"Developing Integrated Marketing Communications Message Delivery Strategies:
Challenges and Opportunities Associated with the Brand Contact Concept"
Denise E. DeLorme
Assistant Professor of Advertising
School of Communication
University of Central Florida
Orlando, Florida 32816
e-mail: [log in to unmask]
Glen J. Nowak
Associate Professor of Advertising
College of Journalism and Mass Communication
University of Georgia
Athens, Georgia 30602
Paper submitted to The Association for Education in Journalism and Mass
Advertising Division -- Research Category
March 28, 1997
The emergence and evolution of integrated marketing communications has
facilitated conceptual and operational changes in many advertising functions.
In the case of advertising media planning, IMC has brought forth the "brand
contact" concept to media planning. This broader, more consumer-oriented
approach to media planning has generated much practitioner interest, thanks in
part to its decreased reliance on measured and traditional media. While the
brand contact perspective appears to have much potential, there have been few,
if any, critical examinations of its applicability and value. This paper
addresses this void by overviewing the brand contact concept, identifying and
discussing the major challenges and opportunities associated with its use, and
putting forth recommendations for more effectively utilizing brand contacts for
integrated marketing communications. Overall, the brand contact perspective
brings forth many opportunities that can increase advertising effectiveness and
efficiency, but significant operational barriers may limit wider use and
Brand Contact Concept
"Developing Integrated Marketing Communications Message Delivery Strategies:
Challenges and Opportunities Associated with the Brand Contact Concept"
Throughout the 1990s, significant changes have been taking place in the
advertising industry (Katz and Turk 1992; Rapp and Collins 1990). At the
forefront has been the emergence, development, and adoption of "integrated"
approaches to advertising and marketing communications (Nowak and Phelps 1994;
Schultz et al. 1993). Integrated marketing communications (IMC) has altered
advertising practices by broadening definitions of advertising, facilitating
significant shifts in marketing communication and promotion budgets, increasing
emphasis on accountability, and fostering demand for new and interactive
communication technologies (Rust and Oliver 1994; Smith 1995). Although
integrated approaches to marketing communications have necessitated changes in
all of the major advertising functions (Schultz et al. 1993), the most visible
and profound effects often involve media and message delivery practices (Nowak
et al. 1996, Wang and Petrison 1991). Conceptually, if not operationally,
adoption of an IMC perspective increases the significance of media decision
making and calls into question many of the basic assumptions that have
traditionally guided advertising media planning.
Since the introduction of IMC, a growing number of marketers have been
replacing "inside out" approaches to media decision making with "outside in"
approaches. "Inside-out" approaches are primarily concerned with identifying
and selecting media channels and vehicles that deliver the quantitatively
largest number of people at the lowest possible cost per thousand
(Fortini-Campbell 1993); an approach that frequently favors mass media. In
contrast to the "inside-out" emphasis on cost efficiency criteria, "outside-in"
approaches revolve around a consumer orientation. Most, for example, begin by
developing an in-depth understanding of the lives and lifestyle habits of
targeted consumers (Fortini-Campbell 1993). Rather than attempting to maximize
reach and frequency within a specified budget, the primary objective is matching
media and message delivery channels with target audience lifestyles and
consumption habits. Reaching the "right people" is more important than reaching
large numbers of people (Nowak and Phelps 1994).
As recent advertising media planning research illustrates, an "outside-in"
approach to advertising and marketing communication has spawned growing interest
in media models and frameworks that attempt to link target audience information
with media usage data (Cannon and Yoon 1994; Cannon et al. 1995; Ha 1995). Not
only do such models usually result in a broader conceptualization of media
(i.e., message delivery systems vs. media channels), Duncan and Caywood's (1996)
IMC framework identifies four elements that frequently distinguish IMC thinking:
media plans that encompass multiple as well as highly targeted media vehicles;
the use of consumer databases to guide media planning and selection; the use of
individual, rather than group-level, consumer information to guide media
decision making; and greater emphasis on behavioral measures to evaluate media
and message delivery channels.
Central to integrated or "outside-in" approaches to media selection and
decision making is the notion of finding the best opportunities to speak to
targeted consumers in a manner and time that they prefer. According to Schultz
(1994), marketers and advertisers must learn:
"to use all forms of communication which are (1) relevant and
(2) ones to which consumers might be receptive. The biggest fallacy
in the field of media are things like cost per thousand [people
reached]. It doesn't make any difference how cheaply you can deliver
the message, the question is, does the consumer get it? And the
question is, when are they going to be most receptive to the message
and when is it going to be relevant?" (p. 9)
At the core of "outside-in" approaches to media planning and decision making is
the concept of "brand contacts" (Fortini-Campbell 1993). This concept, which
recognizes distribution channels, marketing environments, and product publicity
as important and relevant media planning domains (Hallahan 1996; Stewart,
Frazier, and Martin 1996), requires media managers and planners to take on new
roles and assume greater responsibility for helping to create and manage a
brand's total communication (Fortini-Campbell 1993). Along with CPM, reach, and
frequency, media managers and planners must learn (and be able) to 1) identify
and understand target consumers' values, lifestyles, information processing
patterns, motivations, and behaviors; 2) use this information to identify and
select communication channels and/or media; and 3) integrate communication and
media channels with marketing messages in a way that creates or fosters the
desired brand image and meanings (Crown et al. 1993; Fortini-Campbell 1993;
Solomon and Englis 1996).
Fortini-Campbell (1994; 1993) has provided a number of examples of how a brand
contact concept can be used by marketers and advertisers. Productive and
efficient use of the concept, however, assumes marketers and media planners have
the ability to identify, measure, and assess the various ways consumers interact
with brands. Thus, the purpose of this paper is three-fold. First, to identify
and discuss four primary challenges that are likely to face marketers and media
planners in utilizing a brand contact concept. Second, to identify some of the
most significant opportunities that arise. These challenges and opportunities
are then used to accomplish a third objective -- to put forward recommendations
for developing and more effectively utilizing the brand contact idea. We will
begin, however, with a brief overview of the brand contact concept.
Characteristics of the Brand Contact Concept
The brand contact concept is one of the most significant contributions to
emanate from the evolution of integrated marketing communications (Duncan 1995).
Brand contacts, or brand contact points, are any "information-bearing experience
that a customer or prospect has with the brand, the product category, or the
market that relates to the marketer's product or service" (Schultz et al. 1993,
p. 51). During the course of their daily lives, consumers are exposed to, and
perceive and process, a continual and wide range of brand and product
information -- all of which have the potential to create, shape, or alter brand
knowledge beliefs, intentions, and use. Unlike traditional approaches to media
planning which place emphasis on measured and mass media, the brand contact
concept recognizes that all varieties of communication, including packaging,
product publicity, and consumers' direct experience can contribute to a brand's
image or equity (Ebling 1993). As Fortini-Campbell (1994) noted, marketers and
"...Generally think about (brand) communication too narrowly.
Instead of understanding the entire realm of our brand's communications,
we concern ourselves with only a very small piece. Those things that are
in our scope of responsibility." (p.2)
Application of the brand contact concept affects advertising media
decision-making and planning processes in at least three significant ways.
First, it requires marketers and media planners to recognize consumers receive
and process four types of messages. These four types, captured in Duncan's
(1995) message typology are: a) planned communications [i.e., messages created
and put forth by marketers through traditional marketing communication functions
and media (e.g., television or print advertisements, sales promotions)]; b)
inferred messages [i.e., the messages customers infer from the non-promotional
elements in the marketing mix, such as the product itself, pricing, or
distribution]; c) maintenance messages [i.e., the message customers receive when
interacting with an organization's sales or customer service representatives];
and d) unplanned messages [e.g., news stories or consumer remarks that a company
has little or no control over]. While marketers usually have little direct
control or influence over unplanned messages, the brand contact concept requires
media planners to consider the value and potential impact of public relations,
transit, and in-store communications. It also calls their attention to the
often significant ability and credibility of communications other than
advertising to create and facilitate the brand images and reputations that lead
to purchase behavior (Ebling et al. 1993).
The brand contact concept also impacts the criteria used by marketers and media
planners to evaluate and select message delivery channels and media vehicles.
In addition to (audience) reach, frequency, and cost per thousand (CPM),
environmental context/situation, timing, and location become important, and
often determinant criteria. A medium or message delivery channel that offers a
low cost per thousand may be less useful or cost efficient than a medium that
reaches fewer people at a significant time (e.g., just prior to a purchase
decision). Some IMC advocates, for example, have suggested there are relatively
few occasions when CPM or total audience reach are appropriate decision making
criteria (Schultz et al. 1993).
Finally, whereas traditional media planning is able to almost exclusively rely
on media and syndicated research to identify appropriate message delivery
channels and vehicles, the brand contact concept is quite research intensive.
Marketers and media planners not only must be able to identify influential
media, they must determine most, if not all, the non-advertising sources of
information that influence consumer's knowledge, beliefs, intentions, and
behaviors. In doing so, they must be able to 1) delineate when, where, and how
consumers come into contact with their brand (as well as competitive brands) and
2) distinguish between influential and non-influential contacts. According to
the media director at one national advertising agency, applying the brand
contact concept often means the media department becomes the "brand contact
department...whose task really comes down to managing the takeaway from all
brand contacts" (Liesse 1995, p. S-9 ).
Challenges Involved in Using the Brand Contact Concept
Successful integrated marketing communication requires that marketers and media
planners develop media and message delivery plans that recognize consumers
typically integrate brand, product, and company information from a variety of
message sources, only some of which are media-based (and even fewer of which are
advertising-based) (Nowak et al 1996). In general, the use of the brand contact
concept to achieve such plans involves a three-step process: identifying brand
contacts, assessing their utility, and integrating selected contacts into a
conceptually and operationally coordinated media and message-delivery
plan/strategy. While many advertising academics and practitioners have
advocated greater use of the brand contact concept (Fortini-Campbell 1993;
Liesse 1995; Schultz and Barnes 1995), little, if any, published research has
identified or discussed the challenges or opportunities that arise from its
application. An examination of the concept, however, suggests there are at
least four major challenges involved in utilizing the concept. These challenges
can be classified into four areas: 1) defining and identifying brand contacts;
2) selecting brand contacts; 3) integrating or coordinating brand contacts; and
4) evaluating the efficacy and effectiveness of the message delivery plan and
Challenge Number One: Defining and Identifying Brand Contacts
The first challenge associated with the brand contact idea involves the
currently ambiguous definition of "brand contact". In order to accurately
identify, select, integrate, and evaluate brand contacts, the concept should be
operationally defined. A brand contact is presently defined as any possible
instance or encounter of brand exposure but the limited literature is neither
detailed nor consistent in the definition. A critical question here is what
exactly "qualifies". The parameters of a brand contact have not been clearly
For example, there are visual, aural, and experiential factors to consider.
Does a consumption experience involving a familiar product in which the brand
name is known but not visible "qualify"? A consumer could purchase a certain
brand of coffee then transfer the contents to a different container. While the
consumer has contact with that brand every morning by drinking the coffee and is
aware of the brand, the logo and packaging are not visible at the time. How
would this situation compare to the visualization of a logo in terms of defining
a brand contact? As Lutz (1996, p. 364) appropriately indicates, "consumption
does not necessarily imply brand name exposure".
Further, there are temporal or intensity factors to consider. Does a contact
that involves a brief instance of brand exposure through peripheral vision or
below the level of perception "qualify" (Crown et al. 1993; Lutz 1996)? For
example, as a consumer drives along a highway and is exposed to a billboard for
a brand in their peripheral vision yet does not consciously note it, would this
situation "count" as a brand contact? How should the variable of time be
considered in the definition of brand contacts?
Challenge Number Two: Selecting Brand Contacts
The second challenge involves selecting among the broad spectrum (i.e., "all")
of the times, situations, and places of brand contacts (including controlled,
uncontrolled, paid, and unpaid contacts) (Crown et al., 1993; Fortini-Campbell
1994; Schultz et al., 1993). It is clear that selecting brand contacts will
require more research and monitoring than in the past (Schultz et al., 1993).
Yet, there is little guidance regarding the process (Ebling, 1993).
Exactly how would someone go about selecting brand contacts? Who would this
person be? Results may differ depending on whether the information is gathered
by a consumer, researcher, agency employee, or company. What would the results
look like and how would they be evaluated? The results may also differ
depending on whether brand contacts are collected on videotape, audiotape,
pencil and paper, or through the combined use of these tools.
There are additional challenges. For example, would this process involve the
collection of information of one particular brand, several brands of a product
category, or every brand contact of target consumers? Also, it could be
difficult to isolate individual brand contacts to measure the impact of a single
brand contact without considering its synergistic effect with other factors
The time frames for selecting brand contacts should also be determined. It has
been stated that marketers should continually collect and evaluate which contact
points are the most manageable and valuable (Ebling et al. 1993). How frequent
is continually? Is this a linear process of recording all brand contacts or is
it iterative in nature? When is the best time to start and end brand contact
selection? And, at what point is it no longer worth the incremental time and
expense of gathering more information?
Further, the literature does not specify how many or what types of consumers
should be studied nor address the issue of consumer tolerance and cooperation
with being thoroughly and longitudinally researched. Can consumers, during
their hectic everyday lives, be responsible for accurately remembering,
efficiently recording, and appropriately evaluating all of their brand contacts
if they are so asked? Also, how would consumers be able to recall and assess
those brand contacts that involve instantaneous exposure below the level of
perception? There has been little, if any, discussion yet regarding the
validity of this data, how to motivate consumers to cooperate, and the potential
ethical concerns regarding the privacy of consumers.
Challenge Number Three: Integrating Brand Contacts
The third challenge associated with the brand contact concept involves
integrating brand contacts. That is, applying the knowledge from the previous
steps by controlling the contacts that can be controlled, influencing the
contacts that cannot be controlled, allocating the budget to the most important
brand contacts to the target consumers (whether they can be controlled or not)
and integrating those brand contacts in order to have a more synergistic effect
and a stronger, consistent impression in consumers' minds regarding the brand
(Fortini-Campbell 1993; Schultz et al. 1993).
The idea is that integrating brand contacts can build a strong coherent meaning
and a foundation for a long term consumer-brand relationship (Fortini-Campbell
1993). Otherwise, target consumers may become confused and distrustful
regarding the brand thus dissolving brand equity and relationship-building
opportunities (Fortini-Campbell 1993). For example, a marketer's traditional
advertising could essentially go to waste if other points of brand contact are
contradicting it (Fortini-Campbell 1994). Schultz (1994, p. 6) reminds us that
"the only place integration really occurs is with the consumer...They're the
only people and the only place where all of the advertisers' activities come
together at one point and at one time." The major question here is should
integration occur across every point of contact (as advocated by
Fortini-Campbell, 1993) or across only those brand contact points which will
contribute the most value to the brand's equity and will likely affect consumer
behavior (e.g., Ebling et al. 1993)?
Challenge Number Four: Evaluating the Effectiveness of the Message Delivery
The fourth challenge associated with the brand contact concept is evaluating
the effectiveness of the message delivery plan. Should all brand contacts be
"weighted equally" unless otherwise indicated by consumers or should the
feedback of marketers be included to determine the range of importance for brand
contacts of varying characteristics? Further, what criteria should marketers
use to assess the "value" or "merits" of different brand contacts? Should
traditional criteria (i.e., reach, frequency, CPM-type measures or others or a
combination) be considered?
Katz and Lendrevie (1996, p. 269) acknowledge that "some exposure types are
probably a lot more influential and important than others". Do brand contacts
involving the visualization of the logo or package have as much "value" as
non-visual brand contact experiences? Also, do instantaneous brand contacts
have as much "value" as prolonged brand experiences? Although consumers may be
unable to recall and state the importance of instantaneous brand contacts, these
contacts may be as or more influential than those that are easily remembered
(Janiszewski 1990a, 199b). Further, some brand contacts can range from
extremely positive to extremely negative in terms of the consumer's experiences.
Should this variation be incorporated in the evaluation of brand contacts and if
so, how? Finally, who should evaluate the effectiveness of the message delivery
plan -- marketers, researchers, consumers themselves, or a combination?
Opportunities Provided By the Brand Contact Concept
With the challenges that have emerged from the brand contact concept,
opportunities also arise. These opportunities can be classified into four
areas: 1) the development of a brand contact typology; 2) the expansion of
media planning research tools to include qualitative research; 3) the generation
of new media research questions; and 4) the emergence of important future
Opportunity Number One: The Development of a Brand Contact Typology
The first opportunity provided by the brand contact concept is that it sparks
the development of a consumer-based, brand contact typology. Two existing
classification schemes in this area have been identified. One typology is
Duncan's (1995) message-based classification previously discussed in this paper.
Another segmentation scheme is that presented by Katz and Lendrevie (1996).
Their categories consists of: media exposures [i.e., all brand exposures in
traditional media (e.g., advertising media, publicity in media)], product
impressions [i.e., the consumers' exposures to the product itself; e.g.,
at-home, in-store exposures)]; and personal contacts [i.e., conversations (e.g.,
word of mouth, sales force and direct marketing)] (Katz and Lendrevie 1996).
"By looking at how to evaluate all marketing communication, we may well also
come up with new and better ways to evaluate traditional media vehicles" (Katz
and Lendrevie 1996, p. 260).
An additional typology is proposed here. This typology could be based on
specific, comprehensive, and longitudinal brand contact information from
consumers' perspectives and insights gathered through qualitative research
methods. The constructed typology should then provide a useful framework to
assist researchers and practitioners in defining and consistently identifying
brand contacts. Emerging uniquely from consumers' viewpoints and experiences,
this brand contact typology should also have value for the evaluation of brand
contacts and thus enable more effective message delivery strategies.
Opportunity Number Two: The Expansion of Media Planning Research Tools to
Include Qualitative Research
The second opportunity provided by the brand contact approach involves the
expansion of media planning research tools to include qualitative research.
While traditional media planning has depended almost exclusively on syndicated
research to identify appropriate message delivery options, the new brand contact
concept demands intensive primary research.
Databases and surveys can be quite useful for collecting aggregate information
regarding isolated brand contact instances. However, there are three important
reasons researchers should not depend solely on a database. First, the
information gathered tends to be superficial. Second, there will be a point at
which it will not be economically efficient to gather additional consumer brand
contact data. Third, consumers may not have the ability, time, or motivation to
provide detailed, in-depth information by telephone or mail. Further, while
future research should attempt to quantify in some way all brand contacts, this
could be a difficult, if not impossible, task (Katz and Lendrevie 1996).
Thus, it may be fruitful to investigate brand contacts in an interactive,
holistic manner and in naturalistic settings through qualitative research. Lutz
(1996, p 359) acknowledges that "it may well be that unorthodox conceptual and
methodological approaches hold the key to understanding the effects of much IMC
activity". Qualitative research techniques have much to offer the brand contact
concept, particularly for the development of a typology proposed here.
In-person qualitative research may be extremely worthwhile in terms of its
potential contribution to the selection and assessment of brand contacts and in
turn the development of strong brand equity. A variety of in-person qualitative
research techniques could be used for brand contact research. Focus groups and
in-depth interviews incorporating direct, open-ended questioning by a skilled
moderator would be helpful. Further, some projective techniques (e.g., sentence
or story completion, usage scenarios) could provide crucial emotional data
regarding consumers' relationships with brands (Day 1989).
Participant observation and ethnography could also add essential insights into
the cultural, social, environmental, and temporal contextual factors surrounding
brand contacts (Lutz 1996). "Far too much advertising research is conducted in
the laboratory. IMC demands movement into the field" (Lutz 1996, p. 363). For
example, observing consumers during the purchase situation could provide
valuable insights (Lutz 1996). Also, as brand contact experiences begin at an
early age (Crown et al., 1993), longitudinal data could be collected through the
qualitative life history method. Thus, providing rich, detailed, and dynamic
descriptions of brand contacts over time.
Because in-person qualitative research can be expensive and time consuming, it
could be supplemented by electronic qualitative research for gathering important
information regarding consumer brand contacts. Some researchers are now
conducting qualitative research over the internet including on-line focus groups
(called on-line chats) and ethnographic studies of electronic communities
(Clapper and Massey 1996; Crowley 1996; McMellon 1997). This new computer
technology (i.e., the internet) could provide fascinating opportunities
regarding the collection of brand contact information with the additional
advantages of speed, cost effectiveness, and convenience. While a degree of the
richness (i.e., emotion, nonverbal communication) of interpersonal interaction
with qualitative research may be lost in cyberspace, some researchers have found
consumers to be more candid regarding their responses on the internet.
Opportunity Number Three: The Generation of New Media Research Questions
The third opportunity associated with the brand contact concept is the
generation of new media research questions. Under the brand contact concept,
media researchers must ask new questions and additional questions in order to
gain a comprehensive understanding of most, if not all, of the timing,
placement, and situational characteristics surrounding non-advertising instances
of brand information that influence consumers' knowledge, beliefs, intentions,
and behaviors. Three applications of the brand contact concept have been
identified in the literature: the brand contact inventory, the brand contact
path, and brand contact tracking. These can also be conceptualized as three
different research "stages" which range in time frame, situational context, and
depth of knowledge regarding consumer brand contacts.
The first application of the brand contact concept is the brand contact
inventory. This procedure focuses on identifying those brand contacts that are
relevant to the particular target market and relating consumers' lifestyles to
media. Fortini-Campbell (1993; 1994) has developed a "brand contact summary"
worksheet. A variation of this technique is being applied by Leo Burnett Co. in
which "a brand contact audit tallies each time a consumer comes into contact
with a brand name, whether on a vending machine, a delivery truck or a TV
commercial" (Liesse, 1995 p. S-9).
Following the brand contact inventory, the researcher attempts to collect
information such as: where the brand is contacted; the consumer's expectation
and experience at the point of contact; the brand message received; the overall
positive or negative feelings; the importance of the contact to brand judgment;
and the target for reinforcement or improvement (Fortini-Campbell, 1993). This
data can be obtained from a variety of sources including surveys, experiments,
and advertising response devices and then compiled into a database to provide
information on consumer brand contacts (Ebling et al. 1993).
Once all brand contacts have been identified in the inventory, the next step is
evaluating each contact point to select those most important to the target
consumers in terms of contributing to their judgment of the brand and potential
to influence their behavior (Ebling et al. 1993; Fortini-Campbell, 1994). The
outcome of the evaluation should be a list of the most important and persuasive
circumstances of contact points in which to most effectively communicate with
target consumers (Fortini-Campbell 1994; Kaatz 1990). Because the focus and
dollars spent should be on the most important contacts to the consumer, the
findings may require reallocation of budgets away from traditional marketing
communications and toward atypical communication areas (Fortini-Campbell 1994).
Important media research questions arise here in terms of how to determine not
only which brand contact points influence consumers' purchase behavior but also
the degree to which each point influences them.
A second application is conducting brand contact paths. This requires closely
examining the entire consumer purchase process. That is, tracing the flow of
all of a consumer's steps, contacts, and sources along the way of making a
single purchase decision of a particular brand (Schultz et al., 1993). The
brand contact paths technique is thought to provide a more in-depth
understanding of consumers' behaviors as well as a broader aggregate picture.
Schultz et al. (1993) suggest conducting focus groups and then administering
surveys to a larger number of subjects. "Once the marketing manager knows
which contacts have affected past buying behavior, he or she can determine which
contact points will most likely achieve the previously established marketing and
communication objectives efficiently and effectively" (Ebling et al., 1993, p.
A third application involves the brand contact tracking data collection
process. This procedure is more longitudinal, detailed, and contextual than
either the brand contact inventory or brand contact path. Brand contact
tracking is critical for the development and maintenance of brand equity over
time (Schultz et al. 1993). Schultz (1994, p. 9) states:
"...Today, most communication and most marketing programs are
planned on an episodic basis. Let's run this campaign. Let's do
this unit. Let's implement this program. Let's run this thing. As
if the consumer sort of turns off and turns on. Are they turned on
to a new campaign? I better start paying attention. We assume there
is no history in the consumer. But there is a long history...So, we
have to start looking at communication over time. And, if we are
going to look at communications as an investment, you cannot look at
it from an episodic standpoint. You have to look at it over
Some advertising professionals who have acknowledged the importance of brand
contact tracking are developing their own variations. For example, DDB Needham
Worldwide in Chicago, developed the personal media mapping model which traces
the target consumers' media vehicle usage and habits over time (Kalish, 1990).
These personal media maps can become quite complex and detailed (Kalish, 1990).
A retail-oriented brand contact tracking model called consumer customized
communications clocks has also been proposed (Kaatz 1990). According to this
view, each consumer has his/her very own "customized communications clock" which
is constantly ticking every day of the year from the time the consumer awakes in
the morning until the time the consumer goes to sleep at night. The idea is
that in order to reach and effectively communicate with target consumers at the
very best moment, marketers need an in-depth understanding of consumers' needs
and wants at particular times during their own, individual schedules (Kaatz,
1990). In examining the above procedures for applying the brand contact
concept, an important question emerges. Should all three "stages" (inventory,
mapping, and tracking) be followed consecutively or should the steps be
Opportunity Number Four: The Emergence of Future Research Avenues To Explore
The fourth opportunity provided by the brand contact concept is that it sparks
important areas for future academic research. Descriptive studies that
document brand contact characteristics, types, and prevalence could contribute
to the development of a typology discussed previously. Academic qualitative
studies that explore consumer brand contacts in naturalistic contexts are highly
recommended. Investigations that examine how various marketing communicators
utilize brand contact information also would certainly contribute knowledge in
this area. And, studies that focus on the ethical issues that arise from
collecting brand contact information from consumers are strongly encouraged.
Efforts by scholars to conduct empirical research regarding the visual, aural,
experiential, and temporal differences of consumer brand contacts would be
Research is also needed to extend advertising theory to the brand placement
concept (Nowak and Phelps 1994). One alternative theoretical foundation may be
involvement theory (e.g., Zaichkowsky 1986). For example, the brand contact
concept seems to assume that consumer behavior is an active, rational process
with high-involvement products in which brand contacts are salient. However, we
expect that many of the brand contacts in consumers' everyday lives are
instantaneous and with low-involvement products. The interaction of consumer
characteristics, product characteristics (e.g., high-involvement,
low-involvement, emotional, rational), and situational characteristics (e.g.,
high-involvement, low-involvement, emotional, rational) should be considered
(Zaichkowsky 1986). Another possibility is the application of the uses and
gratifications approach (e.g., Rubin 1985) to provide theoretical guidance for
research on the brand contact approach. That is, discovering 'what people do
with communications rather than what communications do to people' (Lutz 1996, p.
363) could provide a springboard for understanding in this area.
This paper has examined the brand contact concept -- the latest among a series
of media changes. We believe the brand contact approach is a potentially
valuable integrated marketing communications tool with significant ramifications
for media research and thus the media planning and media buying processes.
However, further refinement of this tool is necessary prior to successful
We have identified four challenges and four opportunities associated with the
brand contact approach and hope that the questions raised and recommendations
presented will stimulate scholarly interest as well as practical implementation.
The development of a typology of brand contacts from consumers' perspectives
with the assistance of in-person and electronic qualitative research is
recommended as a next step in developing and more effectively utilizing the
brand contact concept.
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