Brand surfaces: Reality check for the glossy images of brand communication


This practical example comes from the “not really commonplace” category. It concerns brand surfaces and their influence on brand image and the perception of quality.

But what do we mean when we talk about brand surfaces? The study focussed on automatic vending machine fleets, vehicle fleets, letterboxes and telephone boxes, i.e. the “outer skin” of service companies that maintain large infrastructures across the country. And as with any skin, everyday life encounters leave very visible traces: A stark reality check for the glossy images of brand communication.

When you also see just how much money they have to spend on maintaining the infrastructure, it is no wonder that decision-makers in large companies want to know whether broken and dirty brand surfaces …

  • have a negative influence on brand image,
  • customers draw conclusions about the quality of the service from the condition of the surface and
  • where the most effective investment should be made.

Our response to the challenge: implicit impact assessment in the real market environment

It concerns a new type of research field that has many manifestations and is therefore also correspondingly complex. To overcome the challenges associated with this, we wanted to explore the subject as extensively as possible and from a variety of different perspectives. And so for us, that involves a hybrid design using quantitative and qualitative methods. We have focused, in particular, on a three-stage hybrid sandwich model.

1. [Quantitative] Online survey of scouts for relevant brands (pre)

First, 100 brand scouts, recruited specifically for the basic study, were surveyed in standardised online interviews about selected service companies in transport, telecommunications and financial services.

2. [Qualitative] Experience documentation in closed blogs and asynchronous focus groups in an online forum

The brand scouts then comprehensively documented their daily contact with brand surfaces at four selected test locations over the course of three weeks in a closed blog and discussed their experiences and findings in asynchronous focus groups in an online forum.

3. [Quantitative] Online scout survey about the respective brand (post)

The actual impact analysis is then carried out in the third stage by comparing pre and post surveys, taking into account the individual contact experiences from stage 2.


And yes, there was evidence that the brand surface had a noticeably significant effect on the image and perception of quality. It predominantly involved traces of neglect and age (rust, wear and tear, dirt), which left the brand scouts in no doubt about the quality of the services being offered. Vandalism marks (graffiti, stickers) were not associated as much with the service providers.


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