Keller's Brand Equity Model
Building a Powerful Brand
Do you know what makes a brand strong? And if you had to make yours stronger, would you know how to do it?
Many factors influence the strength of a particular product or brand. If you understand these factors, it can help you to launch a new product effectively, or work out how to turn a struggling brand into a successful one.
Keller's Brand Equity Model is a tool you can use to analyze these factors and strengthen your brand. In this article, we'll learn more about the model, and how you can apply it.
What Is Keller's Brand Equity Model?
Keller's Brand Equity Model (also known as the Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model) was first developed by marketing professor, Kevin Lane Keller, in his widely-used textbook, "Strategic Brand Management." 
The concept behind the Brand Equity Model is simple: in order to build a strong brand, you must shape how customers think and feel about your product. You have to build the right type of experiences around your brand, so that customers have specific, positive thoughts, feelings, beliefs, opinions, and perceptions about it.
When you have strong brand equity, your customers will buy more from you, they'll recommend you to other people, they're more loyal, and you're less likely to lose them to competitors.
The model, depicted as a pyramid in figure 1, below, illustrates the four steps that you need to follow to build strong brand equity.
Figure 1 – Keller's Brand Equity Model
KELLER, KEVIN, STRATEGIC BRAND MANAGEMENT: GLOBAL EDITION, 4th, © 1901. Reprinted by permission of Pearson Education, Inc., New York, New York.
The four steps of the pyramid represent four fundamental questions that your customers will ask – often subconsciously – about your brand.
These four steps also contain six building blocks that must be in place for you to reach the top of the pyramid, and to develop a successful brand.
How to Apply Keller's Brand Equity Model
Let's look at each step of the model in more detail, and discuss how you can use it to strengthen your brand.
Step 1: Brand Identity – Who Are You?
First, your goal is to create "brand salience," or awareness – in other words, you need to make sure that your brand stands out, and that customers recognize it and are aware of it.
You're not just creating brand identity and awareness here; you're also trying to ensure that brand perceptions are "correct" at key stages of the buying process.
Start by getting to know who your customers are. Research your market to gain a thorough understanding of how your customers see your brand, and explore whether there are different market segments with different needs and different relationships with your brand.
Then, identify how your customers narrow down their choices and decide between your brand and those of your competitors. Ask yourself:
- What decision-making processes do your customers go through when they choose your product?
- How are they classifying your product or brand?
- How well does your brand stand out from other, similar ones?
You are able to sell your product because it satisfies a particular set of your customers' needs; this is your unique selling proposition, or USP. You should already be familiar with these needs, but it's important to communicate to your customers how your brand fulfills these. Do they fully understand these USPs when they're making their buying decisions?
By the end of this step, you should understand whether your clients perceive your brand as you want them to, or whether there are specific perceptual problems that you need to address. Do you need to adjust your product or service, or adjust the way that you communicate your brand messages?
Step 2: Brand Meaning – What Are You?
Identify and communicate what your brand means to your customers, and what it stands for. Do this by considering your brand in terms of "performance" and "imagery":
- Performance defines how well your product meets your customers' needs. According to Keller's model, performance consists of five categories: primary characteristics and features; product reliability, durability, and serviceability; service effectiveness, efficiency, and empathy; style and design; and price.
- Imagery refers to how well your brand meets your customers' needs on a social and psychological level. Your brand can meet these needs directly, from a customer's own experiences with a product; or indirectly, with targeted marketing, or by word of mouth.
The experiences that your customers have with your brand come as a direct result of your product's performance. Your product must meet, and, ideally, exceed their expectations if you want to build loyalty.
Next, think carefully about the type of experience that you want your customers to have with your product. Take both performance and imagery into account, and create a "brand personality." Again, identify any gaps between where you are now and where you want to be, and look at how you can bridge these.
A good example of "brand meaning" in action is that of outdoor clothing and equipment company, Patagonia®, which makes high-quality products from recycled materials.
Patagonia’s brand performance demonstrates its reliability and durability. People know that their products are well designed and stylish, and that they won't let them down. Patagonia's brand imagery is enhanced by its commitment to several environmental programs and social causes; and its strong "reduce, reuse, recycle" values, which makes customers feel good about purchasing its products.
Step 3: Brand Response – What Do I Think, or Feel, About You?
Your customers' responses to your brand will typically fall into two categories: "judgments" and "feelings."
The judgments they make tend to center around the following four categories.
- Quality – customers judge a product or brand based on its actual and perceived quality. Think about what you can do to improve these two types of quality when it comes to your product or brand.
- Credibility – customers judge credibility using three dimensions: expertise (which includes innovation), trustworthiness, and likability. Ask yourself, how you can improve your credibility in these three areas. For example, could you use research to support your key messages and promote this research on your brand packaging or in a marketing campaign?
- Consideration – customers judge how relevant your product is to their unique needs. Use the consumer research you carried out in step one to help you to identify your customers' specific needs. Then, clarify how you are addressing these needs and what your are doing to communicate how you support them.
- Superiority – customers assess how superior your brand by comparing you with competitor brands. Ask yourself, honestly, how well does your brand measure up to your competitors? Is there anything extra or special that your competitors offer that you don't, or vice versa? What more could you do?
Customers also respond to your brand according to how it makes them feel. Your brand can evoke feelings directly, but customers will also respond emotionally to how a brand makes them feel about themselves. According to the model, there are six positive "brand feelings" customers can get from a product or service they use: warmth, fun, excitement, security, social approval, and self-respect.
Think carefully about the six feelings listed above. Which, if any, of these does your current marketing strategy focus on? What can you do to enhance these feelings in your customers?
Step 4: Brand Resonance – How Much of a Connection Would I Like to Have With You?
Brand "resonance" sits at the top of the brand equity pyramid because it's the most difficult – and the most desirable – level to reach. You have achieved brand resonance when your customers feel a deep, psychological bond with your brand. 
Keller breaks resonance down into four categories:
- Behavioral loyalty – this includes regular, repeat purchases.
- Attitudinal attachment – your customers love your brand or your product, and they see it as a special purchase.
- Sense of community – your customers feel a sense of community with people associated with the brand, including other consumers and company representatives.
- Active engagement – this is the strongest example of brand loyalty. Customers are actively engaged with your brand, even when they are not purchasing it or consuming it. This could include joining a club related to the brand; participating in online chats, marketing rallies, or events; following your brand on social media; or taking part in other brand-related activities.
Your goal, in the last stage of the pyramid, is to strengthen your brand resonance in each of the four categories listed above.
For example, to enhance behaviorial loyalty, you could consider offering free gifts with every purchase, or creating a customer loyalty card scheme.
Ask yourself what you can do to reward customers who are champions of your brand as well. What events could you plan and host to encourage customer involvement? For example, could you participate in relevant industry events or exhibitions, or setup in-store product demonstrations?
Example of Applying the Brand Equity Model
Julie has recently been put in charge of a project to improve an under-performing product. The product is a high quality, fair trade, organic tea, but it's never achieved the sales and customer loyalty that the organization expected.
Julie decides to use the brand equity pyramid as a framework to turn around the brand's performance.
Step 1: Brand Identity
Julie's target customers are mid- to high-income, socially-conscious women.
After careful analysis, she knows that she is marketing in the correct category, but she realizes that her marketing efforts aren't fully addressing customer needs.
She decides to change the messaging from "healthy, delicious tea," to "delicious tea, with a conscience," which is more relevant and meaningful to her target market.
Step 2: Brand Meaning
Next, Julie examines the product's meaning, and looks at how the company communicates that meaning to its customers.
The performance of the tea is already moderately high; it's a single-source, fair trade tea of a higher quality than the competition's product.
After assessing the organization's service effectiveness, however, Julie is disappointed to find that many customer representatives lack empathy with customers who complain. So, she organizes a comprehensive customer service training course to improve responses to customer complaints and feedback.
Last, Julie decides to post personal stories from the fair trade farmers who grow and pick the tea on the company's website. By doing this, she aims to educate customers on how beneficial this practice is for people around the world.
Step 3: Brand Response
After going over the four brand response judgments, Julie realizes that perceived quality might be an issue. The tea itself is high quality, but the pack size is smaller than the ones her competitors use. Julie doesn't want to lower the price, as this might make customers devalue the product's quality, so she decides to offer more tea in each box in order to surpass customer expectations.
She also decides to enhance the tea's credibility by becoming fair trade-certified through an independent third-party organization, which she promotes on the company website and product packaging.
Step 4: Brand Resonance
Julie knows that her target customers care deeply about fair trade. She decides to promote the organization's efforts by participating in a number of fair trade events around the country.
She also sets up a social networking framework to involve customers in the organization's fair trade efforts, and she creates a forum on the company website where customers can discuss issues surrounding fair trade. In addition, she commits to championing the efforts of other fair trade organizations through partnerships.
Keller's Brand Equity model (also known as the Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) Model) was first developed by marketing professor, Kevin Lane Keller in his widely used textbook, "Strategic Brand Management."
The model is illustrated using a pyramid, which can be split in four tiered levels that organizations can work through to develop a strong brand. The four levels also contain six building blocks that must be in place for organizations to develop a successful brand.
The four levels of the pyramid, as well as the six building blocks they contain, are:
- Brand Identity – salience (bottom of the pyramid).
- Brand Meaning – performance and imagery (second level of the pyramid).
- Brand Responses – customer feelings and judgments (third level of pyramid).
- Brand Relationships – resonance (top of the pyramid).
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