Companies place brands and their strategies high on their priorities as they contribute to overall corporate success. They are integral part of corporate strategy which is reflected in the marketing plans. Corporate success driven from higher sales and reduced customer churn is the prime objective of businesses in the current market situation where customers’ behaviours have become complex and motivated by factors which are beyond the control of organizations. Marketing communications are undeniably most important aspect of selling products and services. Without effective marketing communication the desired objectives are impossible. This is the reason that companies draft their marketing strategies by adopting different techniques. Developing brand for their products and services is one way by which consumers could be induced to purchase more on a regular and long term basis. The branding strategies form an important part of strategic planning process of a company. By creating brands for products and services companies seek to achieve customer retention. Although many companies have successfully implemented brand management techniques there are always a possibility that these may not be sufficient for the company in the long run. Therefore, it is important that companies consistently invest in their branding programs through different P’s of marketing to keep consumers remains loyal to their products. In this study a case of Debenhams is under investigation and its brand management is subject to scrutiny for its role in company’s progress and affiliations with consumer behaviour.
The current research report is structured chapter wise where each chapter covers an important perspective of branding strategy and how companies can benefit from achieving customer loyalty. The report will conclude with overall assessment of branding on corporate success of Debenhams and make recommendations for the company and future studies.
Background to the Context
Marketing strategy of any organization initiates from developing an understanding of the company’s overall business strategy. This process is not limited to for-profit businesses but not-for-profit organizations also need to have a business strategy to achieve their desired goals and objectives. Business strategy is related to the crafting consumer behaviour in such a way that consumers are induced to purchase products and services of a particular company. Marketing communication defines ways in which businesses communicate their business strategy to its stakeholders in particular their customers (Varey 2002).
There are different marketing communication techniques or tools which companies commonly use to keep customers aware of the product and service offerings and satisfy customers to a level where they receive pleasure from entering into a buying transaction. Kotler (2003) commented on the needs of customers shaping up as a continuous paradigm which reflects customer needs as time and perceptions change. Furthermore he commented that customers perceptions of any product or service can be influenced by marketing plan that a company implements. Marketing typically requires more than 4Ps – Product, Price, Place and Promotion. The element of Promotion holds key value to overall corporate strategy as its plays an important role in determining the profitability and market success of products and services. Promotion can take form of advertisement, sales promotion, personal selling, direct marketing and public relations (Kimmel, 2005). The frequency of these activities is dependent on the type of business and products or services being offered.
With the advent of e-commerce and ease of international trade businesses have become more proactive in getting their message across to millions of customers and customers have increasingly become knowledgeable of the ways regarding the rapidly changing trends and have become accustomed to the ease of switching between products and services and even the names offering these. Companies invest and plan in establishing a name or a message which distinguishes its product or service. This distinction is driven from what is referred to as a brand which is associated with a product or service. It is required that companies develop strong branding strategies which have emerged as crucial marketing communication techniques and companies have started to use it more often than ever before (Essortment 2008). The brand’s influence on consumers’ behaviour has been the focus of companies’ customer strategies through media and other branding channels which makes methodical understanding of the factors affecting brand loyalty important.
Consumer behaviour is the prime focal point in branding strategies of any company as it is brand’s influence which consciously determines customers’ choice between different products and services and eventually leads to their buying decision which results in greater sales for the company. The brand loyalty which is based on a relationship between a peculiar company or a product or service or a brand and customers shapes up the habitual buying behaviour of customers. This is motivated by the feeling of association, familiarity and even in some cases a sense of safety for some customers (Essortment 2008). It is therefore apparent that for any brand to penetrate and influence customers’ choice it has to take place of other brands which customers may already be associated with. This would require intense marketing and repeated efforts by the marketing teams to motivate customers to shift from brands which they are currently loyal.
The desire to purchase a particular product or service is based on the consumers’ perception s regarding a product or service. These perceptions are typically driven from both physical and non-physical attributes of products which can take form of features such as ease of use, comfort, availability, technological edge, prestige and many other factors which make a product more desirable by customers. Once brand has been developed and recognised by consumers they could easily decide upon the perfect combination of factors for that particular brand and compare with other brands that sell similar products (Giddens 2002). The consumer perception takes a form of affiliation with a particular product and expectations of satisfaction which consumers’ aims to seek from a product or service can practically shape up their habit by provoking long term buying trend of that particular product.
Brands allow products and services to gain competitive advantage over others available in the market and book higher returns. In the last few decades markets have evolved tremendously and consumers have become increasingly aware of the choices they have which makes it difficult for companies to introduce new brands and gain portion of market share. It is therefore imperative that a brand continues to revive and convey its identity and image to consumers’ mind on a regular basis (Essortment 2008). Companies need to implement strong and well directed marketing communication techniques as any weakness could lead to misinterpretation of product or service attributes and can definitely lead to lower its acceptability and decline in overall current sales of the company and surely fall in future demand.. Thus a brand does not represent only a product that it is associated with but is reflective of the overall corporate strategy and has definite implication on the entire product mix of the company. It is therefore understood that brand which signifies a particular product is not only relevant to a success of a single product of the company but also have direct or indirect implications for other brands that are offered by the same company but also has direct or indirect influence on the fate of other brands that the manufacturer produces as popular brand of a company thereby depicting the company’s identity (Essortment 2008).
Therefore, it would be not wrong to say that brand acts as an representative for the company not only in the local market but also as an ambassador of the in the international markets giving a way of reflecting company’s identity.
Brands are developed as an integral part of the corporate strategic process and are dependable on the company’s view of consumers’ attitudes and decision making approach which is an outcome of learning process customers’ experience (Essortment 2008). As suggested by various theories on consumer behaviour and brand management the success and failure of a product or service is the based on the image that brand carries for that commodity and the company which is offering the product.
From the above it is clear that branding strategies of companies are primarily aimed at achieving customer loyalty to their products and services. The outcome of such loyalty by customers allows companies to charge high profit margins taking advantage of consumers’ affiliation with certain products or services and their willingness to pay high price for their association for those particular products or services carrying a brand. The association of brand with consumer behaviour could therefore be understood from three different perspectives. The first view suggests that the development of brand loyalty amongst customers imply higher sales volume (Giddens 2002). From this it could be implied that for businesses to expect higher sales should align its marketing activities to induce its current customers to buy more of their products or services however it is not limited to existing customers but also to attract new customers and build similar buying trends amongst them. Therefore, if companies are not able to retain their existing customers this would eventually lead to disastrous results for them with declining sales and loss of market share. It should also be understood that gaining and continuing customer loyalty is not an easy task and requires intense and thorough planning even before the product is launched. If the planning process is not able to cover all aspects of branding then great problems can arise for companies. Second perspective suggests companies through high customer loyalty can benefit from lesser price sensitivity of their products and services. Customers are willing to pay any price for a product or service which carries a brand that customers can associate with. Thus, companies can benefit from high profit margins and can expect greater returns from smaller customer base under challenging conditions. Finally the last perspective implies that strong branding by companies allow them to focus on retaining rather than acquiring new customer for their products or services. It is also clear that attracting new customers towards a brand is costlier than the retention of loyal customers.
From the above it is clear that maintaining a level of loyalty at all times companies need to reinforce their brand’s image on a regular basis and therefore requires that value is added to products to which consumer feel attracted and their interest remains in the procurement of the brand on a long term basis. Companies need to maintain a strong presence and position themselves in such a way that the relationship between customers and products remain strong even after the purchase. Advertisement an important marketing communication technique takes its different forms and allows companies to revive the image a product carries by focusing on its core characteristics and factors affecting consumer buying behaviour. It has been observed that frequency and intensity of marketing communication in service related industries is more than in the manufacturing sector. Companies delegate responsibility to a department to ensure that all activities are coordinated to provide the desired outcome of branding strategies. Particularly to service related business it is important that the store management takes the responsibility and ensures that consumers making their purchase are fully aware of the brand and repetition of purchase in the future can be achieved. Consumer commitment to a brand is based on the promises which company underpins in its offerings and if these promises are not fulfilled there are high chances that consumers will not return to buy the same brand. The role of supply chain management in bringing brands to their real potential is undeniable and should be ensured at all times because unavailability and delays cause brands to lose their standing amongst loyal customers (Giddens 2002).
For this research it is extracted from the background to the context that brand management is crucial implement of any business strategy and companies having branded product or service needs to consider various factors when considering design and developing product having both direct and indirect impact on the long term product acceptance and validity as consumer priority and choice. Companies therefore need to move away from eccentric strategies for development of products and should focus more on designing and developing a product with a view of making the customer having felt the incentive that only that product carrying their recognized brand can give and which apparently makes these products unbeatable (Giddens 2002). They process therefore should also include assessment of post purchase experiences which customer go through and why they remain loyal to a product or service. While on the sellers end there should be number of considerations that should be made when developing branding strategy for a product.
The current research is based upon the objective of determining the role that branding strategy plays in the corporate success by developing an understanding of marketing communication and investigating numerous brand promotion techniques that Debenhams has established and utilized over the recent years which would assist in understanding the contribution of branding to the process of corporate evolution of Debenhams. The outcome would be findings about whether brand management by Debenhams actually brought the corporate success that it is accredited with in present times.
As consumers are gaining access to easier ways of shopping and are subject to immense marketing culture which allows them to switch between products without any difficulty it is becoming increasingly important for companies to understand the changing behaviour of consumers and plan out their marketing in such a way that high level of consumer retention could be achieved. It has been observed that companies through employment of different marketing communication techniques tend to create a relationship between their products and services and their customers. This results in consumer coming back for repeated purchase of the same product or service and allows companies to yield higher demand and eventually higher sales for their products. However, with the advent of e-business branding strategies are becoming less effective and are getting restricted to certain product types. Companies implement different branding strategies with their focus on human behaviour by tagging customers’ sentiments with a brand that represents a product and helps companies to distinguish from competitors. However, branding does not always end up producing the desired results therefore it is pertinent for companies to align the branding strategies in a consistent and rigorous manner using different marketing communication tools. The current research thus aims at using a case study of Debenhams, a chain of retail stores based in the UK, to carry out an inquisitive research of the ways Debenhams implements brand management and also determine different attributes of its branding with its implications for corporate well being by assessing whether it assists the company in achieving greater sales or not and finally decide whether branding strategy always result in similar results for different products offered by the same company. For users of this report the research could be useful as it entails experiences from the case study of Debenhams and others can learn from this to make better choice of branding strategies.
The research hypothesis for the current research is that branding strategy is an integral part of the overall corporate strategy and successful implementation of branding strategy is the key to corporate success. The research hypothesis is set out for the current research which would be tested by investigating relevant information from both primary and secondary sources and answering the research questions given in the next section
The current research in the following chapters would investigate different sources of information in order to seek answers to the following research questions which would eventually form basis for justifying the research hypothesis set for this research work.
- How branding strategies are placed in the corporate structure and its role in the delegating corporate strategy?
- How companies can create brand loyalty that contributes to the success of the company?
- How does Debenhams implement different marketing communication techniques?
- Does Debenhams branding strategy allow it to have competitive advantage over its competitors?
- Is branding strategy of Debenhams in line to develop brand loyalty amongst its customers?
- What implications do brand loyalty has in the development of Debenhams?
In this chapter previous literature drawn from secondary sources is presented to form basis for the research carried out in this report. Customer Loyalty is considered as an important element of organizations customer relationship management strategy representing almost fifty two percent of their strategy (Griffin 2002). Customer loyalty is assigned so much importance by organizations as it is prime objective of branding strategies planned and invested in by them which eventually helps to gain maximum from their existing customers and in the same way attract new customers from experience sharing of others. This therefore helps them to reduce their efforts and tedious process of acquiring new customers (Directors’ Briefing 2008). To develop a concrete understanding of branding and its impact on customer loyalty for the current study it is necessary to identify factors which promotes a brand and signifies its importance to customers gaining their loyalty and repeated purchase (Teal and Reichheld 2001). Moreover it is also important to develop relationship between branding strategies, customer loyalty and subsequently corporate success.
The concept of branding emerged as long as the trade existed and is considered to date back to 5000BC (Timothy 2004; Reza and Manuchehr 1998). Its current form was inducted by the US Federal Trademark Legislation which allowed businesses to get their companies and products registered (Xuan-Thao 2001; Timothy 2004). In simplest terms brand ‘denotes a name, logotypes or trademark denoting ownership’ (Bradurn et. al. 2000). Brands are developed by organizations in order to attract and retain customers by enhancing the value, image, prestige or lifestyle. Not only that the use of a particular brand customers are able to carry a positive image but it also reduces risks associated with customers’ purchase of a product which they know little about (Ginden, 1993; Montgomery and Wernerfelt 1992). A good brand not only increases customer satisfaction but also contributes to high levels of employees’ satisfaction regarding the product and its brand they are associated with (O’Malley 1991).
Brands are perceived to have profound impact on consumers as they allow them to identify and differentiate between products and thereby assisting them in the purchasing process and making their shopping experience more comfortable altogether (Reza and Manuchehr 1998; Timothy 2004). Thus, branding is a way of dealing with human behaviour which is based on a rationale that promoting a name or logo or motto which can deliver meaning can actually gain attachment feelings of human beings for continuous buying (O’Malley 1991).
Brand recognition places greater responsibility on the companies to work extensively for the improvement of the quality of those products whose brands are considered to be popular and provide a company with a leading position in a competitive market (Kumar 2008).
Companies have been observed to take a proactive position in developing marketing campaigns to ensure that their brands provide them an opportunity to seek out greater market share and create a positive identity for themselves (Gustafsson and Johnson 2000). Therefore, branding can serve the objectives of a company in two ways that are firstly by allowing organizations to establish uniqueness in identities for their products and services and secondly lets them develop product differentiation which eventually supports their unique identity (Reza and Manuchehr 1998).
The companies can carry out the above tasks to benefit from branding opportunities and it will surely make consumers less price sensitive as they associate themselves with the particular brand and eventually develop loyalty with the brand (Lowenstein 1997). Once brand is established, expressed and recognised by consumers companies can experience greater financial returns from their operations. This comes by the way companies are able to develop brand loyalty and pull consumers away from competitive products and brands to their own brands and thus increase the product turnover (Lemon, Rust and Zeithaml 2001).
The importance of brand loyalty is unprecedented for any business and is defined in several manners. However one definition that serves the purpose is by Oliver (1999 p. 34) given as:
A deeply held commitment to re-buy or re-patronize a preferred product/service consistently in the future, thereby causing repetitive same-brand or same brand-set purchasing, despite situational influences and marketing efforts having the potential to cause switching behaviour.
This definition by Oliver suggests that the brand loyalty has two different aspects which covers the buying habit and influences on consumer behaviour. These aspect are widely discussed and explained in previous research works of Assael (1998); Tucker (1964); Jacoby and Kyner (1973); Aaker and Alvarez Del Blanco (1994) and many others. The effect of brand expression on consumers can be viewed as a way of extracting emotional attachment as a result of purchase of a product or service (Arjun and Morris 2001). Another elaboration of the concept came from the works of Moorman, Morgan and Shelby (1994, p. 23) & Zaltman and Deshpande (1992, p. 315) that suggested that brand trust is the willingness of consumers to purchase a product or service which is expected to deliver its stated or perceived function on every purchase. Doney and Cannon (1997) further commented that the concept of brand trust is crucial in circumstances when there exist doubts and comparison of superior brands with the minor brands allows consumers to build more trust in situations when they are considered vulnerable to the outcome of their purchase. It is also suggested by Dick and Basu (1994) that brand loyalty in fact an outcome of positive word of mouth and creates resistance to competitive strategies and prevent loyal customers from shifting to other brands.
Moschis (1994) in his book clearly set out brand loyalty in three different perspectives. Firstly brand loyalty could be a product or service or their types. Secondly brand loyalty usually exists for a limited set of products or services which allows consumers to make a choice between them. Finally, brand loyalty is a matter of lifestyle and personal choice which is appreciated by others. According to Ewing (2000) there is close relationship between store loyalty and brand loyalty in the purchase of branded products however there is a clear distinction between both and collectively they affect customer’s decision for next purchase.
Establishing a Brand
‘Brand is a construct and not a living and breathing organism as some would have us believe’ (Van Gelder 2003). In the same way Thompson (2004) suggested that brand development is similar to creating a mythology and the key to successful brand building is advertisement. Advertising is a powerful tool which could help companies channelize their corporate strategy by presenting views on expectations from a product and thereby establishing a feeling amongst consumers for a brand. Marketing communication techniques have evolved in many ways and are so closely connected to branding that it is impossible without them for businesses to succeed.
Another way of establishing brand is through the use of information technology which has become a global phenomenon and can allow companies to carry out cheaper and frequent branding activities (Williamson 1999). Winkler (1999) commented that sharing of information has allowed consumers to switch from one brand to another without any cost which has affected ways of doing business and consumers’ exposure and horizon to perceive the products, services and related functions.
Branding as Corporate Strategy
Branding strategy has been recognised in several research works as a tool for achieving competitive advantage. Yovovich (1998) demonstrated that branding strategy is an integral part of overall marketing strategy which companies plan and develop so that brands are recognised and well placed at customer level which leads customers to buy more of products and therefore creating higher shareholders value and stronger cash flows. Apart from this holistic view of branding strategy focus on brand can be a way of improving firm’s own performance. This implies that setting up a brand as a focal point converge efforts in the organization which results in more coordinated and prioritized responses to the changes in the market (Capon, Berthon, Hulbert and Pitt 2001). This view of branding strategy suggests that brands are more than just a marketing communication tool and they should be considered as an integral part of business approach (Rubinstein 1996). This approach further implies that business invest in developing brands prior to developing corporate strategy (Rooney 1995) that supports (Urde 1994) view of brand as a initiating point for structuring overall firm’s strategy.
From this it could be interpreted that brands provide companies a strategic orientation point which could shape business development model by establishing company’s internal capabilities and aligning them with externalities. In its wholeness it suggests that all business functions should be place within an organization that has a focused brand orientation (Urde 1994; Wong and Merrilees 2005). It takes the discussion to another perspective of branding strategy to building a brand reflective of overall corporate strategy which requires training and infrastructure improvements. Employees should be trained and internal metrics should be developed to record the company’s ability to deliver brand experience to its customers (Davis 2001). In its wholeness all business functions should
Companies therefore need to adopt such approach to branding which aligns all business activities including product designing, inventorying, merchandising and packaging so that the brand reflects its attributes through marketing communications techniques such as advertisement and direct marketing. These will surely affect company’s overall approach and make it consistent with the brand experience which customer seek and also to provide a coherent and responsiveness solution to its customer requirements and needs (Davis 2001).
Developing corporate brands have become the driving strategy for companies which consider them as navigational force for different stakeholders who value corporate brands for their decisions regarding employment, investment and particularly consumer buying behaviour. Corporate brands are viewed as brands representing ownership, corporate key values and images and also assisting consumers to associate themselves with products or services companies offer and experience pleasure upon consuming these products or services (Balmer and Gray 2003). All these factors are not mutually exclusive and allow companies to differentiate from their competitors and post great value held by stakeholders for them. Therefore, the importance of corporate branding is undeniable and the need to differentiation between product brand and company brand is important as company brands not only represent a product but it carries the image of the company suggesting that it has multi-stakeholders rather customer orientation (Balmer and Gray 2003). Also there is a difference between corporate brand and corporate identify as the later relates to an accumulation of corporate sub-cultures whereas the prior inhabits one or several organizations (Balmer and Gray 2003). Therefore, it has been argued that building corporate brand requires a multidisciplinary approach with support from human resource planning (King 1991).
The extent of corporate brands is not limited to a single region and could stretch over countries, regions and cities. The bridge between corporate brand and stakeholders is build upon a covenant between them which is some sort of promise that a product or service is expected to deliver. This covenant is ascertain by top management and is conveyed to stakeholders as signs of recognition (Keller 1999). However organizations do not always appreciate covenants unpinning their corporate brand..
Customer loyalty as understood motivates customers to purchase a particular brand to meet their needs and satisfaction. It is therefore pertinent that organizations recognise the importance of customer loyalty for their long-term success and sustainability of the business. In its early years of understanding companies use d this concept to strive for development of a corporate culture which was based on providing customers value for their money(Barlow 2009). However, as businesses progressed and consumers knowledge level improved significantly the shift of focus has been towards a set of factors which could lead to ultimate customer loyalty and eventually impact on the success of a product. The focus is on long-term affiliation of consumers with the brands a company may offer and this change of focus is argued to be driven from change in business philosophy and customer attitudes (McCarthy 1997).
Organizations carryout various customer retention which are often launched under the banner of customer loyalty programs (Moller and Barlow 2008). This therefore implies that companies have now realised that customer loyalty is one way by which they can satisfy existing customers and also convince their customers to act as advocates for their products to attract new customers and increasing their sales for the subject product (Wheeler and Smith 2002). A useful elaboration came from Lundy (2006) who derived different levels of customer loyalty at which it exists which includes Habitual Loyalty, Locked-in Loyalty, Golden Handcuffs Loyalty and Advocate. Companies assess customer loyalty amongst consumers using these four classifications and it helps them to address various market segments accordingly and efficiently.
Brand and Customer Loyalty
Appreciation of brand and customer loyalty is positively correlated to each other. Reicheld (2006) concluded that companies which have highest customer loyalty for their product and services are likely to grow atleast twice the rate at which their competition grows. It could be suggested that for long term business and acceptance of brand customer loyalty is very important. Brand is usually dependent upon the factors which the product promises to offer and in order for brand to remain popular among consumers it should deliver what is expected from it otherwise its outcome will be only for short term. The role of technology is the key as businesses need to update products to continue their viability and role in customers’ lives. Also technology plays important role in one-to-one e-marketing which helps in enhancing the awareness of the product offered and customer can easily decide to carry out repeated purchase of the same product or service (Iain 2002).
Customer loyalty is also seen as a way of creating an emotional connection between customers and products they admire and eventually purchase (Gallup Organization 2003). Companies may not need to spend a lot of time and money on creating brand loyalty if a product has unique characteristics but for others investment in developing brand loyalty is quite necessary. This is clear from Koch (1999) suggestion that no matter what type of business it is all organizations are affected by customer loyalty to their products and brand and it is beyond their own choice to accept its significance.
Various factors have been identified in different research studies which businesses need to keep in mind when brand loyalty is to be achieved for their products. These factors can actually involve transforming the trend of repeated purchases into regular habit. These factors which may include price, quality, quantity, ease of purchase, social value etc. results in more value, utility and satisfaction for customers who are willing to pay even premium price for them (Giddens and Hoffman 2002). It is also suggested that brand loyalty is not one time step but businesses need to constantly remind their customers of the fact that they are committed and loyal to the brand. As competition has made businesses difficult to gain substantial market share and competitors are in constant process of establishing, launching and developing consumer acquisition strategies therefore it is necessary to continuously emphasize and resurrect customers’ habit through repetitive marketing techniques (Jill 2002).
Branding an International Perspective
Branding strategies are not just limited to a single region, city or country they go beyond cross boundaries. Companies operating in different countries place their brands in such ways that they could be easily recognized and drawn to by customers having different nationalities and behaviors. Thus, branding has an important role for international marketing and (Wong and Merrilees 2007). Carroll (1999) was of the idea that for companies to carry their brands in international market it is important for them to be socially responsible and give due respect to economic, legal and ethical issues of particular markets and they should also involve in voluntary philanthropic activities as a part of their existence and involvement in international markets. Being a socially responsible corporate companies can actually achieve higher response to their brand and therefore can contribute more value to both local and international stakeholders. Carroll (1999) and others have suggested that in order to be socially responsible organizations consider economic, legal, ethical and voluntary/philanthropic activities, i.e. going beyond the legal minimum requirements that have to be addressed.
Reasons for Customer Loyalty
Over the last few decades the issues related to customer loyalty have been the subject of several researchers and its relevance to businesses success and importance for them on all scales (Stinnett 2004). Businesses seeking newer markets and strong footing in the existing markets are faced with intense and complex competition which restricts business development. However, customer loyalty is one way that businesses can actually achieve corporate success on a global level. By becoming more conscious and active participants in consumers’ lives businesses can actually stand tall between their competitors. In current times customer loyalty is stressed upon so much because of the reasons that 80:20 is one of the principles which keep the business running and profitable.
Costs of doing business may be difficult to manage and may seem rising where businesses are not able to retain their customers. Keeping this in view Jill (2002) suggested that customer loyalty can have cost advantage for a company as it has been observed that retaining existing customer is less expensive than attracting new customers. Existing customers who are considered as advocates can actually help business by raising vocals regarding the benefits and impact of their purchases to others which works in a way to attract new customers in the future and thus reduces churn too.
The Variables of Brand Management
Brand management studies split the concept of loyalty and consequently brand management into two components that are transactional and perpetual components. Transactional components are focused on brand management activities which develop a tendency in consumers to buy the same brand again and again and increase the frequency of their purchases of this brand (Butscher 2002). This therefore suggest that frequency of purchasing a brand not only reflects customer experience of the brand but is more than this which prevents customers switching to other products or brands (Miller and Miller 2008).
On the other hand perceptual components are based upon the experience customer derive from their purchases of a particular brand. Consumers evaluate the value of their purchase through their own personal experiences after purchasing the brand and develop a desire to buy more of the same brand if it meets their expectations from the initial purchase of the product or service (Brandi 2001). Research has proved that in situations where gaps between expectations and experiences are minimal customers are more likely to come back for more purchase of the same brand (Schmidt 2009).
Another set of discussions which are important for discussion on customer loyalty comes from those who argue that companies need to understand the thin line between the consumer attitude and their subsequent behaviour towards a product. This is crucial as it derives the loyalty that customers hold towards a brand (Szwarc 2005). Furthermore, previous studies including those by Mc Quitty, Finn and Wily (2000) and Reza and Manuchehr (1998) provided a valuable insight into the consumer behaviour which eventually affects consumer choices amongst different brands in the same category of products and suggested that consumers perform this healthy critical analysis which determines a market for a brand.
It has been recommended by business analysts that consumer behaviour is mainly driven by values mind accepts, recognises and assign it to certain part of the life which is considered important by consumers. Therefore for brand management and consumer loyalty it is necessary that focus is placed upon the tendency of mind to push consumer towards a particular product or service. This aspect of brand management is highly important as it is prescribes a metric for measuring customer loyalty towards the brand and its supplier / producer.
Scope of Corporate Communication
In order for companies to maximise response from their brand management the role of corporate communication should be clearly understood to ensure that the corporate strategy is aligned with its marketing goals. Corporate communications are suggested by Van Rield (1995) to consist of marketing communication, organizational communication and management communication. For customers to develop an affiliation with the product and brand the need to know corporate attributes and identity which they can develop from their own perceptions of company’s marketing activities, performance and communication of which branding strategy is an important element. Similarly organization communication is as important for companies to develop a sense of commitment and association between employees and company’s strategy. In addition to this management communications allows for communications between managers to overcome difference in perceptions and opinions to support the overall marketing and financial objectives of the company (He 2008).
Company Profile – Debenhams
Debenhams is one of the largest retailing stores of the UK which has a long history and dates back to 1778 when its founder started drapers store Flint and Clark in London. The company’s head quarters are based in London, UK. At present the company has 140 stores including 10 Desires by Debenhams stores in the UK and Ireland. In addition to these the company also operates internationally via franchise agreements with investors in 15 countries and has a total of 45 franchise stores operating (Debenhams 2009). Furthermore, the company has an ecommerce web portal which allows customers to do online shopping and offers all products which are available in-store thus making it a complete online solution.
The company has major business lines in apparels, house furnishings, cosmetics and other accessories. The apparels division being the largest includes products such as womenswear, menswear, children, home ware and lingerie etc. The company has employed a team of designers who are responsible for 55 company’s own brands. In addition to this the company offers brands of other companies providing customer great choice within its stores. The company faces strong competition from companies such as Selfridges, Marks & Spencer and House of Fraser. Debenhams has long established reputation of offering high quality goods and has popular brands including Debit, Maine New England, Red Herring and Thomas Nash which have their own respective set of customers. In 2008 Debenhams received highest recognition as the best department store in the UK in a survey conducted by London based GMTV (Debenhams.com).
Initiation of any research involves setting the objectives of the research and ways of achieving those objectives. It is therefore understood that in order to meet the objectives of the research the decision regarding the selection of the appropriate research approach is a crucial one and which should be carried out at the planning stage of the research. It is also important because the selection of different research approaches can result in different outcome or misinterpretation of information collected for the research which could mislead the user of the research and obscure the desired objectives of the report. Numerous schools of thought have laid out different research methods which are commonly used in contemporary academia. These approaches incorporate various recommendations regarding the process to be applied in the development of the research design which includes decisions regarding different methods of collecting data and then applying different tools to analyse the collected data. It is therefore imperative that the concrete research methodology is laid out clearly for the research (Colwell 2006). These recommendations would have implications for different academic fields and selection of appropriate strategy and design actually determines the outcome of the research. Therefore, it would not be wrong to imply that research methodology not only helps to reach to the set objectives of a research but also it allows users to make high quality and informed decisions to be made based on the findings of the research (Bryman 2003).
In this chapter various literatures regarding established research methodologies are discussed along with data collection techniques. Finally, this chapter would also provide details of adopted research methodology which is considered best suited for the current research topic.
Research methodologies are based on two paradigms. The first one is the positivistic paradigm that is based on quantitative data. The positivistic paradigm has an objective nature which is widely implemented in research studies which are scientific, experimentalist and traditionalist research studies that are common in the field of science. These types of researches are characterized by a research approach which aims at seeking out the facts or causes of social phenomena to provide proven explanation for it. This can be completed in a systematic and rationale manner using deductive approaches (Saunders et al 2007).
The positivistic paradigm as discussed above refers to quantitative research which is based on mathematical approach to the research subject. It involves implementation of different mathematical tools and develops the research by establishing a research hypothesis and attempts to justify the research hypothesis using numerical measurements. Quantitative research is best elaborated by the following explanation by Cresswell (1994):
‘Quantitative research is an inquiry into an identified problem, based on testing a theory, measured with numbers, and analyzed using statistical techniques. The goal of quantitative methods is to determine whether the predictive generalizations of a theory hold true’ (p.153)
It is further understood that this type of research methodology has its application as a mainstream scientific approach for researches on the subject of human behavior and can achieve better results for determining factors and reasons as to why human behave, think or feel in a particular mannher. It is also observed that this approach covers various methodologies which involve empirical, hypothetico-deductive and experimental collection and analysis of data. Therefore, we can conclude about the quantitative approach that it is helpful in determining numerical differences between various groups under investigation and identifies set of variables which may exist for relationship between these groups (UNR, 2008).
Advantages and Disadvantages of Quantitative Research
There are numerous advantages of using quantitative research which include increased objectivity and lowered ambiguity of research as it is based on stating numerical amounts and users can easily develop an understanding of the findings to be applied to other researches. Furthermore, quantitative research has certain advantages of simplicity in understanding as it is commonly used by organizations for the purpose of providing comparisons between existing data and results of new research (Wrenn et al 2001).
There are certain disadvantages as well of the quantitative approach such as that it does not allow researcher to assess data which is subjective in nature and is difficult to be put into numbers for measurement. Numerical findings may not sense to users unless backed up by other useful information. Finally quantitative research is carried out in a controlled environment setting which may not be possible to maintain in certain conditions (Weinreich 1996).
Phenomenological paradigm is based on qualitative data and analysis. It is considered to be a subjective approach which follows humanistic and interpretative methods. This implies that this approach deals with human feelings and behaviour in much better manner. It usually involves smaller groups and carries out qualitative analysis of observable facts including motivation, beliefs and attitudes (Wright 2006). It is therefore suggested that this approach is more appropriate for developing views on human behaviour which may not be easily attainable as phenomena in the natural sciences. Saunders et al (2007) suggested that this paradigm is primarily concerned with making use of survey participants’ own subjective frames of reference and it aims at describing, translating and interpreting events using participants’ perspectives.
Qualitative research approach is quite different from quantitative approach as it provides more in-depth study and analysis of the research topic. The qualitative approach deals with in-depth study and analysis of the subject in review. This is different from quantitative approach as it does involve use of statistical procedures or any other way of quantification (Strauss and Corbin, 1990, p. 17). Qualitative approach is more casual, descriptive and more appropriate for illuminating, understanding and extrapolating of findings to similar situations whereas quantitative approach focuses on determining, predicting and generalizing research findings. Moreover, qualitative research initiates by establishing a research hypothesis and then carries out research to present findings on it rather than testing existing ones (McBride and Schostak 2004).
Deductive & Inductive Approaches
Qualitative research can be carried out based on two different approaches that are deductive and inductive. Firstly deductive approach allows examination of a particular research hypothesis and the research results in findings whether to accept or reject this research hypothesis (Collis and Hussey 1997). Secondly, inductive approach is set out in particular situation and findings results in suggesting theories or concluding with generalized ideas about the topic.
Advantages and Disadvantages
Qualitative research has numerous advantages including its flexibility and ability to generate more spontaneous responses from the participants. This offers more interaction between the researcher and participants as the questions designed are open ended with an opportunity for respondents to provide descriptive replies and incorporate more details than just closed end questions (Patton 1990). Thus, it could be considered as much informal way of research. The research design invokes responses which could help in gaining rich insight into the subject (Family Health International 2006).
This type of research also has certain disadvantages which includes high researcher involvement and expensiveness. Furthermore, the responses could be biased and difficult to interpret and replicate which is due to its subjectivity to different circumstances (Oklahoma State University 1998). Keeping in view both limitaions and advanatges of both quantitative and qualitative approaches they could be used in combination using techniques from both approaches. This type of research methodology is referred to as a mixed approach (Saunders et al 2007).
Data Collection Techniques
Data required for any research could consist of primary data and secondary data.
Primary data is considered as first hand information which is collected for specific purpose of the research and does not exist in the past prior to the present research (Tull and Hawkins 1993). The primary data is collected by using different data collection techniques such as questionnaire, interview, observation, focus group activity etc. Primary data are more authentic however has these could have weakness such as those of coverage, reliability and respondents’ own motivation and knowledge that is very important. Furtheremore, costs associated with collection of primary data can be restrictive factor for any research.
For establishing the scope of the research the initial steps typically involve examining of previous published data which can be in the form of previous research reports, journal articles, books, websites and other sources. However, it should be understood that the purpose of these data may be different from present research and therefore fullest consideration is required when drawing information for use. The availability and accessibility issues pertaining to secondary sources also undermine their usability.
Selected Research Methodology
The project aim of the current research is to evaluate branding strategy and activities of Debenhams, UK and their impact on developing customer loyalty and eventually on overall corporate success therefore it is useful to gather information using both primary and secondary sources and carryout the required analysis and comparison. This would provide answers for each of the research questions laid out for the current research. It is set out that a case study approach (Yin 2008) is used to develop reference points in the company – Debenhams stores and assess the brand recognition of the store itself. As it has been commented that Debenhams has 55 of its in-house brands and at the same time offers other brands as well. However, in this research Debenhams is considered for its own brand name and not individual products or services which are being stored in its outlets. The brand management policies and branding activities for promoting brand name Debenhams are highlighted and using a mixed approach that is combination of both quantitative and qualitative research methodologies the primary data is collected using survey questionnaire supported by relevant literature and evidence from company sources. Quantitative approach is used for providing percentage analysis of gathered responses in primary research whereas qualitative research is based on inductive approach to draw important insight from primary and secondary sources to support the overall assessment in the current research to justify the research hypothesis set in Chapter 1. The selected research approach is justified from previous researches which suggest that qualitative approach is appropriate for a study of identified variables affecting the outcome of the research and where quantitative research may be not be adequate to provide complete and meaningful analysis (Strauss and Corbin 1990).
For the reason of collecting primary data a survey questionnaire (Wansink, Sudman and Bradburn 2004) has been developed that was used to gather responses from customers shopping at Debenhams. The questionnaire consists of demographic, closed ended and open ended descriptive questions which are devised in such a way to gain maximum output from respondents. Questionnaires could be emailed, mailed or via fax or telephone and even face to face for completion. However, for the current research it was emailed to respondents with complete instructions and ethics statement. The survey questions were aimed at consumers’ decision to choose Debenhams for shopping, reasons of Debenhams brand loyalty, consumers’ preferences between different brands and finally inquisitive questions regarding the consumer affiliation to Debenhams brand. Overall survey questionnaire is aimed at determining the effectiveness of branding strategy of Debenhams which is driven by various factors and services offered and supplemented with the interview and personal visit to Debenhams store in Glasgow it would eventually form the basis for the current analysis.
In addition to survey questionnaire, interview was designed to be carried out at Debenhams store. The interviewee was the store manager who was asked interview questions which are more direct and relevant to the research objective. The interview questions are aimed at gathering information regarding the branding strategy of Debenhams and its employees’ commitment to brands offered by the company in its stores. Finally opinion regarding consumer behaviour and choice are covered by these questions. It is to be understood that a major difference between questionnaires and interviews is that questionnaires may not be required to be answered spontaneously and thus can be filled at one’s own leisure whereas interviews require more responsive answers on the spot (Trochim 2006). However, both techniques will supplement each other to reach at more accurate and appropriate findings supporting the research hypothesis.
Selecting a Random Sample
For the purpose of the current research the survey questionnaire designed and developed was delivered to a sample of population which was randomly selected from a list of individuals collected from Debenhams. The randomly selected sample of people would allow the research to cover as many as possible different segments of consumers who may have experience of shopping at Debenhams. The results obtained from the survey questionnaire would be summarised in the next chapter on the basis of the questions requested in the survey questionnaire and attempts are made to relate these results with previously completed researches in order to test out the established research hypothesis that are summarized and then compared with those from previously performed research studies to test the research hypothesis that branding strategy is an integral part of the overall corporate strategy and successful implementation of branding strategy is the key to corporate success.
The selection of survey participants was not carried out through a systematic process or by establishing any selection criteria. However, the confidence interval and precision levels for the current research are set at 99% and 1% respectively (See Appendix III) using a specified sample population. Collection of responses from selected respondents initiated The process of selecting respondents was initiated by contacting Debenhams management in order to obtain a list of email address of Debenhams customers and also seek permission to contact customers for research purposes. The list of email addresses obtained comprised of over three hundred (350) email addresses of customers from three branches in Glasgow area. From the provided email addresses obtained as MS Excel file was used to pick out two hundred (250) email addresses from this list. This approach allowed a simple randomly selected sample of Debenhams customers. These customers were sent questionnaires along with the ethical details letter which clearly set out the purpose of the research and voluntarily participation and withdrawal rights for respondents. However, in addition to the questionnaires few customers were approached personally while shopping at Debenhams to develop a clear understanding of the results achieved from the questionnaire respondents. In view of limited time and scope of research only 10 such replies were included in primary results and incorporated in the analysis and findings part of the research. The data collected from the survey questionnaire will be analysed on individual question basis. These questions are considered as separate variables and are delved into separately to draw important conclusions regarding the subject topic (Clark and Creswell 2006). Qualitative analysis allowed presenting elements of the survey questionnaire to be presented in two different forms of comparison i.e. both descriptive and tabular format. In addition to the random selection of respondents the researcher also visited one of the outlets of Debenhams stores in Glasgow which is situated at The Square, Silverburn, Barrhead Road. There are three outlets in the area of Glasgow however the store selected for visiting was picked randomly. This was only done after contacting the store manager to conceive firsthand knowledge of the branding activities in the store and also to gather responses from few customers. Furthermore, the store supervisor of the same Debenhams store was interviewed to collection important information for the research.
Secondary sources were considered crucial for providing descriptive evidence to the current research through the use of research articles, journals, websites and other sources. These sources are used keeping in view the objective of the current research which is to develop an overall standing on the role of branding strategies in ensuring the corporate success and how brand management contributes to achieving high levels of customer loyalty. All these aspects are analysed using Debenhams as the case study for this report.
The current research methodology has certain limitations because of various issues which need to be clarified in the following to set out the scope for the current research and also to allow better informed decisions if any that may be made based on the findings provided in this report.
The most common independent variables affecting the subjectiveness of the current research are time and cost involved. Both these factors somewhat limit the researcher’s ability to carry out research and therefore they may have clear impact on the findings of the current research.
Perhaps the most important dependent varibale affecting the outcome of the current research is related to the primary research. The selection of sample is random and may not be reflective enough to generalize results to the entire sample population. The also involves risk of biasness from respondents which could actually obstruct the desired objectives of the survey questionnaire. Furthemore, misunderstanding of the sruvey questions and the objective set out for the primary research as set out in the ethics statement attached with the questionnaire.
It should also be understood that the current study is not exhaustive. This implies that the questions set out for survey questionnaire are limited and even responses collected for the research are limited. These both factors along with the use of secondary sources can affect the project aim which to develop correlation between branding strategy and customer loyalty and evaluate its impact on corporate well being. Thus, it is set out that if the current research is carried out in a different way under different circumtances it may suggest different conclusions.
The research outcome is based on the researcher’s own ability to collect data and analyze and interpret it to draw useful information. This is important dependent variable which affects the outcome of all researches. The current research has also made use of critical information available from secondary sources and all efforts are made to ensure the correctness of data used. However, it is clear that limitations as a part of these secondary sources used are also somewhat part of limitations for the current research.
Lastly there are certain ethical considerations which are included in the disclaimer at the initiation of this report covering the recommendations made in this research after detailed evaluation of branding strategies of Debenhams in its stores. The use of the current research for any business or other decisions should be clear of any obligations for the researchers
Findings and Analysis
The three branches of Debenhams that were targeted through this research are located in Glasgow. These outlets have high customer turnover and have all products of Debenhams on display giving excellent choice of products and brands to its customers. As decided in Chapter 3 survey questionnaire was sent to customers who shopped at these stores at any point of time. Observation and analysis of customer trends in three outlets allowed developing precise understanding and view on the role of brands in corporate success. Furthermore, a personal visit to the store located at The Square, Silverburn, Barrhead Road and important responses were gathered via an interview conducted by the researcher of the store supervisor.
Survey Questionnaire Results
Questionnaire was emailed to random 250 customers and following is the summary of results from questionnaire emailed to customers of Debenhams:
From 250 respondents only 167 replied from which 133 were accepted and remaining were rejected due to not following instructions properly. In addition to 167 replies additional 10 were collected in during personal visit to Debenhams store. This is provided in the following table and graphical presentation:
Table 1: Response Rate
Data regarding respondents’ age is important as it allows classification of customers according to their ages. It has been observed that fewer customers are under age of 21 and in 21-34 brackets. This suggests that customers shopping at Debenhams are mature who focus more on quality and are less sensitive to prices.
|21 to 34||21||14.69%|
|35 to 44||29||20.28%|
|45 to 54||51||35.66%|
|54 and older||29||20.28%|
Table 2: Respondents Age
This suggests that there are more women shopping at Debenhams than men. This is common factor in all departmental stores as women have more choices of products such as cosmetics, crockery and house ware etc. Also they have more time for shopping as compared
Table 3: Respondents Sex
The question is aimed at supporting previous questions to assess the customer profile of Debenhams. There are more married individuals shopping at Debenhams store suggesting that the store offers more choice to cater all requirements of the family.
Table 4: Marital Status
This question is important as it determines consumers’ affiliation with brand i.e. Debenhams and its products. Table 5 indicates that only 17% has less one year’s experience of shopping at Debenhams and most of respondents have between 4-10 years of affiliation with the brand.
|How long have you been shopping from Debenhams?|
|Less than one year||25||17.48%|
|Between 1-3 years||41||28.67%|
|Between 4-10 years||45||31.47%|
|More than 10 years||32||22.38%|
Table 5: Shopping Experience
This question is important to determine whether customers are loyal to Debenhams and do their shopping on regular basis or not. Table 6 indicates that Debenhams is not very successful to motivate year round shopping by customers. Majority of respondents are of the opinion that they prefer to do shopping at Debenhams during sales periods which are very popular as customers have the opportunity to purchase quality goods at lower prices.
|How often do you visit Debenhams?|
|Only during Sale Period||68||47.55%|
Table 6: Shopping Frequency
Overall satisfaction level with branding strategy of Debenhams
This is perhaps the most crucial questions in determining overall customer satisfaction levels while shopping at Debenhams. Customer very dissatisfied with their shopping experience at Debenhams constitute as only 2% but are important for determining the reasons undermining the success of company’s branding strategy. Most customers are very satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the branding strategy of Debenhams offering them a pleasurable shopping experience.
|Overall satisfaction level with branding strategy of Debenhams|
Table 7: Overall satisfaction level with branding strategy of Debenhams
Overall understanding of branding strategy of Debenhams
Yet another important question to support respondents replies to previous question. This question estimates the genuineness of replies by assessing customers understanding of various branding activities which company implements in its outlets to ensure that brand Debenhams remains high in consumers’ choice. Most of the customers are not clear about the branding strategies. This could also include responses from customers who lack knowledge of different marketing activities which are actually contributing to promoting brand. Table 8 summarizes the collected responses.
|Overall understanding of branding strategy of Debenhams|
Table 8: Overall understanding of branding strategy of Debenhams
Reasons for Shopping at Debenhams
The question allowed choices to select from four options including Brand, Price, Loyalty & Trust and Services & Quality. Survey indicates even distribution in the responses and all four factors received equal weightage by respondents as follows,
|Why do you come shopping to Debenhams?|
|Services and quality||25%|
|Loyalty and trust||25%|
Table 9: Reasons for Shopping at Debenhams
What are the five (5) best attractions in Debenhams as a brand?
An open ended question allowed respondents to reply with up to five characteristics which make Debenhams a strong brand. This supplemented the information collected from previous question as it identifies what appeals to customers. The responses were varied however the common factors were price, quantity, quality and ease of shopping. Ease of shopping was mainly driven by the atmosphere, store layouts and support provided by the store employees who are always willing to help. The overall shopping experience during sale promotion periods was considered highly satisfactory by customers.
Respondents were inquired about the level of quality that Debenhams offers to its customers and even promises to deliver. The replies reveal that most of the participants agree that Debenhams does deliver high level of quality while 27 respondents thought otherwise. In addition to these 7 participants did not reply to this question. The results were astonishing as Debenhams seem to have successful maintained quality through its offerings to consumers.
|Does Debenhams always deliver promised quality of services?|
Table 10: Quality Commitment
Levels of Quality
This question further elaborates the last question by establishing the levels of quality which Debenhams has for its products and services. From the provided options in this question majority of participants i.e. 63% replied as Debenhams offer high quality and 19% as very high quality products and services. Almost 14% thought of it as low and 3% considered it as very low. This is crucial as the company opts to maintain high levels of quality and consumers considering it to be poor. The results are presented in the following table.
|To what extent Debenhams products are high quality?|
Table 11: Levels of Quality
This question supported responses regarding frequency of shopping at Debenhams and suggested that consumers are attracted to special sale offers which the company put up to induce bulk shopping. The company has successfully carried out various marketing activities to promote such buying trends and have established a strong position for itself in the market. The collected responses indicate that participants were mostly drawn towards sales such as Christmas, 50% Off Sales and Winter Sale that allowed for a celebration of sorts. Furthermore, Table 12 also indicates that Debenhams Card Scheme received reasonably good response i.e. 45 respondents or 32% of total respondents appreciating company’s policy.
|· Which the best marketing activity of Debenhams you like the most?|
|Debenhams Card Schemes||45||31.47%|
|50% Off Sales||101||70.63%|
Table 12: Marketing Activity
Benefits from Shopping at Debenhams
This question collected responses from participants regarding their perception of benefits they receive from shopping at Debenhams. This suggests a sense of value added return to their purchases. From 143 respondents almost 68% were of the opinion that they do believe that shopping at Debenhams benefit them. Also 32% thought otherwise which may due to high pricing strategy in normal seasons.
|Are regular benefits being given to you as a result of purchasing Debenhams products?|
Table 13: Benefits from Shopping at Debenhams
Switching from Other Brands
This question reveals that most of the respondents had switched from other brands to Debenhams. A staggering 77% of respondents moved to Debenhams while a small percentage i.e. 22% did not switch from other brands. This implies that they did not go through the process of decision to switch from other brands and made a choice to shop at Debenhams without any consideration of any factors.
|Have you switched from any other brand?|
Table 14: Switching from Other Brands
Switching to Other Brands
This question builds on 184.108.40.206 further elaborating responses from respondents who believe that quality is not also deliveredby Debenhams. From these respondents 93% were of the idea that they would switch from Debenhams to any other brand. While only 2 out of 27 respondents replied otherwise. This question sets out the importance of delivering customer satisfaction that would result in better revenues for the company.
|Do you think of switching to any other brand?|
Table 15: Switching to Other Brands
Loyalty to Debenhams
This question builds on replies to 220.127.116.11 according to which 111 respondents replied that they switched to Debenhams from other brands. These respondents replied to this question by selecting from three options including brand, services and both brand & service. Most of the replies i.e. 46% suggested that it both brand & service and second it was due to brand recognition which convinced them to switch to Debenhams and thirdly it is due to the service offered by the company. Also seven respondents decided not to reply.
|Is this loyalty with the brand (Debenhams) or with the related services?|
|Both Brand and Service||51||45.95%|
Table 16: Loyalty to Debenhams
Reasons for switching from Debenhams
This question aimed gathering responses regarding the reasons for switching decision to other brands. The results showed that price is the biggest factor is the higher price of certain products. Few of the company’s brands were observed to have higher prices when comparison of their quality was made with other brands. This could lead to customer shifting to other brands available. Secondly, promise breakage in terms of Debenhams not delivering varied choices to customers and not meeting customers need especially in sales seasons and online shopping. This received 31% of replies while the final reason was less service quality. However, customers were not much bothered with this and only 13% replied in this way.
|What are the reasons for making you switch from Debenhams to any other brand?|
|Less services quality||19||13.29%|
|Higher price compare to quality||79||55.24%|
Table 17: Reasons for switching from Debenhams
This open ended question and personal visit to Debenhams store outlet provided varying insight into the reasons making Debenhams stand out amongst other companies. There are numerous reasons highlighted however the most important and relevant one is that Debenhams offer an excellent collection under one roof and at the same time its price and quality let customers enjoy their shopping at Debenhams. The environment inside the store makes shopping experience pleasurable and not overcrowded with shelves and aisles are properly organized giving enough space for movement and privacy.
This question is very important as Debenhams is experiencing lower sales in peak price seasons and this would suggest its competitors who have been more successful in attracting and retaining customers for their shopping on regular basis. Respondents replied to this question with twelve different brand names including brands such as Marks & Spencer, Primark, Next, Officers Club, H&M and River Island. Even some replied with brands such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco however they are considered as slightly different business models and therefore ignored. Amongst all Marks & Spencer received most replies as the preferred brand.
Reply to Interview Questions
The interview conducted by the researcher of the store supervisor shed light on important aspects of marketing communication techniques and branding strategy of Debenhams. The company carries out various marketing activities including special discount offerings, online promotions and loyalty card program which not only keeps customer coming back to the store for shopping. The company carries various in-store activities to inform customers of upcoming sale attractions and employees working in the store are ensured that they are fully aware of different brands available, any sales promotions and can easily reply to customers’ inquiries. Customers prefer to do shopping sales period mainly because of high value for money and bulk shopping. In this way the company can achieve higher revenue and make up for sale shortages in normal days which is majorly because of poor perception of designs and brands by younger consumers and too much focus of the company on promoting sale offerings. At any time the store has more than 80 brands covering different products giving excellent choice to customers who become loyal to certain brands. In particular consumers seek out Debenhams own 55 brands such as Debit, Maine New England, Red Herring and Thomas Nash receive high response from customers. In addition to these external brands are also highly reputable and purchased by customer during their regular trips to Debenhams stores. It is recommended that Debenhams offer fresher designs for young consumers to attract them to stores. Also as the company faces competition from much better placed retail departments pricing strategy should be redefined. More efforts should be directed at making customers do their regular shopping both in-store and online. In-store attractions such as eat out corners and children play place can attract mothers and families to come to Debenhams stores more often.
The secondary data collected from different sources include company’s website, annual reports and other available sources to establish research findings on branding strategy of the company and correlate it to the corporate success. The secondary data presented under the following sections data is supported by observations made during personal visit to the Debenhams store in Glasgow. In the UK & Ireland Debenhams operates through its 140 stores and also in foreign markets through franchise stores. It is considered to be one of the largest trading spaces available to consumers spreading to around 10.7 million square feet in 2008 (Debenhams 2008).
Customer Satisfaction at Debenhams
Debenhams offers more than 55 of its own brands and almost four hundred other brands which are grouped under twelve separate classifications of products. Debenhams also offers international brands but most of its success has been through the sale of its own brand labels that contribute almost fifty one percent of the turnover (British Design Innovation 2003).It was observed during the visit that the company has placed its brands in such a way that weaker ones are together and stronger ones are displayed clearly. The classification and grouping of brands is made based on the market segments they are serving. These include Beauty, Designers, Womens, Lingerie, Mens, Kids, Electricals, Home, Furniture, Gifts, Weddings and Clearance etc. These categories are well managed and maintained by specialized planning team which is responsible for ensuring that the success of all of these classifications of products and services. Debenhams has a designated team of analysts who are responsible for the particular end of Debenhams operations concerned with developing strategies and undertake important task of carrying out in-depth research of markets the store is situated in (SPSS 2007).
Their planning covers various marketing activities to inform customers of different offerings in-store and introduction of new products or new collection of existing brands from time to time. Debenhams through its in-store programs ensures that customer retention programs are build upon making shopping a pleasant and comfortable experience at the store.
Customers are valued highly by Debenhams as it has developed a focused strategy on customer satisfaction by recognizing it as the most important element for customer retention and overall success of the business. Over the years Debenhams has formulated and tested various strategies and has faced ups and downs in its business but it cannot be denied that Debenhams has emerged from all as one of the best departmental stores in the UK. This is due to its intense planning and identification of customer trends along with its sales and marketing programs to adopt according to the changing behavior and experiences. Debenhams offers consumers an effective brand experience and it is for the same reason that Debenhams is considered to be a role model when it comes to brand development. Debenhams makes a balance between quality and price by exercising efficient brand management. Debenhams has made sure that it markets its own brands just as strongly and with just as much vigor as it does its other prime brands.
Debenhams has successfully developed and implemented a branding strategy for the name it carries and the products which it serves in its outlets. The branding strategy goes beyond the very name which allows the company to do customer relationship management effectively and efficiently. The customers are able to relate themselves to the brand that the company carries and also individual brands which represent different product categories in the store. The branding strategy has focused on improving the image a product carries with itself. For example the company instead of focusing on the product has highlighted its impact on individuals’ lives and characters by using keywords such as wit, humor, style and sexiness to elaborate upon the contribution it makes. This thus allows the company to develop brand and establishing its characteristics which are close to customers and implement a marketing strategy which builds upon the image and importance of the brand to the consumers.
The brand development strategy is focused on improving customer contact points in stores which help brand realize its real value. The company has maintained in-store environment which distinguishes each product category and supplements the products which are displayed under these categories. More direct approach at selling point is adopted by staff working in different areas of the store that are more than willing to help consumer to learn and decide between different products. Thus, the company utilizes the customer contact points effectively to concur the objectives of increased sales with the level of loyalty which is required for repeated sales. All these factors are under constant supervision of the store manager who assesses and reports daily on the movement of products and brands. This helps the management to improve brand experience of consumers during their shopping at Debenhams.
Debenhams through its marketing activities and in-store customer facilitation steps is able to collectively develop a brand culture for consumers. This is characterised by a wide variety of products and individual brands representing these products under one roof giving ample opportunity and choice to customers who eventually build some sort of affiliation and realization of corporate objectives. In addition to these the company’s occasional sales offerings gives the company an opportunity to revive customer-product relationship. Company sometime operates discount periods particularly during the personal visit it was observed that 20% off on certain brands and products allows customers to experience more benefits from the favorite brands. This refreshes brand image amongst customers and benefits the company by speeding up slow moving stock and higher sales.
Direct Marketing Strategy
Debenhams has made wide use of the concept of direct marketing which is at the core of its marketing strategy (Benjamin 2006). The marketing campaigns frequently carried out by Debenhams are targeted at the lifestyle genre which focuses on affiliating brands and respective products to various aspects of customer behaviors and attitudes. The primary concern of Debenhams strategies remains customers’ retention as it is considered as most important element of marketing strategy. Debenhams spends both time and resources into implement customer loyalty improvement programs. Debenhams implement marketing programs which allows personalization of customer shopping experiences; deepen customer service and increase efficiency and cost effectiveness. The same has been implemented through Debenhams online portal which has provided an opportunity to the company to cater a wider and varied customer base which considers shopping from their homes or offices at ease and without the hassle of going to the store for their daily shopping. This web portal, which was at its verge of collapse after its launch in 1996, was revived by heavy investment and interest of the company’s management to ensure that it assists in achieving the desired sale targets. This has also contributed a lot towards brand loyalty and its growth has been encouraging. The extensive of the company’s brand loyalty can also be assessed from the fact that the company updates 6 million subscribers of its loyalty card through monthly newsletters. Through this mail information regarding store offerings personal marketing is made which is based on the analysis of customer’s buying trends by the company. This encourages customers to come back to Debenhams on regular basis to avail different offerings in-store and do shopping as much as possible.
Debenhams had made efficient use of information technology to take advantage of cost efficiency and carry out direct marketing in more frequent manner. This has been observed on Debenhams online portal where e-marketing can be seen as fully implemented in form of banners, company’s news etc. In addition to this the company also updates its customers profile and emails frequent customers atleast twice a month to inform them about what new is happening in the store and the company to encourage them to carry out their purchases either by coming to Debenhams store or visiting online portal.
It has been observed through Debenhams literature that the company plans and develops its strategies to increase customer loyalty by exercising extensive consumer behavior segmentation and makes this as basis for designing and implementing various marketing campaigns that it operates from time to time and target its chosen segment to gain maximum returns from sales. As discussed the company has a detailed system to collect data from previous sales and eventually assists the company to direct segment oriented marketing campaigns. In addition to Debenhams own activities the company also frequently engages other organizations to carry out study of customer behavior and identification of trends in order to direct its customer retention programs.
Debenhams stores provide customers a pleasurable and comfortable shopping experience. The stores ambience and environment gives a feeling of how committed the company is towards giving its customer the best service they could get during shopping. The staff provides fullest assistance and is completely completed to ensuring customer satisfaction can be achieved and is reflected from their behavior and actions (HSE 2005).
The company has implemented services such as the Personal Shopper which makes the shopping experience highly pleasant and convenient. Other services include The Store Directory which permits shoppers to swiftly go through products and brands available in the store and seek advice from the staff to locate the product or order if it is not available in the store. The Ordering Service is a tool which could help shoppers to develop a feeling that Debenhams is looking after their needs on a personal level and helps them achieving their buying decisions easily and swiftly by allowing customers to explore through products which are not only available in-store but also available otherwise. Finally some of other services which also help customer retention include Collect by Car service which is not available in all stores and Gold Lounge and Lockers available to Debenhams Gold Card members are equally crucial for the brand strengthening and its image. In April 2009 the company also introduced Beauty Club Card which offers services, exclusives and promotions to loyal customers for their behavior and spending in the stores. Overall the company carried fourteen different marketing activities in the year 2009 (Debenhams 2009).
Price and Quality
Debenhams has recently experienced great boost in its sales even in the times of credit crunch and customers saving more. This is mainly driven from the balance in price and quality which company has been able to maintain in periods where companies are faced with shrinking sales and profits (PRWEB 2009). The popularity of Debenhams brand remains high amongst consumers and has enjoyed consistent growth over the years which are mainly based on the price value for its quality products. This has been confirmed through primary research and via analysis of company’s annual report 2008 that clearly sets out company’s policy on pricing strategy that suggests the company aims to consistently deliver best value in terms of quality, style and fashion which should be available to customers at affordable prices regardless of brands and product and services departments.
Brand Alignment is crucial for brands to achieve their desired levels of customer loyalty and it is typically carried out by managing over a time period the branded products so that all internal and external opportunities are aligned with brand transformation. Customers shopping at Debenhams had problems with distinguishing between different brands which are available in-store at any time. The company realizing the lack of focus on different product segments addressed customer confusion by aligning its brand development strategy so that it does not only helps customers with understanding characteristics of products and services but also removes duplication of commodities by merging brands into a single brand and converging its marketing activities. This is clear from company’s intentions set out in the annual report 2008 that the company aims to establish fewer but bigger departments which would help in gain product authority at all price points (Debenhams 2008). For example the company has recently merged a brand – Casual Club in the womenswear with another brand Collection to ease customers’ choice.
Goods Return and Refund
Debenhams has implemented its good return and refund policy which is in line with the company’s business and could be considered as an effective and efficient customer friendly policy. The procedures are simple and sale of products is accompanied with the documentation of instructions for return and refund. The return and refund policy and procedures are one of the primary factors which customer value the most as it helps in building up their trust in brand or company they are purchasing from. Debenhams stores have separate section set up for dealing with return and refund issues and the employees working on the desk are friendly. The policy is aimed to cover all transactions made by customers and same has been implemented for purchases made through company’s online e-commerce portal (Debenhams 2008). The classification of return policy is different for different products and services offered by the company but the overall objective of the company is to make customers feel comfortable with their purchases and understand the fairness of accepting return of goods and claiming refund for them. In addition to this the company also allows foreigners to claim VAT on their purchases in store. This saves foreign consumers from paying taxes which are required of the British citizens only.
Conclusions and Recommendations
In the last chapter of the current report important conclusions could be presented regarding the role of the development of brand and subsequent branding activities aimed at establishing and managing customer relationship with the brand and product/s it represents. Overall assessment of the contribution of brand loyalty to overall corporate success is made by building relevance between the research findings and literature provided in previous chapters.
The development of brands is an important element of corporate strategy and businesses plan out and implement various marketing communication techniques including advertisement, personal selling, internet marketing and promotion etc. to manage customer relationship and build customer loyalty to the brands they offer. Branding has become focus of many businesses as it relates to various activities which could actually result in retention of existing customers. The way of achieving this is by drafting marketing activities which are aimed at influencing customers’ behaviours, perceptions and attitudes and other factors which are at the core of customer relationship management. Companies take different steps to improve their customer relationship management strategy which not only improves existing customers’ loyalty but also extend it by attracting new customers. It has been suggested that finding new customers is costlier than retaining existing customers who act as brand ambassadors for the company and in fact assist companies in expanding their market approachability. The outcome of companies branding strategies has its implications for the company in the future even if immediate effects are not visible (Lauchlan 2006). It is the combination of customers’ habits and behaviours which actually establishes loyalty towards a brand and inertia against alternative brands. This is reflected in consumer buying trends as customers develop an intellectual association with a brand after its identity is recognised and product differentiation makes their purchase a unique experience (Lauchlan 2006; O’ Mailey 1991). The brand being recognised can help the companies to experience higher sales and they are able to benefit from premium pricing as consumers become lesser price sensitive and products demand is inelastic to changes in price. However, changes in other factors such as technological, behavioural, social, cultural and most important personal preferences can affect brands standing amongst consumers. Therefore, company’s needs rigorous implement branding strategies to keep their products and services high on preference list.
Debenhams carries out various marketing activities aimed at providing loyal customers information regarding various sales offering s and constantly remind them of their affiliation with the brand and invoke their regular buying orders. As Giddens and Hoffman (2002) suggested in their work on brand loyalty Debenhams invest heavily in customer retention programs to keep customers coming back online or in-store to take advantage of new offerings in the store. Customers are able to get value in terms of the price and quality balance and are motivated to come to Debenhams stores for shopping the future. The company carries out various promotional activities to attract customers as suggested by Iain (2002). The company has been successful in implementing a brand environment both internally and externally. This environment takes account of all internal factors affecting company’s business strategy, internal conventions, brand legacy, marketing mix and marketing implementation which are based on the assessment of external factors including categorical, cultural and needs conventions. The outcome of the process is that the company has been successful in expressing its brand which is recognized and perceived by customers as one of the most valuable brands available in the market.
On international level the company has been successful in establishing the same brand experience for consumers. It operates through a chain of franchise stores and business strategy is directed from the company’s head quarters in the UK. The local marketing is driven from the behaviours and perceptions of consumers based in those countries and the company have had substantial success in the Middle Eastern countries. The prime reason is that these countries employ large number of expatriates from European countries who have somewhat information about the company and recognise the brand. In this way they act like advocates for promoting the brand (McEwen and Fleming 2003) and in view of 80:20 principle the existing customers actually act as brand ambassadors wherever they go. Thus, branding has important international perspective for companies to derive similar results as their local experience (Wong and Merrilees 2007).
From the lessons learnt from the literature review and findings presented in the previous chapter it is obvious that branding and customer loyalty in the case of Debenhams is no less than for any company. Debenhams where offers a wide variety of brands but so far has not been able to create corporate brand which represents the company and carries its image across. The name of the company perhaps is the major element of its branding strategy which has been the focus of this research. The company has achieve growth even in times of credit crunch and its recent interim results suggests an increase in overall market share and increase of 11% as compared to last year first half sales despite of the economic problems different economies are facing. In this report it is inferred that despite of the changing consumer attitudes and increased ability to switch between brands the company is maintaining an effective branding strategy and a balance between price, quality, quality and choice available to customers, which keeps the company successful. The company adopts a strategy and has established a corporate system and culture that promotes consistency and continuous monitoring of the four elements identified in this research.
Debenhams carries out regular minor measures to keep its brands attractable and ensure that customers are retained for their interests in its products. But the primary research carried out in this research suggests that customers are not as much loyal to the company’s brand but value more the balance between price and quality and even the seasonal and other occasional discount offerings. Debenhams focus on maintaining this balance is in line with the study of Iain Ellwood who suggested that it is essential for a brand to deliver what it promises and in case of Debenhams this seems to be achieved. Also the survey suggests that a major portion of customers have either already switched to other brands or are planning to switch. This could be a concern for the company and thus requires company to revive the emotional connection which it seems to be losing amongst its customers.
A major concern raised through this research is that Debenhams derives most of its sales during discount periods which it offers to consumers from time to time in addition to certain fixed annual sales. Throughout the year the company is not able to maintain same levels of sales as customers are not very much keen to shop at Debenhams in normal periods. To induce this Debenhams has its loyalty card program which allows it to keep close contact with its customers and work closely to develop customer loyalty through direct marketing strategies but it is felt that Debenhams could do more with better addressing the issues and most importantly reduce brands confusion and focus more on its core products and services.
It is further concluded from the research that Debenhams need to focus more on the consumer attitude and behaviour which can be damaging as consumers find it easier to switch between brands and their affiliation with the company’s brand will be lost forever. This is suggested in response to the weaker sales in regular periods and preference shown by respondents for other brands that are considered trendier than Debenhams designs. The company aims to ensure that customers have the access to various fringe benefits and services which contributes to customer loyalty (Mc Quitty and Wily 2000) that are offered using unparalleled approach but the company is still to achieve uniqueness as most of its marketing strategies are in response to other departmental stores.
Recommendations for Debenhams
With respect to branding and its wider implications for corporate success of Debenhams the following recommendations are put forward which could be used as strategic guidelines.
- Debenhams offers a wide range of brands in its stores which cover different products and services. The company could save costs by channelizing aggressive marketing which in a way generalizes its approach to achieve similar results for products under similar categories.
- It has been observed that Debenhams have a customer profile mainly consisting of older individuals. Debenhams should target younger consumers by integrating new designs and products which appeal to this segment of the market.
- Debenhams can take advantage by hiring renowned designers and associate its products with their names. This makes marketing more direct and relevant to consumers who seek branded products.
- Debenhams can take advantage of sourcing its products from suppliers which can assist it in cost cutting. This measure would not allow the company to reduce its costs but also increase its efficiency. However, this requires careful planning and consideration to issues such as pricing, quality and sharing of knowledge with other companies.
- It is also observed that Debenhams get high response from consumer during its sale offerings period including Christmas, Boxing Day and 50% Sales etc. but in normal seasons the sales slowdown. To stir up more activity in regular periods the company should aim at more targeted marketing. This can be done via its online e-commerce and by giving small discounts periods. This would surely result in continuing customer relationship throughout the year.
- Debenhams has for many years developed its reputation as one of the quality products and services suppliers. But it has been observed that the store layout is less attractive than other competitors that makes shopping experience little off mood. The company should focus on making the store as consumers’ first choice and one way of doing it is by merging brands and decreasing display costs and making them more attractive to improve customer approach.
- Debenhams can build upon its experience from its somewhat successful Gold Lounge facilities by launching more programs which incorporate more opportunities and ease of decision making for consumers.
- It could be observed in other departmental stores that they have implemented a strategy which attracts families by not only offering discount of bulk shopping but also offers services such as food court which could make shopping experience as day out at Debenhams or children play house which keeps children busy and allows parents particular mothers to do shopping with ease and comfort.
- Debenhams has been observed through primary finding that it has weaker customer retention programs which should be primal concern for the company. The company should strive to extend its brand development programs and activities to ensure that customer loyalty is longer and profitable.
- Debenhams can also lean from departmental stores located in other countries such as Wal-Mart which has successfully implemented a strategy of low cost and larger choice to consumers. In the same way Debenhams should strive to improve the loyalty programs and perhaps introduce affinity credit cards that give customer credit on lower interest rates.
Proposed Future Research
It is clearly set out in Chapter 3 that the scope of work involved in the current research is somewhat limited due to various factors including time, cost and researchers own ability to gather data and interpret it to gain useful insights into different areas of branding strategy as a part of corporate success. Therefore, it is through this report that the researcher suggests recommendations for future research related to the case study of Debenhams. It is suggested that the current research could be expanded to cover international perspective of Debenhams’ branding strategy. This would result in findings whether Debenhams have been able to successfully launch its brand in markets other than the UK. Furthermore, keeping in the framework of the current research the researcher also suggests that expanding the scope of the current research to cover a wider network of Debenhams’ store outlets in the UK and increasing the number of responses from customer and on-site staff could yield in findings of more reflective nature. The researchers inability to access internal documents of Debenhams related to its marketing and branding strategies may have caused vital information regarding the company’s expenditure on various marketing communication techniques i.e. the financials to be left out which are recommended to include in any future research as this would surely increase the scope of future studies. In addition to these, use of statistical modelling to develop trends in customer demand and company’s sales using multivariate regression and use of software like SPSS would be of great benefit to the user of similar researches. However, it is also understood that the future studies will also be limited in their scope due to the certain limitations which are integrals of similar studies.
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