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Apple and Brand-Customer Relationship Dissertation


Introduction

If any brand has to survive competitively in the market, the brand’s value has to be maximized. Managing a consumer-brand value is not possible without understanding consumer-brand bonds and market principles. Much research in the market is based on suppliers and manufactures or sellers and buyers.

Little research and effort has been put to understand the relationship between consumers and brands, an essential relationship that determines how and which products move in the market.

Developing and maintaining a brand loyalty is at the heart of many companies’ marketing plans today and this is especially so as they face unpredictable market, business environments that are constantly changing, as well as high levels of competition (Haugtvedt and Karen, 2002).

An established brand loyalty is important to a company since it makes it more harder for new products to gain a market share, it increases a company’s ability and strength to respond to competitive threats, it allows a business greater sales and revenues and it creates a consumer market base which is less sensitive to competitors efforts to gain a market share.

Knowing this, it is no wonder that companies are putting in effort to understand consumer-brand relationships, something that has been neglected for a long time. Most of the studies conducted in the past on the topic pay more attention to the psychological orientation.

This only covers the cognitive process through which attitudes towards brand and their strength in the market is developed (Fournier, 1999). Attention is centered on the relationships between loyalty of consumers, their satisfaction and a brand’s quality.

Other common studies on this topic cover the sociological aspect in an attempt to understand the meaning and relevance of brand loyalty to consumers and other stakeholders in the markets (Harrison and Edward, 2007).

Background of the case study

Apple Inc. is among the most influential multinational corporations in the world of technology. It is in the business of designing and selling personal computers, consumer electronics and computer software. It’s best known products include the “i” line of products such as the iPhone, the iPad and iPod, as well as the Macintosh line of computers. As at mid 2011, the company had over 350 retail stores in ten nations.

It is ranked the largest among the companies traded publicly in the world. By the end of 2011, it had more than 60,000 permanent employees. Its annual revenue grew from $65 billion to 108 billion from 2010 to 2011. It was ranked first among the most admirable companies in 2008 by the Fortune magazine.

Apple has focused on a differentiation strategy to stay ahead of its competitors so far. Its business strategy is centered on attracting and keeping new customers, building a bigger market share and staying ahead of its competitors.

In regard to communication, the company has now developed and adopted a “never talk to the press” strategy after too much publicity which almost ruined their reputation under the leadership of the former CEO. It does not leak out new products until it is ready to announce and then uses the same discipline to create huge attention and coverage with new announcements.

Apple’s initial approach to staying ahead in the industry was to acquire small businesses with products that can be easily integrated into the company’s products and business. A good example is when Apple Inc. acquired Emagic in 2002 to create the company’s digital audio software (Miller, 2010). As a result, the company enjoys a worldwide presence with offices in almost every region of the world.

The other approach to its business strategy is making sure it stays ahead of the competition and being in a position that allows it to easily influence the market. Competitors at the moment don’t seem to have a real solution to the company’s inventions which means they remain very powerful in the market with an amazing advantage over the competitors.

The company has in the recent past announced that its product iPod touch is the best selling portable game machine in the world. Over time, the company has developed a policy which allows them a good relationship with its customers by having shops all over each country they have established a market in.

Even though it has faced several challenges with its reputation as an employer, especially in the Asian region, it still remains one of the most attractive companies for talented professionals.

The company has a better financial status than most of its competitors right now making it more attractive to organizations seeking partnerships in the market such as music content providers. It has a stable business model, a big market share, a high level of technology and ability to keep inventing new products, factors which keep it at the top and once more favourable to consumers.

If the primary factor determining a company’s ability to stay profitable is how attractive it is in its industry, then its position in that industry follows as its secondary determinant (Thompson and Strickland, 2000). In his analysis of business strategies, Michael Porter argues that a business’ strength can fall into the cost advantage or the differentiation category (Daft and Dorothy, 2009).

Porter discusses the cost leadership strategy, focus strategy and the differentiation strategy. When applying the cost leadership strategy, a business focuses on producing at a low cost to a certain level of quality (Daft and Dorothy, 2009). It is not one of Apple’s strategies and instead, the company has chosen to implement the focus and differentiation strategies.

The focus strategy has found a place in Apple Inc. For most of its products, Apple has concentrated on a high class market segment. As a result, it enjoys better customer loyalty than most of its competitors, a factor that discourages them from direct competition with Apple. Through this strategy, Apple has also been able to develop strengths in the markets it has focused on.

Even though the focus strategy has been applied in Apple Inc., the company has focused on the differentiation strategy by developing unique products with attributes that keep its customers loyal. The products’ uniqueness adds value to them, making the favourable regardless of their price.

This way, the business can easily afford the costs that go into making its products unique. When the company’s cost of production goes up, it is able to easily pass it down to the consumers.

Apple has been able to succeed using a differentiation strategy by implementing several internal strengths. It has established a good reputation for quality for itself and has ensured it stays as the best firm in terms of innovations. The company’s stable financial position allows it access to the best research technologies, designers and software developers.

Strategy evaluation and selection

Apple’s hardware and software integration has received a major step after it introduced its own iPad’s chipset. As a result, the company will not need the third party chips from other designers, making it less independent of third parties.

It will have cost saving effects on the business and it will help it make a chip that meets the specific needs of its products. According to Miller (2010), Apple has moved from buying something off the rack to making and joining the pieces themselves to come up with a unique design for its end products. The A4, chipset is one of the pieces expected to be very successful. The company’s strategy is to move more things to the app store from the web.

The computer making industry still holds a lot of potential for Apple. Currently, Dell seems to be a real threat to Apple in the computer industry by offering affordable products. Just like it has done with its digital products, Apple is investing on developing high quality and unique computers and taking advantage of its global presence to sell them.

The business needs to offer more information about its products to its customer when advertising them. It also needs to carry more employment audits to ensure its reputation as an employer remains intact.

Justification of the study

Customer service is an area that has been of concern to researchers and other practitioners since it plays an important role in improving the performance of businesses and encouraging customers to remain loyal. Customers have different orientations and this may lead them into attaching varying importance dimensions to service delivery.

Many scholars have been conducting research on the importance of service delivery emphasizing its importance in satisfying customers, reducing costs and building the loyalty of customers in an organization.

In the consumer electronics’ industry, it has been discovered that provision of service quality is one of the most critical requirements for service businesses. It is a tool that provides corporate advantage in addition to functioning as competitive strategies since businesses that perfect service quality win the loyalty of customers.

However, service delivery in the service sectors is a complex issue as many researchers and scholars have not agreed on what should drive effective service delivery. This makes the topic of importance for service delivery in establishing customer satisfaction in the any company such as Apple Inc. a really important topic for my dissertation.

Research Questions to be answered

Service quality is very important to any organization since the financial success of any organization highly depends on how the loyalty of customers to the organization. The financial output of any organization will not be relevant if the customers are not loyal to the organization since this has an impact of reducing the profits.

According to Holtzman (2011), many businesses today have discovered the importance of using service quality to establish customer loyalty and they continuously make this endeavor one of their valued business principles. For this to be effective, it is important for companies to be conversant with how consumers behave.

The first question that this research will seek to answer is what the relationship between brands and consumers is. The paper will also find out what drives customer satisfaction. The other question to be answered is what role factors such as satisfaction play in achieving this.

Literature review

History of brand loyalty

It is a well known factor that one of the ways in which consumers express their satisfaction with a product is through their loyalty to it. It is therefore not surprising that for many years one of the key objectives of many businesses has been to give their customers overall satisfaction.

Loyalty can be defined as a customer’s level of intention and willingness to repurchase the same product time and again (McEwen, 2012). A customer’s overall satisfaction will determine their commitment to a brand, and will determine their motivation for a repurchase which is what amounts to a brand reputation.

The perceived quality of a brand is a paramount factor in motivating a first time buyer and is to a large extent dependent on a its reputation (Holtzman, 2011).

A first time buyer then has to take time to interact and experience the brand, a period which is important in deciding their level of satisfaction with it and the cycle continues. A brand trust then creates a long term relationship with the consumer and it is not easy for them to be convinced to try out new brands.

Trust is critical in developing and sustaining an enduring long term relationship between a consumer and a brand. It has long standing implications to a company and it plays a big role in predicting the future intentions of both short and long term relational consumers (Copenhagen Business School, 2002).

First, trust in a brand by a customer means that a brand has characteristics which make it more than just a mere product and sometimes it could mean that it gives customers more than they expect.

Secondly, a long term relationship between a brand and a consumer means that the everyday execution of marketing plans by a company are working. Finally, trust and a long term relationship between a brand and customers imply that it has been able to add value to its consumers and has been able to satisfy them through its performance and attribute (Vashisht, 2005).

Trust concept in the brand loyalty domain

In a brand domain, trust is about customers having assurance and confidence that a brand will meet their expectations and satisfy their consumption needs. The feeling is based on the brand’s reliability and what it intends to do for the customer.

A brand’s reliability is measured by its capacity to respond to the consumers’ needs by offering what they need and what it promised (Maclnnis and Park, 2008). It also requires that a brand gives the consumer a promise of future performance which then has to be fulfilled if the company has to establish and maintain the customers’ trust on the brand and repurchase intentions the next time the same need arises.

Brand intentions can be easily viewed as abstract due to their origin, which is both emotional and effective, taking into consideration the fact that in any business, customers remain vulnerable to a company’s decisions (Franzen and Sandra, 2009). It is only through a belief that the company will not take advantage of this vulnerability to exploit customers that customers are able to trust.

This may be in the form of breaking promises made on purchase of the brand or making products that are totally incapable of meeting the needs they promise to meet. Customers’ trust on a brand is therefore very dependent on how the brand will behave when circumstances and situations not expected, or experienced before, occur.

In highly dynamic markets such as the ones being experienced in different industries today, perceived risks in different areas of business play an important role in attracting customers’ loyalty (Woodside, 2005). This is because risks create situations in which a customer faces ambiguity or uncertainty in the satisfaction of their expectations.

Information available on a brand plays a critical role in how customers deal with such situations and how they make their decisions concerning holding to their loyalty on the brand or seeking alternatives in the market.

Complete lack of information leads to a gamble which can be very disappointing to a consumer while comprehensive information leads to rational decisions meaning that a consumer uses a brand with an informed mind, and is well aware of any disappointments that may occur (Akbar and Noorjaham, 2009).

Sources of trust

According to Ballester and Jose (2000), the process by which customers relate a trust image to a brand is dependent on her/his experience with the brand, which in turn is influenced by the customer’s evaluation of what a product has done for them. In order for a customer to develop trust for a brand, the consumption experience has to have more relevance to their lives.

The customer’s experience will determine whether they develop an association with a brand (Werther and David, 2011). It also gives the brand a chance to prove its consistency and fulfillment of the promises it comes with.

Furthermore, it is a chance for the customer to verify the product’s ability to satisfy his/her needs, interests and welfare. The overall satisfaction of a brand is therefore tested by the process of purchasing the brand and consuming it.

The most important source of trust for a brand is its level of satisfaction to a consumer. The more a consumer is satisfied with a brand, the more they will trust it. Nevertheless, it is important to take into consideration the fact that a first time consumer needs motivation to involve themselves with a brand, before they can get the experience.

This means that a company has to be able to motivate a consumer to try out the product for the first time and maintain their level of involvement with it. Customers who are constantly involved with a product will be able to make loyal decisions even in the face of uncertainties and possible inconsistencies. The biggest source of information consumers have about a brand is their own experience with it.

The other source of trust on a brand is consistency of a brand. The more consistent a brand is, the more likely a customer is going to be dependent on it. In the consumer electronics industry for example, it is important that a company is able to stay constantly updated on the needs of the market to ensure it gives updated products as per the needs of its clients.

Even with the changes, a brand should be able to maintain what sold it to the customer in the first place. In the this industry for example, a company’s brand may have attracted a huge clientele due to its prices, quality of services offered to customers, availability of information and a warm treatment of customer, among many other factors.

This therefore means that even when trend in the banking industry are changing to fit into the current market trends, it still should have the same qualities which its “old” clientele expects.

Another important source of trust on brands is reward for loyalty. This allows consumers to feel appreciated and feel as part of the team. It could include discounts on quantities purchased, pricing considerations for long time customers and promotions, just to mention a few.

It could also include conducting surveys to get customers opinions on the brand and what more they would expect from it. Rewarding loyalty could also happen by paying good dividends to shareholders in a company, who many at times will be consumers of the company’s brands.

Strategies for developing consumer-brand relationship

Today we find many different types of products in the consumer electronics industry, some new and some which have stood the test of time to exist many years later. The sector is considered among one of the most competitive, exiting and diverse.

It is also a constantly changing sector with new market trends and products coming up each day. In such a competitive sector, introducing a new brand in the market is a risk which should be properly analyzed and considered. Developing brand loyalty is not easy and especially on a new brand. Any new brand would only succeed with a business strategy that is strong enough to penetrate a market that is almost saturated.

The big brands in different industries of the sector have developed strong foundations and it would therefore not be easy to build a market share or develop brand loyalty. For a new or even an existing small brand to succeed in such an environment, the basic requirements in any brand development must be in place and there should be enough funds to implement them.

Businesses today have to spend large amounts of money on building brands and making sure that their customers stick to the brands. Retailers and distributors now are required to be alert and recognize the dangers of operating a business in such a fast changing business environment and consumer preferences.

The consumer electronics industry environment is usually a very unpredictable, making it hard for businesses to achieve and maintain stability.

Building a brand name and loyalty requires that a company starts by defining their specific market and having a clear knowledge of what they want to achieve in that market. When a target market is not defined, there are high chances of having contrasting market activities, sometimes attracting many customers who may not last for long.

There is a need for a company to distinguish between their strategic planning and tactical planning to help explain how their marketing will differ at different levels and areas. A business needs to be able to clearly identify and describe the environmental characteristics which may influence strategic decisions about their brand.

Finally the business needs to be able build and explain how they intend to enhance their customer satisfaction. This can be done by use of marketing, having a solid and well organized strategic plan and by use of healthy customer relationships.

Marketing

Marketing can be defined as the art of disseminating attractive information about a product to customers and attracting them to buy and experience it (Kuenzel, 2008). A company’s marketing plan must be able to explain how the brand will create its utilities and describe how it is going to achieve its targets in satisfying customers.

The purchasing and marketing departments are responsible for this part of business and its success is very dependent on coordination between the two. It is supposed to be focused on getting customers to use, experience a product and repurchase it.

Marketing has many advantages when creating a brand loyalty and brands today cannot do without it. It allows designers of a product and distributors to have available goods in the market whenever customers want them, an important factor when trying to develop a good relationship between a brand and its consumers.

It also allows businesses to locate the most convenient place and time to avail its products. Its marketing that gives a business the ability to transfer goods and services to the buyer or the consumer. Since it involves a long process of analyzing customers’ needs, it will allow the business to design and produce only those products which match a consumers expectations building trust towards the brand.

In the process of satisfying customers’ preferences, a brand is then able to create and maintain relationships with its consumers.

In today’s business environments and especially in very innovative industries where there are new brands each day, brand-consumer relationships are very important to a business to ensure that it is constantly updated on consumers’ expectations and dissatisfaction, which will then allow it to work on them before the customers shift their preferences.

Any marketing concept should therefore be customer oriented and should attract long-term and effective relationships with its customers (Pommerening, 2007). It should also give them an avenue to air their complaints before they try out new options which distracts the trust relationship that may have been developing for the brand.

Strategic planning

Strategic planning is defined as the ability to anticipate future events and conditions of a brand and determine the best ways to ensure that they work to a brand’s advantage (Paapu, 2005). It entails being able to identify a brand’s primary objectives and adopting courses of action that will allow the brand satisfy the needs it claims to and fulfill the promises given to a consumer.

It is an important tool when making long-term directions for decision making and gives a business an upper hand in being able to view the market ahead of time, anticipate patterns and be able to effectively prepare (Nash, 2010).

Strategic planning has the advantage of being able to address current, short and long term expectations of a customer. Its essential purpose is to differentiate one brand from the other and therefore guides the development of solutions for that particular brand.

It is an important tool when dealing with big competitors, and is a determining factor of how much strength competitors can have over a particular brand. It will also help the brand be able to take advantage of customers’ new needs and opportunities that may arise in future.

This however will happen if the strategic plan allows for flexibility, adaptability and efficient resources for implementation of the plan towards creating and maintaining a positive relationship between a brand and its consumers.

Customer relationship

Customer relationship is one among the most important relationships in a business, and is one of the strongest strategies for many big brands. The whole brand loyalty theory is based on the relationship between a brand and the consumer. It is responsible for how the big brands identify and enhance their customers’ satisfaction ability.

Customer satisfaction is one of the strongest tools used in maintaining customers and acquiring more through word of mouth from existing ones, and from their experience with a brand. Customer relationships have the ability to allow brands grow, develop and maintain healthy relationships with customers (Aaker, 2001).

It allows customers to view themselves as equal partners in any transaction and development of a brand, and hence allow them to feel valued. It encourages confidence in a customer which allows him or her to make repetitive purchases and sometimes multiple brand purchases from the same company.

Any form of collaborative exchanges occurring between buyers and a business then serve as a tool for feedback collection, a part of business that is very important in brand loyalty development” (Murphy, 2005). With first hand information, a brand is then able to have its qualities and solutions as close to the customers’ preferences as possible.

Key elements in the market that help understand brand-consumer relationships

A market analysis is an important tool for businesses when determining the attractiveness, its opportunities, threats and patterns (Mathisen, 2003). It is performed to help determine who the customers are in the market and what they want from a brand.

Even if not everyone involved in the brand development process is asked to participate in the process, everyone in a company must be able to make decisions using the data collected during market analysis. Several areas of interest in data evaluation include market research, sales forecasting and market strategies.

The dimensions of a market analysis when trying to understand or create brand loyalty include the market size of the brand, its growth and consumption rate, trends, profitability, its cost structure, success factors, weaknesses and distribution channels.

A market size can be evaluated on the basis of its potential or present or potential sales if a brand was performing optimally (Azevedo, 2005). Different sources are relevant in determining the market size of a brand and can range from governmental data on brands in a specific industry, customers preference surveys, trade associations data on exchanges of similar brands, financial data from major brands and many other sources which prove relevant.

To decide on how big any brand’s market size, correct customers must be targeted in terms of income levels, demographics, sex and any other factor which may prove relevant in choosing customers for a specific brand. In the service sector, it is clear that price and relevance of a product are big factors.

This helps choose the right clientele for a brand and decide on which solutions the brand should offer to the market. It is also important when selecting selling and promotional strategies which will have a lasting impact on the targeted clientele.

The market growth rate is useful to a brand in predicting future expansion of a market and how the growth will affect a brand’s competence. There are several methods used to forecast markets, most common being extrapolating data collected from past patterns into the future (Loveman, 2010).

However, Bhattacharya and Sankar (2007) argue that while this method is very appropriate if a business is seeking to understand first order estimates, it would not be the most efficient if a business requires accurate future turning points.

This is the reason why some companies choose to use another method which involves study of drivers in the complementary products such as sales growth and demographic information. Such a study is used to indicate growth and analysts argue that it is a more accurate method compared to using a method that involves the extrapolation of simple past data.

The technology sector changes so rapidly that historic trends may not be very relevant in predicting where the future is headed. Certain trends in the industry have tendencies of coming back after many years and observing the trends by which this happens may help understand what is to be expected.

The brands which have stood the test of time in the industry are those which have been able to go through the trends without losing their quality and appeal to its customers.

In orders to predict critical inflection points, a business can use product diffusion curves, which also can be used to predict growth rates (Liu, 2005). The author further explains that by studying parameters of a similar product such as its adoption rate, it is possible to estimate and predict the shape of future diffusion curves for a product.

Kessler (2000) points out that each product is expected to reach maturity stage at some level, a point at which growth may stagnate of a decline may occur. However, how long that takes is dependent on several factors is including ability to fight price pressure from a competing brand, ability to maintain brand loyalty, how well it can hold with emergence of new products, how soon the market gets saturated amongst many other factors.

Lack of growth drives however has negative effects on a brand’s performance in a market regardless of its quality or how well it can cope with pressure and competition in the market.

Market profitability is very important in deciding where to grow a brand’s loyalty. While profitability of different brands vary in different business environments and markets, average profit potential can be used to judge how easy or difficult it is to have a brand in business (Karami, 2007).

A market’s profitability is influenced by several factors among them being the existing brands’ power, buyer power, threat of substitute brands, new entry barriers and rivalry among different brands.

It helps to identify a market’s potential and the benefits a brand will enjoy by entering the market. This then allows a company to decide on which brands to sell in the market how to sell and how to price them in a way that favors both the brand and the consumers.

The distribution channels of a brand play a big role on how the consumers relate with it. For example, a brand that is only distributed in affluent neighborhoods may not attract any attention from a customer who is price conscious regardless of its quality or affordability.

Distribution channels are important in helping a company decide on the best methods to distribute their brands and ones which will ensure that they are accessible to as many of its loyal consumers as possible.

In any market, there are existing distribution channels, emerging channels, trends and a power structure for the channels. Existing channels are more direct to the customers as customers are used, are more comfortable getting products from them and can easily access the brands.

Emerging ones however offer brands an opportunity to develop a more competitive advantage as each brand has a chance to come in with a new one. The power structures give consumers power to negotiate with the manufacturers.

Cost structures play a big role in brands indirect costs and consequently profitability, which determines its consistency in the market. A company may not be able to sell a certain brand in a market whose cost structure is too high even though the product may have a very low design cost.

The cost is dependent on the market share a business holds and the amount of sales of the brand. Understanding a brand and its cost structure can give it a powerful competitive advantage over new entries.

Since cost is an essential consideration in any brand, assessing its costs position against competing brands can be used to shape strategies, analyze their implications, and understood market concepts as explained in game theory (Bhattacharya and Sankar, 2007).

If a business understands its competitor’s costs, it is able to understand the competitor’s supply curve which gives information such as a price at which a business might choose to exit a market.

Understanding cost structures can therefore be used as a tool to help brands become cost leaders. Since cost is a big factor in how consumers relate with brands, it is a huge consideration for any company willing to establish its brands presence in the market.

Whether secondary or primary, market trends play a big role in consumer-brand relationships especially in determining the direction in which a brand will move over time (Kahaner, 2009). Secondary market trends are short term and give a direction within a primary trend which includes few weeks or months.

The secular market trend is long term covering five to more than twenty five years durations. Depending with the solutions a brand aims to satisfy, it may take different durations of time for a brand to gain total trust from its consumers.

Changes taking place in a market are considered very important as they often come with new opportunities for brands. They also come with threats which may work in favor of a brand with better strategies as they may drive some of its competitors out.

Relevant market trends are very dependent on different industries but are also dependent on other factors such as price, supply, demand and level of emphasis and support for various brands available in the market.

Taking into account all the factors considered when doing a market analysis for a brand, it is clear that its comprehensive nature provides brands with information that is too important to ignore.

The numerical data helps investors understand patterns and draw possible future movements based on what has been established. Brands will always be interested at how prices within their sector of interest is moving and how the market as a whole is tending, information which market analysis provides.

Methodology

Introduction

Research methodologies to be used in this research project will include the study of books, academic journals, online articles, past projects by different authors, statistics from government and non-governmental organizations on consumer-brand relationship.

It will also involve a study of various academic works and research papers on leadership, management, strategy and other paramount factors in developing a strong and healthy relationship between brands and consumers.

The company’s records, press releases in the past, information on market share and statistics gathered in the past by other researchers and interested parties will be useful in gathering secondary information and statistics. From books, different academic articles and online articles already reviewed, it is clear that consumer-brand relationship is a critical area of concern for many businesses today.

It is among the measures used to by businesses to establish their success in different markets. Without an established consumer-brand relationship, a business’ marketing strategy may not bear much.

To curb consumer-brand challenges, most industries have realized the need to treat as a priority like many other aspects of businesses such as marketing and profitability. Some of the strategies employed by different businesses include initiatives such as skill mix, customer motivation, appreciation, reward and using feedback to improve quality among others.

As a result, a lot of attention is being put on consumer-brand relationships. According to (Murphy, 2005) companies continue to worry about customer retention, taking time to monitor and improve the strength of the relationship between them and their customers. This is as a result of a realization that customer retention is less expensive than attrition.

Primary data used in this research project will be collected by from a survey conducted on customers of Apple Inc. These include those in ownership of at least one Apple Inc.’s product. The survey will be conducted in cooperation with the company’s retail centers and staff working in the centers.

It will be open to different kinds of customers including those who use the products for entertainment, business, prestige or social purposes, among others. The survey will be aimed at informing the various discussions on consumer-brand relationship in the telecommunication industry, using Apple Inc. as a case study.

Involving customers from all walks of life regardless of their sex, cultural background, social status, religious beliefs and other factors that differentiate people will ensure that the survey collects comprehensive information representing every group of people.

The initial findings of the data will be focused on three main questions;

  1. What is consumer-brand relationship and is it an important aspect in developing a brand and promoting business?
  2. What factors influence consumer-brand relationships and how?
  3. What is the role of a company’s strategy in developing a healthy brand-consumer relationship?

The survey will target 100 participants. Such a high number will ensure that views are collected from a wide and comprehensive target group.

Data analysis and discussions will be written from the findings in different academic resources, the survey and company’s information. It will review and classify findings from different statistics and the situation in the market for Apple Inc.’s products. It will also present statistics and information collected from the outlined sources to get a professional understanding of the topic.

The findings will be used to structure an argument and different discussions. The position and capability of Apple Inc. to develop and sustain a healthy relationship between its products and its customers will also be reviewed, discussed and evidence presented. The results will be interpreted and a more detailed examination given.

Aim

  • Understand consumer-brand relationship in Apple Inc.

Objectives

  • Understand the meaning and background of consumer-brand relationship
  • Conduct a literature review to evaluate the impact of consumer-brand relationship in a business
  • Study Apple Inc.’s business strategy and how it engaged consumer-brand relationship as a tool in maintaining a better market share
  • Understand challenges that face businesses in establishing a better consumer-brand relationship using Apple Inc. as a case study
  • Explore possible solutions to these challenges

Rationale

This research has specific practical value. Having considered the results, it will be possible to state whether consumer-brand relationship plays a vital role in motivating and empowering brands to establish a better market share. The answers will explain different responsibilities of a business towards building more attractive brands and how they contribute to overall success of a business. For a business such as Apple Inc., maintaining the market share already established in not an easy task, especially as competition stiffens in the industry.

Participants

To collect comprehensive data and information, this study will be conducted on 100 participants. It will be open to students, graduate, professionals and all groups of people that use Apple Inc.’s products. The survey will encourage participants from all categories and locations in the area of study to ensure equal representation.

It will target 100 participants. The big number of participants ensures that views collected are diverse and everyone’s views are represented. Personal information such as religious beliefs, level of study, line of duty, earning and other factors will not be considered in the study.

For one to participate they must be 25 years and above to ensure information is collected from participants who have had a longer experience with consumer electronics. Gender balance will be ensured by having half of the participants recruited from each of the genders. The questionnaires will be accessible to the participants for a period of three months to ensure participants have enough time to fill them at their own time without pressure.

Recruitment

Recruitment will be done by using social network and online forums to reach out to targeted participants. The snowball technique will also be used to reach the targeted number of participants required for the study.

In this technique, people familiar with the study will be used to reach out to more people who will then be directed to where they can collect questionnaires. All participants will be presented with adequate explanations and guidelines for the study. All participants will also be required to fill and sign a consent form agreeing to voluntary participation.

Case design

The case design will be comprehensive and complete enough, to allow stakeholders understand and utilize the information in decision-making easily, whether they were part of the research team or not. These stakeholders include consumers, competitors, investors, Apple Inc.’s management, marketers, government officials, and other stakeholders.

Reviewing the case design will be critical to ensure its validity and applicability. Cross-comparing the case design and its outcome, with similar research projects conducted in the past, will help this research to highlight commonalities and identify areas where the results need to be strengthened.

Justification of the methods

Appreciative inquiry

“Appreciative inquiry is based on a theory that the assertion that problems result from perceptions and perspectives of present and past situations (Kent, 2001). The approach will be applicable when identifying what has worked well in the past and applying it in the current situation.

This proved the most applicable methods when researching on consumer-brand relationship, how to build one and the role of strategic planning. The method will prove particularly relevant when gathering information that will help the sector strengthen their development plan.

Case study design

According to Fink (2003), case studies are particularly useful in establishing a comprehensive judgment on experiences. In order to implement any business initiatives in building a stronger consumer-brand relationship, businesses such as Apple Inc. will need to confirm the effectiveness of its programs and processes.

This entails evaluating their strengths, weaknesses and threats. A case design in this research will include arranging a wide range of information from different sources and similar projects in the past on consumer electronics.

Comparing the results and patterns of past project will then help this research make relevant conclusions and recommendations. Evaluation will include both straightforward comparison and in-depth analysis.

Questionnaires

Questionnaires will be the most convenient and easy way to collect data from a large population. They are easy to design, and since they do not require a lot of time, it is easy to have respondents to cooperate.

Their disadvantages include the fact that they do not allow the researcher to examine complex issues. Since the target group in this research project will be 100 people, questionnaires are considered the most efficient way of gathering information and opinions from them.

Data collection and analysis

Primary data collection will be done by administering questionnaires. Secondary data will be collected from past research projects, government and non-governmental statistics and other relevant sources.

Data analysis tools and software will be beneficial when sorting out data and identifying patterns. As Kent (2001) argues, data analysis techniques can be used to gain useful insight regarding trends or issues being investigated.

Orcher (2005) defines data analysis as the process of inspecting, arranging and disseminating data in order to highlight useful information, develop arguments and supporting conclusions.

Data analysis comprises of diverse techniques depending with the type of data, and expected outcomes. When conducting a consumer-brand relationship study, data mining is an indispensable technique since it involves discovering knowledge, as opposed to describing it.

In any study focusing on attitudes and perception, such as that of consumers in this case, primary data is paramount. In such a project, it is expected that at least 90% of the questionnaires distributed will be returned and filled correctly.

Distribution of questionnaires will be scheduled early to guarantee enough time for preparation by participants. Secondary data will be extremely valuable and will be collected to augment the research. Before any data is collected, permission will be sought from different authorities such as the different Apple Inc. retail stores where participants will be recruited.

An initial visit to several Apple Inc. retail shops will be crucial for introductory purpose, familiarization as well as seeking consent to speak to some of the customers when they come in.

Data analysis tools and software will be beneficial when sorting out data and identifying patterns. As Fink (2003) argues, data analysis is a critical technique for gaining valuable insights from available information in the area of study.

Available data analysis tools today include business intelligence platforms, the online analytical processing, excel power, among many others. Answers to close-ended questions will be analyzed in percentages while others will be individually analyzed and discussed.

Material

Participants will be required to fill a two part questionnaire. The questionnaires will be available both online and in hard copy to allow participants fill them at their own time and comfort.

There will be an available email where those who want to fill them online can send them through. The questionnaires will be available for duration of one month. Materials needed for this activity will include the questionnaires themselves and detailed instructions of what is expected of the participants.

Any enquiries for clarification of statistics from will be conducted on the phone and any information required from government and non-government bodies will be accessed online, after consent from concerned authorities.

Sample investigative questions in this survey will include having participants answer questions on whether they understood the meaning of consumer-brand relationship, whether they thought they had any relationships with brands they used, whether various factors affected their choice of brands and their thoughts on how different factors in the markets influenced the relationship between brands and consumers.

Finances will be required for movement, communication and printing questionnaires.

Project time schedules

This research dissertation will be completed in a duration of 2 months

Project time schedules

Ethical considerations

A number of ethical issues are expected to arise in the research project. These issues are further expected to arise during the collection of data for the project. One of the most fundamental principles to be followed in this research project is voluntarism participation.

The principle requires that no participant should be coerced to participate in a research or give false information. A participant must also give consent before their identity is revealed if there is a need to do so, although for such a project, anonymity would be applied.

During a research project, ethics also demand that the process must not subject the respondents to any danger or harm, a factor that will be taken very seriously. A researcher is supposed to apply the principle of anonymity to protect them from consequences of revealing the information they do.

It is also the respondent’s right to be treated with respect and dignity during the study. These ethical issues are expected to be adhered to when this research project is being conducting.

Data analysis and discussions

Apple Inc.’s background

Product’s positions

Apple’s strong market presence has been influenced by different factors. Its iPhone market has grown from 21% to 25.3% in the last four years. Bigger gains have been predicted for the business.

The company’s iPod product and the iTunes music store is currently enjoying a market lead and giving the business good revenues. iPod’s accessibility on Windows platform is a unique attribute that has seen it gain favor among many IT lovers.

Apple’s business strategy has allowed it stay ahead of the competition for a long time now. The company develops its own hardware and software, giving it an advantage in cost saving and products’ perfection.

Since its customers are more concerned about the products’ quality and experience, they are hardly influenced by price competitions in the market. Utilizing the web technology and marketing has also accorded the business a major advantage. The brand enjoys a strong brand loyalty and its healthy financial position and low debt level allows the business to take advantage of new opportunities.

Value chain analysis

Apple’s inbound logistics is strong and well established. The business has partnered with logistics companies such as DHL to ensure easy and timely delivery of supplies, raw materials and finished products.

Operations are divided into production, IT, corporate, sales, marketing, human resources, research and development, logistics and warehousing. The value chain analysis can be runs from new product idea to designing and funding, product creation, distribution, sales and marketing and finally customer service.

The company produces all its unique chips and has a strong national presence after eliminating all the small outlets in the mid 1990s. Marketing and advertisement have been successful and customer service is mostly developed through satisfying the customers’ needs.

Results discussion

Consumer-brand relationship is an important topic among consumers. This was evident from the number of respondents who answered yes to a question seeking whether they understood its meaning.

75% of the respondents said they understood the meaning of their relationship with a brand. A brand’s value plays a significant role in the amount of appreciation of it will receive from consumers. Asked whether they took time to understand a brand’s value before buying a product, 67% of the respondents answered yes.

This means that business should invest in building and developing a brand’s reputation, its value and relevance as a matter of priority. For businesses in competitive industries such as Apple Inc., a brand’s value will keep it ahead of competition through a healthy relationship.

Establishing a consumer-brand relationship is not an easy task for businesses. Only half of the respondents said they easily developed a relationship with brands. According to Liu (2005), customers need motivation for them to go out of their way to know and understand a brand.

A brand has to leave a lasting impression for a customer to take time to understand it. It also has to meet the customers’ expectations for there to be return and longtime customers.

Any brand that seeks to last in a market must gain its customers’ loyalty (Loveman, 2010). 70% of the respondents said they easily developed a relationship with brands and were loyal to good brands. The big number reveals that it is establishing customer loyalty is very much dependent on quality.

This is supported by the answers given when respondents were asked whether they were easily influenced to change their brand preference if it had been satisfying. Only 30% of the respondents answered yes to the question and only 35% of them said a company’s size influenced their loyalty to a brand.

To further support this, results from the survey revealed that only 35% of the respondents cared about price when deciding which brands to pledge their loyalty to. From the survey, factors that influenced customers’ level of loyalty towards a product can be summarized as follows;

Factors that influence choice of brand and loyalty

Fig. 1: Factors that influence choice of brand and loyalty

Marketing seemed to influence customers’ loyalty to a significant level. Half the respondents answered yes when asked if marketing influenced their loyalty to a brand.

The question did not go further into understanding what they looked for in an advert, but Nash (2010) explains that marketing is only significant it answers a customer’s questions and concerns. Furthermore, the survey revealed that the amount of trust customers have on a brand determined how loyal they were to it.

Apple Inc. seems to be doing averagely well as far as the quality of services they awarded their customers was involved. However, the company needs to do much more to keep consumers happy and satisfied. Only 10% of the respondents considered their service excellent. 15% of them thought it was very good while 35% thought it was good. Asked to rate the company’s customer service, the results can be summarized as below;

Customers’ ratings on quality of services of Apple Inc

Fig. 2: Customers’ ratings on quality of services of Apple Inc.

As regards satisfaction among Apple Inc.’s customers, the results reveal the need for more effort. 60% of the customers said they felt valued by the company and the products they had met the needs it was intended to meet. Half of them said they would recommend Apple Inc.’s products to other people while only 40% of them said the Apple’s advertisements were informative enough.

60% of the respondents also agreed to a question on whether information was easily available to them. An equal number of respondents answered no when asked on whether they would change their brand from Apple Inc. Results on the level of satisfaction among customers who participated in the survey can be summarized in the graph below:

Level of satisfaction among customers

Fig. 3: Level of satisfaction among customers

Issues arising

Marketing communication

From the available literature, it was established that marketing communication is a significant element of developing quality and ensuring customer satisfaction in Apple Inc. The company has to function with the marketing communication framework to maintain sustainable leadership in the market.

Traditionally, many businesses all over the world base their marketing on the four Ps, which are product, promotion, place and pricing (Macnamara, 2004). Today, there are new avenues and factors to consider when communicating to consumers.

Just like in the past, the main aim of market communication is to inform, persuade and remind customers of a specific product in the market. The strategy is used to increase sales volumes by informing customers of a product and encouraging them to try it.

From different books and articles, most authors agree that after establishing new customers, marketing communication is responsible for ensuring that they are retained while new ones are created. Retaining a customer base is done through various methods, one of them being the reinforcement of their purchasing behavior and patterns (Sorensen, 2008).

Other goals of marketing communication is creating and relating to prospects and other stakeholders. Marketing communication is combined of different options that make it successful. These options include direct sales, promotions, advertisement and public relations, among others (Sorensen, 2008).

Each of these options has a special role to play in the process and completes the chain. The internet has today become an important option and strategy for marketing, especially for businesses that target the younger generation.

Integrated marketing communication

For Apple Inc., marketing communication has played an important role in ensuring brand take leadership in the market and stay there. The products, pricing and the services they provide, have to be and stay relevant to the market today. The Apple Inc. brand has illustrated an integrated marketing communication.

This new perspective for the brand name has evolved from a realization that advertising and sales are at odds as far as budgets and responsibilities are concerned. Secondly, this concept is from the need to have more market driven communications rather than having those which are market oriented.

Integrated marketing communication has allowed the big brands to build relationships and excitement. For most Apple Inc. products, as was established from the literature review, customers are not treated as targets but rather, a brand promotes a relationship with them, offering them partnership instead.

The brand creates contacts which allow new customers and prospects encounter it through different hosts. By researching and having specific information about consumers and their lifestyles, a brand is able to send tailor made messages through the media and reach specific segments. This way, marketing is more targeting, bears more results and makes financial sense.

Integrated marketing communication is achieved by utilizing data and information, segmenting customers and potential clients. These groups are segmented on the basis of behavior, consumption and lifestyle.

In doing this, it is possible for Apple as a brand to establish profitable and stable relationships with its clients and generate coordination between products and consumers. The results are consistent, clear and maximized benefits of marketing.

Advertising

The business environments of regions where Apple Inc. has a large market share are known for expensive advertising budgets. The company’s advertisements are known for their persuasive and exciting nature.

The brand’s biggest strength in the market is understanding its competition and countering competitors’ efforts early enough before they can affect the brand’s share market. One area where Apple Inc. has enjoyed overwhelming success is the phone industry. Their market share in different parts of the world is proof that they have been able to design and implement strategies that ensure customer satisfaction and brand loyalty.

The company uses both traditional and new modes of advertising. Its advertisement avenues include radio and television advertisements, bill boards, written literature, and sponsored programs. Part of advertise for the sector is top sales and marketing strategies and personnel.

Quality marketing staff has been essential in sustaining strong and powerful brands in the sector. For a company offering products in the technology sector such as Apple Inc., a strong and well defined marketing plan is important to help them achieve their potential. The competitive nature of the industry the business is in requires that it has a well qualified staff, whose skills are constantly developed.

Public relations

Public relations can be defined as the management of the relationship between a business or a brand and its customers to ensure it is mutually beneficial (Macnamara, 2004). As opposed to the one way communication in advertisement, public relations involve both the brand and the customers.

It is very dependent on feedback from customers. By monitoring feedback, it is able to tell how in touch customers are to a brand. The most primary tool in public relations is publicity, which takes advantage of a brand’s value and its use to disseminate information (McMillan, 2000).

Apple Inc. creates publicity through endorsements on the media, media articles and many other mediums whose messages are more likely to attract attention and be convincing to customers. As a result of too many advertisements in the market, consumers are more likely to avoid traditional advertisements.

Apple Inc. has in the recent past increased their venture in new coverage such as community programs, which are new and easily attract attention. Today, consumers are more dependent on a company’s image to make brand that is more environmentally friendly and responsible towards the community.

Environmental reputation of a business is a significant factor for customers when making decisions on what brands to support. Apple Inc. is therefore among the companies that have embarked on environmental campaigns that include funding environmental campaigns, implementing energy saving initiatives, selling “green” products, among others.

The company has also enacted laws and regulations that dictate environmental standards that its suppliers, distributors and other partners have to meet.

Direct marketing

Direct marketing is considered the oldest marketing practice. It involves direct communication with customers in a way that allows a personal and direct feedback mechanism. In the past, telephones and letters were used to do direct marketing. Apple Inc. has in the past utilized these forms of communication with their customers.

Today, the company uses other methods of communication, the most common being the emails and social networks. Electronic communication is particularly convenient for Apple Inc since it is in the technology industry and is able to reach a big clientele with a lesser cost.

One of the strategies commonly utilized by Apple Inc. is collecting email addresses. The companies then use them to communicate any new information about the brand to the customers. That way, the mails can be personalized and customers can reply and communicate specific concerns or information.

Personalized emails allow customers to feel appreciated and make it easy for them to air their complaints about a brand, rather than shopping for new brands anytime they experience challenges. This form of marketing allows the brand to follow up on prospects and new customers closely. It is cost effective and can reach billions of people at the same time.

Another avenue for the business to do direct marketing is through their physical shops. Apple Inc. today has physical locations in different parts of the world where its products are sold to allow customers reach them as fast as possible when a problem arises.

Physical stores are a good avenue for Apple Inc.’s customers to get information and explore brands. Here customers are able to get as much information as possible about products, and talk to the companies’ experts about any questions or concerns they may have about the products.

Like Persson (2010) explains, companies today put in place such a big number of stores in place to allow easy access of activation services and allow easy access of professional advice and help regarding the needs of a customer and how to use the products.

Internet marketing

Online advertising is growing at a very first rate today. Businesses in all sectors today use the internet through websites and social networks. By linking their website with other frequently visited websites, and giving promotion offers at the website, businesses are able to attract a crowd that the brand can easily communicate with.

Establishing on-going communication with customers such as live chats and instantly replied mails, makes it easier to understand the customers’ expectations and demands.

By placing a shopping cart on websites, it is easy and convenient for clients to purchase available products conveniently from any part of the world, without the need to go to a physical shop or store. It is an avenue for a brand to communicate to its clients all over the country in a more manageable and cost effective way.

The social networks have become an important avenue for the service sector to market itself today. Social networks’ interactivity is an important advantage, giving businesses an opportunity to access real-time information about customers’ preferences.

The role of customer relations

Customer relations are today a widely-implemented strategy in many businesses for maintaining a healthy interaction with customers. It is also important for companies trying to attract new clients and sales prospects.

Businesses today use customer relations as a way to automate and organize their business processes especially those related to sales, marketing, technical support and most importantly customer services. The overall goal of healthy customer relations is to find, win and keep customers. This in turn reduces the cost of marketing and the amount of money businesses use on client services.

Customer relations are implemented and supported through three phases. The first phase is acquiring where the business has to go out there and get new customers. This only happens when businesses are willing to campaign for and contact new people who have not heard or had an experience with their products.

The process could just include contacting new clients who may take time to respond and sometimes could end up in making new sales. The second new phase is enhancing and building the newly established and existing relationships.

This includes offering customers reasons to stay by ensuring all customer service tools are in place. It includes ensuring consistent quality, addressing customer concerns and complaints promptly. It also includes ensuring new customers are well oriented to products to ensure they have an easy time using them.

The third phase is retention phase where a business needs to follow up on its customers, ensure they are constantly satisfied and products are readily available for them. The most important thing at this point is customer convenience and satisfaction. At this point, it is very important for a business to ensure that its customers don’t have a reason to look for other options.

Customer databases allow businesses identify and reward loyal customers and make initiatives to follow up on those who may get lost along the way. Today, customer relations management software makes it easier for business to achieve this.

Importance of customer relations

It is a well known fact that loyalty towards a product and positive feedback are the biggest forms of evidence that a customer is satisfied with a product (Shukla, 2009). It is therefore not surprising that businesses today are putting in place strategies which will allow their customers talk back to them.

It is also not surprising that one of the key objectives for many businesses today is to ensure maximum satisfaction for their customers. Customer relations to a large extent determine the possibility and percentage of customers’ repurchases.

A customer’s level of relationship with a business and their overall satisfaction will determine their commitment to the company’s products and will determine how long the commitment lasts. If they have an avenue to speak out when they don’t get what they expected from a brand, they are more likely to stay true to it even when it is experiencing challenges.

They are less likely to try out other brands when they experience challenges with a product they are used to. This serves as a company’s advantage since they are informed when a product has a problem before their customers migrate.

A company’s reputation is very important when they are trying to attract new customers. Satisfied customers are more likely to tell other people about their experiences with a brand. A friendly company definitely makes it even simpler for new customers and clients to attract them.

A first time buyer who is only trying a product will be more willing to stay with it if the company shows appreciation by following up, getting their feedback and helping them have a better experience with the product. This in turn helps a new customer develop trust more easily and feel more comfortable to try out more products from the business.

It is a well known fact that if any brand has to survive competitively in the market today, the business has to take seriously the value of how they relate with their customers. Managing a consumer-business relationship value is not possible without understanding consumer-products relationships and market principles.

This can only be done by collecting as much as possible customer information. Much research in the market is based on distributors, retailers and consumers all who are customers to the manufacturer.

Little research and effort has been put to understand the relationship between businesses, brands and consumers, all which are essential relationships which determine how and which products move in the market and for how long they can sustain a profitable sale.

Developing and maintaining customer loyalty is at the heart of many companies’ marketing plans today and this is especially so in the face of unpredictable, changeable market environments and highly competitive markets where business really need to retain their customers and market share (Wasnik, 2001).

Customer databases such as purchasing customer relations management software enables a company to keep an easy to refer to list of customers. It is able to identify profitable customers and differentiate them from those who are not.

This way, it is possible to establish the most profitable areas and group of a business and maximize on returns from the group. It also enable a business establish which customers to invest more in by improving marketing and sales efforts (Chang and Ming-Hua, 2006).

This information is important in helping a business understand its market and customers. Having extensive information about every individual customer helps a business get involved on a level which makes the customer feel appreciated. Ensuring a customer is constantly updated on new products for example ensures that they are not out of touch with a brand.

Customer relations help a business customize efforts and products to suit their customers. This is from the fact that a business has extensive knowledge about the customers. This saves a business a lot of money that would otherwise be used on research especially when it is introducing a new product in the market or upgrading already existing products.

The business already has an idea of what works and what doesn’t for their customers. This also ensures that the needs of the customers are satisfactorily catered to. This translates to customer satisfaction and they in turn continue to use the company for their needs and willingly partner with them in the markets.

An established customer relation strategy is important to a company since it increases customer loyalty to the company’s brand. This makes it easy for new businesses to establish a presence or gain a market share. It increases a company’s ability and strength to respond to competitive threats since their customers are able to give information more freely to them.

This means more sales and revenues for the business, which strengthens their profitability giving them an added advantage in the market. With this knowledge, it is no wonder that companies are putting in effort to understand consumer relations today, something that has been neglected for a long time.

More businesses are more willing to spend more resources and time to understand their customers and stay as close to them as possible. Attention and efforts today in big businesses and organizations is centered on the relationships between customers and the business, their satisfaction and how they relate to a brand and its quality.

Establishing customer relations

In a customer relationship domain, trust is about customers feeling secure enough about a business and its products, knowing it will meet their expectations and satisfy their consumer needs. The feeling is based on the business’ reliability, what it offers and what it intends to do for the customer.

A customer’s assumption that a brand will be able to meet his/her needs is the basis of a business’s reliability (Havard Business Review, 2000) This it does by offering exactly what the customers’ need and by offering it at a quality level.

The only way a business would do this is if they fully understood what the customers expect from them. Customers can only give such kind of information if they have a developed a level of trust for a business which happens slowly as the business builds relationship with them.

Stability plays an important factor in gaining customers’ trust. Customers will only be willing to let in a company after they have seen what they can do and how reliable their products are. If a business is consistent and their products have consistent quality, it becomes easier for customers to trust the business.

It also requires that a business gives the consumer a promise of better future performance. It then is the business’s responsibility to fulfill the promises if the company has to establish and maintain the customers’ trust and maintain a healthy relationship.

From a customer’s point of view, business intentions are abstract due to the fact that at any particular time, the business has more information about the things that matter than them (Griffins, 2008). The customers are then more vulnerable to a company’s decisions and actions and need to be assured that the company will not take advantage of their vulnerability to exploit them.

If a business is in a habit of breaking promises made on purchase of their products or making products which do not offer what they promise, customers will easily loss their trust in the business. Customer relations, which are highly dependent on trust, are therefore very dependent on how the promises a business makes are met.

Apart from the dynamic nature of a market, perceived risks associated with a business and their products plays an important role when building customer relations. Some business and products may create bigger risks than others. Some products may put a customer in a situation in which they face ambiguity or uncertainty in terms of satisfaction.

A business and its products are supposed to be simple enough to a level where customers can relate with easily. The products must be able to meet customers day to day lives needs. A business which transports phones on behalf of Apple Inc. for example may not be of concern to people who use the phones since their services do not meet the customers’ needs directly.

The customer will be more able to develop a relationship with an Apple Inc. retail shop than they are able to develop one with a transporter. A business therefore must be able to establish the customers it wants to relate with based on the level at which the customers experience the products.

Building a customer relationship requires that a company starts by defining their specific market and having a clear knowledge of what they want to achieve in this relationship. When a target market is not defined, there are high chances of developing relationships with people who may not relate well with what the company is trying to offer.

Sometimes, a business may also attract many customers who may not last for long while it could establish a few loyal and profitable customers who will stay. There is a need for a company to distinguish between their strategic planning and tactical planning to help explain how their customers will differ at different levels and areas.

The business needs to be able to clearly identify and describe the market it is targeting and the people it wants to reach. Finally the business needs to be able build a strategy and clearly explain how they intend to stay close to their customers. Strategies which the business can use to establish its customer relations include marketing, rewarding loyal customers, social responsibilities and involving customers in relevant company events such as products launch events.

Conclusion

As discussed in the beginning of the paper, if any brand has to survive competitively in the market, the brand’s value has to be maximized. From the literature review, it is evident that much research in the market is based on suppliers and manufactures or sellers and buyers.

Little research and effort has been put to understand the relationship between consumers and brands, an essential relationship that determines how and which products move in the market.

Developing and maintaining a brand loyalty is at the heart of many companies’ marketing plans today and this is especially driven by the fact that markets remain so unpredictable and highly competitive today (Haugtvedt and Karen, 2002).

From the analysis, it is clear that an established brand loyalty is important to a company. It increases a company’s ability and strength to respond to competitive threats, makes it more harder for new products to gain a market share, it allows a business greater sales and revenues and it creates a consumer market base which is less sensitive to competitors efforts to gain a market share.

Knowing this, companies today will do everything they can to understand consumer-brand relationships, something that companies have been neglected for a long time. Most of the consumer-brand relationships studies are based on a psychological orientation which looks at the cognitive process responsible for the development of a brand’s strength and attitude.

Attention is centered on the relationships between a consumer’s satisfaction on a brand and how its quality drives loyalty of consumers. Other studies are based on a sociological view, trying to understand the meanings and emotional aspects of brand loyalty a perspective that is well applicable on products targeting female consumers.

Trust is critical in developing an enduring long term relationship between a consumer and a brand which will hold even when the brand is facing challenges and uncertainties. Trust in a brand by customers’ means that a brand has characteristics which make it more than just a mere product and sometimes it could mean that it gives customers more than they expect.

A long term relationship between a brand and a consumer also means that the everyday execution of marketing plans by a company are working well towards creating a group that will stand by the brand. Trust and a long term relationship between a brand and customers is also an implication that it has been able to create value and go beyond customers’ satisfaction with its attributes and functional performance.

When conducting a market analysis for the brands, other than all the factors highlighted in the paper, businesses will take into consideration factors such as profit margins of other brands selling in a market, announced mergers, new technological discoveries and profit predictions for the coming quarters.

Some brands may take a mathematical approach when doing market analysis, others will consider past market information and past analysis of similar brands while others take a more gut approach, relying on rumors, news sources and other company’ activities.

With growing competition in the accessories industry, the gut approach is rarely used as companies are now forced to get the facts right since a very slight mistake or misinformation could cost a brand so much in terms of maintaining a competitive advantage and trust from its customers.

Apart from the dynamic nature of a market, perceived risks associated with a brand play an important role in gaining loyalty from its customers. This is because risks create situations in which a customer faces ambiguity or uncertainty in the satisfaction of their expectations.

Information available on a brand plays a critical role in how customers deal with such situations and how they make their decisions concerning holding to their loyalty on the brand or seeking alternatives in the market.

Complete lack of information leads to a gamble which can be very disappointing to a consumer while perfect information leads rational decisions meaning that a consumer uses a brand with an informed mind of disappointments they may encounter.

The most important source of trust for a brand however is its level of satisfaction to a consumer. The more a consumer is satisfied with a brand, the more they will trust it. Nevertheless, it is important to take into consideration the fact that a consumer needs motivation to involve themselves with the brand which is where they get the experience from.

This means that a company has to be able to motivate a consumer to try out the product for the first time and maintain their level of involvement with it. Customers who are constantly involved with a product will be able to make loyal decisions even in the face of uncertainties and possible inconsistencies. The biggest source of information consumers have about a brand is their own experience with it.

Building a brand name and loyalty requires that a company starts by defining their specific market and having a clear knowledge of what they want to achieve in that market. When a target market is not defined, there are high chances of having contrasting market activities, sometimes attracting many customers who may not last for long.

There is a need for a company to distinguish between their strategic planning and tactical planning to help explain how their marketing will differ at different levels and areas. The business needs to be able to clearly identify and describe the environmental characteristics which may influence strategic decisions about their brand.

Finally the business needs to be able build and explain how they intend to enhance their customer satisfaction. This can be done by use of marketing, having a solid and well organized strategic plan and by use of healthy customer relationships.

In the process of satisfying customers’ preferences, a brand is then able to create and maintain relationships with its consumers.

In today’s business environments and especially in the accessories industry where there are new brands each day, brand-consumer relationships are very important to a business to ensure that it is constantly updated on consumers’ expectations and dissatisfaction which will then allow it to work on them before the customers shift their preferences.

The emergence of a marketing concept therefore must be customer oriented, have long-term ambitions and help develop and maintain effective relationships with customers and give them an avenue to air their complaints before they try out new options which distracts the trust relationship that may have been developing for the brand.

For any brand, when identifying key factors for success, cost structure is very important. It’s equally important when formulating strategies that will allow a brand compete effectively in a market. This can be done through a market analysis as discussed which is aimed at determining the attractiveness of a market.

A market analysis further allows investors to understand different markets evolving threats and opportunities as they relate to them (Griffins, 2008).

It is performed to help determine who the customers are in the market and what they want from a brand. Even if not everyone involved in the brand development process is asked to participate in the process, everyone in a company must be able to make decisions using the data collected during market analysis.

Several areas of interest in data evaluation include market research, sales forecasting and market strategies. The dimensions of a market analysis when trying to understand or create brand loyalty include the market size of the brand, its growth and consumption rate, trends, profitability, its cost structure, success factors, weaknesses and distribution channels.

From the study, it is evident that managing a consumer-brand value is not possible without understanding consumer-brand bonds and market principles.

It is also notable that, an established brand loyalty is important to a company since it makes it more harder for new products to gain a market share, it increases a company’s ability and strength to respond to competitive threats, it allows a business greater sales and revenues and it creates a consumer market base which is less sensitive to competitors efforts to gain a market share.

Knowing this, it is no wonder that companies such as Apple Inc. are putting in effort to understand consumer-brand relationships, something that has been neglected for a long time.

Recommendations

Apple Inc. seems to have everything in place for a brighter and better future. However, it still has areas which need to be addressed if the company has to stay at the top.

The company’s reputation as an employer is under threat after proven allegations that one of its contracted manufactures in China has been overworking employees and paying them badly. It is for this reason that the company needs to put more emphasis on labor audits. The strategy will help the company retain most of its employees and attract better talent in the market.

The company is also faced with challenges in its advertisements. Even though it has very professional commercials, the adverts are criticized for giving very little information to the consumer. The business’ future strategy must include better advertisement methods that will help Apple’s customers make more informed decisions.

The relationship between Apple and its competitors still stands as an obstacle in exploring new markets. By working out its relationship with companies such as Intel and Microsoft, Apple may be able to save a lot by benefiting from other companies’ market knowledge.

Implementing a market penetration, product development, market development and diversification strategy for an already developed company such as Apple may not be easy. The company already has an upper hand in the industry and seems to be far ahead of the competition.

For it to maintain its position, Apple Inc. needs to implement marketing and development strategies that will be hard for the competition to catch up with. Currently, Apple seems to be putting more attention on specific products such as communication devices and music players.

The company’s digital rights management doesn’t allow easy sharing of content and this is causing a lot of criticism from both the competitors and customers. This could be a potential threat for the company as it could cause content providers to withdraw if they got better offers.

With proper considerations, the company’s future strategy should include a revision of this policy to allow its customers access more content from the competitors’ online stores. A good relationship with competitors will help understand any of the strategies that could be a threat in the market (Wansink, 2003).

For a proper products development initiative, the business needs to work on introducing more new generation products. The iPhone is becoming more of an internet device for more people and the business needs to develop it to meet the needs of the internet users.

Since cost is an essential consideration in any brand, assessing the company’s costs position against that of its competitors will have more explicitly strategic implications which are often best understood by using concepts from different consumer theories (Ballester, 2001). If the business understands its competitor’s costs, it will be able to understand their supply curve which will give information such as a price at which a business might choose to exit a market. Understanding cost structures will therefore be used as a tool to help Apple Inc.’s brand become a cost leader. Since cost is a big factor in how consumers relate with brands, it is should be a huge consideration for any company willing to establish its brands presence in the market.

Market trends which play a big role in consumer-brand relationships help identify the direction in which a brand will move over time (Algesheimer, 2005). Depending with the solutions the brand aims to satisfy, it should take different durations of time for it to gain total trust from its consumers.

Changes taking place in a market should be considered very important as they often come with new opportunities for brands. They also come with threats which may work in favor of a brand with better strategies as they may drive some of its competitors out.

Relevant market trends are very dependent on different industries but are also dependent on other factors such as price, supply, demand and level of emphasis and support for various brands available in the market.

Continual improvement should be a big part of the company and brand’s culture. It is one of the focuses in the businesses’ modern research projects. The company must be willing to seek to continually improve their products’ quality while reducing the cost of doing so.

Being in such a competitive industry, customer satisfaction has to be on top of the sector’s priorities. This can be made possible by ensuring quality assurance through continuous improvement. Logistics will play a major role in quality assurance by ensuring supplies and information is available when required and is handled with proper care during transportation and storage.

Taking into account all the factors considered when doing a market analysis for a brand, it is clear that it should be comprehensive enough to provide brands with information that is critical for its success. The numerical data should also be comprehensive enough to allow investors discern patterns that are probable in the future based on what is happening currently.

According to Veloutsou (2007), brands will always be interested at how prices within their sector of interest is moving and how the market as a whole is tending, information which market analysis provides and which should play a significant role in providing direction for a brand such as Apple Inc.

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IvyPanda. 2019. "Apple and Brand-Customer Relationship." October 24, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/apple-and-brand-customer-relationship/.

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IvyPanda. (2019) 'Apple and Brand-Customer Relationship'. 24 October.

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