Unlike semiotics and cultural
anthropology, cognitive science does not investigate the structure and relations of
these communication levels within the entire process of brand communication.
Consequently, the strength of the cognitive approach lies rather in studying the
effects of these relationships on the consumer's cognitive brand structure than in
identifying the variety and complexity of brand relations within the brand
communication process.

47
4. Selected Approach

As has been shown, brand formation comprises two fundamental aspects. First,
brand formation occurs via the process of communication (brand communication)
between a company and its audience as well as among the audience itself. Second,
brands are mental constructs (brand concepts) about a certain company's supply.
The research approaches to brand formation discussed here show different
strengths. On the general level of brand communication, both the cultural
anthropological and the semiotic approach provide good explanations for the general
structure and organisation of this particular process of communication. They develop
a general framework for the various levels, elements and relationships of brand
communication within consumer society. Compared to the semiotic approach, which
concentrates on the analysis of brand-sign processes, the particular strength of the
cultural anthropological approach is that it studies brands embedded in their cultural
world. Yet this dissertation focuses on the process of brand formation and aims to
identify the product form's influence within this process. Since cultural anthropology
mainly studies the cultural background of brand formation and the brand's function as
a cultural object within consumer society, this research approach cannot provide a
proper theoretical basis for the given research problem.
In this context, the semiotic approach seems to be more suitable, since it
provides a well structured instrument for distinguishing and examining the various
elements and relationships of the entire brand formation process. However, the
semiotic framework for brand formation is not sufficient. Although it considers signs
as mental constructs (ct. N6th 1988) this approach cannot explain the effects and
representation of certain brand components in the mind of the consumer. Thus,
additional knowledge from cognitive science has to be drawn on.
For the foregoing reason, an interdisciplinary approach combining parts of the
semiotic and cognitive approaches will be adopted. Consequently, this doctoral
dissertation will study the process of brand formation on the basis of a cognitive
semiotic 11 research approach. Cognitive semiotics investigates the development

11 A cognitive link in the science of signs dates back to the semiotic roots. v. UexkOIl in his theory of
environmental semiotics (1928) wrote about the pre-existing Bauplan, or blueprint, of signs in the

48
of the mental representation and organization of signs and sign-systems within
communication processes. The research is based on the assumption that the
creation of signs and sign-systems is based on perceived and encoded stimuli within
individuals' minds. These signs are represented and organised within cognitive
concepts. Hence, cognitive semiotics describes the fact that people communicate
and exchange information via a reciprocal sign-transfer, while sending, receiving,
coding and encoding requires some kind of cognitive capability.

Before starting to develop a cognitive-semiotic framework of brand formation, we


summarise the main points we have discussed so far:

• The brand is defined as: a clear and unique representation of a certain


company's supply in consumers' minds.

• A very rudimentary definition of a sign is: anything that stands for something
when somebody interprets it (Peirce 1931-1958).

• A brand can be considered as a complex sign-system, which stands for a


company's supply in the mind of the audience.

• Consequently, the brand as a sign is a cognitive or mental concept (construct)


of a certain company's supply. This brand concept is an organised cognitive
structure to mentally represent the supply.

• Signs or whole sign-systems come into being via processes of communication.


These processes of sign formation are called semiosis.

• Semiosis occurs via the mutual exchange of signals within human


communication, whereby the signals are transformed into signs in the mind of
the communication partners.

form of mental models of the world. These mental sign models were later discussed in more depth
by Seboek (1976) and Mick (1988). In a discipline adjoining semiotics, namely linguistics, an
individual discipline of cognitive linguistics (cf. Lakoff 1987, Langacker 1986, Turner 1996) became
established during the late '70s.

49
• Semiosis may be considered a useful sign-theoretical concept in explaining
brand formation. According to semiotics, brand formation is a process of brand
semiosis.

• In terms of cognitive psychology, brand formation is described as brand


concept development. (Note: Semiotics studies brand formation within a
general process of brand communication, stressing the identification of the
distinct brand communication-levels, -elements and -relations. Cognitive
psychology investigates the mental processes of how supply stimuli are
perceived by the consumer's sensory systems (brand perception) as well as
how this information is cognitively represented and organised (brand
knowledge representation and organisation)).

• The cognitive-semiotic approach to brand formation investigates the


development of the mental representation & organisation of brand signs
(=concepts) within communication processes.

50
Part A
I Introduction and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

Cultural Semiotic Cognitive


II
......,...
Anthroplogical

PartB
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

Person - Object Relations I


Different Kinds of Brandl Semio ;is
Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

Communication I
Communication
I
Dlmensions of Brand Comm nication.
Means of Brand IContents of Brand Levels of Brand
Communication
I Direct/Indirect Brand
Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

-
Sign-theoretical Aspects

I The Chain of Meanings Construct


I

I I
Brand Identification -
The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other

I I
Brand Identifiers -
Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations

Cognitive Psychological Aspects

I
Brand Perception I Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation
I

Part C
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part D
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the dissertation


III. General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand
Communication

The aim of this part is to develop a general sign-theoretical framework for brand
formation. Starting with a simple example, step by step, first the process of general
semiosis (=sign-formation), including its elements and relations, will be explained. As
we will focus on brand-sign-formation within human communication, a detailed
structure for brand communication is required. Hence, after identifying the distinct
levels and elements of brand communication (including the relations among them), it
will be demonstrated how brands come into existence within this particular process of
communication between companies and consumers.
For terminological reasons, the expression "brand semiosis" is understood as the
process of brand formation from a semiotic point of view, whereas "brand formation"
is generally used for the process whereby brands come into being. Thus, brand
semiosis is only used when we consider the sign-theoretical comprehension of brand
formation.

1. The Different Kinds of Semiosis and Brand Semiosis

1.1 Semiosis within Person-Object Relations (P-O Relations)

Let us assume a person living on a desert island (we do not ask how the person
came there) who, for the first time in its life, perceives a ship which is crossing the
sea. Since this person sees and maybe also hears this object, optical or acoustic
signals are picked up by the senses. Up to that moment, the person has not yet
assigned any meaning to these signals, since the signals just impinge on the human
sensory system (retina, eardrum), but still in a pre-cognitive stage (=before any kind
of cognitive processing). However, these signals are not just any kind of signals, in
fact they are different from the rest the person sees (ocean, beach, sky) and hears
(birds, wind, waves) and they are also new, at least for a certain moment. So these

52
signals have a certain structure which makes them different from others and we call
this structure information. '2
Certainly this pre-cognitive stage is more a theoretical construct than reality,
since immediately after seeing, smelling, feeling and hearing, the person starts to link
the new information to pre-stored (=from the past) parts of knowledge in order to give
sense to the signals received. This is the moment when perception, and thus the
connection between information and knowledge, occurs (cf. Anderson 2000; Bellman
1979; Goldstein 1997; Droz 1993). Although the information about the ship is new for
this person, the person starts to assign a certain meaning to this new object. For this
purpose, the person retrieves knowledge from memory and combines or links this
pre-stored knowledge with the new information in order to mentally develop a new
"unit". Yet, only such combinations (between pre-stored knowledge and new
information) are made which seem to be 'meaningful' (e.g., to achieve a specific goal
or to solve a problem) within a certain context. Here, it is very likely that the ship-
information is linked or confronted with pre-stored knowledge about fishes or birds,
for example, which swim in the water or fly in the sky. So, new signs or sign-
meanings are developed by combining new information with stored information
(knowledge) about other objects that have been picked up in the past.

To interpret the process described so far in more abstract terms: first there is an
object, the ship. Then there are structured signals about this object. These structured
signals (=information) are perceived by a certain person who assigns some kind of
meaning to this new object. The meaning of the new object is a fusion of directly
perceived information about the object and other (prior) information which, is
'meaningfully' (=makes sense in a certain context) linked to the object.

12 This definition of information corresponds with the one frequently used in cognitive psychology and
vision science (cf. Anderson 2000, Palmer 1999, Goldstein 1997, Zimbardo 1995, N6th 1990,
Barsalou 1992a, Broadbent 1958). Some authors (e.g., Goldstein 1997, Palmer & Kimchi 1986)
make a more precise distinction between various levels of information. According to Palmer &
Kimchi's (1986) metatheoretical analysis of the information processing paradigm, informational
events consist of three parts: the input-information (what it starts with), the operation performed on
the input (what gets done to the input), and the output information (what it ends up with). Input-
information is information on a pre-perceptual stage (cf. Palmer & Kimchi 1986, cf. also Palmer
1999, Goldstein 1997, N6th 1990).

53
In this sense, a sign is being developed in the person's mind. The semiosis of the
sign ship can be demonstrated by the Peircian triad (cf. Figure 7).

Person (Interpretant)

Structured Ship-Signals (Sign-Carrier) Content of the "Ship" (Object)

Figure 7: Ship-semiosis by means of the Peircean triad

In Figure 7, the person as the interpretant creates the sign. This happens when
structured ship-signals (=ship-information) as the sign-carrier are related to the
content (object)13 of the specific entity "ship".
So, it can be shown that the sign carries and thus contains, information,
whereas, the whole information of an object is never embedded in a sign, but is just a
sma" portion of information. In terms on information theory, "a"" information on an
object or event is called potential information, while that perceived by a certain
audience and further transformed into a sign is actualised information (Bentele &
Bystrina 1978). Consequently, only sma" portions of information (actualised
information) on the entire ship are perceived and further transformed into a certain
ship-sign. This ship-sign never has an absolute meaning, but just one which makes
sense to the respective individual. Another individual (e.g., a person who has
experience with ships in a different context, like a captain) might create a different
sign with a different meaning.

13 Peirce (1931-58) uses the term object for a sign's content to which a certain sign-carrier is related.
Since "object" could be confused with physical or natural objects we will retain the expression
content.

54
So far, the island-ship example has provided a very basic explanation of
semiosis and sign-processes, while in the next chapter, the example will be
transformed into a most basic semiosis of a person-person relationship and, thus,
interpersonal communication.

1.2 Semiosis within Person-Person Relations (Human Communication)


(P-P Relations)

Let us assume that a sailor jumps over board and swims to the island where he
meets the other person. The two persons start trying to understand each other. A
process of communication is taking place.
As argued above, everybody assigns different meanings to signs, that means
that everybody creates his own individual sign-repertoire (cf. Eco 1979, Noth 1990).
A sign-repertoire is nothing else than an individual's sign vocabulary and, thus, all the
sign-information an individual has stored in its mind. Nevertheless, if every individual
were to create its individual sign-repertoire, entirely differing from those of other
individuals, understanding and thus communication would probably not be possible.
Some "common patterns" must exist among the various sign-repertoires which,
despite differences in people's sign meanings, enable an act of communication. Or,
as Meyer-Eppler (1959) says, within a process of communication, all communication
partners have their individual sign-repertoires. "Communication as a process of
mutual understanding only takes place, where the sender selects signs from
his repertoire which are also elements of the receiver's repertoire" (p. 2 and
Noth, 1990, p. 176 see also Maturana & Varela 1972; Noth 1989) (ct. Figure 8).14

14 Schramm (1971) argues similarly that "a receiver selects among the stimuli available to him, selects
from the content of the message he chooses, interprets it and disposes of it as he is moved to do"
(p. 16). Both - sender and receiver - operate in their own "fund of usable experience" (p. 31); where
the fields overlap, they can communicate (p. 33).

55
Communication Communication
Partner 1 ~----------------~ Partner 2

Figure 8: Communication process with sign-repertoires (Meyer-Eppler 1959)

Yet, this paradox of the co-existence of both an individual and a common sign
repertoire can be solved by following our two-person example. When the two
persons, the sailor and the island inhabitant, meet each other for the first time, it is
likely that some 'natural' communication is possible. Natural communication means
that although both persons have different languages, they might be able to
communicate about things by using their "hands and feet". For example, they might
show that they are hungry or they may point to some objects (e.g., trees, water,
sand, sun, sky) when naming them. At least, they have to agree upon some names
(vocabularies) for different objects and object-relations, to be able to start talking
about them. After a while, their language vocabulary, which is nothing else than a
kind of sign-repertoire, will increase, and communication become more sophisticated
and precise. This, very probably, describes the process whereby any kind of
language or new sign-system comes into being, because, after some basic signs
have been developed, the sign-system increases step by step in order to fulfil more
complicated communication needs. In any case, although each communication
partner has its particular sign meanings and creates its individual sign-repertoire,
understanding and therefore, communication is only possible when the
communication partners share some kind of similar sign-meanings.

In this context, communication takes place on two different levels. In a first


process of natural communication the basic sign-structure is developed. This basic
sign-structure enables a more complex process of communication which itself allows
the sign-structure to be enlarged into a developed sign-system. Thus, on the one
hand, communication is the source of semiosis, since, after a first interaction
between individuals, the individuals start to develop signs in order to understand one
56
another. On the other hand, this basic sign-vocabulary itself influences new
communicative acts, since then, the new communication is determined by the basic
signs which have been developed in the early stage. But the process does not stop
there. So, the second kind of communication is again a source of semiosis and
enables a process of semiosis of a higher order. This means that a 'higher' semiosis
always takes place on the basis of the signs which have been developed on the
'prior' level. There is an ongoing process of ever-increasing levels of specification.

1.3 Consequences for Brand Semiosis

p-o Relations
As has already been discussed elsewhere, partial brand semiosis may take
place in pure person-object (P-O) relations. However, because in this work only
brand formation processes within consumer society are considered, the ship example
is no longer valid. The island inhabitant does not live in the consumer world. 15 Yet,
the semiosis which occurs within the person-ship relationship on the desert island
does not differ from a process of brand semiosis. Brand semiosis, for example, would
ask for a ship belonging to a cruise company and a consumer who perceives the
ship. This consumer would create a sign for the cruise ship including attributes such
as color, logo, shape, speed, etc. But, as has been argued above, brand semiosis in
a pure person-object relation and thus within non-communicational situations is
completely arbitrary, since any individual can attach any kind of meaning to the given
object. In order to investigate person-object semiosis, we would have to refer to each
individual's sign interpretations, which is impossible. 16 We are therefore only focusing
on semiosis within communication, since there, the criterion of "understanding"
restricts the sign-formation process to a certain extent.
Still, it has to be mentioned that brand formation also partly exists within non-
communicative situations.

15 Even if the ship is marked by a name or the logo of a certain shipping or cruise company which also
becomes a sign for the (desert) island inhabitant, this process of semiosis (within this particular
example!) is not a brand semiosis, since we refer to brands only within consumer society.
16 Although some sort of 'shared' sign-meanings for objects and entities do exist within society, these
meanings develop through pop relationships, when people are communicating on the objects'
meanings and not individually through P-O relations.

57
p-p Relations
In the given context, brand formation or brand semiosis is studied in the realm of
brand communication, that is, when brand signals are exchanged between brand-
communication partners (P-P relation). Further the criterion of understanding
determines whether and how a brand comes into being. So, in case if there would be
supply stimuli which are outside a brand communication partner's sign-repertoire,
communication, and thus brand formation, is not possible.
In fact this process of "understanding" is complex. The company sends a certain
brand message that contains an intended meaning. Still, it is not guaranteed that,
although there is an overlap between company's and consumer's sign repertoires,
the consumer interprets the brand (message) as intended. It could even happen that
the consumer fully misunderstands the brand message sent, e.g. Nintendo sends
"Gameboy computer game" and the consumer (e.g., a child's mother) understands
"thing that is bad for children's education". We can assume that the (for the company)
ideal situation that consumers completely understand the intended brand message
probably never occurs. Instead, within brand communication, it surely always
happens that some stimuli, although they are within both communication partner's
sign-repertoires, the receiver interprets differently than the sender. So, within brand
communication there is always partial misunderstanding. Of course, the line between
understanding and misunderstanding is fluid and normative. Yet, in our case, it only
makes sense to talk about brands when at least some core meanings are
understood, that is, the consumer interprets core elements of the brand message as
they were intended (by the company). For example, the Coca Cola logo that is
interpreted as a drawing of the last century is not a part of the Coca Cola brand (for
this specific person) but a work of art.

In order to better structure the brand communication process, the different


dimensions, that is, the various elements and relations, of this specific process will be
discussed.

58
2. Dimensions of Brand Communication

2.1 Means of Brand Communication

In general, a means of communication is everything which can be used for


communicating a message (e.g., cf. Schramm 1971, Shannon & Weaver 1949). A
communication process can be based on two kinds of means of communication.
First, a means of communication can be personal as for instance the voice, the face
or "hand and feet" etc. Secondly, also objects (e.g. pictures, ornaments, jewelry,
letters) can be used for communication purposes.

Personal brand communication takes place through:


• sales persons or sales representatives,
• entrepreneurs or managers, and other members of the supplying
organisation
• consumers and stakeholders (such as journalists, scientists, etc.)
who communicate about the company's supply.

For a great part of brand communication, signals about the supply are
transferred via objects. This means that it is not a person who communicates
something about the company's supply, but it is an object which carries parts of the
supply and thus "communicates" about it. However, it is not the object itself which
communicates. Instead, the object is the carrier of supply-information transmitted by
a certain brand communication partner. The two main objects which function as
means of brand communication are:
• the product and its design: a product is the most obvious carrier of
information about a company's supply. The product is a "shaped" or material
part of supply and thus something which communicates a main part of
supply. More exactly, it is not the product itself which communicates to the
consumers, it is just the design or the product's form. Since design has been
defined as the product's outer gestalt, including logo, name and color, the
design is also the part which is perceived by the brand's audience.

59
• a carrier-medium 17: very often, especially when the supply is immaterial,
supply-information has to be transferred via a carrier-medium, as for instance,
the Internet, any other kind of (mass-)medium (TV, print, radio), or shop
design, corporate design, clothing, and so forth. There, supply information is
transferred by means of the medium (and not via the 'material' product).
Certainly, material-supply information is also very often transferred via carrier-
media, for example, in advertising for a certain product.

2.2 Subjects of Brand Communication

A similar structure exists with subjects of brand communication. In any kind of


communication, the subject of communication (e.g., ct. Shannon & Weaver 1949,
N6th 1990), that is, what is communicated about, can either be a person, an object or
an event (feelings, happenings, experiences, etc.).
The general subject of brand communication is a certain company's
supply. Therefore, most brand communication is about objects (products) or events
(services). Yet, in a broader sense, persons can also be the subjects of brand
communication. Persons are a part of supply/brand-information since they stand in a
particular relationship to the respective supply. For example, information about
entrepreneurs (e.g., Bill Gates, Richard Branson, Henry Ford) can be seen as part of
an overall brand message, since they are an essential aspect of the entire supply.
Further, there exist fictitious persons, like the Marlboro Man, who is also part of the
Marlboro brand message.

How a means of communication is used in order to communicate a certain


subject depends on convention (cf. Bentele & Bystrina 1978). There is no natural
relationship between the means and subjects of communication. It is not intrinsically
predefined that a certain subject is communicated only by a specific means of
communication.
However, since the relations between means and subjects are conventions,
within each culture, society or group there exist commonly accepted conventions
about specific 'means-subjects' relationships (e.g., among some Indian tribes the

17 Carrier-media are also termed channels in the literature (e.g., Shannon & Weaver 1949, N6th 1990)

60
possession of specific animal's trophies communicates strength and masculinity).
Consequently, although a specific means of communication does not have an
intrinisic meaning, culturally determined means-subjects relations have a great
influence on the process of communication and sign formation. As, for instance, a
product (=subject) which is advertised in a popular tabloid paper (=means 1) contains
different meanings than if it were to be shown on the Internet (=means 2).

Subjects of Brand Communication


Products IEvents IPersons

Table 2: Subjects of brand communication

2.3 Components of Supply

The company's supply has been determined as the something that is


communicated about within the process of brand communication. Therefore, we also
need to specify the components and aspects of supply.

2.31 Supply in a Narrow Sense

In a narrow sense, a company's supply is any kind of good, that is, product or
service which is offered to a market (Woll 1992). A product-supply, is mainly based
on a material object. A service-supply, is an event that is either 'created' by a service
person or which is based on a particular carrier-medium (e.g., paper, TV, radio,
Internet, any kind of material object). A product's design can be seen as the outer
shape of the material object (cf. also the Peircean triad above). The design of a
service is either the design of the carrier-medium (graphic-design, form of the
medium itself) or the "designing" (shaping) of the service itself (e.g., how a service is
fulfilled). Of course, the dichotomy between product and service is rather artificial,
since every supply of a company is a combination of products and services.
However, in order to understand the peculiarities of both types of goods within the
brand communication process, the distinction seems to be useful.

61
2.32 Supply in a Broader Sense

In a broader sense, further elements and relations can be considered as parts of


supply:

Market Communication (Advertising, Sales Promotion, PR, etc.), Pricing,


Distribution18
All aspects of market communication, pricing, as well as distribution influence the
process of brand formation, as for example a particular style of advertising, a
product's price, or the way products are sold also affects the way in which a brand is
established in consumers' minds. They can also be seen as a part of supply, since it
is conceivable, for instance, that a consumer "consumes" specific parts of an
advertisement (e.g., the artistic quality and not the content of the original brand-
message). Further, marketing communication, pricing and distribution add meanings
to products and services, so that this added meaning becomes a part of the whole
good. For example, the advertising campaign of Benetton, by means of a specific
advertising-style, communicates such attributes as diversity but multicultural. These
meanings which are, inter alia, tranferred by the Benetton advertising campaign
become attached to the entire brand meaning and can thus be considered as part of
supply. The same happens with price or distribution, e.g., the price of a Mercedes or
the distribution system of Tupper Ware.
A similar consideration could be applied to design, which, in principle, is just the
product's outer "shape" and which communicates something about the product or
service "behind" it. Still, this assumption is highly theoretical, since it is impossible to
distinguish the design from the product itself.

Company-Relations
The company is a network of external and internal relationships. All these
relationships may contribute to the meaning of a certain supply and thus influence
brand formation. So, when a certain supply is consumed, it is not just the product or
the service which is consumed, but also some information about external or internal

18 Exkursus: It is obvious that promotion and advertising, etc. are means of communication, yet,
distribution also communicates something about the product or service, just as the sale of a certain
product through a specialist shop communicates the notion of high quality.

62
relations. For example, when a product is mentally related to a certain country, a
consumer's feelings about that country become linked to the product. The consumer
also consumes parts of these (country) feelings and interprets them as part of the
company's supply. Something similar happens with other company-relations, like for
instance, information about the company's history (Volkswagen as the German car
manufacturer during the Second World War) or about the entrepreneur (Bill Gates as
the personified American Way of Life).

Components of Supply
Supply in the Narrow Sense Supply in the Broader Sense
product product
service service
market communication
pricing
distribution
company-relations

Table 3: Components of supply

2.4 Levels of Brand Communication

Within a process of brand communication, two general communication partners


can be identified, namely, companies and consumers.
For logical reasons, the following constellations of relations among the
communication partners (=Ievels of communication) can be created:
• company ~ consumer (1 st level of brand communication)
• consumer......I-----1.~ consumer (2 nd level of brand communication)
• company ~ company (3'd level of brand communication)

Probably the main brand communication occurs between companies and


consumers (1 st level). A first stream of brand signals flows from the company towards
consumers. The company sends out information about (via) its supply in order to be
perceived and understood by the consumer. But, there also exists a flow of signals
from the consumers to the company. For instance, consumer reactions to certain
brand signals are fed back to the company by market research. They may lead to a

63
modification of parts of the supply. Within service brands, the consumers' reaction
might even be a part of the supply.

However, the company-consumer relationship is not the only level of brand


communication. Another very important level is communication among consumers
themselves (2 nd level). After the first brand signals have been perceived (understood)
by consumers, the consumers may also communicate among themselves about the
supply (e.g., consumers talk about the features of the new Canon Ixus aps-camera).
This level of brand communication also influences brand formation, since a
consumer's supply interpretation is heavily oriented towards other consumers' supply
interpretations (cf. Solomon & Bamossy & Askegaard 1999).

Finally there is company-company brand communication (3 fd level), which in


particular means the communication between the company and store owners or
wholesalers. Other examples would be relationships between the company which
develops the 'brand' and a consulting company which supplies special technological
know-how for product development.
In fact, company-company brand communication is a little problematic, because
brands have been defined as something in consumers' minds. However, also within
companies are consumers and they might further develop brand-like constructs as
they stand in a close mental relationship with the supply. For example, a dealer who
puts a specific 'brand' into its assortment will also create a similar brand concept as
do end-consumers. Company-company brand communication is consequently
closely related to other levels of brand communication.

2.5 Direct VS. Indirect Brand Communication

On all levels of brand communication, the communication can either be direct or


indirect (ct. Shannon & Weaver 1949). Direct brand communication stems from the
shape of the supply (design, product-, service-attributes). Indirect brand
communication stems from communicating about the supply (e.g. advertising,
personal selling). Both direct and indirect brand communication depend on personal
as well as object-oriented means of communication. Tables 4 and 5 show the

64
structure of both kinds of brand communication together with the respective means
and levels of communication.

Direct Brand Communication Indirect Brand Communication


Products/Events Persons Products/Events Persons
e.g., "shaping" products e.g., service (=direct e.g., talking (commu-
or services (supply) communication
form of supply)
as a
- nicating)
supply
about the

Table 4: Direct and indirect !!l!!.!!!!! of brand communication

Direct Brand Communication Indirect Brand Communication


company - consumer consumer - consumer company - consumer consumer - consumer
e.g., product, service + e.g., consumer uses the e.g., advertising, promo- e.g., talking (commu-
design brand tion, distribution nicating) about the
brand

Table 5: Direct and indirect levels of brand communication

Direct Brand Communication Indirect Brand Communication


company - company - company - company -
e.g., product, service + - e.g., trade promotion, -
design trade advertising

Table 6: Direct and indirect levels of brand communication

2.6 External Factors Influencing Brand Communication and Brand Semi-


osis

There are always external factors which influence the process of sign formation.
External factors are signals which are beyond the communication partners'
influence but which nonetheless affect the semiosis process. The effect of external
factors can be positive or negative (e.g., cf. Schramm 1971, Shannon & Weaver
1949). Here, positive means influencing the process of brand semiosis and not

65
effecting a positive brand image, and therefore the event could also provoke a
negative impression or feeling, e.g., meeting an unpleasant person. While positive
external factors may add some kind of meaning to the sign, a negative external factor
(e.g. noise) disturbs sign formation. Therefore, negative external factors can also be
called disruptive factors (ibid.).

e.g. other entries in


brand-sign knowledge

External (Brand) Factor: E1

External (Brand) Factor: E : t - - - - - - - - - - - - - \ - - -....

Figure 9: Positive external brand factors and brand-sign knowledge

Of course, not all external factors influence the process of brand semiosis. In
Figure 9, the external factor E1 does not affect the brand formation process, since it
is not picked up by the consumer. This happens when some kind of brand signal is
not perceived by the consumer's senses or not stored in the consumer's mind.
In the second case (E2), an external brand factor influences brand semiosis and
is stored in consumer memory, e.g., a man, sitting in a bar and consuming a
Baccardi-soda drink, meets a beautiful women with whom he falls in love. Since the
event is so significant for the man, it is likely that the positive external factor (being in
love with a certain person) becomes integrated into the Baccardi brand sign (=stored
in Baccardi brand knowledge).
Another famous example of an external brand factor is the story of the "elk-test".
When Mercedes introduced the new A-class, a Swedish car magazine conducted a
test drive during which the driver had to jerk the steering wheel on a straight road,
because of an obstacle ("elk") suddenly appearing. The car turned over, which
caused negative publicity all over the world for the new Mercedes A-class. In this
case, the message about the negative test results could be considered as an
66
external factor, since none of the communication partners had been able to control
the influence of this type of information on the formation of the Mercedes A-class
sign.

External factors are omnipresent in every sign formation process. Due to the fact
that companies intend to develop brands which create positive attitudes and feelings,
the risk inherent in external factors is that they may have a negative impact on the
brand message being transmitted. Since external brand factors, by definition, cannot
be controlled by brand communication partners, companies usually try to establish
communication strategies that dominate the external factors' influence on brand
formation.

67
3. The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of
Brand Communication

After having clarified the dimensions of brand communication in the foregoing


chapters, it is now possible to show how brands are created within brand
communication. This provides a general sign-theoretical understanding of brand
formation. Figure 10 depicts the entire process of brand semiosis. This process has
been subdivided into three main steps.

Step 1:
A company creates and generates a specific supply to the consumers. A process
of direct communication starts when the company (CO) sends the first supply signals
(* * * =signals about parts of its supply) to consumers (CU1). Indirect communication
takes place when the first supply signals become enriched with additional supply
information (e.g. through promotional activities, advertising, personal selling,
distribution, retail-stores, etc.). By the process of direct and indirect communication, a
stream of supply signals is transmitted from the company (CO) to the consumer
(CU1). The various means of communication can be personal or object-oriented.

68
BRAND·· •
BRAND·· •
Consumer 1
Consumer 2
(C01)
(CO2)
,

,,,
,,"
,
External
, , Factors
",'
)
~~">:"
.. ~\
i
:
,.\,,
.'
\,,
\\

SUPPLY·· • BRAND · · •
Company 2
Company 1
(CU2)
(CU1)

direc Vindirect
brand commun ication.

Note: * * * = supply attributes, exchanged among communication partners (through


direcVindirect communication via any means of communication) and stored (in the
case of perception; shared sign-repertoires) as brand-sign knowledge in consumer
memory. Some of these signals may function as brand identifiers.

The size of the arrow does not indicate the extent of the stream of communication.
Obviously most communication exists from CU1 to C01

Figure 10: Process of brand semi os is

69
Step 2:
When the consumer perceives the transmitted supply-signals and these signals
are part of the consumer's sign-repertoire, understanding, and thus brand formation,
takes place. Consequently, the consumer creates a brand (sign). The perceived
brand information is mentally structured and associated. A new cognitive unit (=sign)
is created. It is moreover worth mentioning that the brand as a sign is not just the
collection of stored brand experiences. Instead, the brand sign is embedded in a
complex net of various consumer and non-consumer signs, where also external
(=non-supply) information is linked to the supply and thus becomes part of the brand.
For example, Marlboro is also associated with the United States of America.

Nevertheless, brands are not formed in a process of pure one-way


communication. Information about consumer brand reactions is fed back to the
company. So, supply signals are first communicated by the company to the
consumer. If the signals received fit into the consumer's sign-repertoire, the
consumer responds to the perceived supply signals by means of specific reactions.

Step 3:
Brand semiosis does not take place only on the first level of brand
communication. A second semiosis exists between consumers themselves (CU1 -
CU2). When a consumer (CU1) has first formed a brand of a certain company's
supply, the sign will probably be modified by communicating with another consumer
(CU2). This second process of brand formation also occurs via direct and indirect
brand communication. In the first case, consumer 1 uses the brand in order to
communicate something (e.g., driving a Mercedes, to communicate wealth). In the
second case, consumer 1 or 2 communicates about the brand (e.g., talking about the
Mercedes' attributes). On this level of brand communication, semiosis either occurs
via certain media, as for instance, a magazine which publishes a test of a brand (e.g.,
cars, consumer electronics), or within a 'true' two-way communication, that is, via the
same channel (means of communication) and with no time difference, like, for
example, two consumers discussing certain brand features.
Yet, among consumers, we have two possibilities for communication. The first
possibility is that consumer 2 does not yet know the brand. Communication and,
thus, brand formation, in this case occurs when brand signals are sent from

70
consumer 1 to consumer 2. The second possibility is that consumer 2 also has (his
own) experience with the supply of the company. So there is a parallel process of
brand semiosis between the company (C01) and consumer 2 (CU2). In the case, if
both consumers' brand sign-repertoires (with similar meanings) overlap to a certain
extent, a more advanced brand communication among them is possible. However,
regardless of whether consumer 2 has prior brand knowledge or not, the second-
level of brand communication influences both consumers' brand formation.
A similar process of brand formation occurs within company (C01) - company
(C02) communication. In most cases of (brand) communication, the company that
generates the supply also communicates with other companies, e.g. dealers,
wholesalers, consultants, etc. It is difficult to state whether a brand is also created
through this process of (brand) communication, since neither of the communication
partners is a consumer as such. Still, a dealer that puts a certain brand into its shop-
assortment also develops a brand-like concept in his brain, which probably does not
differ that much from the brand concept he develops when he thinks about that
supply as an end consumer. In any case, communication about a certain company's
supply between company 2 and consumers has a great influence on the consumer's
brand formation process. For example, a car dealer who explains many details about
the advantages of the new Renault Scenic to the consumer, greatly influences the
brand concept the consumer develops in its mind. Also this process of (brand)
communication is determined by the communication partners' sign-repertoires.

At this point, it becomes necessary to undertake a more precise examination of


the individual sign-repertoires within the brand formation or brand semiosis
process.
The graph (circle) of the sign-repertoire construct is problematic since it could
give the impression that an individual's sign-repertoire is a closed system, yet it has
been repeatedly demonstrated that a person's sign-repertoire can be extended either
by creativity or by general semiosis.

Company Sign-Repertoire:
Every communication partner possesses its own individual sign-repertoire. In
principle, only persons can have sign-repertoires. However, since companies are
made up of persons and since everything that is communicated by companies, is, at

71
the end of the day, 'communicated' by persons, we can say that social units such as
companies, media etc. also have sign-repertoires. A company's sign-repertoire
contains all company-related signs which the company can use for creating any kind
of message. This can be anything about the supply (product, service etc.) as well as
the company itself (e.g., history, workers, managers, machines) and its external
relationships (e.g., culture, society).

Consumer 1 Sign-Reperloire:
A consumer's sign-repertoire contains all the personal signs stored in mind and
retrieved from past experiences of the consumer world. As said elsewhere, the
overlap of both communication partners' sign-repertoires determines understanding
and, thus, brand formation. However, this does not mean that brand formation only
takes place when there is an exact overlap between sender's and receiver's sign-
meanings. Instead, brand formation always occurs with partial mis-understanding,
that is, not all supply-signals are interpreted in the way intended. Some signals are
mis-understood or not understood at all. According to semiotics, this means that both
communication partners have diverging sign-carrier - sign-content relations. An
example of non-understanding would be when for person 1, the letter A (=sign-
carrier) means [ei] (=content), whereas for person 2, A means [bi]. In this case,
communication is not possible, as both communication partners have completely
different sign-meanings (=no overlap between sign-repertoires). If for person 2 the
letter A means [ei"] (=that is a slight deviation from [eiD, partial misunderstanding
occurs. Nevertheless, in the second case, communication is possible, as there exists
some overlap between both communication partners' sign-repertoires. The threshold
between (mis-) understanding and non-understanding is fluid. In the case of brands
we have stated, that at least some core elements (e.g., that it is a product made by a
company, etc.) have to be understood (by both communication partners) in a similar
way. Consequently, a brand is formed, when the consumer's sign-repertoire, partially
overlaps with the company's sign-repertoire and when signs that constitute core
'brand' elements are interpreted in a similar way.

Consumer 2 and Company 2 Sign-Reperloire:


The sign-repertoire of consumer 2 also contains all the individual sign-meanings
developed throughout the consumer's life. If the company also sends supply signals

72
to consumer 2, but brand formation on this level (CO-CU2) is not possible, it means
that there is no overlap between the sign-repertoires of CO and CU2 (see
argumentation above). Still, it can happen that the sign-repertoire of consumer 2
develops through second-level brand communication (CU1-CU2). So, within a
process of semiosis between consumer 2 and consumer 1, consumer 2 extends his
sign-repertoire so that brand formation also becomes possible, for example, a boy
explains the newest models of Burton Snowboards to his mother. In a further step,
consumer 2 is then also able to understand (perceive) supply-signals which are
transmitted directly by the company. On the other hand, the process of brand
formation through second level communication (CU2-CU1) most probably also elicits
modifications within the sign-repertoire of consumer 1. The same occurs when
consumers, for example, are informed about the supply by another company (mostly
dealers), which might also extend the consumer's sign-repertoire.

Since the sign-repertoire is the collection of signs formed in the mind of the
individual (or social unit) and since each sign is a net of stored sensory impressions
associated with each other, a sign-repertoire is an enormous network of different
sign-associations. The sign-repertoire expands continually. By combining various
sign-contents (=stored sign-impressions), individuals are able to develop new signs
and sign meanings. In other words, by simply fusing signs, the individual is able to
understand new entities in different situations.

73
Part A
I Introduction and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

Cultural
Anthroplogical
Il Semiotic

"..... III""'"
Cognitive

Part B
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

I
Different Kinds of (Brand) Semiosis
Person - Object Relations Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

I I I
Dimensions of Brand Communication
Means of Brand Contents of Brand Levels of Brand Direct/Indirect Brand
Communication Communication Communication Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

Sign-theoretical Aspects

I
- I
The Chain of Meanings Construct

I I
Brand Identification -
The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other

I I
Brand Identifiers -
Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations

Cognitive Psychological Aspects

I
Brand Perception I Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation
I

Parte
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part D
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the dissertation


IV. Cognitive Processes of Brand Formation

By means of the general brand semiosis concept, a macro-perspective of brand


formation has been developed. However, for a better understanding of consumer
behavior aspects, a more detailed analysis of the cognitive processes involved in
brand formation is called for. Starting with pure sign-theoretical considerations, it will
be first shown how signs generally become linked with each other within large sign-
systems in the human brain (Chapter 1.1). Then, a more detailed explanation will be
provided of how masses of sign sensory impressions are cognitively associated to
each other within a wide meshed net of sign-meanings (Chapter 1.2). This will allow
knowledge from cognitive psychology to be integrated into the semiotic field in order
to study sign-perception, sign-knowledge representation and organisation within the
process of brand formation (Chapter 2).

1. Sign-Theoretical Aspects

The place where all the various sign relations and sign associations occur is the
individual's sign-repertoire (cf. Meyer-Eppler 1959, N6th 1990). Thus, in addition to
the sign-repertoire being the place where sign-knowledge is stored and mentally
organised (ibid.), it is a person's (mental) sign-processing unit where all kinds of sign-
impressions become linked to each other in order to develop meaningful sign-
concepts.
In order to gain a deeper understanding of how humans develop complex sign-
systems, the processes whereby signs and sign-impressions become mentally
associated with each other need to be better explored.

1.1 The Chain of Brand Meanings and the Super-Sign

Semiotic science basically assumes that signs are never absolute. They always
refer to other signs (e.g., cf. N6th 1990, Bense 1971, Eco 1976, 1979, Peirce 1939-
58). A brand sign-system results from a continuous semiosis starting at the basic
level of elementary brand signs, and extending to a complex brand sign-system. This
is the fusion of general signs in consumer society (rituals, myths, buying acts, etc.) as
well as signs which result from direct experiences of a certain company's supply.

75
A semiotic concept to better explain the development of complex sign-systems,
is the chain of meanings construct (Solomon et.a!. 1999, cf. Sense 1971). It
demonstrates how, by means of an extended Peircean triad, a brand (Sense 1971)
develops as a super-sign, based on various other signs and how these signs are
linked to each other.
The general Peircean sign-concept describes the sign in a triadic relationship, as
has been shown in Chapter 11.2.1. Yet the triangle represents an abstracted version
of the overall sign relations and hides the links to other signs and sign-systems. In
reality, a super-sign is based not just on one triadic relationship but on many such
relationships. How many signs become linked together is determined by context and
people's processing capacity in working memory. The super-sign is considered as
the higher-order sign (see Figure 11) that covers the triangles linked together.

Interpretant (1*)

Sign-carrier (S*) 0 S OS Content (0*)

Figure 11: Adjunction and superisation

The process of becoming a super-sign is determined by two sign operations,


adjunction and superisation (Sense 1971, 50t.). Adjunction describes the process of
chaining signs in a syntactic way - represented by the three triangles in a single line
in Figure 11. The chain is open and can be continued. Adjunction is the process
whereby one sign becomes related to another sign's meaning (e.g. Ferrari - Italy -
warm climate - ... ).
Superisation is the summary of the (adjuncted) chain of (elementary) signs and
creates a new sign, called the super sign and which is next highest to the others -

76
represented by the large (overall) triangle in Figure 11. A super sign is based on
existing signs, that is, a sign on a higher level.

Since brands refer to a set of elementary signs but are not completed, brands
can be conceived as super signs. They are based on adjunction and superisation,
which can be illustrated with the simple example of the Marlboro brand (cf. Figures
12 - 14) .

Considering a typical Marlboro advertisement, everybody would agree that it is


not just the Marlboro Man riding his horse through the wildness and smoking a
cigarette which is "seen" in the advertisement. Instead, the interpreter of this
advertisement immediately recalls knowledge hidden behind the directly perceived
image. For instance, the Marlboro Man himself stands for a sign, namely, for the
rugged individualistic American. But this meaning again can relate to other meanings,
for example, the United States of America, which itself can be the sign for a Western
capitalist system. Figure 12 shows this chain of brand-meanings' 9, by linking one
single triad after another, each representing a single sign-process, but which, all
together, determine the overall brand-sign process. As explained above, the chain of
the different 'single' signs is called adjunction, so, in our case, this describes the
process of brand adjunction.

S
~ (Marlboro Ad) o S (M-Man) o S (rugged American) o (USA,
Capitalism)

Figure 12: Brand adjunction

Moreover, brand adjunction can extend in any direction. For instance, another
chain may refer to the cigarette, which further becomes related to tobacco, then to
the tobacco-plant and so on (see Figure 13).

19 for a similar example, cf. Solomon et al. (1999)

77
o (USA,
Capitalism)

S (Marlboro Ad) o S (Cigarette) o S (Tobacco) o (Plants, ... )

Figure 13: Alternative brand adjunction

Figure 14, shows how the concept can be extended to demonstrate the process
of brand-superisation. The adjuncted chains of (rather elementary) signs can be
assembled into a new super sign, which is a sign on a higher level. This super sign
establishes the brand (represented by the large triangle).

1* consumer, public, stakeholder

S (Marlboro Ad) 0 S ( ... ) o S( ... ) 0 ..


0* content
S* design, ad, promotion, ... of supply

Figure 14: Brand adjunction and superisation

The triadic relationship of the sign "brand", is constituted by the (sign-)conteneo


0', which is the entire content of the company's specific supply (content of product,

20 content means the something which is represented by the sign-carrier (Peirce 1931-58) - also
corresponding to the Saussurean (1916) notion of concept (=content). For a more detailed
description of the semiotic models, cf. Chapter 11.2.

78
advertising, promotion, events, shopping environment, cultural links, etc.) for an
interpretant 1* who holds the overall brand meaning and for the super sign-carrier S*,
which is what is perceived by the interpretant (=the outer shape of the supply) as, for
instance the design, logo, graphic-design, 'perceivable' parts of promotional activities,
etc. Here it is important to mention that the sign-carrier exists in a double (multiple)
nature. Firstly, the Marlboro advertisement may stand for certain Marlboro
advertisement contents, such as color, type, print-quality. Secondly, the same
advertisement may also stand for the contents of the entire Marlboro brand (e.g., the
USA, cigarette, ruggedness, etc.).

Still the chain of meanings construct is a theoretical one, since no sign-


interpreter ever makes all these countless meaning-relations by interpreting a
particular super-sign. In reality, the chain stops at a certain point, where the
"meaning-needs" of the person interpreting the sign are met.

1.2 Brand Identification within Brand Semiosis

1.21 The General Process of Identification within Semiosis - A very simple


Example

Semiosis is the general process through which signs come into being. Within
semiosis, identification is the process that determines which signals become
mentally associated with other signals. The process of identification defines which
perceived signals (sign-carrier) from a given entity stand for (become identified as)
other perceived signals (sign-content) from the same entity.

Imagine a child who first learns the meaning of the letter (sign) A. As Figure 15
shows, two main streams of signals are sent to the child. One contains visual signals
concerning the visual impression of A, two longer lines t, \ and one shorter line -,
linked together at a certain angle. Another stream bears auditive signals (fl fl fl) of
the sound-impression rei].

79
\
\
\
\
\
I Visual Signals: /,\,-

II========================~~
Auditive Signals: [eil l' l' l'
I
I
I
I
I
I

Figure 15: Perception and identification of signals (example letter (sign) A)

Consequently, in a general process of semiosis, the sign A is formed when the


visual impression of A (/,\,-) is associated with a sound-impression lei] in the mind of
the child as the interpretant. Or, in other words, the child mentally identifies certain
visual signals (/,\,-) as a specific sound lei] or vice versa.
The association between sign-carrier (/,\,-) and content lei] is arbitrary (e.g., cf.
N6th 1990, Eco 1976, 1979). because it depends on the individual's communicative
needs which kinds of signals the person determines as being the sign-carrier and
associates with other signals (here: sound image lei]) as the sign's content.

In Figure 16, this process is explained by means of the Peircean triad. There, the
visual signals are the sign-carrier while the related sound fl -image is the content of
the overall sign A. This shows that the letter A, as a sign, is not merely a visual
impression of n/,\,_n but an association (identification) of these specific visual signals
with (as) a certain sound impression lei] in the mind of the interpretant.

80
Child (=Interpretant)

&
I
I


I

Signal-Content Association

Visual-Signals of A (1,\'-) (-Sign-Carrier) SoundJ.l-lmage [ei] (=Content (0»

Figure 16: Semiosis of the sign A as a process of identification

Since both kinds of sign-carrier - sign-content relationships are possible, a given


sign is not restricted to one specific sign-carrier which, through various contexts,
remains in a fixed relationship with its respective content (or content-components).
Instead, any kind of stored sign-signal (or bundle of sign-signals) can assume the
role of sign-carrier. However, although the sign-carrier - content relationship is
flexible, the association remains largely stable. That means that although a specific
context determines a certain sign-carrier - content relation, the two sensory-
impressions (here: visual and auditive) which become mentally associated with each
other are the same. Hence, regardless of whether the visual impression I,\, -, is
associated with the sound impression lei], or lei] with I,\, -, there is always a link
between these two sensory-impressions, but, just ocasionally, the other way around
(cf. Figure 17).
This explains the fact that (as is often wrongly said in colloquial speech) the sign
is never the sign-carrier but always something which exists in the triadic relationship
between sign-carrier - content - and the person for whom this has a meaning (e.g.,
cf. Peirce 1931-1958, 2274; Noth 1990,42). Regardless of whether it is the visual
impression (/,\,-) which stands for the sound lei] or vice versa, g triadic relationship of
the sign "A" remains stable (ct. Figure 17).

81
Interpretant Interpretant

(/,\,-) .-------------C-----------.. lei] lei] .-----------j-------------.. (/,\,-)


stable association among (/,\,-) and lei]

Figure 17: Stable sign-carrier - content association with reversed orders

1.22 Identification Within Complex Sign-Systems - The Example of Brands

The entire process becomes a lot more complicated when considering complex
sign-systems 21 such as brands. As shown by the example of the identification
process of the letter A, one sensory impression is associated with another, so that
one (sign-carrier) stands for the other (content) in the mind of the interpretant. Also
with brands, sensory impressions are associated with .other sensory impressions, yet
the quantity of these sensory impressions is very much higher than for a simple sign,
such as the letter A. The brand is based on a system of multi-sensory
impressions.
If we consider the example of Coke, sensory impressions of the bottle (sign-
carrier) may stand for sensory impressions (contents) of the logo, the drink, the
typical color, the Coca Cola company or even for the United States of America. This
means that, within the process of Coke semiosis, an enormous number of sensory
impressions about the Coke supply, after being registered by the sensory system,
become mentally associated with each other during information processing, and form
a net of Coke associations (ct. Figure 18).

21 Notto be confused with Bense's (1971) complex-sign (cf. Chapter IV.1.1)

82
Coke-Sign
• Drink

• Logo

Coke-SIgnals
--+

\


Figure 18: Brand identification within brand semiosis - the example of Coke

Thus, when a certain sign-carrier (here the Coke bottle) is perceived again, most
of the organised sets of stored (associated) sign-impressions are recalled from
consumer memory. However, most of them (logo, drink, company, the USA, color)
are themselves signs, so that they can be further subdivided into more elementary
signs. As, for instance, the Coca Cola company (as the sign-carrier) may itself stand
for its management, share value, or building. (=contents). Furthermore, these content
components may again function as signs for something else, and so forth (cf. Bense
1971, Solomon et al. 1999). This process, which has been described by the chain of
meanings construct, explains the brand as a sign of a higher order (ibid.), that is, a
sign based on smaller sub-signs, whereas each brand sub-sign is again based on
smaller "sub-sub-signs" and so on. However, at a certain pOint, the sub-division of
the sign is pushed so far that the elementary sign (",most basic sign) can be divided
into its primary sensory impressions, as has been shown with the semiosis and
identification process for the letter A (/,\,-;[ei]).
We will therefore draw a distinction between two levels of brand-sign
identification. While a first process of identification describes identification on the
basic sign level (cf. letter A), the second examines identification on a higher level
(fusion of elementary signs).

83
1.221 Two Levels of Brand Identification

Brand Identification on the Basic Sign Level


Brand identification on the basic sign level can be considered as the process
through which basic sensory impressions of a certain company's supply are
associated with each other in consumer memory. Just as t,\,- stands for rei], the
visual (shape-) impression of the "Coke bottle" (sign-carrier) may stand for other
impressions (contents) such as size, transparency, weight, fragility, temperature of
the object. Consequently, a number of Coke-bottle sensory impressions are
associated with each other in determining basic (=sub-) brand signs.

Brand Identification on a Higher Sign Level


The fusion of these sub-brand signs into a net like the one shown in Figure 18 is
achieved by a process of brand identification on a higher sign level. By means of this
process, sub-signs become further associated with each other. The entire net of sub-
signs determines a super-sign (Bense 1971), a sign of a higher order.
The more complex the sign-system becomes, the more associations are made
and, thus, the more sign-carrier - content relations are possible.

We can finally define brand identification as the general process wherein


sensory impressions of a certain company's supply (after being picked up as
relevant) become associated with each other in consumer memory.

1.222 Varying Sign-Carriers

Due to the quantity of brand experiences, the network of associated brand


impressions and sub-brand signs may be rather extended. Since, in addition, all
these different sign-impressions and sub-signs are mentally linked with each other,
they are all potential sign-carriers. Thus, when a signal that is referred to an already
stored sign-impression (e.g., concerning the logo) is perceived, the consumer
automatically recalls some of the other stored sign-impressions associated with the
one which has been perceived. In this sense also, the Coke logo (=signals
concerning the sign-impression Coke logo) may function as the Coke sign-carrier
which stands for the other stored Coke impressions (drink, color, company, ... ). And

84
yet, on another occasion, some other sign-impression (e.g., the Coke bottle) might be
the sign-carrier. This means that in one situation it is the bottle which is perceived
and Coke brand knowledge is recalled from memory, while in another situation it is
the logo which is perceived and again Coke brand knowledge is recalled. In Figure
19, this is explained by the Peircean triad.

Consumer Consumer

logo

-..'~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~!
---. --...
drink
camp.
color
bottle
USA
bottle

""hl~~\\~~~~:~~~!
---. -- ....
drink
camp.
(bottle)
logo
USA
(logo) glas
other bottles

Figure 19: Varying sign-carriers in the example of Coke

However, as can be seen from Figure 19, different sign-carriers lead to different
sets of recalled sign-impressions. Yet, the association between sign-sensory
impressions remains stable. In the example given, the Coke bottle as the sign-carrier
is related to several Coke sign-contents (=stored sensory Coke impressions), while
there might also be a relationship with other bottles or with glass in general.
Consequently, in this case, the Coke bottle (sign-carrier) is related to drink, logo, the
USA, company and other bottles, glass (=contents), which is a slightly different form
of sign-carrier - content relationship, than when the logo is the sign-carrier (ct. Figure
19). Figure 20 demonstrates this net of stored (Coke) sign-sensory impressions. As
can be seen, all kinds of sensory-impressions, that is, also those which have been
taken as sign-carriers, are part of the entire sign-network. Consequently, depending
on the context, each stored sign-impression can assume the role of the sign-carrier,
and once it is perceived, a different set of contents of the entire web is recalled from
memory (as shown in Figure 19, the related contents which are recalled from
memory differ, due to different sign-carriers).

85
Coke-Sign

\
Glass industries

/
Figure 20: Possible network of stored sensory-impressions of the Coke brand/sign

In general, sign-contents recalled from memory because of different perceived


sign-carriers, do not diverge so widely that determining sign-contents are missing.
Consequently, although the sign's meaning changes, because of partly different sign-
carrier - content relations, the sign still remains the same. Nevertheless, a perceived
sign-carrier may be related to completely different contents and, hence, may describe
a different sign. For instance, this would happen when on perceiving the Coke bottle
(sign-carrier), only contents such as glass, glass industries, etc. were recalled from
memory, so that this relationship would no longer describe the sign "Coke". It is when
"typical" sign-contents are misSing, at that very moment that the perceived sign-
carrier describes another sign (and not just another sign-meaning).22
The sign, as the entire number of stored and mentally organised sign-
impressions, changes its meaning when different sets of sign-impressions are
recalled from memory, due to the perception of different sign-carriers.

1.223 Two Kinds of Associations: Trivial, Non-trivial

It is obvious that the sign-carrier is also directly related to itself. This means that
when a certain sign-carrier (e.g., the logo) is perceived, knowledge about this specific
sensory-impression (that is, logo) is recalled from the interpretant's memory. Due to

22 This also brings out the fact that a sign's meaning is not the content, but the mental association
between a given sign-carrier and content in the interpretant's mind. Therefore, for Peirce (8185), the
interpretant is the sign's meaning, since there the short sides of the triangle converge.

86
the fact that the sensory impression which is determined as being the sign-carrier is a
part of the entire sign-net (cf. again Figures 19 and 20), it is always retrieved in
association with other sign-contents. This kind of trivial association is unavoidable
and essential within semiosis, otherwise entities could never become directly
represented but would always have to be related to other signs or stored sensory-
impressions. For example, a written A (/,\,-) could not be understood as the written A
(/,\,-), but would always have to be related to something else, in our case, to the
sound image lei]. In a most extreme case, when a given sign-carrier is perceived,
only knowledge about this specific attribute is recalled from memory. This is
illustrated in Figure 21, where the visual impression t,\,- is related to this specific
sensory impression. So, the interpretant perceives t,\,- and 'understands' just t,\,-.

Person/Child (I)

,,
,

&

,,

Trivial Signal-Content Association

Visual-Signals of A (/,\,-) (Sign-Carrier, S) Visual-Signals of A (/,\,-) (Content, 0)

Figure 21: Trivial association within the process of identification (example of the letter A)

Nevertheless, in order to create complex sign-systems, non-trivial associatiomf3,


that is, associations between different sensory impressions (e.g. t,\,- to lei]) are of
much greater importance (ct. Lakoff 1987, Peirce 1931-1958). By means of them,
signs and sub-signs can be related to each other in developing various super-signs.
Without non-trivial associations, only direct representations would be possible. Only
those parts of sign-knowledge that the interpretant directly perceived could be
recalled (cf. Lakoff 1987). For example, in order to retrieve knowledge of the Coke
logo, the Coke logo has to be perceived, whereas no other contents are recalled from
memory. Most of the semiotic literature (cf. N6th 1990) does not distinguish between

23 Cognitive linguistics conducts intensive research into non-trivial associations under the topic of
metaphoric constructions (e.g., Lakoff 1987, Lakoff & Johnson 1980, Zaltman 1997)

87
the two kinds of association. 24 Usually 'sign-associations' in general are considered
as non-trivial associations. However, although non-trivial associations are a lot more
important during semiosis, one must not forget that trivial associations also exist
when signs are created.

It is the context that determines which signals the interpretant defines as being
sign-carriers and which are defined as the sign's content. However, apart from the
general principles of identification (trivial- as well as non-trivial association), it still
remains open as to precisely how these associations are organised. It is highly
unlikely that all stored sensory impressions and sub-signs, in the same modus,
become associated with each other. Instead, it is assumed that within the entire
number of sub-signs, stronger sets of signals are associated with a greater bundle of
signs and sign-components (e.g., cf. Goldstein 1997). The following chapters will
specifically focus on this issue.

1.23 Determining Identifiers: Strong Signals within the Process of Identi-


fication

In principle, the relationship between sign-carrier and content is arbitrary (ct.


Noth 1990, Eco 1976, 1979). Anything could stand for anything else. However, once
a given context determines a certain sensory impression as the sign-carrier, it is no
longer necessary to perceive all contents (=potential sign-carriers) in order to recall
essential sign-knowledge. For example, the Coke bottle functions as the sign-carrier
for the entire Coke sign, yet the interpretant need not perceive the total visual image
of the bottle, but merely certain strong signals (e.g., the abstracted overall shape, as
demonstrated in Figure 22) of the bottle in order to recognise the Coke sign (ct.
Arnheim 1974, Goldstein 1997). Hence, in reality, it is not the whole Coke bottle
which is the sign-carrier but just certain strong signals from this object (e.g.,
abstracted overall shape; salient attributes). Consequently, in order to recognise
essential parts of the entire sign-net (regarding logo, color, drink, the USA, ... ), only a
few (strong) Signals are necessary.

24 One reason for that could be that knowledge from cognitive science, which focuses on the nature of
mental (sign-)associations. has not yet become an established part of semiotic research.

88
Figure 22: Abstracted overall shape of the Coke bottle

It is likely that within each greater sign-sensory impression (e.g., Coke bottle,
logo, etc.) certain strong signals exist which become predominantly stored within the
sign-net.

1.231 Constant Sign-carrier - Content Associations on Different Levels of


Abstraction

The association between strong signals and a certain set of sign-contents


remains largely constant. That means that during the process of identification, certain
strong signals are predominantly associated with sign-contents. To better
demonstrate this, we will consider an example where shape-information is reduced
continuously.
Imagine a real human hand like the one drawn in Figure 23. In conformity with
the argumentation above, a person (or rather a child) who first perceives signals
about the human hand, forms a sign "human hand,,25. Yet, a hand in such a posture
also stands for an additional meaning that most people have probably learned during
childhood. When the hand of a child's mother is shown like that in Figure 23 (with the

25 However, this describes semiosis in non-communicative situations, since the sign "human hand" is
surely developed when signals about one's own hands are first perceived, but, for the following
explanation this consideration is of secondary importance.

89
extended forefinger) she might do so while saying "be careful!". So, again the person
(child) associates signals (about the visual impression of the hand, plus the extended
forefinger) with other signals (visual and auditive impressions meaning be careful.0 -
the hand with the extended forefinger has become identified as something which
stands for be careful!.
If we start with the assumption that the identification processes just described
have happened while a real (natural) hand is being perceived, then the hand drawn
in Figure 23 is just an abstracted form of that hand and thus contains less
information (although a photo would include more details (than the drawing) and so
would convey more information). Nevertheless, the 'original' sign-carrier - content
association, the perception of the real hand, also exists in the drawing in Figure 23.
So, the drawn hand also stands for human hand as well as for be careful!.

Figure 23: Drawn human hand

In Figure 24a, the abstraction is taken further, but here too, the association
between specific sign-carrier signals and the human hand or be careful! contents
remains stable, whereas in Figure 24b, the abstraction has gone too far, so that the
remaining sign-carrier signals cannot be precisely associated with one of the two
contents (human hand, be careful!). There, essential sign-carrier signals are missing
so that for most people the message (content) human hand or be careful! is not
understood on perceiving the given sign-carrier (signals). In this case, the sketch in
Figure 24b, could also stand for a chair, a walkie-talkie or a factory with a chimney.

90
Figure 24a: Abstracted hand Figure 24b: Most abstracted hand with finger

On the other 'hand', in Figure 25, we can still see a human hand, but not the
content be careful!. This is due to the fact, that, in the drawing shown, determining
sign-carrier signals do exist, which enable people to understand the sketch as an
abstracted human hand. Yet, the determining attribute for be careful!, that is, the
extended forefinger, is missing, so that this content cannot be seen. However, there
may exist additional sign-carrier - content associations of the hand drawn in Figure
25, as, for instance, fist or power.

91
Figure 25: Lack of significant attributes for signals-content association

The examples given show that although a sign may be reduced to very few
determining (sign-carrier) signals, recognition of the specific content is guaranteed. It
is only when the sign is too abstract, that determining signals are missing, and the
interpretation of the respective Sign-carrier - content relationship becomes uncertain.
Thus, despite an increasing process of abstaction, the 'original' signal-content
associations remain stable, which means that the sign's content can still be
interpreted.

Consequently, in the process of identification, when various sign-sensory


impressions become associated with each other within the sign-net, some of these
signals are so strong that they are stored in a central position inside the sign-net.
Once these strong signals are perceived again, a great amount of sign knowledge is
recalled from memory. But, if these strong signals are lacking, the relationship with
the respective content cannot be established. We will call these specific types of
signals identifiers. An identifier is a (bundle of) strong signal(s) associated with a
substantial portion of sign contents. An example of an identifier would be a certain
significant attribute such as a large dent in a person's car-body, which is associated
with the entire car. When the person perceives only the dent, the whole car-
knowledge (=content) is recalled from memory.

92
Interpretant (I)

i-Sign-Carrier Signals Sign-Contents--------,


:.Identifier (tsJ .....I--_ _ _ _ _---:x;;,;:'-'yyyyy.:...:...:'-'-_ _ _ _ _--t.~ Bundle of contents (~)

Figure 26: Peircean triad and Identifiers

Identifiers can easily be explained by means of the Peircean triad. As Figure 26


shows, the identifier (X), as a certain (strong) signal, is associated with a bundle of
sign-contents (YYYYY). As has been argued, an identifier is nothing else than a sign-
carrier. Yet the semiotic literature (cf. Noth 1990, Nauta 1972, Peirce 1931-58,
Saussure 1916) for the main part discusses "sign-carrier" generally as the sign's
physical embodiment, and does not focus on the detail of how various (sets of)
signals are associated with certain sign-content components. Therefore, we will
consider the identifier as a component-sign-carrier that is associated with specific
sign-contents. According to this interpretation, a given sign-carrier is (mostly) based
on many different sign-identifiers.

During the process of identification, identifiers are those signals of certain


sensory impressions which are centrally associated with other sensory impressions
(=sign content parts). For example, significant signals of the overall shape of the
Coke bottle are centrally associated with the entire Coke bottle sign-contents as well
as with further Coke sign entries. Identifiers facilitate the recall of a great amount of
sign knowledge. They rationalise the process of recognising signs. Thus, during
semiosis, the determination of identifiers is essential.

93
1.232 Main Properties of Identifiers and Identifier -
Content (I-C) Associations

Identifiers can be associated with their related contents in various forms:

1. I-G associations are productive. Depending on the individual's communication


needs, various I-C associations can be linked together. For instance, two
different I-C associations, a first, between the hand with the extended
forefinger and be careful!, a second, between the hand and the person whose
hand it is - let us assume it is the mother - can be combined. So, when for a
second time, the hand and the extended forefinger are perceived together
with identifiers for mother, we are able to interpret it as mother says: be
careful!. The more identifiers the individual perceives, the more sign-
knowledge is recalled from memory.

2. Identifiers can have various 'shapes'. Identifiers need not necessarily be


signals about the overall shape of an entity. An identifier can also be a
significant attribute (e.g., a particular birth-mark which enables the hand to be
identified as the mother's hand), a certain relationship or a combination of
various shapes. Figures 27a and 27b provide examples where the identifier is
determined by a certain relationship. Both pictures are abstracted sketches of
a situation in the countryside. Yet, the relation between the circle and the line
(ground) determines whether the circle could become interpreted as the
moon/sun or as something else like a ball or a bush. Another example would
be the overall shape of a horse, which might be associated with the content
horse. Yet, by simply adding black stripes to the body, the meaning would be
transformed into zebra. Consequently, one identifier determined by an
object's overall shape (body) is combined with another identifier determined
by an object's salient attribute (stripes).

94
o

Figure 27a: First situation In the countryside

o
Figure 27b: Second situation in the countryside

3. Identifiers can be any means of communication. Therefore, all types of


sensory sign-signals (visual, auditive, tactile, olfactory or gustative) as for
instance, a typical sound or taste can function as identifiers.

4. I-C associations are highly context dependent. A given context may


significantly change the interpretation of I-C associations. Strictly speaking, a
given context adds further I-C associations to the process of sign
interpretation. Hence, the different I-C associations which exist under certain
circumstances, become linked together and relate to a common meaning. For
example, within the current context, Figure 28 is a sketch of a modern city,
but the meaning (modern city) might change with different contexts. This
would happen, for instance, if Figure 28 were included in a book about the
United States of America, when it might be related to the content City of New
York (=US-book identifiers are combined with identifiers of the sketch in
Figure 28 as they are related to a common content, namely, NYC).

95
Figure 28: Sketch of a modern city

5. /-C associations are never exclusive. Different identifiers can be associated


with similar or exactly the same contents. As for instance, both an extended
forefinger and a certain traffic sign consisting of a red triangle with an
exclamation mark inside, are associated with the content be careful!. This
simply illustrates the arbitrariness of the sign-carrier - content relations which
has been discussed.

Semiosis (sign formation) General process whereby signs come into being
(including: communication; sign-processing units,
etc.)

- ..(Sign-) Identification During semiosis, association between perceived


sensory sign-impressions (7web of sign sensory
impressions) in the interpretant's mind

----. (Sign-)Identifiers Within a certain sensory sign-impression, a


(bundle of) strong signal(s) associated with a
substantial portion of sign contents

Table 7: Semiosis and identification

96
1.233 Determining Brand Identifiers within the Process of Brand Identifi-
cation

In the foregoing chapters, brand identification has been defined as the process
whereby sensory impressions of a certain company's supply (after being picked up
as relevant) become associated with each other in consumer memory. In conformity
with what has been said about identifiers, a brand identifier is a (bundle of) strong
signal(s) about a certain company's supply associated with a substantial
portion of brand-sign contents.
Consequently, within the network of brand sensory impressions, various brand
identifiers will be determined. When the consumer perceives a certain brand identifier
for a second time, essential parts of brand knowledge will be recalled.
Any means of brand communication can function as a brand identifier. Yet, this
dissertation focuses only on brand identifiers that result from (strong) design sensory
impressions. Due to the fact that design creates the "initial impression" when a
product is perceived (Bloch 1995), we can assume that design-signals are major
brand identifiers. Nevertheless, there are also salient supply-signals carried by any
means of communication that are so centrally processed that they function as brand
identifiers (e.g., a typical sound or smell).

The example of the design of the Volkswagen Beetle can serve to demonstrate
certain brand identifiers. In Figure 29a, we have a reasonably good image of the VW
Beetle containing various 'Beetle' identifiers, whereas in Figure 29b, only significant
design attributes have been drawn, and it is likely that these 'strong' and 'typical'
signals function as brand identifiers (e.g., for the entire VW brand or for the Beetle
sub-brand). However, we could say that the sketch in Figure 29b contains two
specific kinds of identifiers. On the one hand, there are general 'car' identifiers which
enable the assignment to general car-sign knowledge (contents). On the other hand,
there are design attributes ('ovoid' shape of body and wings) which are likely to be
associated with a specific type of car, namely the Beetle. Since the general car
identifiers already constrain the number of possible content-relations, the consumer
(interpretant) has only to 'search' for those (car-) contents which correspond to a car
with this specific design. In this sense, general car identifiers are combined with
Beetle-identifiers, according to the process: car + 'ovoid' shape -7 Beet/e.

97
Figure 29a: Picture of the 'complete' Beetle

Figure 29b: Combination of various brand-design identifiers

Figure 29c: Overall shape as brand-design identifier

98
If the consumer merely perceives strong Beetle design attributes (cf. Figure 29c
showing the most abstract overall Beetle shape) the assignment to the respective
Beetle sign-contents would be less certain than would the combination with the other
car identifiers. The drawing in Figure 29c could then also be assigned to contents
such as glasses, telephone or for instance bells.

In general one can say that a brand's design attributes are of central importance
to facilitate the recall of a great amount of sign-knowledge. Consequently, during
brand semiosis and identification, perceived (significant) signals of design sensory
impressions function as brand identifiers as they are centrally stored within the sign-
knowledge net.

Brand Identification The process whereby sensory impressions of a


certain company's supply (after they being picked
up as relevant) become associated with each
other in consumer memory.

Brand Identifier A (bundle of) strong slgnal(s) about a certain


company's supply, associated with a substantial
portion of brand-sign contents.

Table 8: Brand Identification and brand identifiers

1.3 Limitations to Brand Semiosis

The Sign-theoretical framework presented here makes it possible to identify and


structure the entire process of brand formation within brand communication. Semiotic
theory provides a suitable tool for better understanding the complexity of brand
formation and brand communication, and also for investigating the various relations,
associations, levels and elements of the entire process. According to the main
semiotic literature (cf. Noth 1990, Eco 1976, 1979, Saussure 1916, Seboek 1976,
Peirce 1931-58, Bense 1971) semiotics is considered as a cognitive science, since

99
signs are treated as cognitive concepts which the interpretane6 develops in his mind.
Therefore, semiotic research enables the general cognitive processes of brand-sign-
formation to be explained. Furthermore, semiotics is able to show that some
significant brand signals (identifiers) can allow a body of prestored brand knowledge
to be retrieved from consumer memory. This leads to the conclusion that certain
brand identifiers are likely to have a dominant influence on the formation of brands.
However, the semiotic investigation of brand formation remains on a general
theoretical level, due to the fact that semiotics does not study the cognitive
psychological mechanisms of sign formation. The question of how humans perceive
certain (brand) sign signals remains unanswered as does that of how these signals
become mentally structured in memory. To discover which specific supply signals the
consumer considers as "strong", so that they are likely to become brand identifiers,
requires further knowledge from cognitive psychology.

Semiotic theory has been able to reveal the general mechanism whereby brands
come into being within a process of brand communication. Yet, as the aim of this
research is to provide a profound theoretical framework for brand formation as well
as to study the influence of design on this process, the following additional issues
have to be considered:

• How do brand-signs (concepts) become mentally structured and organised in


consumer memory (brand knowledge representation & organisation)?

• How is design-information perceived and stored within brand concepts

• What determines brand identifiers (derived in particular from design


attributes); how are they perceived by consumers and how are they stored in
consumer memory?

26 Interpretant is a term from Peircean semiotics, yet the author will use it in a general way, as
representing the person or group of persons who create(s) the sign in its/their mind(s).

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2. Brand Concept Development - Cognitive Psychological As-
pects of Brand Formation

2.1 Introduction

After explaining the cognitive processes of sign-formation on an abstract level


and by following a pure semiotic argumentation, we will now focus on the cognitive
psychological aspects of the process of brand formation. We will first briefly discuss
the interface between brand semiosis and the cognitive psychological aproach to
brand formation, which we will call brand concept development. Then, physiological
aspects of the mental processes of concept development will be examined. Finally,
the entire process of brand concept development will be analysed, thereby
distinguishing the two main phases, brand perception and brand knowledge
representation & organisation.

2.2 The Link between Semiotics and Cognitive Psychology in the Realm of
Brand Formation

Signs have been considered as mental concepts (ct. Chapter B.IV.1.), that is,
some sort of an organised set of stored information about certain objects and events
in the human mind. Yet, cognitive psychology is more precise in defining such
specific kinds of 'knowledge units'. Remember that according to cognitive
psychologists (e.g., ct. Barsalou 1998), a concept is the knowledge and
accompanying process that allow an individual to represent some kind of entity or
event adequately. Concepts are therefore fundamental units of organised knowledge
in human memory to (mentally) represent certain entities. Among the main brand
literature, different cognitive 'constructs' have been used to explain the way the brand
(knowledge) is mentally represented and organised in the consumer memory. Apart
from constructs which mean the same but are described through different
terminology, most authors explain brands on the basis of two 'concepts' of cognitive
knowledge organisation: brands are either considered as categories (Boush 1993,
Sujan 1985, Loken & Ward 1990, Ward & Loken 1986, Nedungadi & Hutchinson

101
1985) or as frames (schemata) (Meyers-Levy & Tybout 1989, Esch 1998, Krober-Riel
& Weinberg 1999).
We prefer the term 'Brand Concept', because it is the scientifically 'clean' term for
mental (brand) construct and thus stands for a specific cognitive unit which the
consumer creates in its mind about a certain company's supply (Barsalou 1992a,
1998). Brand categories as well as brand frames are considered as specific types of
brand knowledge organisation. While a category is a collection of objects and events
which the individual perceives to be alike in some important way, a frame is a
knowledge structure in long-term memory (LTM) about certain entities (ct. Barsalou
1992a, 1998, limbardo 1995, Stevenson 1998, Minsky 1975). So, a brand concept is
the complex mental unit in consumer LTM (about a company's supply) and this unit is
structured in form of frames as well as categories. Brand concept also provides a
more specific explanation of the expression "organised mental representation in
consumers' minds" that we have used in our original brand definition in chapter
B.1.2.4.

By analogy with semiosis, which is the process of sign formation, concept


development is taken as the cognitive psychological process explaining the formation
of concepts. The main difference between the two research directions is the
following: Semiosis, from a macro-perspective, studies how information is
transferred among communication partners in order to become transformed
into signs in peoples' minds, whereas concept development focuses on the
inner cognitive processes of how the individual (communication partner)
perceives information, e.g. about certain objects, and mentally represents &
organises it (see Figure 30). This conforms with what has been said in Section II,
that concept development is determined by a process of information processing.

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~-------------~-------------~
Brand Semiosis Brand Concept Development
(=process of brand formation in consumer's mind)

Process of Brand Formation

Figure 30: The link between brand semiosis and brand concept development within the
process of brand formation

2.3 Brand Concept Development and Consumer Information Processing

Within present cognitive psychological research the information processing


approach is the dominating paradigm (Anderson 2000). In his very influential book
"Perception and Communication" the British psychologist Donald Broadbent, in the
late 1950s, integrated ideas from information theory with human performance.
Information theory was an abstract way of analysing the processing of information
(such as semiotics!). Broadbent and other psychologists initially developed these
ideas with respect to perception, attention and memory, but such analyses now
pervade all cognitive psychology (Anderson 2000). In recent times, findings,
especially from computer science as well as neuroscience, have further contributed
to provide deeper insights into the brain processes involved during information
processing.
Generally, information processing can be subdivided into two main stages. The
first is perception (and attention) which concerns the acquisition of information by the

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human senses and its further processing until it enters long-term memory (LTM). The
second stage deals with the question of how these specific (knowledge) units
become stored and organised in the LTM. Certainly there, one cannot clearly
separate the two stages from each other, as there are also strong interactions
between them (cf. Palmer 1999, Anderson 2000). Yet, for pragmatical research
reasons, this subdivision is made (ibid.).

In reference to the underlying topic, a brand is a concept, by means of which


various brand-related information becomes organised in the consumer memory.
Therefore, like general concept development, the process of brand concept
development as an explanation for brand formation can also be divided into brand
perceptiorf7 and brand knowledge representation & organisation. Brand perception
focuses on the process of how supply sensory signals (input-information), which the
consumer picks up through his senses, become transformed into the consumer
memory (LTM). Brand knowledge representation & organisation concerns the
process whereby the perceived brand knowledge is stored and mentally structured.

In the field of consumer research, information processing has been the subject of
much research (cf. Bettman 1979, Mowen & Minor 1998). Many of these studies
have focussed explicitly on brand information (e.g., Mowen & Minor 1998, Esch
1998), however, while most of the actual results from cognitive psychology have
been applied to investigations of brand knowledge representation & organisation
(e.g., Keller 1993, Sujan 1985, Zaltman 1997, Malter 1996, Lawson 1998), the part of
brand perception has been largely neglected within the field of consumer behavior
research (cf. Keller 1998, Esch 1999, Mowen & Minor 1998). So, there are only a few
cases where the perception of products has been investigated (Veryzer 1993,
Veryzer & Hutchinson 1998). Whenever perceptional processes have been studied
more thoroughly within consumer research, then it has been in the field of advertising

27 Here, brand perception is defined as the perception of a certain company's supply. Correctly
speaking, it is rather supply perception, since there is the supply and other supply-related signals
the consumer perceives when the brand first comes into being in the consumer memory. That is,
when the signals become interpreted as a brand. Indeed the same inexactness also appears when
we talk about object perception or language perception, as, strictly speaking, an object, like
language, does not exist before it is interpreted as such in the human brain.

104
research (cf. Vakratsas & Ambler 1999, Jones 1995, Messaris 1994, Rossiter &
Percy 1983, 1997, Wells et al. 1998). However, in spite of general gestalt laws (cf.
Wertheimer 1912, 1924, Kohler 1947, Solomon et al. 1999) which have been
discovered at the beginning of the century, none of the actual approaches in the
various disciplines of perceptual psychology (e.g., visual perception, object
perception) (e.g., Marr 1982, Biederman 1987, Hoffman & Richards 1984, Goldstein
1997, Palmer 1990, Treisman 1969, 1993) have ever been integrated into a profound
framework of consumer information processing or concept development.

In conformity with the comprehension that a profound theoretical framework of


brand concept development also implies investigating the process that occurs before
brand knowledge becomes structured in the LTM, the following chapters will focus on
both brand perception and brand knowledge representation & organisation. Yet,
before discussing in detail the entire process, general physiological aspects of the
human cognitive system have to be examined.

2.4 Fundamental Principles of the Physiology of Concept Development

To understand the physiological mechanisms involved when information is


processed by the nervous system, the process is divided into several stages. In the
first stage, environmental stimuli are picked up by the human sensory systems,
where these stimuli are transformed into electrical impulses. This kind of neural
(,electric') activation is further transferred via masses of neurons to the human brain.
Since neural activation only lasts for a fraction of a second, biochemical processes
occur to enable this statement of activation (information) to be permanently 'stored' in
the LTM.
Within a process of brand information processing, all sorts of sensory stimuli
(visual, auditive, haptic, olfactive or gustative) occur. However, due to the fact that
this work focuses on the design aspects of brands, we will concentrate on visual
information-stimuli. Therefore, we will take a quick look at the overall structure of the
part of the nervous system that is known to be involved in processing visual
information. The aim of this chapter is to provide a scaffolding of background
knowledge about the biological structure of the visual system for later discussions of
the process of brand concept development.

105
2.41 The Human Eye

Seeing is one of the most complex, important and farthest developed human
senses (Zimbardo 1995). When light enters the eye (ct. Figure 31 ) it first penetrates
the cornea, a transparent bulge on the front of the eye. Next, it passes through the
pupil, a variable sized opening in the opaque iris, which is a muscular ring that
surrounds the pupil and controls the amount of entering light. Just behind the iris,
light passes through the lens, whose shape is controlled by ciliary muscles attached
to its edge: The visual signal then passes the vitreous humor that fills the central
chamber of the eye. It finally reaches the retina, the curved surface at the back of the
eye. There, the physical visual stimuli (=light) is further processed in the neural
system (ct. Palmer 1999, Zimbardo 1995).

ins

....--~~~~-- light

optic
nerve vitreous
humor

Figure 31: The human eye (from Palmer 1999)

Palmer (1999, 26) makes a well chosen comparison between certain optical
functions the eyes have in common with a camera: "The eye, such as a camera, is
able to gather light reflected from surfaces in the world and to focus it in the clear
image on the back of the eye. If insufficient light is admitted, the image will be dim
and ineffective for vision. If the image is not clearly focused, fine-grained optical
information will be irrevocably lost, and spatial perception will suffer".

2.42 The Retina - Early Visual Information Processing

After visual stimuli have entered the eye, a critical function of the eye is to
convert light into neural activity so that the brain can further process the optical

106
information. To explain how this occurs, first the basic building blocks of the human
nervous system have to be explained.
In the eye, light is transformed into neural activity - which is nothing else than
minimal electric impulses - by photoreceptors which are light-sensitive cells on the
retina. There exist two distinct classes of photoreceptors: rodes and cones. While the
first are used exclusively for vision at very low light levels, the second are responsible
for our experience of color and high-resolution perception (Palmer 1999, Anderson
2000). In the centre of the retina there is a part, called the fovea, where only cones
exist. "When we perceive an object, we move our eyes so that the object falls on the
fovea. This enables us to maximise the high resolution of the cones in perceiving the
object. Foveal vision is concerned with detection of fine details, while the rest of the
visual field, the periphery, is responsible for the detection of more global information"
(Anderson 2000, 39).

t
Myelin Sheath

Figure 32: Neuron (from Palmer 1999)

When visual stimuli reach a certain threshold, photoreceptor cells transform the
stimulus into neural information. This neural information, via neurons, is sent further
to the brain. Consequently, neurons are the main functional components of the brain
(Palmer 1999). They are cells that accumulate and transmit electrical activity. During
information processing, thousands of neurons interact with one another, which
means they are simultaneously active. Depending on their location and function,

107
neurons come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes. A prototypical neuron consists
of the following components (Figure 32): The cell body, which is called the soma, is
the main body of the neuron. Attached to the soma are a set of short branches called
dendrites which receive electrical signals from other neurons. By means of a long
tube, called the axon, that extends from the soma, these electric impulses are further
transferred to other neurons (Anderson 2000, Goldstein 1997). So, the axon of one
neuron extends towards the dendrites of other neurons (Anderson 2000). The close
contact between the dendrites and the axon of a neighbouring neuron is called a
synapse. When neural (electrical) activation is transferred from one neuron to
another, the axon terminal on one side of the synapse releases chemicals, called
neurotransmitters, that act on the membrane of the receptor dendrite to change its
polarization, or electric potential (ibid.). This process of neuronal information transfer
takes place through changes in the neuron's membrane potential, that is, the
potential difference of electric load between the inside and outside of the neuron
membrane. When, due to the strength of the perceived stimuli, this level of potential
difference exceeds a certain threshold (=action potential), neuronal activation is
transmitted to another neuron's dendrites. The strength of the integrated signal which
the axon transmits is encoded primarily by its firing rate, that is, the number of
electrical impulses it generates in a given amount of time (Palmer 1999). Once the
neural impulse is released, it spreads over the whole axon, without any weakening.
This sequence is almost all there is to neural information processing (Anderson
2000).

2.43 The Neural Representation of Information and The Visual Cortex

When light has been transformed into neural activation, through the process
described above, the neural information is further transferred, via the optical nerve
(=a bundle of optical neurons) to the human brain, where the pattern of activation
becomes stored (Goldstein 1997). Yet there is a peculiarity with the neural pathways
from the eye to the visual cortex, the region in the brain that mainly processes visual
information. In fact, visual information from the inner portion of each retina crosses
over to the opposite side of the brain so that each side of the brain receives input
only from the opposite half of the visual field. Hence, information about the left part of

108
the visual field goes to the right side of brain and information about the right side of
the visual field goes to the left side of the brain.
As has been explained, neurons interact with each other. When masses of
neurons work together, a certain pattern of neural activation is produced with which
complex units of information (concepts) such as people, objects, faces can be
cognitively represented. On the other hand, it has been discovered that individual
neurons respond to specific features of a stimulus (ibid.). There is some further
evidence that there exist neurons that respond to more complex sets of features. To
colors, to edges or lines, or to movements (Anderson 2000, Zimbardo 1995). Yet,
there is evidence that we do not have single neurons capable of representing whole
concepts. This requires always the interaction of masses of neurons (=pattern of
neural activation) (Anderson 2000). Hence, we can say that information is
represented in the brain by a pattern of neural activation and not by impulses of
single cells.
However, these patterns of activation are only transitory, since the brain is not
able to maintain the same pattern for minutes. This means that these patterns cannot
encode our permanent knowledge about the world. Instead, it is thought that
memories are encoded by changes in the synaptic connections between neurons. By
changing the synaptic connections, the brain can enable itself to reproduce specific
patterns (Anderson 2000). Accordingly, the brain must contain some sort of
reproducing mechanisms with which it is able to simulate certain patterns of (former)
activation. We will come back to this simulating capacity of the brain in later sections.

Still, we are far from fully understanding the enormous complexity of the
functions of the human brain. However, in past decades, some progress in
understanding the relationship between perception and information representation
has been made (Goldstein 1997). Brain researchers have found that specific regions
in the brain serve different functions (ct. Barsalou 1992a, 1998, Anderson 2000). The
brain region where visual information is processed is called the visual cortex. The
best known and understood of these visual centres lie in the occipital, parietal and
temporal lobes of the cortex, which are situated in the back part of the brain (Palmer
1999). Although we know that visual neural impulses are projected into at least six
parts of the visual cortex, we still do not know the extent to which the brain's
functions of visual processing are precisely localised (Zimbardo 1995). However,

109
various physiological experiments (Hubel & Wiesel 1959, 1962) have indicated that
the first steps in the cortical processing of visual information take place in the striate
cortex, which is part of the occipital lobe and one of the largest cortical areas in
primates (Palmer 1999, Hubel 1995). It receives input directly from the lateral
geniculate nucleus - the visual center in the thalamus 28 that receives the majority of
axons from retinal cells (Goldstein 1997) - and transmits its output to a large number
of different visual areas in the occipital, parietal and temporal lobes.

Consequently, examining the main physiological aspects of concept


development reveals that a fair amount is actually known about the neural
underpinnings of very early visual information processing. Yet, the closer we come to
the inner cognitive processes the thinner our current knowledge of this process
becomes.

2.5 Two Approaches to Concept Development

Both semiotics and information theory are theories with very high levels of
abstraction, but also in cognitive psychology we do have theoretical approaches on
different levels of abstraction (e.g. Anderson 2000, Collins & Quillian 1968, Norman &
Rummelhart 1975, Barsalou 1998).
Traditionally, in cognitive psychology rather general aspects of human cognition
have been discussed in terms of abstract information processing models (AIP-
Models), but there has been an effort to try to develop models of higher-level
processing such as connectionist models (Anderson 2000) that are better grounded
in our understanding of neural processing. While within AlP-models, the various
knowledge units which are embedded in the cognitive network contain rather
'descriptive' meanings (=attributes such as names, adjectives, object-parts, etc.),
within connectionist models, information is represented in patterns of activation
among neural elements (ct. McClelland & Rummelhart 1986). The aim of
connectionist models is to reconstruct a brainlike architecture, that is, massively
parallel models consisting of many densely interconnected computing units (that
represent single neurons). Like neurons, the units are characterised by a given

28 a sensory control centre in the forebrain

110
activation level that is spread throughout the network by connections. A connectionist
model therefore tries to simulate and rebuild real neural processing during
information processing.
Despite these differences, the connectionist model is a continuation of the AlP
model rather than a conflicting approach to cognitive information processing. While
AlP models focus on the general cognitive processes of perception - e.g. edge
detection, parsing, surface information, etc. - connectionist models try to go over the
neural networks during perception. One could consequently say, that a connectionist
model requires an AlP model to provide a general concept for human perception.
For the underlying research, it is our aim to develop a general theoretical
framework for brand concept development, where the main emphasis lies on the
general mechanism of brand formation and the determination of the various stages
within this process. For this reason, AlP models are more suitable than connectionist
ones. Nevertheless, in further research it will definitely make sense to apply a
connectionist model, on the basis of the general concept of brand formation (based
on the AlP model).

2.6 The Process of Brand Concept Development

As we noted earlier in the chapter, brand concept development is the process


whereby consumers pick up supply stimuli (input-information) and transform them
into the consumer memory (L TM). There, a cognitive unit which represents an
organised set of brand impressions (brand knowledge) is constructed. Brand concept
development is a complex process where various personal, social or environmental
variables interact. Our concept of brand concept development is simplified, as we
mainly focus on the individual level of the perception of (especially visual) supply
stimuli and brand knowledge representation & organisation. So we do not specifically
consider social aspects which, of course, have a great influence on the entire
process. Furthermore, there is no doubt that a brand is created by a fusion of all
types of (supply-) sensory impressions. Yet, our aim is to provide a theoretical
framework to clarify how design information is stored within brand (concept)
knowledge during a process of brand concept development. We therefore
concentrate on visual supply stimuli, as the design of a product is chiefly processed

111
by the consumer's visual sensory system. For this reason, whenever we talk about
'supply stimuli', we mean only those stimuli that are sent from the design of a product.

Supply Stimuli
(all kinds of signals about a certain company's supply as well as supply-related signals
(here, reduced to product-form signals))

Bottom-Up
Preattentive Phase
I Retinal Image
I
. .
I
.-
Image-based Stage
I

Brand Perception

Attentive Phase Surface-based Stage

Object-based Stage

1.L I
I

Top-Down Memory
I Brand Concept
1 Brand Knowledge
Representation &
Organisation

Figure 33: Framework for brand concept development

Figure 33 is a schematic representation of the presumed subprocesses of brand


concept development. Remember that the process is divided into two major parts:
brand perception and brand knowledge representation & organisation.
According to theories in perceptual psychology (e.g. Marr 1982, Biederman
1987, Treisman 1993, Palmer 1999), the process of visual perception passes through
several steps. Our framework of brand perception follows a process of four stages.
The first describes a 2-D retinal image which is a first impression of visual supply
stimuli which are projected to the viewpoint of the observer's eyes. A retinal image is
perceived without the consumer's attention, the information is unstructured and
'uninterpreted' (cf. Treisman 1993, Julesz 1984). On the second level, the 2-D retinal
brand impression is further processed, so that things like lines and edges are
detected and "sharpened" (image-based stage). Further in the surface-based stage,
112
general surface and spatial information is recovered. True 3-D processing first occurs
in the final stage, called the object-based stage, since the brand perception process
does not end with the mere representation of all the visible surfaces. Instead, it is
assumed that during perception, surface information is related to general knowledge
about the intrinsic nature of the 3-D object (cf. Palmer 1999). An example of that
would be the back side of products (e.g. camera, TV, car, bottle). Thus, by simply
perceiving a bottle's surfaces, we are also able to make clear predictions as to what
the back of the bottle may look like. Therefore, hidden assumptions about the nature
of the visual world are also required to enable the inclusion of information about
unseen surfaces or parts of surfaces.
The second component of brand concept development is the process where the
perceived brand information is stored and organised in the consumer memory (brand
knowledge representation 29 & organisation). A brand concept is developed by
mentally structuring the perceived supply information within a meaningful network of
associations. In particular, within this process, the perceived supply information is
associated with additional knowledge from other objects and events which stand for
the brand in a meaningful relationship. For example, the Milka brand from Jacobs
Suchard is also linked to general chocolate associations such as sweet, brown,
calories, causes caries or overweight.

Both parts of brand concept development are closely related to each other so
that in addition to bottom-up processes, top-down processes30 have a great influence
on the brand perception part. This means that brand perception is, to a great extent
controlled by already stored brand knowledge, as it determines the consumer's
'interest' and, thus the attention that provides guidance in perceiving specific supply
stimuli. Therefore, with the exception of the retinal brand impression, consumer's
attentional processes occur at each individual stage of brand perception where the

29 Note that "representation" means some sort of a cognitive or neural 'picture' of a real object or
event, and thus may occur during the perceptual phase as well as when perceived information is
stored in long-term memory (=knowledge representation).
30 Bottom-up as well as top-down are metaphorical constructions to explain the 'way' information
processing 'goes'. Top-down (top stands for brain) processing refers to the way in which already
stored knowledge guides perception, whereas bottom-up refers to the physical stimulus which
influences higher-level representation.

113
processing capacity is allocated to certain supply stimuli (ct. Mowen & Minor 1998,
Bettman 1979, Treisman 1993).

In the following, we will examine both components of brand concept


development in greater detail.

2.7 Brand Perception

2.71 A Brief History of Perceptual Psychology (Visual Perception)

Apart from early philosophical considerations of perception in the structuralist


tradition of the second half of the 19th century, the first psychological approach to
perceptual theory was developed through gestalt theory (Wertheimer 1912, 1924,
Kohler 1947, Koffka 1935). Gestalt psychology was particularly interested in the way
in which the structure of a whole figure organises its sub-parts. Various gestalt laws
which have been revealed by gestaltists (ibid.) provide valuable insights into the
processes of perceptual organisation and still have a great influence on current vision
science. A completely different approach which can be described as ecological
perception was provided by James Gibson (1950). The ecological approach, which is
more a theory of spatial perception, sets out from the assumption that the
informational basis of visual perception is the dynamic structure of ambient light that
is reflected into the eye from surfaces as an active organism explores its environment
(ibid.).
However, the modern era in vision science began in the second half of the
century when two important developments fundamentally changed the way scientists
understood vision: the use of computer simulations to model cognitive and perceptual
processes of various kinds, and the increasing knowledge of physiological processes
in human perception. The later, first and foremost, is based on the work of the two
Nobel Prize winners David Hubel and Torsten Wiesel (1959, 1963, 1970, 1977) who
laid the foundation for the general comprehension of the physiology of seeing. But it
is also clear that their research would not have been possible without major
advances in non-invasive methods of imaging the functioning of the brain, such as
electroencephalography (EEG), positron emission tomography (PET) and functional

114
magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Furthermore, modern perceptual research has
been strongly influenced by the work of David Marr (1982) and his colleagues
(Tomasso Poggio, Ellen Hildreth, Shimon Ullman) of the vision group at the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology (M.I.T.). Marr was one of the first researchers
who distinguished different stages of perception. His theory of vision had a great
influence on later research on "computational psychology" (cf. Palmer 1999) and is
still one of the most profound and convincing concepts of visual perception.
The theoretical framework of brand perception which is advocated here, draws
heavily on the proposals of the late Marr (1982). In a recently published book, based
on Marr's work, Stephen Palmer (1999) developed a very detailed concept of the
process of visual perception, where many of the currently existing results on visual
science have been integrated. As Palmer's model provides a most profound structure
for the process of human perception, we will use his concept as the basis for our
framework of brand perception.

2.72 The Retinal Image

We have already discussed the physiological processes whereby the first visual
stimuli impinge on the retina. As has been mentioned, the retinal image comprises
the pair of 2-D images projected from the environment to the viewpoint of the
observer's eyes. In order to clarify this, we will take the example of a very simple
scene.

115
Figure 34: Example of a retinal image

Figure 34 shows a grey-scaled object resting on a flat plane , in front of a dark


wall. Although people are effortlessly able to identify the object as a car, what is
present to the visual system at that stage of perception is an array of light whose
intensity varies continuously over space. Hence, visual signals about this scene that
strike the retina are split between a mosaic of retinal receptors (Palmer 1999). This
means that the first optical impression is not yet a structured image, but a two-
dimensional array of receptors. The receptors are more densely packed in the fovea
than in the periphery, and the different kinds of receptors have different spatial
distributions over the retina (ibid.) .
Most formal and computational theories on vision assume that, on the retinal
level, the perceived object, by means of the various receptors is sub-divided into
'elementary sensory-features'. However, although various authors have studied many
alternatives - textones (Julesz 1981), critical features (Hubel & Wiesel 1968),
primitive elements (Marr 1982) - it is not yet clear precisely what this array of
receptors looks like. Several experiments (e.g. Julesz 1981, Treisman 1969, 1982,
1988, 1993, Treisman & Gelade 1980, Treisman & Gormican 1988) have already
demonstrated that, at the retinal image stage, the visual system divides input-
information into many distinct subsystems that analyse different properties. For
example, when looking at the different grey-values in Figure 34, we find that our
visual system is finely tuned to process the information determined by the light
intensity falling on the receptors . Since there exist receptor-types that perceive color,
er high-resolution impressions, it is likely that all perceived supply information is
divided into sub-systems for colors , contours and shadings. This mainly occurs

116
automatically, which means without the consumer's attention, so the representation
at this stage is still meaningless (cf. Treisman 1988, Hubel 1995).

2.73 The Image-Based Stage

Most vision science theories (e.g. cf. Marr 1982, Treisman 1993, Hubel 1995,
Julesz 1981, Palmer 1999) agree that the initial registration of images in the two eyes
is not the only representation based on 2-D organisation (ibid.). Consequently,
additional 2-D representations and processes are required, being essential for further
stages where the 2-D image is transformed into 3-0 representations. The stage of
brand perception where the primary 2-D retinal impression is further concretised, is
called the image-based stage. To demonstrate how this happens, we take a simple
example. Figure 35A shows a black and white image of a certain visual scene.

-r Jl
t--
~

'- )

A 6 C

Figure 35: Retinal image and image-based stage of object perception (from Palmer 1999)

After the meaningless retinal image has formed, further image-processing


operations take place, in order to determine 2-D features such as lines, edges, 2-D
regions, etc., which characterise the image's structure and organisation. In Figure
356, the visible edges from the image in part A are detected. What makes this
picture so strange-looking, is that all the 'really' visible edges from picture A have
been detected, but this is not exactly the same as the edges most people readily
identify in the same image, as shown in Figure 35C. So, many of the edges

117
represented in part C are ones that people typically do not notice, either because
these edges are faint or because they are not distinguishable from background
surfaces or shadows (Palmer 1999). It is especially interesting that many obvious
edges that everyone perceives in the image are actually missing in the edge map in
Figure 35B, as for instance, the dark side of the cup that shades into the dark
background and shadow on the right, with no discernable edge in the image to
indicate their presence. So, when people would be asked to make a general line
drawing of image A, their drawing most probably looks like the one in Figure 35C.
Consequently, the set of luminance edges detected in an image is not the same as
the clean-line drawing of the objects people typically perceive (Palmer 1999, 88).
There is also physiological evidence that a fair amount of preliminary processing
is required to represent 2-D features of images themselves before they can be
interpreted in terms of environmental entities such as surfaces and objects. Hubel
and Wiesel (1959, Hubel 1995) discovered striate cortical cells that detect edges and
lines, which suggests that an early step in spatial image processing is to find the lines
and edges in the image. Higher-level properties, such as shapes and the orientations
of objects, might then be constructed by putting together the many local edges and
lines that have been identified by their detector cells in the striate cortex (Palmer
1999).

There are various ways, in which the 2-D image can be structured, according to
various features. We will briefly discuss the most relevant processes:
By far the most work has been done on the processes required to detect
luminance edges, as they are agreed to be essential image features. When a 3-D
scene of objects reflects light on to a 2-D surface such as the retina, the changes in
luminance that take place along a uniformly colored smooth surface tend to be
gradual, owing to subtle changes in illumination (Palmer 1999). However, the
changes that take place across a transition from one surface to another, are
generally much more abrupt so that they form luminance edges. These abrupt edges
signify either a change in the reflective property of the surface, a change in the
amount of light falling on it, or a change in surface orientation relative to the light
source (ibid.). Computer science has also contributed largely to study the people's
capacity for edge detection. For computer programs that seek to 'perceive' real
objects, almost the first thing that needs to be done with a real image of a scene is to

118
find the lines and edges that are present. There, one of the first edge-detecting
algorithms has been developed by Marr and Hildreth (1980) based on Marr's (1982)
three level framework of information processing. Further algorithms have been
developed by Canny (1986), Deriche (1987) and Spacek (1985).
Despite the importance of luminance edge detection, vision scientists have
developed alternative approaches to image feature detection. Malik and Perona
(1990) provide a theory of texture analysis, that is, the process by which the visual
system defines regions that differ in the statistical properties of spatial structure. They
put forward a persuasive argument that striate cortex cells provide an initial stage in
the segregation of regions according to texture information. Figure 36 is a
demonstration of 2-D texture analysis. The different regions in the image have the
same average luminance but can be defined by their different textures. Therefore,
unlike edge and line detection, the process of texture segregation is not determined
by varying values of luminance but by discontinuities in texture.

Figure 36: Texture analysis (from Palmer 1999)

A fairly different approach based on neural network research, has been provided
by Lehky and Sejnowski (1988, 1990). Their concept of shading analysis studies how
certain 2-D regions can be determined by changes in luminance due to depth
structure in the image. The importance of shading information for image structure can
be seen in Figure 37. While the unshaded 2-D version in part A is virtually
unrecognisable, the shaded version in part B adds information about relative depth
from grey-scale shading which makes the picture immediately recognisable.

119
A B

Figure 37: Shading analysis (from Palmer 1999)

Finally, the general principles of perceptual grouping (such as closure and good
continuation) developed by early gestalt theorists (ct. Wertheimer, Kohler, Koffka) at
the beginning of the century, also provide valuable insights into 2-D image
processing. Perceptual grouping means, the way in which the various elements in a
complex display are perceived as converging in one's perceptual experience (Palmer
1999). For instance, the gestalt law of closure (Figure 38A) says that elements
forming a closed figure tend to be grouped together. In this sense, contours and
contrasts that appear to be very close are perceived as lines and edges (cf.
Wertheimer 1924, Goldstein 1997). A related law of perceptual grouping is the
principle of the good continuation of lines or edges: All else being equal, elements
that can be seen as smooth continuations of each other tend to be grouped together
(ibid.). In Figure 38B, the line that starts at A, smothly continues up to B. It does not
lead to C or D, since this direction would require a sharp bend, which would
contravene good continuation.

120
b
, ... ------ .........
"", "",,
I
,, , \
I \
I
I \
I
c
I I
I I
I I
\ I
\ I

'
, I
,,
, '' d
' ......... _----_ ...... ""
a

A B

Figure 38: Gestalt law of closure (A) and good continuation (8)

However, regardless of the diverse processes whereby the original retinal image
is further structured through image-based primitives, studies in vision science
(Biederman & Ju 1986, Biederman 1987) lead us to assume that during object
perception, edge detection is the major process for primal access: the first contact
with a perceptual input from an isolated, unanticipated object to a representation in
memory.31 This means that when consumers perceive product form information
(input-information), edge detection is the first process which determines a 2-D
geometry of the perceived object (design). We will therefore take edge detection as
the major process of 2-D product form representation and will discuss in the following
chapters how the detected edges will be further processed into a 3-~ brand
representation.

2.74 The Surface-Based Stage

Although the 2-D image features already convey some information about the
world around us, they must be interpreted in terms of 3-D structure to make the
inferential leap from image to environment. This leap is required because perceiving
organisms are not interested in edges between regions of different retinal luminance,

31 In the experiments of Biederman & Ju (1986), subjects identified brief presentations (50-100 ms) of
slides of common objects. Each object was shown in two versions: professionally photographed in
full color or as a simplified line drawing showing only the object's major components. The results
showed that in, most cases, surface cues are generally less efficient routes for primal access than
edges and lines.

121
they are interested in edges between different environmental surfaces of objects.
Therefore, the interpretation of image structure in terms of visible surfaces in 3-D
space is one of the most crucial steps towards understanding 3-D objects. "Two of
the three spatial dimensions of the environment are explicitly present in the 2-D
images on the two retinae. These two dimensions can be conceived as jointly
specifying the direction from the observer to the surface. But the third dimension -
the distance of the surface from the observer, which is often called depth - is lost in
the process of optical projection from surfaces in a 3-D world to the 2-D retinae".
(Palmer 1999, 200). Once this information is lost, it can never be regained with
absolute certainty. However, it is known that humans are very good at perceiving
their 3-D environment, so there must be some mechanisms enabling depth to be
recovered from 2-D images (ibid.).
Since Marr's theory of vision (1982), it has become widely accepted among
vision scientists that when 2-D image representations are transformed into concrete
3-D object representations, some intermediate steps are necessary. That is, before
the individual is able to identify 3-D objects, general surface as well as depth
information must be added to the 2-D image. Marr (ibid.) calls this the 2,5-D sketch.
As the name implies, it is somewhere between the 2-D properties of an image-based
representation and the 3-D properties of a true object-based representation. It
summarizes the many converging outputs of different processes that recover
information about the depth and orientation of local surface patches in the
environment into a convenient representation of orientation at a distance (Palmer
1999). The 2,5-D surface-based representation is thought to be computed from a 2-D
image-based representation by a set of parallel and quasi-independent processes
that extract information on surface orientation and depth from a variety of sources,
and, in particular, such as edges and lines (cf. Figure 39B). Figure 39A shows a
surface-based representation of the cup scene from the previous chapters. Here,
surface orientation is depicted by a set of imaginary circles on the surface and
"needles" indicating the direction of depth, slant and tilt of the perceived scene
(object) (ibid.).

122
A

Imago.bil5I!d

Re'Jl,esen.laUOll
S_
Slereo
"00"",
T~t.lre
Surfaa!·bilsed

Rfpr!senta"""

Figure 39: Surface-based stage (from Palmer 1999)

Since edge detection has been taken as the major process of primal access
during object perception, we will focus on the processes of edge interpretation, that
is, how 3-0 knowledge is derived obtained by detected edges on the 2-D image-
based representation.
Various theoretical analyses of perceptual organisation (Binford 1981, Lowe
1984, Rock 1983, Witkin & Tenenbaum 1983) have demonstrated that certain
properties of edges in a 2-D image are taken by the visual system as strong evidence
that the edges in the 3-0 world contain those same properties. Lowe identifies five
major nonaccidental properties (see Figure 40) (Lowe 1984, Witkin & Tenenbaum
1983) for inferring a 3-0 structure from 2-dimensional image edges. Nonaccidental in
this sense means that these properties would only rarely be produced by accidental
alignments of viewpoint and object features and, consequently, are generally
unaffected by slight variations in viewpoint (Witkin & Tenenbaum 1983, Biederman
1987). We will briefly discuss Lowe's properties in the context of the surface-based
stage. In the next chapter, we will show how these properties serve to distinguish
several object components, that is, when, during the perceptual process, real 3-0
object representations are derived from first 3-0 surface information.
A first principle states that if there is a straight line in the image (colinearity), the
visual system infers that the edge producing that line in the 3-0 world is also straight.

123
"The visual system ignores the possibility that the property in the image might be a
result of a (highly unlikely) accidental alignment of eye and curved edge" (Biederman
1987, 119). The second principle states that smoothly curved elements in the image
(curvilinearity) are similarly inferred to arise from smoothly curved features in the 3-D
world (ibid.). The same is with symmetry, parallelism or cotermination (Lowe 1984).
So, when the image is symmetrical or the edges in the image are parallel or
coterminate, we assume that the object projecting that image is also symmetrical as
well as real-world edges also are perceived as parallel or coterminate, respectively.

j .
2-0 Relation 3-0 Inference Examples
i. CoIlineority of Collineority in 3-Spoce / '.
points or lints / '.
/ '.
/ '.
/ '.
2. Curvilinearity of Curvilineority in 3-Spoce
points of orcs
.,. --- ......
......
..... ~
"
;'

" \
3. Symmetry Symmetry in 3-~poce
fl\.<.
-~ ;:J1~ ,

4. Parallel Curves Curves lI'e parallel in 3- Spoce


(Over Small
Visual Angles)
~
5. Vertices - two or more Curves terminate at a
terminations at a common point in 3- Spoc.

Y
common point

"Fork" "Arrow·

Figure 40: Nonaccidental properties (from Lowe 1984)

Cotermination is a most essential property as it also determines vertices, which


provide information that can serve to distinguish different types of objects and object-
components. We will discuss vertices (Y, T, L) within objects in the following chapter.

According to Witkin & Tenenbaum (1983), these nonaccidental properties


function better for inferring a 3-~ structure from a 2-D image edges than variations in
124
local surface characteristics, such as shadows (cf. Palmer 1999). In their
experiments, they demonstrate that the suggestion of a volumetric component
through the shape of the surface's silhouette can readily override the perceptual
interpretation of the luminance gradient (=shadow) (Witkin & Tenenbaum 1983).
So luminance gradients provide several aid during perception. In the image-
based stage, abrupt changes in the reflectivity of an object's surface determine edges
(edge detection). Further slight luminance gradients provide shadow information that
serves either in determining a 2-D structure or in providing information about 3-~

orientation (surface-based stage).

2.75 The Object-Based Stage

As mentioned, visual perception does not end with a representation of just the
surfaces that are visible. If it did, we would not have any idea how the lower back
side of a cup could look like (cf. the images in previous chapters). We should then
assume that the cup simply has no back side or that it had some quite different
shape from the smooth cylindrical one everyone perceives so effortlessly. In fact,
during perception, we are also able to make forecasts about completely or partly
hidden surfaces. This gives rise to the suspicion that there exists some form of true
3-dimensional representation that also includes occluded surfaces in the visual world.
We call this stage of processing object-based, since there, truly 3-dimensional object
information is included. That means that within this stage, further hidden assumptions
about the nature of the visual world are required, because now the inferences include
information about unseen surfaces or parts of surfaces. With the inclusion of these
unseen surfaces in the perceptual process, the individual is able to represent whole
3-D objects. In the following chapters we will examine some of the further processes
required to experience the properties and parts of 3-~ objects in a way that will
ultimately yield information about what kind of objects they are. As we can imagine,
there are various perceptual processes that occur in parallel when objects are
understood as objects (cf. Hoffman & Singh 1997). So, color, shading, shape,
motion, texture, and context are all typically used in the process (ibid.). However,
Hoffman & Singh have shown, by means of various experiments with silhouettes, that
the individual is able to recognise many objects entirely by their shapes. We have
therefore reason to believe that object perception is chiefly determined by an object's

125
shape(-parts) (ct. Barsalou 1992a, Palmer 1999, Biederman 1987, Hoffman & Singh
1997).
There is also a growing consensus in current research (cf. Baylis & Driver 1995a,
1995b, Bennett & Hoffman 1987, Biederman 1987, Biederman & Cooper 1991,
Hoffman & Richards 1984, Hoffman & Singh 1997, Marr 1977, 1982, Marr &
Nishihara 1978, Palmer 1975, 1977, Tversky & Hemenway 1984) that representing
object's functions involves dividing the object('s shape) into its parts, so that
perceptual psychologists have sought to discover ways to recover an object's part
structure. Once a set of parts has been identified, higher-level parts can then be
constructed by grouping together the more general parts. There exist two main
theoretical approaches to explain how such an object-based representation might be
constructed by decomposing the object into a configuration of different parts in a
particular spatial arrangement. They will be discussed in the following chapters.

2.751 Boundary Rules versus Volumetric Primitives

As has been said, complex objects are perceived as being composed of distinct
parts. A part is a restricted portion of an object that has semi-autonomous, object-like
status in visual perception (Palmer 1999). For example, a chair is perceived as being
composed of legs, a seat and a back; a car is perceived as containing a car-body,
wheels, lights, etc. However, as we mentioned in an earlier chapter, object
perception includes also the spatial relations between the parts, since the car is
'more' than a pile of glass, rubber and sheet metal.
There is a variety of evidence in favour of a part structure in perception. The best
field to demonstrate this is language processing. There, the perception of parts is so
important and ubiquitous that we have separate words to refer to salient parts of
many familiar objects, like for instance the human body. Virtually all languages have
single words for things like heads, arms, legs, fingers, but none have words that refer
to things like the combination of the lower half of the head and the upper half of the
torso (cf. Fillmore 1985, Palmer 1999). Further convincing experiments that give
evidence of a part structure in perception have been provided by Palmer (1977),
Reed & Johnsen (1975) or Hoffman & Richards (1984). In several studies on part
structure, Palmer (1977) asked people to detect parts from 2-D nonsense objects as
well as to rate the "goodness" of certain three-segment parts. As the results in Figure

126
40 show, the goodness of parts varies from high to low, or, in other words, certain
subsets of figures are perceived as parts whereas others are not (Palmer 1977).

rY: n ~ \: I
I .
17
~Figures High
~
Medium
I \:
Low

A, SAME·FIGURE STIMULI

/L ~ >t= ~

'U
U
Parts
L
High
7f-J
Medium
~Low

B, SAME-PART STIMULI

Figure 41: Goodness of part segmentation (from Palmer 1977)

Consequently, when we start from the assumption that, during perception,


complex objects and surfaces are structured into distinct parts, the question is, how
does the visual system determine what the parts are? As the example in Figure 40
shows, part structure cannot be considered arbitrary, because it is highly regular and
stable across both objects and observers. Vision scientists have tried to solve this
problem in two ways. One can either define, by means of general computational
rules, the boundaries between parts or one can define, a priori, a set of basic shapes
that are the possible shapes (Hoffman & Singh 1997).
The first way to go about dividing an object into parts, which we will call the
boundary rules approach to object-based representation, is by simply extending the
surface-based representation to include unseen surfaces within a fully 3-dimensional
space. Vision scientists have provided several alternative rules for defining part
boundaries, as there are: 'deep concavities' (Marr & Nishihara 1978, but cf. also
Hoffman & Richards 1984 and Biederman 1987); 'limbs and necks' (Siddiqi & Kimia
1995); and the 'minima rule' (Hoffman & Richards 1984). Hoffman & Richards'
minima rule is the most profound theory of the boundary rule type. Minima rule is a

127
mathematical expression 32 , standing for two general boundary rules, concave
discontinuity rule and deep concavity rule. The first rule refers to the identification of
boundaries of multipart objects formed by one object penetrating another (see Figure
42).

..
Figure 42: Rule of concave discontinuity (from Hoffman & Richards 1984)

As illustrated in Figure 42, one part penetrates the other at so-called concave
discontinuities, that is, places where their composite surface is not smooth but angles
sharply inward toward the interior of the composite object. The same happens, for
instance, when the finger is inserted into a bowling ball. Consequently, the concave
discontinuity rule says that the visual system divides objects into parts where they
have abrupt changes in surface orientation toward the interior of the object (i.e.,
concave surface discontiniuties). One can experience that by means of the
"Schroeder staircase" in Figure 43. At first glance, one sees a staircase ascending
from right to left and with two dots on a single step. Yet, when the staircase is
observed a little longer, the figure reverses to look like an upside-down staircase and
the same two dots appear to lie on different parts (the flat part of one step and the
rise of the next).33 Consequently, the staircase would be divided into parts along the
sharply concave edges between steps rather than along the convex corner of the
steps themselves or the flat parts in between.

32 The expression literally means: local negative minima of curvature. In our context, 'minima rule' is
used as a convenient title for Hoffman & Richards' theory.
33 In case of difficulty in observing the described effect, the figure can be turned upside-down.

128
Figure 43: The reversing staircase of Schroeder

Despite this interesting observation, the concave discontinuity rule does not
apply to most of the cases in which people perceive parts, especially within objects
that have a wavy surface and the human body (Palmer 1999). Hoffman & Richards
therefore introduced a further more widely applicable rule, called the deep concavity
rule. It states that, as can be seen in Figure 44, a surface should be divided at places
where its surface is maximally curved inward (concave).

129
Figure 44: Rule of deep concavity (from Hoffman & Richards 1984)

Yet, Palmer (1999) criticises that the rule in so far as it merely identifies the
points at which cuts should be made to divide an object into parts and does not state
which pairs of pOints should be the endpoints of the cut. He further claims that
Hoffman & Richards' boundary rules chiefly function for their well-chosen examples,
but many other real-world examples are not nearly as clear. Despite these
weaknesses, Hoffman & Richards' theory provides two relatively precise principles to
explain how objects .can be divided into its parts.

A very different way of explaining the perceptual processes of part segmentation


is the basic shape primitives approach. This approach conceives objects as
intrinsically three-dimensional entities, represented as arrangements of some set of
primitive 3-D shapes . So, any object can be divided into the basic shape primitives of
which it is composed by specifying the segmentation of the object. (Biederman 1987,
Palmer 1999). The idea derives from language processing (ct . Marslen-Wilson 1980
Barsalou 1992a) where individual primitive elements (phonems) are perceived or
matched. In the visual domain, the primitive elements would not be phonems but a
modest number of simple geometric components, such as cylinders , blocks, wedges
and cones (Biederman 1987). One of the first theories of shape primitives has been
provided by David Marr (1982) . He states that complex shapes can be analysed into
primitives, consisting of generalised cylinders (cf. Figure 45). Marr's description of
the characteristics of generalised cylinders is rather vague, yet several other

130
researchers (ct. Biederman 1987, Brooks 1981, Pentland 1986) have developed
more concrete conceptions of the nature and structure of basic shape primitives.

Human

EO ;_ _ _ _ _ +-Ar_m_ _ _-.

~ ~~~--+-H-an-d--...,
4----~'~--~ ~

Figure 45: Marr's generalised cylinder representation on different levels of resolution


(from Marr 1982)

Figure 46 shows some examples of generalised cylinders (part A) and how they
can be combined to form common objects (part B) (ct. Biederman 1987).

131
D06E:3
LDi1( ()
A

Figure 46: Representing common objects by generalised cylinders (from Palmer 1999)

The general idea behind the shape primitive approach is that all kinds of objects can
be constructed by various combinations of the generalised cylinders. One potential
difficulty of this approach is that we not only perceive objects as containing parts, but
also often perceive those parts as having sub-parts. As illustrated in Figure 45, the
human body can be represented by a hierarchy of parts (head, arms, legs, corpus).
But each part itself can be represented by parts, for example, arms consist of an
upper arm, a forearm and a hand, while the latter consists of fingers, and so on. A
theory of part segmentation thus has to be capable of generating a potentially
complex and elaborate part/whole hierarchy (Marr & Nisihara 1978, Palmer 1999).
The problem for shape primitives is that with a set of primitives they are only able to
represent one hierarchy-level. But, as Figure 45 shows, object representation can
happen on different levels of resolution. So, depending on the given resolution, each
sub-part of the perceived object, can itself be segmented into the various shape
primitives.
In any case, the most essential question of the shape primitive approach is what
should the shape primitives look like to do justice to the huge diversity and immense
subtlety of shapes that must be described? Vision scientists have suggested several

132
sets of shape primitives, yet, as Hoffman & Singh (1997) pOint out, a theoretical
framework for shape primitives that is flexible but also concrete enough to be able to
represent the countless mass of possible world-objects, has not, so far, been
discovered. Nevertheless, although they cannot represent all world objects, 1:1, they
do provide an excellent approximation, such that modern computer-aided design
(CAD) programmes (e.g., cf. AutoCad; Alias; etc.) rely on the technique of joining
shape primitives in order to construct complex objects. In this sense, the shape
primitives approach offers a very good method to understand object perception and
the representation of objects.

Vision scientists (cf. Hoffman & Singh 1997) who favour the boundary rules
approach deny the existence of shape primitives during object perception. On the
other hand, the basic shape approach also needs boundary rules for segmenting the
volumetric shape primitives. One theory that seeks to combine both approaches is
Biederman's (1987) recognition by components (RBC) theory which is a well
developed theory of shape primitives but refers also to boundary rules among the
diverse volumetric parts. Since this dissertation focuses on the product form's
influence on brand concept development, RBC theory is likely to serve as a useful
framework, since, by means of RBC theory one can represent products (design
objects) by an organised structure of generalised shape primitives (cylinders). In a
further step, one can study how various (product) shape primitives are embedded in
a network of stored brand knowledge units in consumer memory. We will therefore
apply this theory to the underlying research problem.

2.752 Biederman's Recognition by Components (RBC) Theory

Biederman (1987) introduced a theory of object perception and recognition


where objects can be specified as a spatial arrangement of primitive volumetric
components, so-called geons (=geometric icons). The idea behind this is analogous
to speech perception, where all kinds of words can be coded by a relatively small set
of primitive elements, the phonemes (Marslen-Wilson 1980). So, for example we
need only 44 phonemes to create all the words in English, 15 for Haiwaiian, while 55
can represent virtually all the words in all the languages spoken around the world
(Biederman 1987). Words are, to a great extent, formed from relatively free

133
combinations of phonemes. It is further interesting that each phoneme can be
specified by dichotomous or trichotomous contrasts (e.g. voiced vs. unvoiced, nasal
vs. oral) on a handful of attributes. In visual perception, however, the primitive
elements (=geons) are a modest number of simple geometric components such as
cylinders, blocks, wedges, and cones (ibid.). According to RBC theory, an object
representation is a hierarchical network whose node corresponds to 3-D parts and
whose links correspond to relations between these parts. 34

2.7521 Perceptual Organisation of Objects according to RBC Theory


As already described elsewhere, when a certain object is perceived, in an early
edge extraction stage, edges are detected initially as luminance gradients35 (cf.
image-based stage). The result is a line drawing of the object's edges. From this line
sketch, several (object-}features are revealed by the nonaccidental properties of
image edges (cf. surface-based stage). The nonaccidental properties provide critical
constraints on the identity of the object components (Biederman 1987). The essential
features that enable geon identification are the nature of the edges (curved vs.
straight), the nature of the vertices (L, Y, T, arrow), parallelism and symmetry.
Parallel to that, the perceived object is parsed into sub-parts, which occurs, primarily
at regions of deep concavity. This is exactly the same process as has been
suggested by Hoffman & Richards (1984).
Both processes (feature detection and object parsing) are crucial for identifying
what kinds of geons are present and how they are related to each other in order to
'construct' the entire object. Figure 47 shows how some common objects can be
constructed with a very small set of geons.

34 Bearing in mind the methodological reservations against arguments by analogy, a comparison


between speech perception and object perception is likely to reveal some interesting insights into
human perception.
35 As mentioned in previous chapters, both edges and shadows derive from luminance gradients.

134
Geons

Objects

Figure 47: Representing common objects by geons (from Biederman 1987)

Although the general flow of information within the model is bottom-up, there are
two points in RBC where top-down processes are most likely to occur (Palmer 1999).
A first top-down process may occur from geons to features. So, partial activation of a
geon unit from certain of its features can generate expectations about which other
features should also be present if that geon is actually at that location. A second top-
down process is possible from existing categories to geons, as not all geon
combinations form representations of known category types. Then, tentatively
classifying an object as a member of a category can generate expectations about
what other geons should be present if the target object is actually a member of the
category (ibid.).

2.7522 Geon Construction and Relations


A major assumption of RBC theory is that the representation of an expected
object - and, thus, also a product - is a volumetric structural description of geons. A
geon is a generalised cylinder (or cone), that is, a volume constructed by sweeping a
2-D shape along an axis (Binford 1971, Marr 1982, Biederman 1987). To determine
how a geon-object structure is constructed, one needs to know rules for designing
the geons and the relations among them required for constructing a huge number of
object representations.
Different shapes of geons are obtained by (1) varying the 2-D cross-sectional
shape, (2) the shape of the axis along which the cross section is swept, (3) the
sweeping rule that changes the size of the cross section, and (4) the aspect ratio of

135
the axis to the base (Biederman 1987, Palmer 1999). Since RBC theory proposes
that geons are identified directly from image- and surface-based features such as
edges and vertices, Biederman uses Lowe's (1985) nonaccidental properties (ct.
Figure 40) to better specify the possible shapes of geons. By combining the four
kinds of variable dimensions of geons, together with the nonaccidental properties
(colinearity, curvilinearity, symmetry, parallelism), a set of different geons can be
specified (cf. Palmer 1999, 434-435):

1. Cross-sectional CUNature: The cross section of the geon can be either


straight (Figure 48A) or curved (Figure 48B).
2. Symmetry: The cross section can be either symmetrical (Figure 48C) or
asymmetrical (Figure 48D).
3. Axis CUNature: The sweeping axis can be either straight (Figure 48A) or
curved (Figure 48E).
4. Size variation: The size of the cross section as it is swept along the axis can
be either constant, resulting in parallel geon sides, expanding and contracting
(Figure 48A), resulting in non-parallel sides with a point of maximum
convexity (Figure 48F), or just expanding, resulting in non-parallel sides that
converge toward an end (Figure 48G).
5. Aspect ratio: The ratio of the length of the sweeping axis to that of the largest
dimension of the cross-sectional area is called the aspect ratio, which can be
either approximately equal (Figure 48A), have a greater axis (Figure 48H) or
a greater cross section (Figure 481).

The first four points describe qualitative differences, the fifth is a quantitative
feature that determines 'geon-design'. While the qualitative distinctions enable the
identification of 36 different geon-designs (2 values for cross-sectional curvature x 3
values for symmetry x 3 values for size variation x 2 values for axis curvature), the
three aspect ratios bring the number of possible geons to 108 (36 x 3 types of aspect
ratio).

136
Straight"'" Curved
Cross section

-"'''"@ ~ L:J) '-"


Equal"'" Cross section greater ~ ~&R ""'Reflectional

"~~""~~ r?1
LD" ~ W
Aspect Ratio. ~D ~
R&R..,..No
Symmetry

,oo~._¥'\::±::7'
~Ci£~~,~.oo
Cross-sectional Size
Constant..,.. Exp. & Contract.
Cross-sectional Size

Figure 48: Geon construction (from Palmer 1999)

An essential nonaccidental feature is cotermination of edges determined by


different vertices36 (Biederman 1987, Biederman & Cooper 1992). According to Lowe
(1985), one can distinguish among four kinds of vertices, as there are Y, T, L, and
arrow vertices. The Y vertex is produced by the cotermination of three segments, with
none of the angles greater than 180°. It essentially serves for distinguishing between
volumetric or planar objects as well as between bricks or cylinders (objects with
curved vs. straight cross sections). For example, in Figure 49 we can see that the Y
vertex is not present in components that have curved cross sections, such as
cylinders, and thus can provide a distinctive cue for the cross section edge. Further,
since planar components lack three-pronged vertices, the Y and arrow vertices are
important determinants as to whether a given component is volumetric or planar
(Biederman 1987). The importance of vertices within object perception has been
demonstrated by a study of Biederman and Blickle (1985), where they showed that
the deletion of vertices adversely affected object recognition more than the deletion
of the same amount of contour at midsegment.

36 Vertices are intersections formed by the convergence of line segments at a pOint.

137
Two tangent Yvertices
(Occluding edge tangent
Three Three
at vertex to
porallel outer discontinuous edge)
edges arrow
vertices Curved edges
Two parallel
edges

Figure 49: Some nonaccidental differences between a brick and a cylinder (from
Biederman 1987)

Despite the clearly comprehensible rules for determining a reasonable number of


distinct geons, one might assume that a set of 108 components provides a rather
limited possibility for representing all imaginable world objects. Yet, since in RBC
theory complex objects are conceived as configurations of two or more geons in
particular spatial arrangements, they are encoded as structural descriptions that
specify both the geons present and their spatial relations. "If geons are the alphabet
of complex 3-D objects, then spatial relations among geons are analogous to the
order of letters in words. Just as it is possible to construct different words by
arranging the same letters differently (e.g., BAT versus TAB), so it is possible to
construct different object types by arranging the same geons differently" (Palmer
1999,436). The cup and pail already shown in Figure 47 are but one example.
The major relations between geons concern how they are attached (e.g., side-
connected or top-connected) others concern their relational properties, such as
relative size (e.g., larger-than and smaller-than) or the verticality (e.g., above or
below). With the 108 geons and various relations, we are logically able to construct
more than one million different two-geon objects. When we add a third geon to the
other two, the number of possible objects that can then be constructed reaches a
trillion (Biederman 1987). Since, according to Biederman, most people know about

138
30.000 different object categories, there are far more possible combinations of geons
than there are actual objects.

2.76 An Example to Show how Product Form is Represented by Geons

In order to show how process of brand perception the so far explained occurs
within brand formation, we will take a simple example of a motorbike brand (KTM) as
an illustration.

In conformity with the process of object perception, after the retinal image has
been formed, several edges are detected, as we can see in Figure 50. Later in the
surface-based stage, general depth information is first added to the 2D-edge picture.
In our example, a lower resolution is used, which means that we do not consider all
edges represented in the image in Figure 50, but just the most protruding ones, as
drawn in Figure 51 37 . It is certainly possible to represent all motorbike-parts and -
details with geons, however, to demonstrate how a general product can be
represented with geons, the lower resolution is sufficient.
In Figure 52, we can see that the main corpus of the motorbike, can be generally
represented with the aid of three geons. Places of deep concacity, that is, where the
component is segmented into geons, are indicated by arrows. All three geons in
Figure 52 are based on the nonaccidental properties of curved edges and axes, and
expanding size (cf. the Figures in Chapter 2.74). Other motorbike geon-relations, for
instance, regard the front-wheel with steering and fender (Figure 538). While the
wheel can easily be represented as a simple cylinder with a very short axis, the
fender is represented as geon that is based on curved edges, symmetry, constant
size and a curved axis.
Merely to demonstrate how smaller details such as the saddle can be
represented as geon-structures, we have connected two geons with the properties:
chiefly straight edges 38 , symmetry, expanded size and straight axis (ct. Figure 53A).
Components such as the exhaust pipe are based on simple cylinder-geons.

37 These edges have been determined by means of filters from the Adobe PhotoShop programme.
After that, the strongest edges have been pencilled over by hand.

139
Figure 50: KTM motorbike - edge detection

Figure 51: Protruding edges

38 they are, in fact, very slightly curved

140
Figure 52: Main corpus represented with geons

Figure 53: Several parts represented with geons

141
Since it could have been shown that product-form can be represented by means
of geon-structures39 it is now important to examine how this knowledge becomes
represented & organised in consumer LTM.

2.8 Brand Knowledge Representation & Organisation

Brand concepts are not stored holistic impressions of perceived situations, but a
complex structure of various smaller brand knowledge units (cf. Mowen & Minor
1998, Esch 1999, Krober-Riel 1997). In order to understand how perceived brand
events - in particular those regarding design - become stored as concepts in
consumer memory, two aspects have to be examined. First, we have to focus on how
perceived scenes (objects, events), by means of small brand knowledge units,
become represented in long-term memory (brand knowledge representation). As
these entries do not exist independently of one another (cf. Barsalou 1998), we
further need to discuss the processes whereby they are associated to each other
within a complex knowledge network (brand knowledge organisation). Only such a
flexible network of brand entries enables the individual consumer to identify brands
under varying situations and contexts.
Note that there is a big difference between geons and the cognitive brand units
through which brand knowledge is represented in LTM. Geons are generalised
cylinders by means of which objects can be represented during perception. Yet, it is
nowhere said that this is the form in which the perceived object-information is stored
in memory. Geons are not neural states of perceived object-scenes; for that smaller
cognitive building blocks are required. Consequently, shape primitives (geons) help
the individual to perceive and recognise complex objects, but they must all be based
on smaller neural representations that code object information, and thus also geon-
information, in the brain. Currently, two main theories exist as to what these
elementary cognitive building blocks look like, and we will discuss them in the
following chapters.

39 The geon-relations in the example given have been designed for illustration. They have not been
determined through an empirical measurement process.

142
2.81 The Amodal View - Propositional (Associative 4o/Semantic) Networks

The amodal view has become the standard paradigm for knowledge
representation and was first profoundly discussed in consumer research literature by
Bettman (1975) and McGuire (1976). For general treatments of this approach, in the
field of cognitive psychology, see Dennett (1969), Newell and Simon (1972), Fodor
(1975), Pylyshyn (1984), Haugeland (1985).
At the center of amodal approaches of knowledge representation lies the
assumption that perceptual and cognitive representations constitute two seperate
systems that work according to different prinCiples. This means that perceptual states
arise in sensory-motor systems. In order to become stored in LTM, an amodal
system transduces a subset of a perceptual state into symbols of a completely new
representation language that is inherently non-perceptual. These cognitive symbols
are amodal since their internal structures bear no correspondence to the perceptual
states that produced them (Barsalou 1998). For instance, "the amodal symbols that
represent the colors of objects in their absence reside in a different neural system
from the representations of these colors during perception itself. In addition, these
two systems use different representational schemes and operate according to
different principles" (Barsalou 1998, 4). Amodal symbols are further arbitrarily linked
with the perceptual states that produced them, just like words that also typically have
arbitrary relations to entities in the world (ibid.).
As theorists who believe in that approach assume (ct. Rumelhart and Norman
1988, Anderson 1978), amodal symbols bear an important relation to words and
language. Although they say that words do not literally constitute the content of these
representations, they assume that close amodal counterparts of words do (Barsalou
1998). That is why theorists typically use linguistic forms to represent amodal
symbols (the concept "chair" contains the features seat, back, legs). The process can
be seen in Figure 54, where it is demonstrated how a chair is represented by an
amodal symbol system (ibid.).

40 Not to be confused with "network of (sign-)associations" in Chapter B IV. 1.12

143
Perc.ertulL Arbitrary AmodlL
States SymboLs

Hellory

Language

Thought

NeuraL Activltion Feature Lists,


(Conscious Experi ence) Semantic Network.~
Fr."es~ Schell.tI,
Predicete CalcuLus Sentences

Figure 54: Amodal symbol systems (from Barsalou 1998)

Most research into consumer behavior investigating specifically memory and


cognition is based on the amodal view (for a review ct. Malter 1996). That is,
consumer's concepts of products, services or any kind of consumption events
become mentally represented by means of semantic knowledge units which are
organised in a network of nodes of propositions. This knowledge is retrieved through
a process of spreading activation (Anderson 1983, Malter 1996). Once some
semantic features are activated, the activation spreads across the entire network, as
for example when somebody perceives a Coke bottle, the corresponding amodal
symbols (semantic features) become activated and, through the network of
associations, other symbols are activated too (e.g. drink, USA, black, swee~.
Though the amodal view has served as the dominant paradigm in both consumer
research and cognitive science during the past few decades, it has been criticised by
a number of cognitive psychologists (e.g., Barsalou 1993, 1998, Glenberg et.a!.
1998) and cognitive linguists (Lakoff 1987). In particular, the core assumption, that is,
the existence of two seperate systems of representation within perception and
cognition, has been questioned. First, there is little empirical evidence that amodal
symbols exist (Glenberg et.a!. 1998, Kosslyn et.a!. 1993, Barsalou 1998). For
example, in a study using the PET-method, Kosslyn and his colleagues asked
subjects either to view block letters or to imagine them. The results showed that
when subjects imagine the stimulus there is almost as much activation of the visual
cortex as when the stimulus is present. This would lead us to assume that there is a
close similarity between human perception and human knowledge processes.

144
Furthermore, individuals are highly creative in envisioning future events or
imagining unrealistic objects (e.g. a piano with feet). But how can amodal symbols be
manipulated to represent these objects and events when nothing in the perceived
environment provides a basis for these symbols? How does the system understand
its reasoning (Barsalou 1998)? There, the amodal view has great difficulties in
explaining how people are able to imagine scenes in the absence of physical
references (ibid.).
The second major problem with the amodal view regards the propositional
network structure. With relatively few exceptions (Keller 1993, Mitchell & Dacin
1996), a standard depiction of a consumer knowledge structure, represented through
a propositional network shows a fundamentally unorganised list of features (Lawson
1998, Barsalou 1992). Within these feature networks, all types of associations seem
to be equally important, which is more than questionable. Although these models
give an impression, for example, of salient product features which consumers store in
"top-of-mind", they have serious problems in doing justice to the flexibility and
structure of consumer conceptual (and category) knowledge. As Barsalou (1983), for
instance, showed, when people are creating "ad hoc" categories, conceptual
knowledge is reorganised in completely different ways, so that feature lists and
perceived typicality of features (cf. Loken & Ward 1990, Boush 1993) perform more
than poorly in determining category membership. For example, some of the TOMA
features of Coke might be Coke bott/e, soft drink, black color, USA, so that when one
constructs the category typical American soft drinks, Coke will be chosen, due to its
feature structure. Yet, if somebody should create a category of things to drink against
diarrhea one might also choose Coke as a most typical exemplar, although this
feature would most probably be considered fairly unessential in the former ('original')
propositional Coke network. This little example shows that propositional networks are
highly unstable since, because of different contexts, seemingly important features
may become very unimportant and vice versa. Hence, propositional networks mostly
provide only a "snapshot" of a given brand conceptualisation which shows a rather
constrained stability of relationships within the brand concept. Due to these
weaknesses of the amodal view and in order to provide more adequate models for
understanding consumers' conceptual knowledge structures, consumer researchers
(e.g. Alba et.al. 1991, Cohen & Basu 1987) have therefore suggested further
research to develop alternative approaches.

145
2.82 Embodied Cognition - Perceptual Symbol Systems

Recent developments in cognitive science have proposed a whole new class of


alternative theories of cognition, on a completely different basis, for the structure and
operation of the cognitive system. The most important representatives of this new
direction in cognitive science are Arthur Glenberg (1997, Glenberg et.a!. 1983) and
the Department of Psychology at Emory University with Lawrence Barsalou (1998)
and his colleagues (1993,1998).
What is central to embodied cognition is that it explicitly rejects the existence of a
cognitive system based on amodal symbol systems. Instead, embodied cognition
claims that cognition is inherently perceptual, sharing systems with perception on
both the cognitive and the neural level (Barsalou 1998). Furthermore, embodied
cognition models strongly criticise feature lists (commonly found in propositional
network models) as inadequate depictions of concepts. Instead, they place great
emphasis on the structural aspect of knowledge representation in order to do justice
to the extreme context dependency during conceptualisation 41 (ibid., Malter 1996).
Although research in this field is still in its early stages, Barsalou (1998) provides
a reasonably well developed theory of embodied cognition. Since his theory of
"Perceptual Symbol Systems" seems to be a suitable concept for explaining how
product form elements become stored in LTM and how this knowledge becomes
embedded within a whole brand concept, we have chosen to apply his work to our
topic.

The building blocks in the cognitive architecture that Barsalou proposes are
perceptual symbols, which are neural representations in sensory-motor areas of the
brain. By combining perceptual symbols productively, humans are able to produce
limitless conceptual structures for any kind of entity or event (also including abstract
concepts) (Barsalou 1998, 1993). The basic assumption underlying a perceptual
symbol system is: Subsets of perceptual states in sensory-motor systems are
extracted and stored in LTM to function as symbols. As a result, the internal structure

41 A concept represents a kind generality, whereas a conceptualisation provides one specific way of
thinking about it. For example, a concept for chair can conceptualise many different chairs under
many different circumstances (cf. Barsalou 1998).

146
of these symbols is modal, and they are analogically related to the perceptual states
that produced them (Barsalou 1998).
To demonstrate the differences between the perceptual symbol system approach
and the amodal one as regards the development of a mental concept, we can, once
again, take the example of the chair concept. While in Figure 54, perceived chair
events have become transduced into a new representational system, in Figure 55,
the chair representation is based on a subset of perceptual states that are
represented by analogue modal symbols (Barsalou 1998).

Perce ptual Analogue Modal


States Symbol

Memory
Extraction
Language

Reference
Thought

Neutral Activation Images,


(Conscious Experience) Image Schemas
Perceptual Symbols

Figure 55: Perceptual symbol systems (from Barsalou 1998)

"Perceptual symbols are not phYSical pictures; nor are they mental images or any
other form of conscious subjective experience. Instead, they are records of the neural
states that underlie perception. During perception, systems of neurons in sensory-
motor regions of the brain capture information about perceived events in the
environment and in the body" (Barsalou 1998, 9). A perceptual symbol is, thus, a
record of the neural activation that arises during perception (ibid.), which is
essentially the same assumption that also underlies much current work in imagery
and the neuroscience literature on sensory-motor systems (e.g., Bear, Connors &
Paradiso 1996, Zeki 1993, Crammond 1997, Farah 1995, Kosslyn 1994). This
perceptual approach to human cognition is a dramatic departure from the reliance on
the linguistic symbols and amodal propositions, which, according to Barsalou (1992b,
1993, 1998) is central to nearly every psychological theory (except for some
connectionist models) for representing human knowledge (Malter 1996).

147
What makes perceptual symbol systems an attractive approach to brand
formation is the fact that it provides evidence that a brand is based on a system of
brand sensory impressions. Within that system, the design, for the most part, creates
the consumer's visual impression of the product.
To better understand the theory of perceptual symbol systems, several core
properties will be discussed in detail:

2.821 Neural Representations in Sensory-Motor Systems

We have already mentioned that perceptual symbols are neural representations


in sensory-motor systems, but this does not imply that identical systems underlie
perception, imagery, and knowledge. However, as can also be hypothesised from
Kosslyn's (1980) model of imagery, perception and imagery are similar, except as
regards the source of the information and the direction of processing.
Further perceptual symbols function either consciously or unconsciously
(automatic processing). This distinction is also supported by cognitive and
neuroscience literature (e.g, Marcel 1983a,b, Shiffrin & Schneider 1977, Libet 1982,
1985). As research on skill acquisition (Shiffrin & Schneider 1977) has found,
conscious processing falls away as automatic processing develops. Barsalou (1998)
therefore claims that unconscious neural representations constitute the core content
of perceptual symbols. "If human knowledge is inherently perceptual, there is no a
priori reason why it must be represented consciously" (ibid. 10).

2.822 Schematic Perceptual Symbols

"A perceptual symbol is not the record of the entire brain state that underlies a
perception. Instead, it is only a very small subset that represents a coherent aspect
of the state. Rather than containing an entire holistic representation of a perceptual
brain state, a perceptual symbol contains only a schematic aspect" (Barsalou 1998,
10). Through selective attention (cf. Chapter 2.9), the individual isolates information
in perception and stores this isolated information in LTM. If selective attention
focuses on product design(-parts), the neurons representing the designs are
selected, and a record of their activation is stored. There, the symbol formation
process selects and stores a subset of the active neurons in a perceptual state

148
presumably nonselected information also becomes stored, yet there is no doubt that
it is stored to a much lesser extent than selected information (Barsalou 1998).
A further strength of the proposed existence of perceptual symbol systems is that
they are componential, not holistic. Both cognitive science and neuroscience (e.g.,
Treisman 1993, Hubel 1995) provide evidence that different channels exist in the
visual system that processes different dimensions, such as shape, orientation, color,
movement, etc. When concepts are activated, this takes place by combining
perceptual symbols from any kind of sensory-motor impression, e.g. consciously
imaging a Coke bottle requires at least perceptual symbols as to shape and
orientation. Several experiments by Kosslyn and his collegues (Kosslyn, Cave,
Provost & Gierke 1988, Roth & Kosslyn 1988) support this assumption. They have
shown that when people construct conscious images, they construct them
sequentially, component by component, not holistically in a single step.

2.823 Multimodal Perceptual Symbols

Perceptual symbols are multimodal (vision, audition, haptics, olfaction, and


gustation). In any modality, selective attention focuses on aspects of perceived
experience and stores records of them in LTM, which later function as perceptual
symbols (Barsalou 1998). This fact is highly relevant for brands, because it shows
that brand concepts are built up from many different sensory modalities (e.g. jingle,
soundtrack, voice, tastes, smell, etc.). As we know from neuroscience, each type of
brand perceptual symbol becomes established in its respective brain area, so
symbols that represent product design become established in the visual areas.

2.824 Simulators and Simulations with Perceptual Symbol Systems

The most essential function of perceptual symbol systems is its capability for
creating simulations. That is, related symbols become organised into a simulator that
allows the cognitive system to construct specific simulations of an entity or event in
its absence (Barsalou 1998). As we will describe in the next chapter, perceptual
symbols that are extracted from an entity or event, become integrated into a frame
(schema). For example, a frame for a KTM off-road motorbike might consist of
several perceptual symbols which the consumer extracted from various perceived

149
KTM experiences, such as the driving style, colors, size, form, engine. After such a
frame has become established in LTM, the consumer can later mentally simulate the
motorbike in its absence. By making the specific simulations, individuals are even
able to anticipate how the motorbike would look from its side if they were to move
around the bike in the same direction as they did in reality. So, because they have
integrated the perceptual information extracted earlier into a frame, they can later
simulate coherent experiences of the object (ibid.).
According to Barsalou (1998), a simulator contains two levels of structure: (1) An
underlying frame that integrates perceptual symbols into LTM, and (2) the "potentially
infinite set of simulations" (p.14) that can be constructed from the frame.
Consequently, subsets of frame information become active in constructing specific
simulations in working memory (ibid.). Selective attention extracts perceptual
symbols from perception, but it never extracts all the information potentially available.
Therefore, a simulator is always "partial and sketchy" (p. 14) and never complete. As
an example, Barsalou describes the simulator of a triangle. A first triangle-simulator is
developed by three lines whose ends become uniquely connected, whereby all sorts
of perceived 'triangles' that match the (core-}simulator-rules, become stored in the
simulator. So, the simulator extends. However, a very different triangle never seen
before can also be identified as a triangle as long as the triangle simulator can
construct a simulation of it. In this context, salient attributes function as identifiers
(triangle: lines, conjunction), which have become integrated in a central position in
the frame. Once, during a given simulation, the identifiers are recovered in the
perceived scene, the object is identified. Simulation processes consequently occur in
a continuum of bottom-up to top-down processes.
In fact, a simulator is nothing else than a mental concept. What is specific to
Barsalou's concept of concept is that it consists of two components, a frame where
all knowledge is structured in the form of perceptual symbols and the accompanying
process that is able to create various conceptualisations (simulations). In the context
of brands, with a brand concept or simulator, consumers can make various brand
simulations where a subset of the brand frame becomes active to simulate one
particular experience of the brand. Thus, on the basis of the brand frame where all
brand knowledge is represented and organised in LTM, the consumer can construct
specific brand simulations in working memory. If the brand simulator can produce a
satisfactory simulation of a perceived entity or event, the entity/event belongs in the

150
brand category. Otherwise, the entity/event is not a brand category member. The
brand simulator embodies a tremendous amount of multimodal brand knowledge
(organised in the form of frames) that expands continuously - including all kinds of
supply information such as graphics, logo, sound, song, taste, persons, country,
designs, and so forth. This happens whenever perceived new instances match a
given brand simulation and the attributes of these instances become integrated in the
brand concept (simulator). For example, when Audi launched the new Audi TT sports
car, knoweldge of this new model became stored in the Audi brand simulator. This
occurred because the consumers' brand simulators had been able to construct a
simulation where the Audi TT had become identified as a member of the Audi brand
category. This "matching-process" is strongly influenced by the existence of several
salient brand attributes that have been stored in a central position in the brand frame
and which the new perceived instance also contains. In the case of the Audi TT, it is
likely that, besides the brand logo, various design elements (lights, radiator grill,
typical curves) are the salient brand attributes that function as identifiers. When,
through the existence of salient attributes, the perceived instance is identified as a
member of the brand category, additional information on this particular instance will
also be integrated into the given brand simulator. Hence, also information that is just
typical of the Audi TT, like the overall shape, or simply the fact that it is a sports car,
becomes integrated into the whole Audi brand concept (simulator).
Frames are considered as the means whereby conceptual knowledge is mentally
structured and organised. In the following chapter we will provide a detailed
explanation how brand knowledge particularly design knowledge is stored in form of
frames.

2.825 Frames (Schemata)

In an earlier work, Barsalou (1992b, cf. also Barsalou & Hale 1992) provides a
very detailed frame concept founded on three basic structural frame-features:
attribute-value sets, structural invariants, and constraints. While the first describes
the frame's elements, the other two regard specific relations among these elements.

151
Attribute and Values:
An attribute is considered as a concept that describes an aspect of at least some
members of a category (Barsalou 1992b). Consider the motorbike frame in Figure 56,
whose attributes include engine, driver, form attributes, color, bike-frame42 , wheels,
usage, seat position. The frame is partial and simplified with many attributes being
absent (e.g., fuel, materials, etc.), yet, it is imaginable that for experts, that is,
motorbike consumers, these attributes are among the most salient or most relevant
ones. Attributes provide rather abstract descriptions, therefore, they take on
particular values. So, for example, the values for usage could be adventure,
sport/race, journey, transport, make impression. For engine, the values are different
types of engine, for driver different persons, and so forth. There, one can see a major
difference between a frame and a conventional propositional network. While in the
propositional network, journey might become directly linked to motorbike, the frame
structure requires the specification of the attribute usage, and then possible values
such as adventure, sport/race, journey, etc. A particular attribute is seat position, as
very often when people perceive motorbikes they do this when the driver is riding the
bike. Different values of seat position constitute different types of motorbikes; (1)
close seat position for racing and sports touring bikes (street bikes); (2) open posture
with vel}' bent legs for all kinds of off-road bikes; or (3) open, relaxed posture with the
legs less bent for classic street bikes.

In fact, an attribute is a concept itself when considered in isolation, for example,


when people think about engine in a neutral context, engine is not an attribute but a
concept. In this case, the attributes of the concept engine will probably include
attributes other than certain types of motorbike-engine (4-stroke; 2-stroke), because
these entries are simply relevant specifications of the attribute engine in the context
of motorbike. The same applies to values, which may also function as concepts when
they are considered in isolation from their superordinated concepts and attributes. On
the other hand, within a taxonomy concept, attributes as well as values

42 Bike-frame means the physical steel-skeleton and has nothing in common with the mental frames
we are talking about.

152
~
Structural Invariants

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Figure 56: Motorbike frame


are therefore subordinated concepts, since they contain information that makes both
attribute and concept more specific (e.g., adventure specifies usage in relation to
motorbike). In this sense, subordinated concepts inherit information from their
respective attributes and concepts (Barsalou 1992b). Values can further have
additional sub-values (concepts) and so forth. In the motorbike example, the value
journey might include sub-values such as Italy, Austria, Germany, etc. This nature of
attribute taxonomies describes the same process which has already been discussed
under the "unlimited regress of semiosis" in earlier chapters. However, attribute
taxonomies represented by frames are a lot more specific, as they provide a much
clearer internal structure of concepts than the rather limitless and unconstrained
"chain of meanings" that has been provided by semioticians. Following the
argumentation of cognitive psychologists (Barsalou 1992b, Anderson 2000), the idea
of an unlimited regress of signs or concepts is very hypothetical, as the length of
meaning-chains is constrained by the limited processing-capacity of the working
memory.

What determines an attribute? An entity's attributes are certainly determined by


its ontological nature, for example, for physical objects, attributes are likely to include
color, form, size, position and weight, for events location, time, and goal (Keil 1979,
1981). However, people are a lot more creative in their construction of attributes than
merely taking an entity's intrinisc nature. In fact, people construct attributes as they
need them, that is, a new attribute is produced when it is relevant to a specific
context. For instance, one attribute of companion in the context of vacation may be
free time, because companions must be free at the same time to take a shared
vacation. If people were asked to name major attributes of companion in a neutral
context, the attribute free time probably would not have been produced (Barsalou
1992b). This shows that new attributes are mostly produced when people want to
achieve goals. For example, when the frame for motorbike includes attributes such
as engine, wheels, etc., new attributes are likely to dominate the frame when the
driver intends to make a journey through the Sahara desert. In this case, the core
attributes might be, tools for orientation; drive; easy to repair.
Consequently, frames also embody core attributes, that is, those attributes which
are active for most if not all exemplars of the category. So, a core attribute is
constituted by the frequency of occurrence, by salience or simply by conceptual

154
necessity. For example, consider core attributes in the frame for product: company,
form (design), production method, and producef3; e.g., without the attribute
production method the concept would be impossible to understand.

Some empirical evidence has been put forward that people use attribute-value
sets instead of simple features during concept development. Ross, Perkins, and
Tenpenny (1990) provide an example of attribute-value sets in human learning. They
found that an imaginary person with the characteristics, buys wood and likes sherbet,
reminds subjects of another imaginary person with the characteristics buys nails and
likes ice cream (cf. Barsalou 1992b). As a result, subjects created a category with the
two attributes buys carpentry supplies and likes dessert where they placed these two
imaginary people as their characteristics have become identified as values of the two
attributes. So, rather than representing the category with the simple features of
exemplars, subjects represent it with more abstract attributes that take these
characteristics as values (ibid.). Further investigations on attribute-value sets have
been carried out, for example, in categories of children's drawings (Wisniewski &
Medin 1991) or in animal's discrimination learning (cf. Sutherland & Machintosh
1971).

Geon-Attributes:
We have said that a concept is based on all kinds of sensory impressions. That
is, frame-attributes derive from perceptual symbols that have been developed
because of various sensory-motoric experiences a person has perceived during
concept development. As in this work we chiefly focus on design attributes, we have
to specify what attributes are native to the cognitive system when design knowledge
is represented and organised in consumer memory. As has been said, product form
is an attribute of the product concept and because product form, during the process
of object perception, is represented in the form of geons, we can consider geons as
attributes of product form concepts. This means that frames that represent product
form concepts are based on geons as attributes. But, while in Chapter 2.752 we
demonstrated how a certain object can be represented in the form of geons during
perception, this structure has not been a representation in LTM. Thus, we now

43 Meaning the persons who produce the product (worker, manager, engineer, scientist, designer,
entrepreneur, service people, etc.)

155
combine geons with frames in order to show how geons that the individual identifies
during perception, become cognitively structured within frame structures. The geon-
frame structure within product form concepts can be best explained by means of a
simple example. Figure 57 shows a simplified frame of a general motorbike-design
concept with geon-relations44 as attributes. The motorbike-design concept is a
subordinate of the general motorbike concept in Figure 56. The geon-attributes 45 in
this frame are sufficient to represent different types of motorbike, in particular, off-
road and street bikes. 46 Although there may be thousands of different parts and
features on a motorbike and although there are hundreds of different bike-models on
the market, we are able to determine on the basis of just six different geon-attributes,
whether it is an off-road or a street bike that we see. While typical attribute-values for
off-road bikes are jumping shape pragnanz; studs on tyre tread; long wheel-fender
distance; slim tank form; close exhaust pipe-saddle distance; and a sliding saddle
form, street bikes have a recliening shape pragnanz; smooth tyre tread; close wheel-
fender distance; belly tank form; long exhaust pipe-saddle distance; and a stepped
saddle form.

44 As has been shown elsewhere, single geons provide the basis for very simple objects. However,
because product forms are usually much more complex object forms, we have to take geon-
relations (that is a combination of and relationship between more than one geon) as attributes. It is
certainly possible to reduce any kind of object to its single geons and show this within a concept
(frame) taxonomy, that is, every geon-relation is based on single geons as subordinates.
45 The different attributes are demonstrated by means of geon-relations. For example, the distance
between wheel and fender is a combination of cyclinders with straight and curved axis. For details of
geon-representations, cf. the previous chapters on the object-based stage.
46 To represent more specific exemplars (e.g., racing machine, sportstourer, chopper), additional
attributes are required, e.g., material, handlebars, etc.

156
c:::::= Motorbike (Form-Attributes) ~
__ -,;.'i ... ,:,- __

- ... _- ... - ... _-------


---------------------------

Figure 57: Motorbike-form frame


Attribute Relations (Structural Invariants, Constraints):
People do not store attributes independently of one another, instead they have
extensive knowledge about the relationships between them. Some of these
relationships describe normative truths, which means that they are relatively constant
across most exemplars. These relationships are known as structural invariants
(Barsalou 1992b). Within a general motorbike frame (cf. Figure 56) an obvious
structural invariant exists between driver and engine as it most likely conforms with
people's conceptual understanding that the driver controls the engine's speed.
Further essential structural invariants exist between bike-frame and wheels as well as
between driver; usage; and seat position. A second type of attribute relations are
constraints. Unlike structural invariants that hold true for most exemplars, constraints
produce systematic variability in attribute values. "The central assumption underlying
constraints is that values of frame attributes are not independent of one another.
Instead, values constrain each other in poweful and complex manners" (Barsalou
1992b, 37). Within the motorbike frame, an example of a constraint-relation occurs
between the sport/race and 4-stroke engine and the closed seat position, as these
relations constitute a street racing bike. Further, there are constraint-relations
between all the values that constitute either an off-road bike or a street bike in Figure
57. Another typical constraint - although not shown in the example - exists among
speed and duration of driving. While structural invariants describe a frame's 'natural'
associations, constraints provide an optimal aid for simulating different
conceptualisations.

2.826 Representing Brand Knowledge within Frames:

The consumer perceives all kinds of information about a certain company's


supply and organises this knowledge in the form of signs, or, more specifically,
mental concepts. But, although consumers develop a rather different brand concept
about Coca Cola than about Nikon, IBM or Mercedes, there exist some general
brand attributes which are typical for all brands and thus constitute this specific
concept. Consequently, consumers also develop cognitive concepts about 'the
general brand' and which contain common brand-specific attributes whose values
determine individual brands.

158
_..._'lJ'!"'~.!ft"..
Structural Invariants
~
................ :~....'./ '\:"::":'~:'::""'-......... -
......................... -;;;;- ..... "...... ,, "'\ ~",,:: ...... -~:::~- ..... --......
/
.. - ....... -
_ .~ ".A./ L.:: ------------::Jt -- '// / t / '! \\'"'" , '"
, -', ', - ", ----
",
'm' of"'"", .-- ' ---........ \ '~""" ",I "" --
Sl '"
A
,, ,," ,,
, 'T~" ..
,, ,,, ,, ,,,
,, ,, ,, , ,,
,,, ,,
, , ,
,, ,,
,///1 \<""0 0 0 0 51\"""
0000
I" '" ............
I" '" ...........
, "', . . ...
,I' . . . ........
, , I' " ............... ...
'G'
cffi? Prom.oo ~:: N=. 9
c6~~8
KTM-Brand:
Kind of Supply: Products

¥009?000)R Price: $$
Persons: Stefan Pierer
Country: Austria

Figure 58: Brand frame


The attributes that typically constitute a brand concept are, the kind of supply,
company, marketing communication, price, persons, country, and product design.
Figure 58 shows the brand concept with some of the possible attribute-value sets
and with some brand-specific structural invariants and constraints. By means of this
frame, a general representation of any kind of brand is possible (cf. the example with
KTM in the figure), but, the more attributes we add to the frame, the more precisely
different brands can be represented. Consumers also form conceptual combinations
where two or more concepts become unified. Barsalou (1992b) gives an example for
a conceptual combination, namely the conception bird house which is a fusion of two
individual concepts, bird and house. Since birds that typically live in bird houses are
small, this constrains the attribute-values of both concepts, that is, the value small
from the attribute size of house and bird (Barsalou 1992b). Consequently, conceptual
combinations constrain specific attribute-values from both concepts and therefore
construct more specific conceptualisations or completely new concepts. This occurs
due to the brain's ability to activate different sets of perceptual symbols in order to
create various simulations to represent more complex entities and events. It is within
brand formation that conceptual combinations most frequently occur. In Chapter 2.10
we will show a conceptual combination of the motorbike and the brand concept.

Both cognitive psychology and vision science have been able to provide a much
more specific internal structure of brands than semiotics. According to cognitive
psychology, brands as concepts consist of two components; the frame, by means of
which brand knowledge is represented & organised in LTM, and the accompanying
process that enables the consumer to construct numerous brand simulations
(conceptualisations).
Before we illustrate, by means of an example, how brand design knowledge is
represented through geon-structures, something needs to be said about salience
perception and selective attention.

2.9 Part Salience and Selective Attention - Developing Brand Identifiers

As frequently mentioned above, the visual system does not passively process all
the available object-information. In order to protect the visual system from being
overloaded with information, selective attentional mechanisms must somehow

160
manage to focus on the most important information, given the organism's current
goals, needs, and desires. There has been a great amount of research (e.g.,
Broadbent 1958, Julesz 1971, 1975, Treisman 1969, 1993, into a general overview
cf. Palmer 1999) concerning selective attention processes during perception, and it is
beyond the scope of this chapter to discuss them all. Yet, for our purpose, we need
to know what determines whether an object's part is perceived as being important or
not. Further we need to know which product-attributes become centrally represented
& organised within object frames, so that when these attributes are perceived again
they guarantee object recognition.
It has already been demonstrated that edges function as a bottom-up index to
the individual's catalogue of shapes and objects (ef. Hoffman & Singh 1997,
Biederman 1987). So we can assume that an object's edges become predominantly
stored in the mind when an object concept is developed. Furthermore, as Biederman
et.a!. (1985, 1988, 1991) have shown through various experiments, vertices are
especially critical for object recognition. In experiments on the perception of
degraded objects, contour deletion was performed either at the vertices or at
midsegments. The results showed that object recognition was much more difficult
when the vertices had been deleted than when midsegments had been deleted.
Consequently, via selective attention, individuals focus on edges and vertices as
they provide the basis for an object's geon-structure and, further, become stored
within a frame. More specifically speaking, edges and vertices indicate a certain
object's geon-structure, which enables the individual to identify the perceived object.
However, in a first step, edges and vertices refer merely to geon-structures of simple
object-parts, like the motorbike's tank, which, in a further step, refers to a certain type
of motorbike, and so forth, for example, when the tank is belly, it serves to identify a
street motorbike. Hence, edges and vertices constitute identifiers, which
corresponds with the example of the hand in Figure 24a. In this image, edges and
vertices have been drawn and one can recognise the object as certainly as if one
were looking at a real hand. Thus, the object (the human hand) may itself become
related to additional meanings ("be careful!") - a process which has been extensively
discussed in the chapters on brand semiosis.

However, since complex objects are based on many smaller parts, sub-parts and
sub-sub parts, we also need to know which parts individuals perceive and structure in

161
memory, and which they do not attend to. Figure 29 showed that there exist parts of
the VW Beetle which are more 'typical' of the Beetle design than others, e.g. the
round lights are more important than the rims. This conforms also with results of
several experiments by Biederman et.al. (1985, 1988, 1991) which showed that only
a very few geons are sufficient for object-recognition, which provides convincing
evidence that the most 'important' (salient) object-parts become centrally stored
within LTM.
In their theory of salience perception, Hoffman & Singh (1997) propose that the
salience of parts - and consequently the likelihood of being picked up via selective
attention - depends on at least three factors (cf. Figure 59):
(1) their size relative to the whole object,
(2) the degree to which they protrude, and
(3) the strength of their boundaries.

Figure 59: Examples of part salience (from Hoffman & Singh 1997)

162
A further very essential factor that influences selective attention to various object
parts are goals the individual intends to achieve (Barsalou 1983, 1992a, 1998). For
instance, a person who wants to take an offroad-bike tour might probably look for
tyre-tread with studs.
Part salience is further determined by the frequency of occurrence. That is, the
more often a certain part is perceived, the more likely it is considered as important.
Not only single parts but also part-relations can be perceived as salient. An
example is the long distance between the fender and the wheel of an off-road
motorbike.

Particularly part salience has a great influence on the determination of brand


identifiers. So, for instance, salient product design parts, such as the round lights of
the Beetle, are likely to function as strong brand identifiers. In this case, the salient
parts constitute a default attribute-value within the frame. The more identifiers, that is,
(default) sets of attribute-values for a given concept (simulator) correspond with
those for a certain perceived object, the quicker the object recognition occurs and the
clearer is category membership.4? In other words, the salient part becomes
represented as an essential concept-attribute-value. Once a perceived scene
'contains' this feature, the concept becomes activated (top-down).
Figure 60 shows the cognitive process of identifier-development: First there are
edges and vertices that refer to a certain geon-structure, while the geons are further
related to other attributes within the frame, for example, edges & vertices refer to
smooth tyre tread, which itself refers to street motorbike. That is, an identifier is the
edge- and vertex-structure of a given attribute-value. Those edges and vertices that
refer to salient parts and thus constitute default values (=prototypical attribute-values)
function as strong identifiers.

47 Despite intensive empirical investigations during recent decades, the question of why cognitive
systems divide the world into some categories but not others remains unsolved in ali theories of
knowledge (for reviews of the respective cognitive literature. cf. Barsalou 1992a. 1985. 1992b,
1998).

163
edges & vertices

'"
geon-structure

'"
(salient) object-parts

'"
object

'"
(default) attribute-values

Figure 60: Process of developing brand identifiers

However, when brand managers or consumer researchers have to determine


specific brand identifiers, the rules under discussion provide only very general
support. In the final chapters, we will therefore indicate a detailed process whereby
brand identifiers can be empirically determined.
In the following chapters, we will illustrate with an example, how brand
knowledge is represented & organised through frames.

2.10 An Example48 to Show how Brand Knowledge is Represented in Form


of Frames

As has been said in previous chapters, a perceived supply, in particular design


information, is mentally represented through perceptual symbols which become
organised in the form of frames. That means that all brand conceptual knowledge
becomes organised within frames with which the consumer can make limitless brand
simulations (conceptualisations). We have already shown an exemplified frame of a
general motorbike (concept) (cf. Figures 56, 57) and we have also shown a frame of
the general brand concept (Figure 58). With a conceptual combination of the two
concepts, brand and motorbike, we can develop the concept motorbike-brands, by
means of which we can represent different motorbike brands. Here, for the sake of
illustration, we once again take the KTM brand. Figure 61 is a partial motorbike-brand
frame, which is a combination of some typical attribute-value sets of the former brand

164
frame (country, supply, price, marketing communication, typical design) and form and
color attribute-value sets of the motorbike frame. For the sake of simplicity, the frame
in Figure 61 contains just those attribute-values of both concepts (brand and
motorbike) that are relevant for representing motorbike-brands, for example, the
original brand concept principally embodies every country as a value of the country-
attribute. However, the conceptual combination between brand and motorbike
confines this attribute to those values that are relevant in the context of motorbike-
brands - in our case, to Austria and Japan.

48 As in the example of brand perception, here too the drawn attribute-value sets serve merely for
illustration and have not been determined through an empirical measurement.

165
Explanations for Figures 61 and
62:

All images of the exemplars


taken (KTM, SUZUKI) are
shown in the Appendix
The frames do not inherit
information about structural
invariants or constraints.
Only the most essential
attributes have been taken.
Among the attribute-values there
exist also default values (cf.
Keller (1993) 'frequency and
strength of brand associatons'),
which are not taken into
consideration here.
For the sake of simplicity the
form attribute-values are 'written'
and not drawn as geon-
structures (cf. Figure 53)

Figure 61: Motorbike-brand frame


to all motorbike-types

,,
\
, '.,
"
... .......... \
\
..........' ...,\,
-.. -------::~\
----------------------

r
Note: this model has not yet
come into production, so
some changes may 8tlJl be
made

Figure 62: Motorbike-brand frame - KTM line


The example shows that the KTM brand is represented through attribute-value
sets from concept 1 (motorbikes) and concept 2 (brand) which become linked
together. As regards the KTM-design parts: the KTM brand (exemplar) contains
brand knowledge components about product-form information that derives from
general motorbike form attribute-values (1 st concept) and form attribute-values that
are exclusive to KTM (2 nd concept).49

Consumer researchers (e.g., ct. Sujan 1985, Meyers-Levy & Tybout 1989, Esch
1999) have further discovered that brand conceptual knowledge is stored
hierarchically. In Figure 61, we can first form a general representation of the KTM
brand. In fact, KTM is a subordinate of motorbike-brand, as KTM is the subset of
motorbike-brands whose values for country, supply, price, and marketing
communication are typically restricted to Austria, product, $$, and KTM-Iogo. As
Barsalou (1992b) states, subordinates are sets of exemplars whose values constitute
a subset of frame information. 'Through the representation of increasingly specific
subordinates, taxonomies emerge in frames" (ibid. 51). This can be seen from the
example of the representations of KTM-motocross (bikes). KTM-motocross has all
the values of KTM plus additional values from several motorbike form attributes as
well as values from typical designs and colors. Therefore, KTM-motocross is a
subordinate of KTM. The same can be done with Suzuki and its subordinate Suzuki-
motocross. In comparing both brands, KTM and Suzuki, one can see that identifiers
occur on all kinds of differing attribute-values, that is, country, price, marketing
communication, typical designs, and colors. 50 These identifiers are related to each
other, but differ in precision, as, for instance, we can assume that price is a less
precise identifier than typical designs.

As we know from brand semiosis, all kinds of supply in principle influence brand
formation. However, not all supply-stimuli determine the brand in the same way.
Through selective attention, only that supply information is processed which is
salient, or good for achieving a goal, and thus determines a brand identifier. We have

49 Product-form attribute-values that are exclusive for specific brand exemplars are called typical
designs.
50 Here, except the attribute typical designs, identifiers derive from non-design attribute-values.

168
said that prototypical 51 attribute-values constitute strong identifiers. Figure 62 shows
the prototypical attribute-value-set (regarding form-attributes) of KTM, which are the
values that most frequently exist among the given KTM exemplars. In the frame
depiction, only those lines from attribute-values to the KTM exemplars have been
drawn, where the values differ from the prototype - otherwise there would be too
many lines, which would make the picture confusing. Here, the prototypical values
correspond with the values of the KTM motocross and KTM enduro exemplars.
However, other values that refer to different types of motorbike have become
added to the KTM concept, for example, values that are typical for streetbikes such
as belly tank-form or close light. This happened when new partial-street models were
introduced and brand knowledge that relates to street motorcycles had become part
of the KTM brand concept. Therefore, the brand concept expands, as it also contains
identifiers for street bikes. Here too, KTM identifiers are developed when edges and
vertices become referred to geon-structures and embedded within the frame. Yet, off-
road attribute-values determine the KTM prototype. These values are so typical of
KTM that consumers who perceive an off-road bike might also recall knowledge of
KTM.

It has been shown how, during a process of brand formation, design becomes
embedded within brand concepts. Further, it has been shown how different brand
concepts are influenced by different sets of design-attribute-values. Design is the
product 'element' which is perceived when the consumer first comes into contact with
the brand (Bloch 1995). Further, frequent research in cognitive psychology (cf.
Palmer 1999, Biederman 1987, Barsalou 1992a) has revealed that an object's form
chiefly determines category membership. Thus, it is likely that during brand
formation, design-attribute-values constitute essential brand identifiers (more than
price- or countl}'-values).
Consequently, design-attribute-values (as brand identifiers) determine
consumers' brand conceptualisations (simulations). In combining perceptual brand
symbols productively, the consumer, in his working memory, is able to create

51 As has been discovered by various studies in cognitive science (ct. Rosch 1973a,b, Barsalou
1992a), robins are considered as prototypical exemplars ot the bird concept, since most people see
robins as more typical birds than other types of birds. A hen, tor instance, is considered as a less
typical exemplar.

169
limitless simulations of the brand in its absence. When a certain brand simulation
matches a perceived entity, the entity can be recognised as a certain brand. Within
this process, the consumer seeks various brand identifiers that facilitate the
recognition process.

The concept of brand formation provided here furnishes the general theoretical
framework to explain how product form information is perceived and cognitively
represented, together with other brand knowledge components. It can serve as the
basis for further empirical investigations for measuring the extent to which particular
designs influence brand knowledge structures and, thus, brand concept
development.

170
Part A
I Introduction and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

Cultural
Anthroplogical
II Semiotic Cognitive

""I11III II""""
Part B
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

Person - Object Relations I


Different Kinds of (Brand) Semlosis
Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

Dimensions of Brand Communication


Means of Brand
Communication
IContents of Brand
Communication
I Levels of Brand
Communication
I DirecVlndirect Brand
Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

Sign-theoretical Aspects

I I
-
The Chain of Meanings Construct

Brand Identification -
I The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other
I
I I
Brand Identifiers -
Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations

Cognitive Psychological Aspects

Brand Perception I I
I
Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation

PartC
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part D
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the Dissertation


c. Methods for Empirically Determining Brand Identifiers

It has been the aim of this doctoral dissertation to provide a theoretical


framework to clarify the process of brand formation. It has further been shown that
during brand formation a most essential process is the development of brand
identifiers, since they function as some kind of 'key-elements' when a cognitive brand
concept is created in consumer memory (cf. Chapters B.IV.1.233). For this reason,
this chapter will focus on methods to investigate brand identifiers empirically.
Firstly, the principle issues in determining brand identifiers and measuring the
influence of design on brand formation will be discussed (Chapter C.I). Then, general
requirements as to methods for empirically determining brand identifiers are
examined (Chapters C.II). On the basis of the requirements set out, different
methods of data collection and data analysis are evaluated according to their
usefulness in empirically measuring brand identifiers52 (Chapters III-VI).

I. General Difficulties in Empirically Measuring Brand Perception


and Brand Knowledge Structures

The general problem in empirically measuring consumer knowledge structures


and perception processes - and thus also the process of brand formation - is the fact
that these cannot be obseNed directly but rather assumed indirectly via certain
consumer reactions. Due to this fact, a theoretical construct regarding specific
consumer cognitive processes has to be developed, that is able to explain relevant
aspects of the social phenomenon brand formation. This theoretical construct will
permit the interpretation of the 'data measured' to.
As frequently mentioned in the former chapters, brand formation is based on
brand perception and brand knowledge representation & organisation. In fact, the
complexity of these processes is enormous. In principle, all kinds of cognitive
associations which the consumer has in mind when encountering the company's
supply can contribute to brand formation. Furthermore, goup effects, or any kind of

52 In Chapter B.IV.2.9 brand identifiers have been defined as the edge- and vertex structure of
attribute-values. However, in this chapter, when we talk about brand identifiers, we only mean
strong brand identifiers and thus default attribute-values.

172
situational effect, are likely to influence brand formation to some extent. It is obvious
that no theoretical model or framework can ever consider all these different aspects
and levels, so that a brand (identifier) formation framework is necessarily reduced to
certain elements which, according to the researcher, are most relevant in providing a
satisfactory explanation for the entire phenomenon. In the framework developed, we
have merely investigated the design-aspects of brand formation, but, despite this
already strong reduction in complexity, not all 'design-variables' can be investigated
but only those which the researcher considers as most relevant.
Consequently, due to the focus on a very limited number of variables, the
empirical determination of brand identifiers - like any investigation of social
phenomena - is highly "error"S3_prone. This means that measurements may provide
only a limited explanation of the brand identifier construct.
One can distinguish various sources of error in empirically determining brand
identifiers. First, there is the theoretical framework provided. A theoretical framework
has to be able to explain a specific social phenomenon. But as just mentioned above,
brand formation is so complex that the development of a theoretical framework for
understanding it is necessarily reduced to (presumed) central aspects. Due to this
reduction of complexity, it is always possible that a different combination of
'determinant' attributes as well as the integration of different assumptions into the
model, results in more suitable results. Because a researcher can. never test all
possible combinations of assumptions and attributes, a certain theoretical framework
can only be an attempt to explain a certain social phenomenon.
Since brand research has not so far provided a satisfactory explanation for brand
formation and brand identifiers, knowledge from other disciplines (semiotics and
cognitive psychology) has been brought in. So, errors may be 'imported' because
there may already have been errors within the theories provided by the other

53 Note: The term "error" in this sense regards factors that have a negative influence on achieving
satisfactory results to explain a certain social phenomenon or to solve a given research problem.
That means that an investigation with fewer "errors" provides better results, but this does not mean
that a theory or a theoretical framework with no errors - if such existed - depicts reality, since brand
formation is not something that really exists, but rather a construct of the consumers. However, the
author says that it is a reality that people ('consumers') act in various ways, but it is a construction
that we call these actions brands - even the consumer is a construct. Therefore, a theoretical
framework for brand formation provides an explanation for a specific way of acting by people in our
society.

173
disciplines. Another source of error is the way in which knowledge from different
theories is linked to the underlying research question. For example, in our case, it
could be that the geon-theory has not been 'exactly' applied to brand perception by
the researcher.
The second main source of error regards the measurement method. First, there
is the possibility that the method chosen is not suitable for measuring the given
phenomenon. Here, one of the main difficulties is to avoid a discrepancy between the
situation of data collection and the situation when brand identifiers are developed in
the consumer world. This describes a problem that needs to be considered
specifically when making laboratory experiments. (cf. Davis 1997, Aaker et.al. 1998)
Further, errors might occur, on various levels, during the measurement process
(for a discussion, ct. Berekoven et.al. 1999, Aaker et.al 1998, Herrmann & Homburg
1999, Lamnek 1995). A most essential issue concerns the interpretation of the data
received by the researcher. According to Grunert & Grunert (1995), during an
empirical measurement, the researcher's interpretation necessarily takes place on at
least three levels - consequently, mistakes can occur on each of these levels. A first
level is that of data collection. So, the collection of raw data about the specific social
phenomenon is influenced by the researcher's individual cognitive structure, as
happens when making non-verbatim interview transcipts. Second, during data
analysis, the researcher has to make 'subjective' interpretations when the raw data
received are coded according to certain categories which have been predefined by
the researcher. Finally, the researcher's own interpretation is involved in when
explaining the research results and when specific conclusions are drawn.

It is clear that when empirically measuring brand identifiers, it is not possible to


consider all aspects of the individual's and the researcher's cognitive structures and
their associations between each other. However, in order to provide some kind of
quality-level for methods to measure brand identifiers, certain requirements for the
method have to be given

II. Requirements for a Method to Determine Brand Identifiers

A method for determining brand identifiers has to fulfil the general criteria for
evaluating empirical measurement methods, namely objectivity, reliability and validity

174
(e.g., cf. Berekoven & Eckert & Ellenrieder 1999, Aaker & Kumar & Day 1997, Davis
1997, Herrmann & Homburg 1999). From what has been said about the problems
involved in empirically measuring brand perception and brand knowledge structures
several requirements for such methods emerge. These requirements concern both
data collection and data analysis.

A general criterion for objective and reliable research methods is that during data
collection, the researcher should have als little influence as possible on the person
examined. Otherwise, the measurement could reflect the researcher's brand
knowledge structures or perception processes rather than those of the persons
examined. In order to avoid this, the method needs to be standardised to a certain
extent so that different researchers obtain the same or similiar results. Further, a
reliable method must yield measurements that are stable, that is, free from random
error and yield consistent results over multiple admissions. Test-retest is a common
way to prove the reliability of a measurement. There, the investigation is repreated
under equivalent conditions with the same group of people. Furthermore, the
alternative form method is also to evaluate reliability. Instead of giving the same test
a second time, here, an alternative form of the test is administered (Aaker, Kumar &
Day 1998).

Another criterion for the quality54 of methods to determine brand identifiers is that
the data from a given sample are also valid for the whole target group, so that the
results are generalisable (=external validity55). Above all, generalisability is an
essential criteria when performing (laboratory) experiments. Experiments are the kind
of measurement that strives for the highest level of internal validity56, since there,
under controlled conditions, one or more independent variables are manipulated to
test a hypothesis about a dependent variable (cf. Davis 1997). As we will show in the
following chapters, experimental research methods are able to provide suitable
results for determining brand identifiers.

54 The extent to which the method is objective, reliable and valid


55 External validity is the applicability of experirnental results to situations external to the actual
experimental context
56 Internal validity exists when the dependent variable varies because of alterations in the independent
variable and not because of external factors.

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The suggested theoretical framework for brand formation implies several
features for a measurement method to determine brand identifiers. According to our
conception, consumers develop brand identifiers when specific brand attribute-values
(geon-relations) become stored in a central position within a brand frame. 57 In order
to empirically determine brand identifiers, one first needs to determine the essential
attribute-value sets that constitute a certain brand frame. Then, the measurement
needs to provide information about default attribute-values, that is, those attribute-
values which become predominantly stored within the frame and which constitute
brand identifiers. The problem here is that during brand formation consumers mostly
automatically represent product form as geons in the LTM, that is, consumers are not
aware of developing a brand frame with geon-attribute-values. Consequently,
methods are required that elicit this specific type of visual knowledge.
If it is already very difficult to discover geon-attribute-values, it is as even greater
challenge to determine default attribute-values. While some brand identifiers are so
obvious for the respondents that they can name them, others are not. Furthermore,
for an individual, it is impossible to say which brand identifier is stronger than
another. Consequently, since it is not possible to determine brand identifiers via
direct interviewing, we have to develop an indirect method.
The process where brand identifiers function indirectly is brand recognition,
meaning that, the stronger the brand identifier, the quicker the brand recognition.
However, during brand recognition, automatic cognitive processes are likely to
predominate over conscious processes. We therefore need a method that also
considers automatic cognitive processes during brand recognition.

Before we are examining the different methods, we would once again summarise
the method requirements:

57 N.B.: The components of a frame are attributes and attribute-values; relationships within the frame
are constraints and structural invariants. In the following chapters, when determining object frames,
we will focus only on attributes and attribute-values.

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1. Standardisation
Data collection and data analysis have to be standardised to a certain extent
to reduce only subjective influence from the researcher.

2. Generalisability
Generalisability is an essential criteria for experimental research. It means
that the resulting causal inference is generalisable beyond the particular
experimental setting in which it was found (Aaker, Kumar & Day 1998).
Experiments that provide generalisable results have a high level of external
validity.

3. Frame and Attribute- Value Sets


Both types of method (data collection, data analysis), must be able to reveal
consumer's brand frames 58 and brand(design-)attribute-value sets. The
methods need to reveal geon-relations on which the product-form parts are
based on.

4. Default Attribute- Value Sets


Data collection and data analysis need to be able to reveal default attibute-
values, since they constitute brand identifiers. Therefore, methods have to
provide information about salient product-form parts which the consumer
stores as default attribute-values.

5. Visual and Automatic Processing


Product form information is visual information. Therefore, the methods of
data collection and data analysis need to be able to investigate a consumer's
object and image-processing capacity (during perception as well as
knowledge organisation). Furthermore, it has been said that brand identifiers
can be indirectly studied via brand recognition. Since, during brand
recognition, automatic processes are likely to predominate over conscious
processes, the methods must be able to investigate these automatic
cognitive processes.

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On the basis of the requirements determined above, we will now discuss the
various methods. As will be shown in the following chapters, determining brand
identifiers entails a process for measureing the various stages. In a first step, the
researcher has to determine the brand frame (based on brand attribute-value sets).
Certain interviewing techniques will therefore be suggested for data collection
(Chapter C.1I1.1), which, in a further step, will be content-analysed (Chapter C.IV) in
order to determine the brand frame. However, interviewing and content analysis
cannot to precisely determine the strength of various attribute-values and thus to
define brand identifiers. We will therefore describe further experiments for testing
brand recognition where the importance of brand identifiers can be observed
indirectly and more precisely (Chapters C.VI). There, the identified attribute-value
sets (through interviewing and content analysis) will be shown to the consumer who
has to name (recognise) the brand. The velocity and certainty of brand recognition is
measured as a level of the strength of the respective brand identifier.

III. Methods of Data Collection for Determining Attribute-Values

As frequently mentioned in previous chapters, a brand frame contains all kind of


stored brand sensory knowledge. Because we have only considered knowledge that
derives from product form or design information, we will also focus on methods that
are able to measure design knowledge units within the brand frame.

Methods of data collection can be most generally grouped according to whether


they use secondary or primary sources of data. While primary data are collected
especially to address a specific research objective, secondary data are already
available, because they have been collected for some purpose other than solving the
present problem (Aaker, Kumar & Day 1998). Since, to the author's knowledge, there
are no sources of secondary data that contain information about how consumers
perceive and represent product-form information, we only consider methods for
collecting primary data.

58 Here, brand frames only consist of product form knowledge units (attribute-value sets)

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The methods can further be categorised into methods of observation and
interviewing. We will show that methods of interviewing function better in eliciting
attribute-values, but not in determining brand identifiers (=default attribute-values)
(Chapter C.1I1.1). For this reason, a combination of experimental research and
observation will be suggested (Chapter C.VI). There, consumers will be confronted
with single (or combinations of) brand attribute-values and the time needed for brand
recognition will be observed (cf. Grunert 1982). The quicker brand recognition, the
stronger the respective brand identifier.

1. Interviewing Methods

1.1 Parsing

When consumers' brand and design knowledge structures are being analysed,
people can be asked - through face-to-face interviewing - to verbally describe the
product's most salient form parts. However, because verbal object-descriptions are
always vague and unspecific about borders between parts as well as small parts,
some support may be provided by showing people an image of the product (cf.
Palmer 1999) and asking them to divide the object into pieces at places where they
think it is most reasonable (=parsing). According to Hoffman & Richards (1984), and
Biederman (1987), this should occur at places of deep concavities, whereby object-
parts are based on geon-relations (Biederman 1987) (cf. Chapter B.IV.2.752). In a
further step, the individual has to evaluate the different parts according to their
importance. There, people can be confronted with all the determined parts and asked
to rank them according to their importance for the entire brand.
Parsing is a way to identify main attribute-values. However, the method can only
provide very rudimentary information about attribute-values, since it mostly does not
determine very small salient parts (e.g., car-lights). It also has difficulties in identifying
attribute-values that are based on specific part-relations such as the wheel-fender
distance of an off road motorbike (cf. Figure 53). There, parsing is able to separate
fender and wheel, whereby, the attribute-value is not just the two parts, but the
relation (=distance) between them. Furthermore, a major problem with the parSing
method is that it is possible that respondents - due to intensive strategic thinking -
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divide the object at places they assume to be correct and not according to their
individual (brand) knowledge structure.
For these reasons, we will not longer consider parsing as a possible method for
obtaining knowledge about brand identifiers.

1.2 Drawing Tests

The respondents may be asked to make primitive line drawings of the object (ct.
Ruge 1988). People may either be instructed to make a line drawing of a product
they know very well or after having seen the product for a short time - without
knowing that they will have to draw it afterwards (ct. Figure 63).
Since, in a later step, data analysis presents difficulties in determining attribute-
values from single drawings, it makes sense to combine a drawing test with verbal
interviewing. So, after people have made the drawings, they are asked to name
(=specify) all the parts drawn - when looking at the drawing. This is important,
because line-drawings often contain non-specific explanations, e.g., when the
individual remembers a certain salient part, he or she may not be able to put it on
paper in an 'understandable' way.
In order to determine attribute-value sets, the data collected by drawing tests
need to be content-analysed (ct. Chapter C.IV). To facilitate the determination of
frame attributes, that is, the 'over-categories' which take on various values, such as
tyre tread with the values studs, smooth, it makes sense for the respondents to also
make drawings of competing or similar products. Thus, the researcher receives a
greater number of different values so that it becomes more obvious to which
attributes the values have to be related (through content analysis).

It is further possible that, within the drawing, small single parts as well as part-
relations may be overlooked. Therefore, the individual also has to be asked to name
single parts and part relations he or she considers important. However, a major
problem of recall-tests - such as the type of drawing tests shown here - is that the
respondent may have forgotten to draw important attributes, since he or she no
longer remembers them.

180
Figure 63: Example of a line drawing (without looking at the object)

Finally, a general problem with drawing-tests is that they require respondents


who are fairly skilled at drawing. But while "drawing-experts" such as designers or
artists are very well trained in seeing and drawing salient design-parts, they know
special techniques for drawing technical objects which might influence test-validity.
So, it is possible that a designer 'sees more' than conventional consumers usually
see (perceive).59
Drawing tests provide information about attribute-value sets. Those attribute-
values the respondents most frequently name, or which first come into their minds,
also provide some idea about default attribute-values. The problem is that this
concerns only single (default) attribute-values, whereas relationships (cf. wheel-
fender) are mostly first determined via a subsequent content analysis. Furthermore,
as will be shown, testing brand recognition times provides a much more exact
measure of the importance of individual brand identifiers in comparison with others.
(cf Chapter C.VI) .

1.3 Kelly's Repertory Grid

Another way to analyse form attributes is the Kelly (1955) repertory grid method.
In order to determine the attributes whereby a mental concept is developed, the

59 The validity of various results depending on whether the drawing has been made by a 'drawing-
expert' or not, needs to be empirically tested.

181
individual is confronted with groups of three objects (e.g., three different types of
motorbike). The individual is asked which two objects he or she considers as similar
and what the difference is from the third object. The process is repeated with other
object-groups until a sufficient number of object-attributes has been determined.
Instead of merely verbally describing the determined differences, the respondents
should be instructed also to produce small primitive sketches.
The main problem with the repertory grid is that this method does not elicit stored
visual brand knowledge but only analyses the product form when it is being viewed.
So respondents might analyse what they saw and not what they had stored in their
LTM.
On the other hand the repertory grid yields excellent information about frame-
attributes, because the comparison is always based on a superior attribute(-
category). For instance, the respondent could be asked "What does the KTM Duke
have in common with the KTM Adventure, compared to the KTM Motocross"? (cf. the
images in the Appendix). A possible answer might be: "The KTM Motocross has
studs while the others have a smooth tyre tread", consequenlty, tyre tread constitutes
a frame-attribute with the attribute's values, studs and smooth (ct. Figure 57).

2. Evaluation of Drawing Tests and Kelly's Repertory Grid


according to the Predetermined Requirements:

2.1 Standardisation

The level of standardisation with drawing tests and Kelly's repertory grid is very
high, since, after having instructed the respondents either to make the drawing or to
make the comparisons, the interviewer no longer has any influence on the process.
During the verbal descriptions (of the drawings), the interviewer may exert an
influence, since there is always scope for interpretation. Hence, the level of
standardisation here may be lower.

182
2.2 Frame and Attribute-Value Sets

With drawing tests, only attribute-values can be elicited. Determining attributes is


only possible after a content analysis (ct. Chapter C.IV), whereas, Kelly's repertory
grid also provides information on attributes and can thus provide all aspects
necessary for depicting the brand frame.

2.3 Default Attribute-Value Sets

Neither methods provides reliable information on default attribute-value sets.


Drawing tests (incl. verbal discriptions) offer some information about default attribute-
value sets; however, this, for the most part, concerns only single attribute-values.
Although people could also mention attribute-values they assume as defaults, the
problem with all these methods is that the strength of default attribute-values in
comparison with others cannot be determined precisely (and content analysis - cf.
Chapter C.IV). Furthermore, consumers mostly name the attribute-values they
remember first when thinking about them, but it can also happen that seemingly
'unimportant' attribute-values function as strong brand identifiers.

2.4 Visual Processing

Drawing tests focus on visual brand knowledge, since people draw directly what
they have stored in their LTM, whereas both Kelly's repertory grid and verbal
descriptions of drawings do not elicit stored visual information, but provide only a
verbal (and pictorial) description of visual product-form information.

IV. Content Analysis for Determining Brand Frames

We have so far collected data about various attribute-values of consumers' brand


frames. When determining which attributes the attribute-values discovered belong to,
in order to establish the entire brand frame, the collected data need to be analysed
by content analysis (Lamnek 1995, Davis 1997, Mayring 1988, Rust 1981).
According to Aaker, Kumar & Day (1998) "content analysiS is an observation
technique used to analyse written material into meaningful units, using carefully

183
applied rules". However, as Lamnek (1995) states, not just texts but all means of
communication and thus also movies, photographs, images, objects can be content
analysed (cf. also Chapter 8.111.2.1 for a discussion of various means of brand
communication). Therefore, we will apply content analysis to the collected data about
product-form information in order to establish the complete brand frame.

Determining brand frames by content analysis involves a two-stages process:


• first, attribute-values need to be determined from the images drawn or from
the verbal protocols
• then, attribute-values have to be related to their respective (frame-) attributes.

For that purpose, the following detailed structure is suggested:

1. Determining the Material to be Analysed:


When data collection has been carried out with drawing tests, the material
comprises all the drawings made by the individual plus the relevant verbal
descriptions. In order to understand to which part the respective verbal
description relates, the drawing should be placed in the center of a bigger
paper so thath the verbal part descriptions can be directly written on the
paper with an arrow indicating the part 'drawn'. With the Kelly's repertory
grids, the transcripts for analysis already contain information about attribute-
values (=the determined product-form differences) and the related attributes.

2. Determining General Product Form Units to be Analysed:


Geons can be considered as a basic form-vocabulary, so the product form
units to be analysed are either single geons (for simple parts such as car
lights) or geon-relations (for more complex parts and the overall shape as
well as brand-typical designs like the KTM Z (cf. Figure 61).
With Kelly's repertory grids and verbal drawing descriptions, one has to take
text-units (words or word-combinations) that describe the content of the
attribute-values as well as the attributes have to be considered.

184
3. Data Categorisation
A major principle of content analysis is that the categories with which the
content is to be analysed have to be defined in advance (Lamnek 1995, Esch
1998). In our case, we can generally only establish categories such as,
attribute-values, and attributes, or most general product-type specific
attributes (e.g. wheels, corpus, exhaust pipe for cars) that derive from prior
studies. However, these categories always require more precise definition
during the analysis, since the exact attributes can only be determined after
essential values have been discovered. For example, after discovering
attribute-values such as studs, and smooth an over-category (=attribute) tyre
tread can be defined. With the repertory grid, the categorisation is already
done by the respondents. Here, content analysis merely has to specify and
count the attribute-value sets discovered.

4. Counting
Here the number of respective attribute-values and attributes is counted.

5. Determining the whole Brand Frame


After the relevant attribute-value sets (=attributes plus values) have been
determined, it is possible to depict the entire brand frame (with design
information alone).

6. Reliability, Validity
The reliability of content analysis, in our case, depends on how closely
various attribute-values can be distinguished and how clearly they can be
related to the respective attributes. For this reason, the categorisation
process has to be repeated by different researchers (cf. Grunert & Bader
1986, Dreher 1995). In any case, the validity of a content analysis is difficult
to evaluate (Lamnek 1995).

185
V. Evaluation of Content Analysis according to the Predetermined
Requirements:

1. Standardisation

Any method for empirically measuring brand frames and brand attribute-value
sets must be standardised to a certain extent. However, content analysis cannot fulfil
this requirement, since categorisation is always subjective. The only possibility for
reducing subjectivity is to give the researcher detailed instructions on how to perform
categorisation within content analysis.

2. Frame and Attribute-Value Sets

With the collected data - from either drawing tests or repertory grids - content
analysis can develop the entire brand frame 60 .

3. Default Attribute-Value Sets

With content analysis, default attribute-value sets, can, to some extent, be


determined by "frequency of occurrence", that is, the more often a certain attribute-
value chain could be discovered - in the transcripts or drawings - , the more likely it is
a default. Further, some information about default attribute-values is provided by the
verbal desciptions, especially when people say that a certain attribute-value is very
important for them.

4. Visual Processing

The suggested methods of data collection provide data on visual brand


knowledge. Drawing tests elicit stored visual information directly, while verbal
drawing descriptions and repertory grids provide a verbal (or pictorial) description of

60 Only design knowledge entries

186
the product form. Since we have defined geons as the form units according to which
content analysis is performed, content analysis can encompass visual brand
information.

VI. Experiments for Determining Default Attribute-Values (=Brand


Identifiers)

1. General Considerations on Experimental Research

Experimentation does not imply a special method of data collection, but rather,
within an experiment, interviewing or observation is based on a particular
experimental protocol (Berekoven, Eckert & Ellenrieder 1999). The major goal of
experimental research is to study a causal relationship between an independent and
a dependent variable. Therefore, experiments can be defined as studies in which
conditions are controlled so that one or more independent variable(s) can be
manipulated to test a hypothesis about a dependent variable (Aaker, Kumar & Day
1998).

A major limitation to direct interviewing is that one can merely examine already
experienced happenings, while, with experiments, the happening is somehow
'artificially' created and can thus be simulated (and observed) (ct. Spiegel 1970).
As we have mentioned above, brand identifiers ensure brand recognition, what is
why brand identifiers can be determined by observing consumer's brand recognition
processes. Since, during brand recognition, automatic processes play an essential
role, any experimental design must also take consumers' automatic cognitive
processes during brand recognition into account.
Since automatic processes occur very quickly and lie outside the individual's
awareness (cf. Palmer 1999, Barsalou 1992, 1998), specific electronic devices that
enable those rapid processes to be investigated are needed. Experimental methods
where specific electronic devices are used, are called apparative methods and
belong to the category of laboratory experiments. Unlike field experiments, that are
conducted in a field setting, laboratory experiments are carried out in an artificial

187
environment. In laboratory experiments, internal validity is at a maximum, since the
variance of all, or nearly all, the possibly influential independent variables not
pertinent to the immediate problem of the investigation is kept to a minimum (Aaker
et.al 1997). On the other hand, there exist two typical limitations as to the external
validity of research results with laboratory experiments and, in particular, apparative
methods: First, external validity may decrease due to the artificial situation existing in
laboratories. Second, there is a testing effect, in that respondents are usuailly aware
of being in a test and are therefore sensitised and tend not to respond naturally (ibid.
p. 359). However, the second limitation concerns a problem that is not confined to
laboratory experiments but occurs in (almost) all kinds of interviewing and survey
research. Despite these constraints, laboratory experiments are the best way to test
single variables and therefore offer a promising way to study design brand identifiers
- where the influence of single product-form attributes on brand formation/recognition
has to be examined.
In consumer research, apparative methods are mainly used for measuring the
effectiveness of advertisements (cf. Kroeber-Riel & Weinberg 1999). However,
although they have been chiefly used for 2-D images they can also be applied to 3-D
objects.
Most apparative methods in consumer research have their origin in the theory of
aktualgenese (cf. Spiegel 1970, Pelz 1982, Kaiser 1999, Krober-Riel & Weinberg
1999, Rosenstiel & Neumann 1991, Berekoven, Eckert & Ellenrieder 1999), which is
an early theory of perception developed by the German psychologist Friedrich
Sander in 1926. The central principle of aktualgenetic measurement methods is to
make perception more difficult (e.g., through darkening, decreasing, unsharpening,
reducing time of exposure, etc.) so that the consumer seeks salient attributes which
enable or at least facilitate object-recognition. The idea behind this is that when a
person is forced to identify (recognise) a perceived object, he or she does so by
looking for parts and attributes that have become stored in a central position in the
LTM during prior object-experiences (cf. Hoffman & Singh 1997). This is due to the
fact that people use salient parts for indexing objects (ibid., Biederman 1987, Palmer
1999). Consequently, by making perception more difficult, one can 'provoke'
consumers to extract brand identifiers from the LTM.

188
However, the problem with actualgenetic methods is that they were originally
designed for measuring perception and thus emphasise bottom-up processes. For
example, a most common actualgenetic method, is the tachistoskop (t-scope) which
that reduces the exposure time for an object until top-down processes are almost
eliminated. Therefore the individual perceives only the most protruding lines, and the
t-scope is thus a suitable tool for identifying salient parts. Yet, it cannot determine
brand identifiers, since these are default attribute-values that have become stored in
the LTM.

For this reason, the author suggests ('design-based') brand recognition tests
which will measure the quickness and certainty of brand recognition when brand
identifiers are perceived.

2. Brand Recognition Tests as a Means of Determining Brand


Identifiers

According to our theoretical framework, default attribute-values constitute brand


identifiers and thus ensure rapid brand recognition. The quicker the brand is
identified from a certain (default) attribute-value, the stronger the brand identifier.
For measuring brand 'recognition-by-brand-identifiers' we suggest an
experimental design where brand (design-)attribute-values that have been found
through the methods discussed above (interviewing and content analysis) are
presented to subjects (Figure 64). Another possibility is that an image of the entire
product is shown and brand (design-)attribute-values are covered (Figure 65).61
Furthermore, instead of merely presenting (covering) single attribute-values (e.g.,
light, rOOf), one can also show (cover) combinations of attribute-values (e.g., light and
roof together). In the first case (presenting single attribute-values) the strength of
individual brand identifiers is determined, whereby recognition times that result from
the perception of various brand identifiers can be compared. In the second case, it
can be observed how strongly brand recognition is determined by a few brand
identifiers taken together. Such a test can be performed for instance by comparing

61 Empirical tests are needed to determine which experimental type functions best for which type of
research question

189
brand recognition times that result from seeing the three or four strongest brand
identifiers together with recognition times for an image showing the entire product.

~.

Figure 64: Two examples of a brand recognition test (presenting single attribute-values)

Figure 65: Two examples of a brand recognition test (covering single attribute-values)

A specific problem with the experiments suggested concerns learning effects.


Since, after people have once identified a given brand after having perceived a
certain brand identifier, the test cannot be simply repeated with another brand
identifier (and with the same individual), because then the brand is already known.
However, in a study on the perception of incomplete objects, Biederman, Ju &
Clapper (1985) found that when subjects were not familiarized with the names of the
experimental objects, results were virtually identical to when such familiarization was
provided. Therefore, in order to avoid learning effects, images of the brand where
IJrand recognition has to be studied are randomly mixed with images of other brands,
and the individual is informed in advance about the brand names he or she will have
to say. So, for example, first a VW Beetle brand identifier is tested, then a Mercedes
brand identifier, then a BMW brand identifier, and then again another VW Beetle
brand identifier. However, this experimental design does not allow recognition. times
between brands to be compared, since it can always happen that a certain brand's

190
higher brand awareness positively influences recognition times. Instead, the other
brands are merely added to avoid learning effects to some extent. It is further
necessary to select a very 'homogenous' mixture of brands (e.g., similar product
category, brand awareness, etc.), so that the respondents' attention to the individual
brands is quite similar. Otherwise, it could happen that the respondent realises which
brand's brand identifiers are being studied.

Following the procedure of object-naming experiments used in several studies by


Biederman et.al. (1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992) and Solomon & Barsalou (1998),
we would suggest the following experimental design: 62 63

Individuals are instructed to look at a computer monitor where an image that


contains only product-form fragments (either shown or covered attribute-values and
attribute-value combinations) is presented to them (e.g., VW Beetle form parts). They
are further instructed to identify the related brand (e.g. VW Beetle) as fast as
possible.
In order to ensure that only brand identifiers that derive from product-form
information are determinend, the images used for the experiments should be black
and white or line-drawings (ct. Figure 50). Furthermore, the images show attribute-
values (determined by interviewing and content analysis) of the brand under
investigation and from similar brands (see argumentation above). All images are
presented in random order.
Experimentation begins with a brief pre-phase and lasts between 30 and 45
minutes, with about 8-10 breaks (cf. Solomon & Barsalou 1998). Within that time
period, the (randomly ordered) images are repeatedly presented to the respondents
who have to name the brand name into a microphone that triggers a voice key, so
that the time of brand recognition is exactly measured. 64 Exposure time has to be
initiated by the individual itself by pushing a mouse- or joystick-key. Every image is

62 Since the procedure is the same when covering attribute-values, we will only describe the procedure
when attribute-values are shown to the individuals to test brand recognition.
63 The duration of the experiment, time of the interstimulus interval and limit of reaction time within
which a measurement is considered are adapted from similar cognitive psychological experiments
from Biederman et.al. (1985, 1987, 1988, 1991, 1992) and Solomon & Barsalou (1998).

191
followed by a blank interstimulus interval (about 1,200 ms) (ibid.). Thus, reaction
times longer than 3 sec. are eliminated since then automatic processes are then
likely to be dominated by conscious processes (ibid.). Furthermore, error rates are
recorded by the experimenter.
As has been said, the time from showing the image to the individual until he or
she has identified it is measured as the strength of brand identifiers. On the other
hand, the error rate is a measure of certainty of the respective brand identifier.

3. Evaluation of Brand Recognition Tests for Determining Brand


Identifiers

3.1 Standardisation

The suggested brand recognition tests are based on a high level of


standardisation. So, the detailed instructions guarantee that the researcher's
influence on the experimentation process is reduced to a great extent. At the end of
this section, we will once again talk about the standardisation of concept tests.

3.2 Generalisability

While laboratory experiments usually have a high level of internal validity,


external validity (generalisability) suffers, due to the artificial situation that naturally
occurs in laboratories. In any case, an essential precondition for generalisabilty is
that the method fulfills the requirements laid down (Chapter C.II) as well as possible.
To avoid learning effects, to some extent, the suggested research design has to be
organised as described above - informing the respondents about the brand names
which they have to recognise and randomly mixing images from different brands.
Otherwise, one test (on the same product) can only be made with one person.

64 Using a "naming task" conforms with Biederman's (1987) argumentation who states that naming is a
sure sign of recognition.

192
3.3 Default Attribute-Value Sets

Attribute-value sets have been determined by prior methods (interviewing and


content analysis). Through the brand recognition tests it is now possible to precisely
define default attribute-values which are those attribute-values which when perceived
again ensure rapid brand recognition. With brand recognition tests, the strengths of
various brand identifiers - due to different reaction times - can be compared among.

3.4 Visual and Automatic Processing

Both requirements are fulfilled by the brand recognition method suggested here
- thanks to the electronic device which allows exact measurement of recognition
times. When people are forced to quickly recognise brand names, automatic
processes are likely to predominate over conscious processes. For that reason, in
order to consider automatic processing, long recognition times have to be
eliminated. 65
Furthermore, the suggested test method considers visual cognitive processes,
since it is only images that are shown to the respondents.

4. Analysis of the Data Collected by Brand Recognition Tests

The data measured are reaction times for brand recognition and error rates when
brand recognition was incorrect. With the most simple form, one can analyse mean
reaction times for brand recognition and error-rates. The lower the mean brand
recognition time, the stronger the attribute-value functions as brand identifier.
Furthermore, the lower the error rates, the more certain is the brand identifier.
Another possibility for data analysis is to use one-facto/,6 analysis of variance
(ANOVA) which measures whether there is a significant effect from an independent

65 The relationship between and the importance of automatic and conscious cognitive processes
during brand formation constitutes an undeveloped aspect of the theoretical framework provided. It
is thus beyond the scope of this chapter to develop a detailed experimental design for measuring
the various aspects of automatic and conscious cognitive processes.
66 For our purpose one·factor ANOVA is sufficient, since the indepenent variable is only one factor,
namely the product forms but with different treatments (=modifications).

193
variable (images and sketches of attribute-values) to a dependent variable (reaction
times and error rates) (cf. Herrmann & Seilheimer 1999). So, ANOVA also
investigates whether there is causality (between independent and dependent
variable) or if the effect on the dependent variable is only arbitrary. If this is not the
case, ANOVA further analyses the relationships between the effects on the
dependent variable, that is, between mean reaction times for brand recognition and
the error rates that result from different attribute-values shown to the individuals.
Here too, the size of a certain mean compared to other means determines the brand
identifier.
For a detailed explanation of one-factor ANOVA, see Herrmann & Seilheimer
(1999).

5. Concept Testing and Final Comments

Design concept testinrr


Design concept testing is very useful since, during the design process, designers
and brand managers should also know whether the designs they create embody
'important' brand identifiers which facilitate brand recognition. For example, the brand
recognition tests discovered three essential brand identifiers which largely influence
brand recognition. When the brand management decide to retain these brand
identifiers in the new product version too, one has to ensure that other modifications
to the design do not overshadow most of the original brand identifiers. Furthermore,
when developing a certain design, the designer might have to know if, for a certain
(brand-)design, brand recognition is still guaranteed. Therefore, brand recognition
tests need to be made with simple design sketches where one can also study the
effect of design modifications - on brand recognition.
However, design sketches mostly differ in their precision and it is very difficult to
standardise them. Probably the only way to standardise line drawings is to transform
them into some sort of form-vocabulary, such as geons. So, standardisation is, to
some extent, guaranteed when the line-drawings are based on geon-relations, with a
predefined number of geons and a fixed resolution.

67 'Design concept' here is used in the sense of draft or sketch and not as a cognitive structure.

194
Such a concept-test could be organised as follows:
Brand identifiers have already been discovered through the process described
above. On the baseis of that information, designers can make geon-design-sketches
where some design-modifications are made. As described above, people's reaction
times for brand recognition are measured. Yet, the measured reaction times provide
information only on brand recognition of the particular design shown in the design-
sketch. That is, only a slight 'reorganisation' of a certain design-sketch may lead to
completely different brand recognition times.

Final comments on the measurement process discussed:


For empirically determining brand identifiers, the author has suggested a mixture
of methods which have been organised into two stages. First, with interviewing and
content analysis, attribute-value sets can be identified so that it is possible to
establish the brand frame. Due to the difficulties in asking people to name default
attribute-values, brand recognition tests have been suggested where people's
reaction times provide a measure of the strength of a brand identifier.
Two final remarks the framework provided for empirically determining brand
identifiers may be made on.

• In order to establish consumers' brand frames, we have suggested methods


that seek to elicit brand design knowledge which people have stored in their
LTMs. Here, the main advantage of drawing tests is that they directly elicit
visual brand knowledge. Compared to that, Kelly's repertory grid is rather a
method of object analysis than a method to reveal brand knowledge
structures. On the other hand, data collected by drawing tests need to be
content analysed in order to determine brand frames. However, since content
analysis is a non-standardised research method, attribute-values are related
to attributes as this seems to be most logical for the researcher, whereas with
repertory grids, frame attributes are determined by the individual itself. It has
to be investigated in future studies which of the two techniques performs
better - for which types of products - for determining geon-relations.

195
• The suggested experimental design is rather time- and cost-intensive.
Furthermore, the quality of the experiments to a great extent depends on the
quality of the data from the previous stages of the investigation, that is,
interviewing and content analysis. However, only through experiments can
one precisely measure the strength and the importance of various brand
identifiers. Although actualgenetic methods (e.g., t-scope, unsharpening,
perimetric method, ct. Spiegel 1970, Pepels 1996) also provide some
information on salient design parts, they only measure bottom-up effects. So,
one can obtain an impression of how consumers perceive certain designs,
but not of what their brand identifiers look like.

The aim of this part of the dissertation was to show a way to empirically
determine single brand identifiers and to provide a method of testing how brand
recognition is influenced by a certain number of brand identifiers.
Against the background that brand identifiers are only one aspect that needs to
be considered during product and brand development, the extent of the investigation
depends above all on the brand strategies selected.

196
Part A
I Inlroduction and Problem Statement
I
General Brand Concepts - Defining Brands

Approaches to Brand Formation

Cultural Semiotic Cognitive


II
......,....
Anthroplogical

PartB
General Considerations of Brand Semiosis and Brand Communication

Different Kinds of (Brandl Semiosis


Person - Object Relations I Person - Person Relations
(Human Communication)

Dimensions of Brand Communication


Means of Brand
Communication
IContents of Brand
Communication
I Levels of Brand
Communication
I DirecVlndirect Brand
Communication

The Process of Brand Semiosis within the Various Levels of Brand Communication

Inner Cognitive Mechanisms of Brand Formation

Sign-theoretical Aspects

I
I
--
The Chain of Meanings Construct

Brand Identification -
I
The Process of Associating Sign-Sensory Impressions with each other
I
Brand Identifiers -

I Strong Signals within the Web of Brand Sign-associations


I
Cognitive Psychological Aspects

I I
I
Brand Perception Brand Knowledge
Representation & Organisation

Part C
Methods for Empirically Measuring Brand Identifiers

Part 0
Final Comments and Summary

Structure of the Dissertation


D. Final Comments and Summary

I. Limitations

The theoretical framework of brand formation provided here has several


limitations. Probably the most essential one is the fact that supply information is
limited to product-form information, while, in fact, supply information also comprises
price, distribution as well as any kind of market communication (advertising,
promotion, public relations, etc.). All these aspects need to be worked into the
suggested framework by future research. Furthermore, product-design has been
considered as the product's outer shape. This definition has been sufficient for the
aim of describing the general importance of design within brand formation.
Nevertheless, for a more detailed investigation of this process, design has to be
broken down into the parts, form, color, graphics, etc. In particular, the importance of
color during brand formation is an as yet undeveloped aspect of the underlying
investigation.
Furthermore, our concept of brand formation has focused on the individual
consumer. Social aspects as well as group processes have not been taken into
consideration, nor has the involvement construct been integrated into the framework
of brand communication. Finally, our concept does not distinguish between automatic
and conscious cognitive processes during brand formation (brand information
processing).

II. Further Research

Besides the limitations to the framework envisaged above, there are a number of
promising directions for future brand and design research:

Research on Brand Perception and Brand Knowledge Organisation:


One of the central propositions of this dissertation was the notion of adopting
design as the center of interest during a process of brand formation. In order to better
understand the 'exact' influence of product design on brand formation further

198
research has to focus on both processes, brand perception and brand knowledge
representation & organisation.
It is not sufficient to investigate how brand information is mentally represented
and organised because it is on the perceptual level, where it is determined, to a
significant extent, what supply-information the consumer primarily focuses on during
brand concept development. Therefore, in particular, more research needs to be
done in the field of how brand information is perceived and processed through
various stages by the human sensory system. Here research has to focus on factors
that influence selective attention during brand perception like for instance consumer
involvement or affective components. Furthermore, it needs to be empirically tested
whether geon-structures are a suitable tool for explaining design perception.

According to the underlying research approach, sensory impressions (especially


visual impressions) become cognitively represented through perceptual symbols.
These perceptual symbols become organised in the form of frames. The frame-
concept provided here is different from the propositional networks usually suggested
by consumer behavior research. It is worth investigating, in as much the new concept
is a better construct for representing consumers' brand knowledge structures.
Especially, the notion of attribute-value sets has to be compared with spreading
activation models (e.g., ct. Lawson 1998).

Since it has been shown by cognitive scientists (ct. Barsalou 1992b, 1998,
Biederman 1987, Palmer 1999) that any kind of categorisation process is, to a great
extent, determined by the object's shape, design-information is likely to play a
constituent role in brand extension. Here, it has to be investigated whether the frame
concept offers a valuable means of determining the fit between parent and extended
brand. In addition, the influence of design on whether the extended brand is
considered and accepted as a member of the parent brand category (ct. Sujan 1985,
Sujan & Tybout 1988) could be studied. Two further substantial questions concerning
brand, or rather design extension strategies, that need to be investigated are: (1)
which design attributes can be adopted for brand/design extension (e.g., which parts
of the old Volkswagen Beetle have to be transferred to the new model for it to be
considered a "Beetle"); and (2) how far the design of a product can be "extended"
(=changed) for it still to be perceived as belonging to the brand category but also

199
containing something new and thus more activating (e.g., ct. the re-Iaunch of several
new models of Audi or BMW). A possible way to investigate the second issue is to
combine brand recognition tests with activation measurement, to find out whether the
new design reaches a certain level of activation. Whereby, in this context factors that
determine newness perception need to be investigated. So, it is likely that newness is
perceived differently when only slight design or styling modifications are made
compared to the perception of 'true' design novelty or 'retro' design elements (Bloch
1995).

Methods for Determining Brand Identifiers:


There is a need for a further specification of the methods described in Chapter C.
It has to be studied whether repertory grid provides suitable information about
attribute-value sets. Further, we need to know how well drawing tests elicit visual
brand knowledge. There, research is required to find alternative ways of investigating
design brand knowledge. It is also important to know how exact attribute-values can
be determined by content analysis and how exact differences in the strength of brand
identifiers can be measured by the suggested brand recognition tests.
Finally, gaining an idea of the 'quality' of design-concepts is one of the major
managerial problems in product and brand development. Research is therefore also
required to develop effective methods for testing brand recognition of design
concepts. Especially, methods for standardising design concepts need to be
developed. Here, the usage of modern CAD and imaging software is worth
investigating.

III. Summary

This research has developed a theoretical framework to explain how product-


design influences the formation of a brand in consumer memory. Consequently, there
have been two major goals, first, to develop a concept of brand formation and,
second, to show the influence of design within this process. A further aim has been to
provide a theoretical basis for future design/brand research and to develop new
methods and techniques to assist brand managers with their decisions in selecting
the right "brand-design".

200
According to the classical understanding of brands, brands are defined by
various 'identifying' features and attributes which determine and distinguish brands
from 'non-brands'. In the newer brand literature, especially in the anglo-american
world, a direction of consumer-oriented brand conceptions has become established.
There, the consumer's interpretation of the company's supply has been placed at the
center of interest. Instead of seeking certain elements that determine a brand, here it
is the consumer who develops the brand in his mind. Our understanding of brands is
based on the consumer-oriented approach, since it allows us to study how various
supply stimuli-including design - influence the brand construct a consumer creates in
his mind. We therefore define the brand as a clear and unique representation of a
certain company's supply in consumers' minds. That is, the brand results from
diverse supply stimuli which have been picked up by the consumers' sensory
systems and become mentally organised in their memory.
Finally, in our context, design is considered as the outer form of the product, also
involving colors, surface and graphics.

During the past decade, consumer research has extensively studied how brand
knowledge becomes stored in consumer memory. However, the processes prior to
brand perception have never been profoundly studied in marketing and consumer
research. We have considered this aspect as being relevant, since, for a profound
understanding of the brand construct - besides studying how brand knowledge is
mentally represented and organised - the processes whereby supply-information is
picked up by the consumers need to be clarified.
In consumer research, one can distinguish three major disciplines that have
implicitly dealt with the formation processes of phenomena such as brands. Findings
from these research directions have been used to determine three approaches to
brand formation (Chapter B.II); the cultural anthropological approach, the semiotic
approach, and the cognitive approach. In this work, the author has chosen a
cognitive-semiotic approach to brand formation which is a combination of the
semiotic and the cognitive approaches. On the one hand, the semiotic approach
provides a well structured instrument for distinguishing and examining the various
elements and relationships of the entire brand formation process (=brand semiosis).
On the other hand, the cognitive approach is the only one that provides deeper

201
insight into the cognitive processes involved when supply signals are perceived,
mentally represented and organised by consumers.
Consequently, the theoretical framework of brand formation which has been
developed in this work is based on two levels (ct. Figure 30). On the macro-level, the
very general process of brand formation has been shown. According to that process,
brands come into existence within a process of brand communication between
consumers and companies. There, supply-signals are exchanged between the
communication partners (consumers, companies), and a cognitive unit (=sign or,
rather, a cognitive concept) that constitutes the brand, is developed in consumer
memory (cf. Chapters B.1I1.3 and B.IV). In Chapter B.1I1.2, the various dimensions of
brand communication have been extensively discussed. However, in order to better
understand the cognitive processes during brand formation, on a micro-level, further
cognitive knowledge has been integrated into the model. This has been revealed by
a process called brand concept development. In Chapter B.IV, we explained how,
during the overall process of brand communication, or semiosis, supply information is
perceived, mentally represented and organised (in long-term memory) by the
individual consumer.

It has been shown that, during brand formation, supply information passes
through various stages until the individual consumer develops a sign or a mental
concept that constitutes the brand. During brand perception, design-information is not
represented as a whole but rather through a structure of generalised cylinders, so-
called "geons". Chapter B.IV.2.76 explains how products are represented through
geons.
These geon-structures provide the basis for storing design-brand knowledge in
long-term memory. In principle, all brand knowledge is stored in the form of frames.
The frame-concept which has been applied here is a concept that differs significantly
from conventional propositional networks, since frames are organised through sets of
attribute-values. Each brand attribute constitutes a determining part of the brand,
while this attribute can take on different values in order to represent any type of
brand. Each design-based brand attribute is represented through geons.
Specific salient brand attribute-values which the consumer stores in a central
position within a frame are called brand identifiers. Once a brand identifier is
perceived again, the consumer is able to recall a substantial amount of brand

202
knowledge from memory. Because design creates the initial impression of a product
(Bloch 1995) and since form is the major attribute in determining membership of a
certain (cognitive) category (Barsalou 1992b, Biederman 1987, Palmer 1999), design
determines major brand identifiers.

Finally, a way to empirically determine brand identifiers has been shown


(Chapter C). In a first stage, with interviewing and content analysis, attribute-value
sets can be identified, which makes it is possible to set up the brand frame.
The main challenge of measurement methods is that they have to be able to
elicit visual brand knowledge. Here, the author has suggested drawing tests and
Kelly's repertory grid to collect data about attribute-values. Data that have been
collected by drawing tests need to be analysed by content analysis, in order to
determine attribute-value sets and to develop the entire brand frame.
Due to the difficulties in asking people to name default attribute-values (=brand
identifiers), brand recognition tests have been suggested where - via laboratory
experiments - people's reaction times provide a measure for the strength of brand
identifiers. A detailed experimental design for carrying out the brand recognition tests
is given in the respective chapter.

We believe that the main contribution of this work to current brand literature is
that it provides a profound theoretical framework for how brands come into existence,
starting from small sensory supply impressions right up to a detailed frame in long-
term memory. Furthermore, a detailed explanation has been given as to how product
form (design) is perceived by the consumer's visual/sensory system and how this
particular type of brand knowledge is cognitively represented & organised in the
consumer's memory

As we have shown in various chapters that design is a central element within a


process of brand communication, we hope that this research can also help to bring
design more into the center of interest of marketing and, in particular, of brand
research.

203
E. Appendix:

A 1: KTM Motocross A2: KTM Enduro

A3: KTM Hardenduro A4: KTM Duke

AS: KTM Adventure (Showbike) A6: Suzuki Motocross

204
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