What Does Brand Equity Mean Anyway?

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Harris Interactive released the results of its EquiTrend study which purports to measure and rank brand equity across a range of product categories. The brand with the number one equity score in 2008: Heinz Ketchup. In the financial services industry, the leader was Visa, and in the airlines business it was US Airways. Meanwhile, Microsoft took top honors for software.

My take: Viewing the results of this study left me with just one thought:

What the hell is brand equity, anyway?!@#$!@”

According to the article, this particular study of brand equity supposedly measures familiarity, quality, purchase consideration, brand expectations, distinctiveness, and trust.

Maybe so, but these results are a little hard to take. The winner in the financial services category has no physical presence, provides no direct customer service or support, and its product is always co-branded in one way or another. And it has the highest brand equity in the industry?

As for US Airways, have the survey respondents flown at all in the past 12 months? The customer experience on just about any airline sucks, and US Air has got to be towards the bottom of the pack. Have these people heard of Southwest Airlines? Except for the people who experienced JetBlue’s Valentine’s Day meltdown last year, most people I know think JetBlue is head and shoulders above US Airways.

And Microsoft? The “evil empire” has the highest brand equity in the software business? Did the study systematically avoid surveying Apple users?

Bottom line:
What this study goes to prove is that the concept of brand equity is far from being science. When pretty much any research can do a study, and describe its methodology as having measured brand equity, then you know that it isn’t science (“they blinded me with science…”).

The problems with studies like these are two-fold:

1) They give marketing a bad name. Or, at the least, they don’t help to improve its credibility.

2) They aren’t actionable.
Do you really think the execs at Southwest Airlines are fretting over having lost to US Air in this study’s brand equity rankings? Do you think they’re planning the actions they need to take to unseat US Air from the #1 slot? I don’t think so.

But somehow, I doubt that this blog post is going to dissuade any of the brand equity ranking firms from conducting their “research.” And Jim Novo is going to have to come up with a new term — because this really isn’t what he calls  “research for press release.” How about “pseudo-scientific research”?

Technorati Tags: Marketing, Brand Equity, EquiTrends

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