The Effect of Loyalty Program Experiences on Hotel Customers’ Brand Love: Social Identity Theory Perspective
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To win over customers in today’s intensely competitive market, hotel companies are paying increasing attention in developing guest loyalty through relationship marketing. Among the six brand relationship quality (BRQ) facets proposed by Fournier (1998), “brand love” is identified as a core component of all healthy relationships. Consequently, brand love research in hospitality and tourism literature has started to gain momentum in recent years. However, many hospitality and tourism studies still adopt brand love conceptualization, which is grounded on manufactured goods or interpersonal contexts. To the best of the author’s knowledge, no study has conducted a systematic analysis to identify the dimensions of service brand love, particularly in the hotel context. In addition, despite the popularity of cultivating a long-term relationship with customers through loyalty program in hotels, the efficacy of such programs in developing brand love remains unknown. Thus, the objective of this study is twofold: 1) to develop a reliable and valid multi-item scale that measures customers’ brand love toward a hotel brand; and 2) to examine the relationships among loyalty program membership experiences, collective self-esteem toward the loyalty program, and brand love. In Study 1, Churchill’s (1979) guidelines for the scale development process was adopted and the confirmatory factor analysis (CFA) approach suggested by Anderson and Gerbing (1988) was conducted to assess the proposed measurement model. The scale development process began with the specification of the domain of constructs and the generation of initial items through an extensive review of literature, content analysis, in-depth interviews, and open-ended survey. Next, item refinement was conducted through exploratory factor analysis, which resulted in a 19-item scale capturing four distinct dimensions of self-brand integration, trust, switching resistance, and commitment. Afterward, a new sample of data was collected for additional reliability and validity testing. The CFA results indicated that the measurement model exhibited satisfactory model fit and achieved convergent validity, discriminant validity, and reliability. The predictive validity of the hotel brand love scale on the consequences of word-of-mouth and brand purchase share was also confirmed. In Study 2, relationships among loyalty program experiences, collective self-esteem, and brand love were proposed based on the theoretical framework of social identity theory (Tajfel, 1982; Tajfel & Turner, 1986). Structural equation modeling was used to analyze the conceptual model and test the proposed hypotheses. The findings of this study first confirmed a significant positive effect of collective self-esteem on brand love. In addition, three loyalty program experiences that satisfy members’ self-definitional needs were proposed as antecedents to collective self-esteem: member-to-member similarity, memorable membership experiences, and membership social benefits. The effects of the three loyalty program experiences on collective self-esteem were found to be significant and positive. Subsequently, a mediating role of collective self-esteem in the relationship between loyalty program experiences and brand love was tested via bootstrapping resampling procedure. Evidence of the significant indirect effects of loyalty program experiences on brand love through collective self-esteem was found. Finally, the moderating role of membership tier-level in forming brand love from collective self-esteem was tested. However, the moderating effect of the membership tier-level was not significant. The significant contributions of this study to the hospitality and tourism literature are discussed as follows. First, the findings of this study provide a specification of conditions for hotel brand love development and propose a measurement scale, which can serve as a meaningful tool in measuring brand equity and customer-brand relationship in hotel brand context. Second, this study presents a psychological explanation as to how loyalty program membership can lead to brand love by extending the scope of brand love research from personal identity to collective identity based on the social identity theory. Finally, the findings of this study provide managerial insights on effective loyalty program design by proposing three loyalty program experiences, which satisfy an individual’s self-definitional needs, as antecedents of collective self-esteem and brand love.