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Keller vs. Aaker customer based brand equity models

5 min read
Customer-based brand equity (CBBE) is used to show how a brand’s success can be directly attributed to customers’ attitudes towards that brand.

Attaining brand equity is the holy grail for an organisation’s branding team. This can be tackled in various ways, including using two models developed by brand management gurus, Kevin Lane Keller and David Aaker.We take a look at these two brand equity models.

Keller’s Customer-Based Brand Equity (CBBE) model

The best-known CBBE model is the Keller Model, devised by Professor of Marketing Kevin Lane Keller and published in his mighty Strategic Brand Management.

With the evolution of marketing, the focus of companies switched to the customer. Happy customers mean profit. Companies realised that to become even more profitable they had to go beyond simply keeping customers happy and build a strong relationship and resonance with them too. Relationships are, of course, built on strong foundations and develop over a period of time.

Keller’s model is a pyramid. The stages of brand equity move upwards towards the apex and the simple brilliance of this model is that it’s easy to tell what stage the brand is at and what it needs to do to move higher.


Level 1: Brand identity (who are you?)

This is how customers look at your brand and distinguish it from others. It’s the most important stage and must be strong to support the rest of the pyramid above it. Brand identity builds when customers start off unaware of your products and values, then you can attract them with ad campaigns and targeted marketing that increase awareness.

Level 2: Brand meaning (what are you?)

When customers become aware of your brand, they’ll want to know more about it. Do its features work well? Is it reliable? Does it look good? Is the customer service good? Is it value for money? This is brand meaning and is divided into two:

  • Brand performance: when a brand ‘does what it says’ and performs well over time, it will be loved and trusted (e.g. Miele, Apple, Microsoft, Virgin)
  • Brand imagery: what does the brand appear to be to customers? Land Rover must appear rugged, but Kleenex must appear soft, and this messaging must come out in targeted marketing

Level 3: Brand response (what are the feelings for the brand?)

Once a customer has bought the brand, does it live up to the hype and expectation for them? If they love the product, they have feelings for it, and they’ll tell friends, family and social media to buy one. They are starting to become a brand advocate. If they’re disappointed with their purchase, their judgment of it will be negative and they won’t buy another one, and may criticise it widely. They become a brand detractor. Companies need to address judgments and build positive feelings at Level 3 to attain…

Level 4: Brand resonance (that strong relationship)

When a customer loves a brand so much they would not consider buying another one, feels a relationship with it and a connection with other buyers, they are that very rare and precious thing: a brand advocate. Harley-Davidson is a powerful example of this: two Harley bikers in a parking lot may be strangers, yet instantly feel a connection and have something to talk about. And they would never consider buying another bike brand.

The way up to the resonance level affords a brand opportunities to recognise and capitalise on its customers’ loyalties and attitudes – both positive and negative. By dividing CBBE into Keller’s four levels, marketers can understand what their customers want and need before they’ve even bought the product, or maybe even before they know they want it.

The iPad is a stunning example of this CBBE: from the robust foundation of Apple’s brand identity, the iPad was developed to look great, be easy to use, do everything its customers wanted, and more. Customers loved it and any glitches that attracted negative responses were quickly patched. Before long, iPad users were extolling its virtues and their loyalty, and the iPad is now ubiquitous in stores, health centers, schools, offices and homes. It’s a classic example of something we didn’t know we needed or wanted until we saw one. Now we can’t do without it.

eBook: The Evolution of Brand Equity