BRAND MANAGEMENT APPLIED TO HIGHER EDUCATION: CREATING LOVEMARKS IN PUBLIC IRISH UNIVERSITIES
The number of organizations with an affinity to generate efforts towards brand creation is increasing, which is considered one of the most important assets (Kaynak, Salman, and Tatoglu, 2008). Thus, it is essential to study those attitudes of consumers that can favor (or disadvantage) their relationship with the brand (Batra, Ahuvia and Bagozzi, 2012). In recent years, and due to the high demand that consumers have acquired in their purchase decision-making, the experience of use and consumption is a key piece to detect the perceptions of customers with the brand and, at the same time, maximize their loyalty to it (Henao and Colorado, 2017).
Focusing our attention on the role that public higher education plays in Ireland, the Higher Education Authority (HEA) indicates that today there are 24 higher education institutions, divided into 9 universities, 11 Institutes of Technology, and 4 institutions considered as “other colleges”. Thus, according to White (2001), the increase in students from the 1960s to the present has been one of the most relevant phenomena. O’Connor and White (2011) consider that some of Ireland's universities have achieved good status internationally.
Parallel to this, brands have evolved over time to become a life experience for consumers, having acquired emotional importance that is reflected in the satisfaction of the people who buy and consume it (Camacho, 2008). Everything builds or destroys a brand, and this continuous and indefinite process over time must feed on all the actions that the company (or educational institution) directs to its public, as well as the interactions and experiences of the public with it (Olins, 2008). Thus, and taking into account that the market is increasingly complex and competitive, every educational center must aim at generating marketing and brand strategy adapted to the new consumer reality (Llorente, 2019). Within this process, the student becomes a key piece within the system, as in many cases they are considered clients (Sarrias, 2018).
In this framework, the objectives of the present research were to:
(1) establish which are the most determinant variables of brand capital in the higher education sector, and
(2) decipher which are the most outstanding variables by university students in Ireland.
Thus, and after reviewing the seven major proposals on brand capital models in the literature (Farquhar, 1989; Aaker, 1992; Keller, 1993; Faircloth, Capella, and Alford, 2001; Yoo and Donthu, 2001; Delgado and Munuera, 2002; Buil, Martínez and De Chernatony, 2010), we have considered four elements that are identified by these authors and were also deemed to be of importance in previous studies.
(1) brand awareness,
(2) brand image,
(3) perceived quality, and
(4) brand loyalty.
To sum up, the realization of the present research supposes a scientific advance in the discipline of marketing; although there has been specific research into brand capital and the variables that compose it (Colmenares and Saavedra, 2007), it is considered that research does not presently exist that thoroughly analyses the perception of brand capital through the opinions of university students in Ireland. It can also help university managers because, based on the results obtained on the significance of each of the variables of the educational brand capital and, especially, brand loyalty, they can generate appropriate strategies to maintain or improve it.