Rethinking the brand concept for air transportation : a thesis presented in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy in Aviation at Massey University, Manawatū Campus, New Zealand
The study of brands and branding in the aviation industry is not new. However, in common with the more general branding literature, there is a fundamental problem at the centre of research: what is the subject of study? This is the problem of brand definition and, in common with most of the branding literature, it is not unusual to find studies of the brand or branding in the aviation literature where the understanding of the brand concept differs between authors. This thesis emphasises the need to have clarity of definition before proceeding to research a concept. The solution to the problem of brand definition is a return to what is described as the Label and Associations Model (LAM), as highlighted in Chapter 1. In the LAM, the brand is conceptualised as a trade name/logo that identifies a product and/or service or firm. The interesting point of study in this model is not the brand itself, but the brand associations (what comes to mind upon the presentation of a brand). The LAM is applied to study airline brand choice (Chapter 2), airport brand association structures, and airport brand choice (Chapters 3 and 4). The application of the LAM was done in conjunction with the guiding methodological principles of the thesis, which involved the free elicitation of brand associations to avoid self-generated validity and construct creation, as well as recognise heterophenomenology. Combining the LAM with free elicitation meant using the brand name or logo to elicit associations stored in long-term memory. This approach provides both clarity as to the subject of study (with the brand being a name or logo), while allowing participants to provide any form of association without prompting or bias from the researcher. The result of this approach is new research findings, theory, and managerial implications for the aviation industry. This thesis demonstrates that it is the tangible product/service attributes (e.g., price, reliability, facilities) that air travellers are most likely to associate with airline and airport brands, rather than more abstract associations (e.g., reputation, loyalty, social responsibility). Other insightful findings include discovering a new type of brand (termed as a compound brand) that applies to airports and highlighting the role of double jeopardy within airline markets. These contributions were only possible due to the use of the LAM in conjunction with the free elicitation of brand associations, thus unifying the thesis conceptually and methodologically.