Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity.

Wolfgang Grassl (Hillsdale College)

Journal of Consumer Marketing

ISSN: 0736-3761

Article publication date: 1 June 2000




Grassl, W. (2000), "Strategic Brand Management: Building, Measuring, and Managing Brand Equity.", Journal of Consumer Marketing, Vol. 17 No. 3, pp. 263-272.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

This book is arguably the most comprehensive state‐of‐the‐art overview of branding strategy and, a fortiori, of product policy. Like most other expositions of branding, it focuses on understanding brand equity though it goes far beyond this currently fashionable topic and embeds it in strategic marketing.

Part I introduces the principal issues of brand management and proposes a model to explain brand equity. Part II is devoted to the factors that constitute brand equity while Part III treats the measurement of brand equity. Part IV deals with a wide array of issues in brand equity management, and Part V sketches applications of the author’s model.

Keller advances the theory of customer‐based brand equity, which sees brand equity “as the differential effect that brand knowledge has on consumer response to the marketing of that brand” (p. 45). Brand knowledge, in turn, is held to be a function of two psychological constructs: brand awareness (or familiarity) and brand image. The three main ways to build brand equity are to choose brand elements (i.e. the components of a brand that identify and differentiate it), to design supporting marketing programs, and to leverage secondary associations (e.g. country‐of‐origin effects).

Based on this explanatory model, the author develops approaches to issues such as brand extensions, the development of brand hierarchies and portfolios, the measurement of brand equity, and branding strategies for new products. He explains the role of corporate brands, family brands, individual brands, and modifiers, and how they can be combined into sub‐brands. The book covers affiliate topics such as legal issues, brand crises, corporate name changes, and advertising strategy. The development of brands for services and for commodities is analyzed at least cursorily, while a special chapter is devoted to global branding.

The book features illustrative examples and case studies based on brands marketed in the USA and internationally. It includes over 75 Branding Briefs that highlight detailed branding issues and, in five appendices, detailed cases studies on successful and unsuccessful brand strategies (Levi’s Dockers, Intel Co., California Milk Processor Board, Nivea, Nike). Discussion questions at the end of each chapter increase the book’s value as a textbook.

Perhaps the main merit of the book is the service it renders towards a rehabilitation of the concept of brand equity. In the wake of its proliferation as a catch‐all tool by researchers and consultants, the usefulness of this construct for understanding brands has recently come under criticism. Keller gives “brand equity” a precise meaning again and demonstrates its analytical power and explanatory potential. In so doing he has established his book as one of the major oeuvres in the field, in a line with the contributions by Aaker (1996) and Kapferer (1992).

Even a comprehensive survey of this type has to be selective. Umbrella branding – a topic much in the current debate – receives scarce attention, and no mention is made of the small but promising literature on applying the concept of the ecological niche to marketing, calculating niche shares as a more appropriate measure of a brand’s success than the traditional market shares. Issues of brand competition, particularly the definition of boundaries for brands and product classes, together with the delineation of relevant markets, could also have received a more extensive treatment.

The book shares its main weakness with other publications on brands. What brands actually are, what their ontological status is, remain largely vague. In line with the customer‐based view of brand equity, brands are basically seen as abstract constructs applied to products. But the concept is still used equivocally. Brands are held to be a special class of differentiated products (p. 4) and at the same time to “reside in the minds of consumers” (p. 10). In the first sense they would, as branded products, belong to product space, and in the latter sense, as perceptual entities, to psychological space. Brand‐product matrices (pp. 400ff.) indicate that brands are abstract entities applied to hitherto unbranded products, as decisions “as to which products to attach to any one brand” (p. 404) would imply. On the other hand, consumer choice is between brands, as branded products or product variants. It is surely problematic to run these two contrary concepts together, though type‐token confusions abound in the literature on brands (Grassl, 1999).

Among the major omissions of the book is the neglect of what has become known as “natural” or “category brands” such as champagne, cognac, Parma ham, Idaho potatoes, Louis XVI furniture, or Emmental cheese. In these cases, brand names did not arise through either individual branding or umbrella branding, brand elements such packaging or design are not consistent and not constitutive of the brand, and yet it is clear what products fall under one of these brands. Their origin in a particular viticultural region and a particular production process applied to a particular species of grapes which characterize certain wines sufficiently to make them champagnes, or cognacs, regardless of the degree of awareness consumers may have of them and irrespective of any corporate brand name and market communication. In order to accommodate such examples, the author may have had to attribute to product features a greater role in his explanation of branding.

True to his theory of customer‐based brand equity, Keller does not devote much attention to the financial approach to brand equity though he does refer to issues concerning the valuation of brands. The book draws on findings of affiliate disciplines such as consumer psychology and, in an overall assessment, integrates most of the relevant empirical and theoretical work on brands. Given that economics has, since Chamberlin’s model of monopolistic competition, not produced much on product differentiation that would be of importance for marketing, the neglect of the industrial organization paradigm is understandable.

Keller’s book is a very valuable addition to the literature. It is remarkable in striking a good balance between a thorough and complete textbook and a report on the latest research in the field. The book may be recommended as a textbook for MBA courses on product and brand management and for other advanced‐level classes. But it should also be of interest to market researchers and marketing managers. Keller’s 760‐page tome is likely to establish itself as the definitive overview of branding for several years to come – and, more than that, as an original contribution to the marketing literature.


Aaker, D.A. (1996), Building Strong Brands, Free Press, New York, NY.

Grassl, W. (1999), “The reality of brands: toward an ontology of marketing”, American Journal of Economics and Sociology, Vol. 58.

Kapferer, J.‐N. (1992), Strategic Brand Management, Free Press, New York, NY.

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