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Throughout the long history of consumer research, there has been much interest regarding how consumers choose which brand to buy and why they continue to purchase these brands. Self branding describes the process in which consumers match their own self-concept with the images of a certain brand.

People engaged in consumption do not merely buy certain products to satisfy basic needs. In fact, consumer buying habits are at a much deeper level. Owning a certain brand can help consumers to express and build their own self-concept [1][2][3]. Specifically, consumers will often only purchase certain trademarks when he/she finds a match between the brand image (communicated through advertisement, design of retail shop, or even package design) and his/her own self-concept. Thereby, the value of a brand also depends of its ability to help consumer to build and create self-concept [4].

Formation of self brand connectionsEdit

Self branding based on self-congruity theoryEdit

The above explanation for self branding can be summarized by Sirgiry’s self-congruity theory[5]. It is proposed that consumer behavior is partially determined by the similarity between consumers’ psychological comparisons of the brand-user-image. This self-congruity affects consumption behavior of consumers through motives such as need for self-consistency (e.g. I am a good student because I work hard to prepare for examinations and I always get good grades) and self-esteem. On the other hand, high self-congruity occurs when the consumers find appropriate match between their own self-image and the brand-image. Only high self-congruity would help consumers to maintain and enhance self in a positive direction [6]. Further from the above notions, high self-congruity will lead to positive attitudes towards the brand and repeated purchase [7]

Brand evaluationEdit

Besides assisting consumer to choose which product and brand to buy, the matching process between self-concept and image of brand and product also determines how consumers evaluate the brand and product. When we say that a brand has a positive brand-image, it means that the brand has established some strong, favorable and unique associations with the consumer’s self-image [8](e.g. IPod has a strong and explicit image of trendy, fashionable and high-tech, this combination of brand image is unique and valued by young people). These strong, favorable and unique associations can be mainly divided into two parts. They are image of users and the psychological benefits experienced by the users in buying this particular brand or product [9]. Firstly, image of users means that when consumer evaluate the brand they will image the typical user of this particular brand and see whether they are similar to the typical user. Demographic and psychological profile of the typical user is usually a good source of information for consumer to make these comparisons [7]. (e.g. if I perceived myself as a trendy youngster and valued advance technology, the chance that I will buy a IPod for my own use is very high). Secondly, psychological benefits experienced by consumers include increase recognition by the peer group (i.e. social approval) and expression of how I would like other people to see and think of me (i.e. personal expression) [8].

Constructing a self-conceptEdit

When the set of brand associations are linked or connected to the self, these associations can help consumers achieve certain goals. These goals include what they might become, what they would like to become, and what they are afraid of becoming. People are motivated to create a favorable and consistent self-identity based on self-enhancement (i.e. people over-emphasize favorable evaluations and minimize critical assessment of themselves) self-verification (i.e. people want to be known and understood by others according to their firmly held beliefs and feelings about themselves respectively).


In self-enhancement, the impressions individuals hold about themselves are often biased towards a positive direction [7]. So, they over-emphasize favorable evaluations and minimize critical assessment of self. People use brand to represent favorable self-images to others or to themselves.

The first aspect in self-enhancement is the need to maintain and enhance self-esteem [10]. Another aspect is about social interaction (e.g. staff meetings). In terms of impression management, people actively manage their presentation (e.g. the brand of garment) in front of other people so as to maximize the opportunity to gain positive feedback [11]. On the other hand, people are also motivated to create a good impression (e.g. wearing a watch of big brand) in order to gain social approval and intrinsic satisfaction [11]. This is especially true when the person has very high self-esteem [12].


Self-verification refers to seek accurate information about self. In general, people seek and interpret situations and behavioral strategies that match their present self-conceptions. In contrast, they avoid situations and behaviors that derive contradictory information [7]

Self-verification can be achieved by two primary strategies. The first strategy is seeing more self-confirmatory evidence than actually exists. The second strategy is striving to affect the reactions of other people by developing a self-confirmatory environment, which includes displaying identity cues such as driving a certain brand of automobile [11][13]

It is found that people choose products and brand by imagining the prototypical users for each item in the choice set and choosing the items that maximizes their similarity to a desired prototypical user [14].

Compatibility of self-enhancement and self-verificationEdit

It seems that it is incompatible to seek feedback that is favorable (self-enhancement) and at the same time seek accurate feedback regardless of favorablity (self-verification). Social psychology shows that there are factors affecting the relative degree to which each feedback satisfied, e.g. cognitive resources [13], stable versus malleable aspects of personality [15], intuitive-experiential versus analytical-rational modes of thought [16], or cognitive versus affective processes [13]. More specifically, it is found that people with high self-esteem, high self-monitors (i.e. regulate their own behavior in order to "look good"), narcissists (i.e. self love), and Type B personalities (i.e. patient, relaxed, and easy-going) are more likely than their counterparts to be influenced by self-enhancement motives as opposed to self-verification motives [17].

Development of self brand conceptsEdit

Self brand connections develop throughout childhood as a result of developmental changes. Major changes occur in the representation of self-concepts between early childhood and adolescence [18]. As children grow older, they conceptualize the self in less concrete and more abstract terms. For example, a concrete thinker can recognize that John likes that clothes; more abstract thinker can reflect on emotions, like affection. Self-concepts become more complex as children mature, with a greater variety of self-constructs used to describe the self [19]. In the Dixon and Street (1975) study, possessions were not part of self-concept descriptions for 6 to 8 years olds but surfaced and increased in importance from 8 to 16 year of age.

Children recognize brand at an early age, as young as 3 or 4 yr. of age. John and Sujan (1990) [20] found that children 4–7 yr. of age used perceptual cues (shape, package color), whereas older children (8–10 yr.) used no observable conceptual cues (taste) as a basis for classifying products. They, in middle childhood (7–8 yr. of age) can name multiple brand products and request products by brand name [21]. Their comparisons of the self-concept with brand take place on a concrete level that self brand connections are straightforward in nature. For example, self brand connections might be made on the basis of simply being familiar with or owning a brand.

Late childhood (10–12 yr. of age) begin heightened appreciation for subtle meanings imbedded in brand images converges with a trend toward defining the self in more abstract and complex terms. Brands gain recognition as useful devices for characterizing the self in terms of personality traits, user characteristics, and reference groups.

As children move into adolescence, children have deeper self brand connections because they think about brand in a very specific way—as having personalities and symbolizing group membership—that provides a natural link to their self-concepts. A greater understanding of the self, combined with social pressures to “fit in” and signal group membership, leads adolescents to be more vigilant about the social implications of owning certain brand. As a result, adolescents possess an even larger number of self brand connections, which may be even more complex in nature.

Reference groupEdit

As mentioned in the social comparison theory proposed by social psychologist Leon Festinger in 1954, humans have a drive to evaluate themselves by examining their opinions and abilities in comparison to others. Consumers often use the images of other brands’ users as a source of information for evaluating their own beliefs and perceptions about their own and others’ social identities. They also actively construct self-concept using brand associations that arise through reference group.

In many consumer researches, reference group is a key concept for demonstrating the congruency between group membership and brand usage. It refers to the social groups that are important to a consumer and against which he/she compares oneself. With different personal goals, individuals would take different types of reference groups. For example, if someone would like to verify his own current social identities, he tends to compare himself with a ‘member group’, to which it supposes he belongs to. For example, if a person considers himself to be intellectual and his member group of intellectuals tends to drive a Volvos, he may choose to drive Volvo too. Similarly, an ‘aspiration group’ is another type of reference group to which an individual aspires to belong. If a consumer wishes to be more hip, and he sees hip people wearing Versace clothing, he may choose to wear Versace clothing in an attempt to appropriate the hip associations of that brand. [7][22]

Use of self brandEdit

In marketing level, companies gain an enduring competitive advantage by utilizing the association between brand and self-concept. This type of association is difficult for competitors to imitate. Take sport consumption context as an example, when consumer fans identify with the team (i.e., a branded organization) and rally together in expectation of victory, the team image is emphasized.

In individual level, brand symbolism provides moderation effects for in-group and out-group association. For in-group, symbolic brand has a stronger communicating effect than non-symbolic brand; for out-group, only symbolic brand used to differentiate one from out-group.


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