This past week at St. Kate’s our MBA branding class jumped headlong into the theory of brand resonance. Kevin Lane Keller developed his brand resonance model almost 15 years ago and it stands tall today. Keller is the E.B. Osborne Professor of Marketing and a world-famous branding scholar from the Tuck School of Business at Dartmouth College. Great business schools around the world use his model as a founding principle in branding classes every day.
We used Keller’s brand resonance framework to analyze the Nivea brand based on a lengthy case study in our textbook. Because Keller’s framework deftly delineates the heart (feeling and emotional) brand elements from the head (thinking and rational) brand elements, our students engaged in a robust discussion and we worked the Nivea brand from both sides.
We moved up the brand resonance pyramid on the left side, identifying the aspects of Nivea’s brand performance – mild and gentle but effective, unique oil-in-water emulsion, moisturizing, high quality, reasonably priced. We crossed over to the imagery side of the pyramid and listed the components of Nivea’s brand image such as caring; the caretaker of skin; the clean, fresh and natural Nivea woman; and, simple and uncomplicated.
Once we hit the “judgment” part of the framework, the students engaged in a lively discussion about Nivea’s recent “White is Purity” headline used in one of the brand’s print ads, but which the brand also posted to Facebook on April 5th. The judgment part of the resonance model asks us to identify the positive/negative opinions bestowed on the brand by consumers. These judgments either detract from (as in Nivea’s case) or enhance the brand’s equity. The backlash against Nivea for what was interpreted as a racist headline was swift. Because it took the brand more than two days to remove the post, the brand suffered even more.
The great thing about the resonance model is it keeps marketing professionals attuned to the sources of a brand’s equity, both rational and emotional. Like a firm’s balance sheet, it offers a snapshot in time. Brand equity can ebb and flow. That is why most modern brands use annual consumer surveys to measure incremental changes to their brands’ equity. Will Nivea suffer significant or lasting erosion to its equity? It takes a lot to topple a strong brand, but Nivea made a serious blunder on a sensitive topic. Will the brand weather the storm? For Nivea the jury is still out.
Written by Diane Fittipaldi, MBA Professor
“I consider myself a recovering ad exec. I’m a scholar. A researcher. A professor. I believe personal stories inspire change. I spend my time investigating issues of age and gender equality in the workplace, hoping to discover structural solutions to systemic problems. I enjoy my home at St. Kate’s – an organization on that wholeheartedly supports me in these endeavors giving me a platform to affect change.”