A Branding Model For Web Search Engines

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Int. J. Internet Marketing and Advertising, Vol. 7, No. 3, 2012A branding model for web search enginesLu Zhang*School of Hospitality Management,The Pennsylvania State University,102 Keller Building, University Park,PA 16801, USAE-mail: lxz152@psu.edu*Corresponding authorBernard J. JansenCollege of Information Sciences and Technology,The Pennsylvania State University,321 G Information Sciences and Technology Building, University Park,PA 16802, USAE-mail: jjansen@acm.orgAnna S. MattilaMarriott Professor of Lodging Management,School of Hospitality Management,The Pennsylvania State University,224 Mateer Building, University Park,PA 16802, USAE-mail: asm6@psu.eduAbstract: In this research, we conduct a comprehensive investigation ofbranding of web search engines, examining the effects brand image, brandknowledge, and brand relationship. Our research aim is to investigate the effectof brands on users’ perception of search engine performance in order to provideinsights on search engines as services in this unique marketplace. We use asurvey of 207 participants for data collection and structural equation modelling.Our findings revealed users’ brand relationship with a search engine has adirect effect on their perception of performance by increasing satisfaction andtrust, whereas their brand knowledge about a search engine has an indirecteffect by combining with the existence of a brand relationship. This findingindicates that customers value their relationship with certain brands more thanthe users’ knowledge of that brand when evaluating the performance of searchengines. Our results also show that the impact of trust on performanceperception for search engines is not as significant as satisfaction, although trustis a major element in relationship marketing. The study has implications forthose investigating the search engine marketplace and practitioners ofestablished and emerging search engine companies.Keywords: brand knowledge; brand relationship; brand image; search engineperformance perception.Copyright 2012 Inderscience Enterprises Ltd.195

196L. Zhang et al.Reference to this paper should be made as follows: Zhang, L., Jansen, B.J. andMattila, A.S. (2012) ‘A branding model for web search engines’, Int. J. InternetMarketing and Advertising, Vol. 7, No. 3, pp.195–216.Biographical notes: Lu Zhang is a PhD student in the School of HospitalityManagement at The Pennsylvania State University. She has written severalarticles in the online branding and consumer research area. She is specificallyinterested in the aspects of online consumer reactions and the use of technologyin the ecommerce area.Bernard J. Jansen is an Associate Professor in the College of InformationSciences and Technology at The Pennsylvania State University. His specificareas of expertise are web searching, sponsored search and personalisation forinformation searching.Anna Mattila is a Marriott Professor of Lodging Management, School ofHospitality, The Pennsylvania State University. Her research topics focus onconsumers emotional responses to service encounters and cross-cultural issuesin services marketing. She is particularly interested in the study of emotionalloyalty and the impact of culture on service recovery.1IntroductionOne of the most popular tools for customers to conduct a product information search is aweb search engine, with impact on both sales and product branding (Lim, 2009). From atechnological perspective, studies report that, in terms of performance and interfaces,most major search engines are practically the same (Eastman and Jansen, 2003).Typically, performance is measured by precision, which is the ratio of relevantdocuments to the total number of documents returned at some point in the results listing.However, overall search engine performance is not quite as straightforward as thisalgorithmic metric would have us believe.Users’ relevance judgements can be affected by a variety of subjective, affective,cognitive, and contextual factors. Users have different perceptions of search engineperformance and distinct responses to each engine. Consumers use search engines forspecific shopping motivations (Ruiz-Mafe and Sanz-Blas, 2009). Brand awareness is onefactor that can change users’ evaluation of the searching process, as demonstrated byJansen et al. (2009). We also know that branded terms on search engine results pageshave effects on click through rates (Jansen et al., 2011) and that the brand of a websiteeffect customer perceptions (Voorveld et al., 2009). There is an expected relationshipamong advertising and consumer shopping (Korgaonkar and Wolin, 2002). There aresome other important branding concepts beyond awareness, such as brand relationship,brand knowledge, and brand image. However, the investigation of how these conceptsaffect consumer perception of web search engine is extremely limited.How does brand knowledge affect users during the search process? Does the brandrelationship between a user and search engine affect the perceived performance? Whatare the implications of branding in the search engine market? These are some of thequestions that motivate our research.

A branding model for web search engines197To answer these questions, we first reviewed the literature in marketing andecommerce areas to identify the gaps that we can bridge with new research. Our researchquestion is specified in the second section, along with related hypotheses, thatinvestigates a model of brand knowledge and brand relationship in the search engine area.This is followed by a discussion of the methodologies we used to test our hypothesesempirically. After analysing the data, we summarise the results from surveying 207participants, testing our model of search engine branding. We then explain the theoreticaland managerial implications for academic and practical usage of the findings. The lastsection explores the limitations, strengths, and research directions for further studies.2Literature reviewBrands have a significant impact on consumers’ perception and choices of a product, andbranding is a top management priority due to the realisation that brands are a firm’s mostvaluable intangible assets (Keller and Lehmann, 2006). A brand is the intangible sum ofan organisation’s attributes. Therefore, effective branding can result in customer loyaltyand a positive image of a firm’s products and services. Brands can be understood fromvarious perspectives. A narrow brand perspective centres on tangible brand features, suchas name, design, or symbol, while intangible features, such as values, ideas, andpersonality, are included in a broader brand perspective (de Chernatony and Riley, 1998).In this section, we review the components of branding that we investigate in thisresearch, and relate these to the domain of web searching. Some key concepts in the areaof branding will be discussed, including brand knowledge (composed of brand awarenessand brand image), brand relationship (composed of brand satisfaction and trust), andbrand commitment.2.1 Brand knowledgeBranding research traditionally focuses on investigation of brand knowledge, which isconceptualised by an associative network memory model of two components, brandawareness and brand image (Keller, 1993).Brand awareness is related to the strength of the brand node or trace in memory, asreflected by consumers’ ability to identify the brand under different conditions (Percy andRossiter, 1992). Brand awareness consists of brand recognition and brand recall. Brandrecognition is the consumers’ ability to confirm prior exposure to the brand when giventhe brand directly as a cue. Brand recall relates to consumers’ ability to retrieve the brandwhen given the product category, the needs fulfilled by the category, or some other typeof probe as a cue (Keller, 1993). Therefore, brands desire to be recognised and recalledby customers, aided or unaided.Brand image (a.k.a. brand perception or brand opinion) is built on consumers’ brandassociations and attitudes and has been considered an integral component of brand equity.Brand image has been widely employed in various brand equity frameworks (Keller,1993). Keller (1993) defined brand image as “perceptions about a brand as reflected bythe brand associations held in consumer memory”. Jansen, et al. (2009) investigated theeffect of search engine brand image on user evaluation of search engine performance.They reported that a positive brand image is worth a 10% to 15% positive perception of

198L. Zhang et al.search engine performance. Performance perception was measured in terms of fouraspects:1search engine selection2results page evaluation3individual link evaluation4evaluation of landing page.Conversely, a negative brand image incurs a 10% to 15% dip in perception of searchengine performance. In general, brands want their image to be positive and healthy, anddeliver the correct messages to the right audiences.Along with brand knowledge, another important field of academic and industryendeavour is brand relationship. The history of relationship marketing is long andvoluminous; therefore, we just briefly discuss the basic definitions and relevant researchin the literature.2.2 Brand relationshipIt is important to consider how companies build brand relationships with consumers.Research on brand relationships states that brands affect consumers because of theknowledge systems and the concepts consumers store in memory. Brands are part of apsycho-social-cultural context (Fournier, 1998; Esch et al., 2006). Consumers engage inrelationships with brands, similar to the personal and intimate relationships consumersform with other people. The brand relationship process can generate cognitive benefits aswell as a positive effect that result in a bond between the brand and the consumer(Fournier, 1998).Brand relationships include both exchange and communal aspects, which arerepresented by brand satisfaction and brand trust, and interdependence between theentities, reflected by brand commitment. These factors can effect a consumers loyalty to abrand, with Garnier (2009) exploring issues of search engine loyalty, reporting thatsearch engines can offer affective value to users in order to enhance loyalty. Exchangeaspects of brand relationship involve economic factors and offer primarily utilitarianbenefits (Esch et al., 2006), which are primarily represented by brand satisfaction. As animportant predictor of consumers’ future behaviour, brand satisfaction is a significantdeterminant of repeat sales, positive word of mouth, and consumer loyalty (Bearden andTeel, 1983). Traditionally, brand satisfaction research was mostly cognitive in nature. Inthe mid-1990s, research started not only criticising the overwhelming dominance of thisparadigm (Hunt, 1993) but also increasingly investigated affective antecedents ofsatisfaction. Rather than treating brand satisfaction as a simple one-dimensionalconstruct, some researchers have attempted to study satisfaction at a deeper level, arguingthat satisfaction is multi-dimensional and incorporates cognitive and emotional elements(Liljander and Strandvik, 1997; Strauss and Neuhaus, 1997). Naturally, brands wantcustomer satisfaction to be based not only on a cognitive evaluation of product qualitybut also on an effective response with little or no information processing.

A branding model for web search engines199Communal aspects of a relationship involve feelings about other people (Esch et al.,2006), and trust is the primary positive result of such relationships. Trust can be definedin many ways, including as the generalised expectancy that an individual holds that theword of another can be relied on (Rotter, 1967); the extent that a person is confident inand willing to act on based on the words, actions, or decisions of others (McAllister,1995); and, uniquely in the consumer domain, as the willingness of the average consumerto rely on the brand to perform its stated function (Chaudhuri and Holbrook, 2001). In therelationship marketing literature, trust is defined as the perception of confidence in theexchange partner’s future actions (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Trust is the basic mechanismused to build and maintain a relationship and fosters a long-term orientation in marketingrelationships (Morgan and Hunt, 1994). Because the conduct of e-commerce acrossjurisdictional boundaries involves risk, the issue of trust is arguably of greater importancefor online exchanges compared to traditional exchanges (Ratnasingham 1998; Walther,1995).The essence of a relationship is some kind of interdependence between the entitiesinvolved (Esch et al., 2006). For this research, we adopt commitment as a reflection ofinterdependence over time. Morgan and Hunt (1994) argued that commitment is centralto relationship marketing. Relationships are built on the foundation of mutualcommitment (Berry and Parasuraman, 1991). Commitment is “an enduring desire tomaintain a valued relationship” (Moorman et al., 1992). Commitment in its various formsfosters stability by implicating the self in relationship outcomes and by encouragingderogation of alternatives in the environment (Johnson and Rusbult, 1989). It is believedto be associated with motivation and involvement (Mowday et al., 1979), positive effectand loyalty (Kanter, 1968), and performance and obedience to organisational policies(Angle and Perry 1981).Table 1 summarises the various components of a brand and provides a shortdefinition of each component.It is obvious that branding is well researched in the general marketing literature.However, the effect of branding in the search engine area has received scant attention (Haand Perks, 2005; Sicilia et al., 2006), although the effect has received someacknowledgement. For example, Jansen et al. (2009) investigated the effect of brandawareness, and Bailey et al. (2007) examined brand name influences users’ preference.Brand trust and loyalty are also significant constructs in the internet marketing literature(Falk et al., 2007). Brand attitude (Balabanis and Reynolds, 2001) and brand familiarity(Park and Stoel, 2005) have also received some attention in the internet marketingliterature.The research reported here addresses the lack of research in the area, as noted by (Haand Perks 2005; Sicilia et al., 2006). Jansen et al. (2009) and Bailey et al. (2007)examined the brand effect of a search engine on search result results evaluation by users,but they did not examine how this branding attribute was developed. Falk et al. (2007)examined internet marketing but did not investigate search engine branding. Balabanisand Reynolds (2001) studied brand attitude for multichannel retailers. Park and Stoel(2005) investigated brand familiarity in the online purchase domain. As such, from areview of literature, there is a clear need for understanding the building of the searchengine branding.

200L. Zhang et al.Table 1Table summary of important branding constructsBranding componentDefinitionBrand knowledgeAn associative network memory model of two components, brandawareness and brand image (Keller, 1993).Brand awarenessRelated to the strength of the brand node or trace in memory, asreflected by consumers’ ability to identify the brand under differentconditions (Percy and Rossiter, 1992).Brand recognition – consumers’ ability to confirm prior exposureto the brand when given the brand directly as a cue (Keller, 1993).Brand recall – consumers’ ability to retrieve the brand when giventhe product category, the needs fulfilled by the category, or someother type of probe as a cue (Keller, 1993).Brand imageKeller (1993) defined brand image as “perceptions about a brand asreflected by the brand associations held in consumer memory”.Brand relationshipConsumers tend to engage in certain types of relationships withbrands, which are similar to the personal and intimate relationshipsconsumers form with other people.Brand satisfactionExchange aspects of a relationship involve economic factors andoffer primarily utilitarian benefits (Esch et al., 2006). Brandsatisfaction is the primary positive result of exchange relationships.Brand trustCommunal aspects of a relationship involve feelings about otherpeople; they transcend self-interest (Esch et al., 2006). Trust is theprimary positive result of such relationships. Trust is defined as theperception of confidence in the exchange partner’s future actions(Morgan and Hunt, 1994).Brand commitment“An enduring desires to maintain a valued relationship” [Moorman,et al., (1992), p.316].Regarding branding effects on search engines, Jansen et al. (2009) extended the existingliterature by investigating the effect of brands, specifically brand awareness, on theprocess of evaluating search engines during web searches. The authors found thatbranding affects web searches during four stages:1search engine selection2search engine results page evaluation3individual link evaluation4evaluation of the landing page.Jansen et al. (2009) stated that a positive search engine brand is worth approximately10% to 15% in user perception of performance (i.e., defined by user judgement ofrelevant results). However, their research involved only one aspect of branding, which isbrand awareness. Contrary to their findings, Bailey et al. (2007) reported no significantpreference for one brand name label over the other, even if that brand name is totallyunknown. They did two experiments, comparing results labelled ‘Google’ relative tothose labelled ‘Yahoo!’ (first experiment) and ‘WebKumara’ (a fictitious name) relative

A branding model for web search engines201to ‘Yahoo!’ (second experiment). The results, however, were branded only with a name,rather than, for example, colours and logos. So, this may indicate that these additionalbranding elements have an effect on user evaluation of search engine results.Except for these two articles, we could locate no other published works investigatingbrands in the web search engine area. Given the impact of web search engines onconsumer behaviour, the dissemination of information, and the commercial success ofmany businesses, an understanding of the branding effects of major search engines willincrease our insight of this critical marketplace.In the present study, we generally extend existing research by developing aconceptual model and conducting empirical research to investigate the impact of brandknowledge and brand relationships on users’ overall search processes. Therefore, wepresent a more comprehensive examination of search engine branding than currentlyexists.3Research questionsThis research has the main goal to explore the influence of brand knowledge and brandrelationship on users’ perceptions of search engine performance.Therefore, our research question is: Is brand relationship a significant factorcompared to brand knowledge in predicting users’ perception of search engineperformance?To investigate this research question and its associated hypotheses, we first look atthe function of brand knowledge and how it can influence customer satisfaction and trust.Searching memory for product-related information is fast and requires relatively littlecognitive effort (Punj and Staelin, 1983). According to Esch et al. (2006), brandknowledge is an antecedent to brand relationship. Unless a consumer has a representationof the brand in memory (including awareness and a positive image), he or she cannot besatisfied by the brand or trust the brand. The positive relationship between brandknowledge and users’ perception of web search engines has not been investigated in theweb searching area.H1(a) Brand image has a positive effect on brand satisfaction.H1(b) Brand image has a positive effect on brand trust.Hess and Story (2005) proposed that satisfaction primarily leads to functionalconnections between customers and brands while trust builds into personal connections.The authors found that customer relationships travel through many iterations,

Brand awareness consists of brand recognition and brand recall. Brand recognition is the consumers’ ability to confirm prior exposure to the brand when given the brand directly as a cue. Brand recall relates to consumers’ ability to retrieve the brand when given the product category, the needs fulfilled by the category, or some other type

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