In the present day, relationship marketing is a popular concept in marketing research and practice (Wang and Head, 2005).
Morgan and Hunt (1994) define relationship marketing as all marketing activities directed towards establishing, developing and maintaining relational exchanges.
The goal of relationship marketing is to increase customer loyalty. Research proves the premise that loyal customers are actually more profitable. Loyal customers are less costly to serve, are usually wiling to pay more for brand choices than non-loyal customers, and act as word of mouth marketers for the company (Reinartz and Kumar, 2002).
It may not be wrong to say that customer loyalty could be achieved through preserving long-term relationships with customers. Relationships are and have always been very important for humans. This was evident from ancient times, where relationships were analyzed by philosophers (Veloutsou, 2007).
Relationship with mental images, symbols and objects can be one of the many aspects that can be used as a basis of a relationship (Gummesson, 1994).
It is appreciated that individuals develop relationships with brands. According to Kotler and Armstrong (2001), a brand helps a product or service offering organization identify itself to its potential markets. It does this by using a sign, some symbol, a name or a term, a unique design or even a combination of these.
Brand and consumer relationships are the latest research focus in brand research (Zhou, 2006). However, despite the growing interest, the research on role of brands in development of relationships with the customers is limited, especially in the case of consumer goods. Moreover, there is a need to determine the elements of the consumer-brand relationship that could serve to strengthen this bond.
In Pakistan, marketing practices are shifting gradually from transactional to a relationship focus. However, this is mainly the case with the larger companies, particularly, service-provider companies. Still, many of the local companies, particularly the ones that produce consumer goods pay little attention to develop and maintain bonds with the consumers.
However, many multi-national companies that are marketing their products in Pakistan are found making efforts in developing relationships with the local consumers using brands as relationship-facilitators (e.g. Unilever through its brands; Lifebuoy, Sunsilk, Fair & Lovely, Lipton, Wall’s etc.)
Marketers for the local companies need to realize the importance of establishing relationships with consumers, and in doing that, they need to use brands as their most valuable resource. In order for them to do so, they must first understand the product-brand and consumer relationship and its various dimensions that would help maintaining it.
Rationale of the Study
Researchers have examined the relationship between brands and consumers in the past. However, this has mostly been the case for consumer services. The emphasis on the examination of brand relationships in services context could be partly due to the fact that service-providers have always focused more on building relationships. Little research exists regarding the relationship between brands of consumer goods and the consumers.
Moreover, there is no evidence of such research previously conducted in Pakistan. Pakistan has a distinct culture and mass media, both of which influence consumer attitudes and perceptions. Therefore, it is important to study the scenario in the local setting.
This study therefore, aims to examine the attitudes of local consumers towards product-brands as influenced by local culture and media and investigate the extent to which a relationship exists between product-brands and consumers in the local setting. It also aims to identify the various dimensions of this relationship that could help the local marketers maintain long-term relations with customers so...