A study of the overall importance of brands with a category (BRiC) was conducted by German professors Marc Fischer, Franziska Volckner and Henrik Sattler and was published in the Journal of Marketing Research (October, 2010).

The study involved 20 categories and five countries: U.S., UK, France, Spain and Japan. It used a 12 item scale measuring brand relevance in a category (e.g. When buying, I focus mainly on the brand), risk reduction (e.g. I choose a brand name to avoid disappointments), and social demonstration (e.g. I purchase brands because I know others notice them).

The results are fascinating and have both tactical and strategic implications.

The U.S. has the highest level of brand influence. Spain and France are closely behind with respect to risk reduction, but not social demonstration, while Japan and the UK have the reverse pattern. Such a finding suggests that the same positioning and communication strategy may not span these four countries.

Durables and services are far more sensitive to brand influence than frequently purchased consumer or retail categories. That suggests that brand influence may be overestimated in some contexts and underestimated in others.

For example, the categories medium-sized vehicles, cigarettes, beer and mobile network operators exhibited brand power in all countries, though that was not the case for cigarettes in Japan. In all countries the categories paper tissues, drugstores and leisurewear were at the bottom in terms of brand buying influence. The inability of brands to influence paper tissue products may explain the difficulty that P&G has had in Europe.

Too often, marketers look at a brand in its own context. Adopting a cross-category perspective can add a helpful perspective.