TYPE Original Research
PUBLISHED 18 January 2023
University of Milan, Italy
Tamkang University, Taiwan
Hubei University of Economics, China
Lingzhi Brian Fang
This article was submitted to
a section of the journal
Frontiers in Psychology
RECEIVED 01 June 2022
ACCEPTED 23 December 2022
PUBLISHED 18 January 2023
Fang LB, Liu M and Tang L (2023) What factors
determine brand communication? A hybrid
brand communication model from utilitarian
and hedonic perspectives.
Front. Psychol. 13:958863.
©2023 Fang, Liu and Tang. This is an
open-access article distributed under the terms
of the Creative Commons Attribution License
(CC BY). The use, distribution or reproduction
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does not comply with these terms.
What factors determine brand
communication? A hybrid brand
communication model from
utilitarian and hedonic perspectives
Lingzhi Brian Fang1*, Mingzhen Liu2and Liu Tang1
1School of Journalism, Fudan University, Shanghai, China, 2School of Management, Fudan University,
Introduction: With the advancement of new media, brand communication has been
taken into consideration by lots of ﬁrms. Apparently, customer aection plays a
signiﬁcant role in brand communications, though few studies have determined how
the twofold of information function works in this communication mechanism. Based
on this research gap and practical background, this paper proposes a hybrid model of
communication comprising the utilitarian and hedonic aspects.
Methods: For this study, 575 questionnaires were collected, followed by the structural
equation modeling of the derived data to test the research model.
Results: The results of statistical analysis show that the brand communication can be
improved in terms of both utilitarian and hedonic aspects. Moreover, psychological
contract and customer engagement play a chain mediation role in this mechanism.
Discussion: These ﬁndings contribute to the research of brand communication
mechanism in digital era. Likewise, the ﬁndings oers several practical implications
to the brand management.
hybrid brand communication mechanism, customer engagement, customer psychological
contract, utilitarian and hedonic functions in brand communication, information function
Brand communication in the digital era has been reshaped by new media platforms
(Voorveld, 2019), which changed the idea of how brands communicate on social media. Based
on prior studies on brand communication, it has been reached into the consensus that the
brand function determines the spreading and communication eﬀect of a brand (Lynch and de
Chernatony, 2004;Steinmann et al., 2015). Thus, ﬁrms are always focusing on the eﬀects exerted
by the utilitarian function brought by a brand.
There are not only utilitarian functions provided by brands. Current realities indicate that
psychological aspects of customers have begun to lie at the center of studies on customer
behavior. However, to date, many ﬁrms still insist that brands can only deliver utilitarian
functions to customers, thus, ignoring customers’ spiritual aspect, which has been criticized
by academics (Lynch and de Chernatony, 2004;Ham et al., 2019). Thus, consistent with the
relational marketing era coming, it is of great necessity that the hedonic function, that is,
spiritual aspects of brands, should be taken into consideration instead of the utilitarian function
of brands (Choi and Choi, 2014). Such revealing on brand communication demonstrates that
brand communication in this modern era is a hybrid mixture of utilitarian and hedonic functions
(Underwood and Klein, 2002;Wijaya, 2013;Uzunoglu and Kip, 2014).
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Fang et al. 10.3389/fpsyg.2022.958863
Moreover, the arousal of customer relationship management
requires scholars to focus on the customer’s psychological aspect
in brand communication (Sullivan et al., 2020). Unfortunately, few
researchers have investigated how utilitarian and hedonic functions
simultaneously shape brand communication. There are existed few
studies detecting this psychological role in the process of brand
communication. In addition, prior studies have shown the roles of
utilitarian or hedonic aspects in brand communication desperately,
whereas few studies have integrated these two aspects into one
consideration (Simon, 2017;Ham et al., 2019). This gives this study
the main research question: how can we process a satisfying brand
communication from the utilitarian and hedonic perspectives with
linkage to the customer relationship?
Based on mentioned research gap and the practical background,
this study poses a hybrid model of brand communication from the
perspectives of a two-fold information function. Speciﬁcally, this
hybrid model is focused on the utilitarian and hedonic functions
of information. Relying on customer relationships, the customer
psychological contract and customer engagement are proposed for
the mediators. This study shows that brand communication can
be strengthened both from utilitarian and hedonic perspectives.
According to the results, the psychological aspects, that is, the
hedonic function, take precedence over the utilitarian function in this
communication mechanism. The results contribute to the studies on
customer psychology and behavior.
This study is organized as follows. In the ﬁrst part, the
related literature is reviewed in order to introduce the theoretical
background and then develop the research model. Hypotheses are
also posed in this part. The second part mainly emphasizes the
method. In this study, a survey was used to collect the data for
testing the model. Then, structural equation modeling (SEM) was
applied to evaluate the relationship among all the variables. At the
end of this study, based on the results of data processing, we further
discussed the results and proposed several theoretical contributions
and practical implications. More speciﬁcally, the proposition on the
hybrid model of brand communication contributes to the research of
brand communication, especially if it is from a novel perspective of
information functions, that is, the utilitarian and hedonic functions.
Furthermore, it oﬀers several practical implications for making
branding strategies in the post-truth era.
2. Theoretical background and research
2.1. Literature review
2.1.1. Brand communication: A perspective of
The rise of research on brand communication ﬂourished because
of the popularity of social media and ﬁrst began in a top marketing
research journal in 2008 (Voorveld, 2019). This fact suggests that
brand communication is linked closely to the development of media.
Based on this, as for the deﬁnition of brand communication, prior
studies demonstrated that brand communication is any piece of
brand-related communication “distributed via social media” (Yang
and Battocchio, 2020;Arya et al., 2022). Thus, this deﬁnition can
lead to an observation that brand communication is a reﬂection of
the relationship between internet users and the brand. Furthermore,
it can be conducted that brand communication is related to the
customer–brand relationship (Sharma and Varki, 2018;Dewnarain
et al., 2019;Youn and Jin, 2021).
Many scholars have brought up a large number of research
regarding brand communication from diversiﬁed perspectives.
According to Bergkvist et al. (2012), brand communication eﬀect
has been inﬂuenced by the headlines of an ad. The result
of this research showed that a complete headline is beneﬁcial
for brand communication. Simultaneously, communication style
may have an impact on brand communication. According to
Steinmann et al. (2015), communication style inﬂuences the attitude
and recommendation of the brand. Simon (2017) has found
that communal media gratiﬁcation contributed more to brand
gratiﬁcation. This ﬁnding was signiﬁcant for brand communication
from the perspective of media. As a result, prior studies have revealed
the fact that brand communication is a complex concept linked with
information and media; however, few studies take the viewpoint of
information function into the research of brand communication.
Obviously, it is of signiﬁcant necessity to identify the information
foundation on brand communication, due to brand communication
being an information process (Voorveld, 2019;Yang and Battocchio,
2020). Thus, several studies regarding the functions of information
were reviewed as follows. First, the information function is known for
the utilitarian and hedonic perspectives. As for utilitarian function,
prior research has focused on information usefulness as a utilitarian
feature of information. According to Luo et al. (2018), information
usefulness is regarded as an extension that has an impact on the
intention and behavior of individuals. Thus, various studies show that
information usefulness is the information that is perceived as valuable
by readers. This ﬁnding depicts the utilitarian aspect of information
(Saeed and Abdinnour-Helm, 2008;Gottlieb, 2012;Ham et al.,
2019). Moreover, as diﬀerent forms of information presentation may
activate the psychological aspect of the customer itself, information
also provides a hedonic function. There are several examples serving
as evidence that image may be one of the most important formations
of information to trigger the sentiment or enjoyment of customers.
According to its deﬁnition, an image can provide a sensory experience
for customers (O’Shaughnessy and O’Shaughnessy, 2002;Wijaya,
2013;A-Qader et al., 2016;Japutra et al., 2021). This may lead the
customer to behave more psychologically, and as such, there is a
multitude of reviews with positive sentiments on Instagram (Yu and
Egger, 2021;Rejeb et al., 2022). This fact shows that perceived image
can trigger the psychological aspect of customers, which reﬂects the
hedonic function in brand communication.
Overall, the information feature of brand communication reveals
the necessity to discuss brand communication from the perspective of
information function. However, few studies identify this process from
such perspectives. Consistent with studies into information function
from utilitarian and hedonic perspectives, this theoretical viewpoint
oﬀers a research gap for us to ﬁll up on brand communication.
2.1.2. Building the brand communication
mechanism from utilitarian and hedonic
perspectives: The role of customer relationship
Although two aspects of information function have been
revealed, in order to detect a more explicit mechanism of
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communication on how information function works, we have
focused on customer relationships.
According to prior related studies, customer psychological
contract and customer engagement have lied at the center of the
research into customer–brand relationships (Gillani et al., 2021;
Lin et al., 2021;Asante et al., 2022;Sim et al., 2022). When it
comes to customer psychological contract, existing research has
proposed that the psychological contract was ﬁrst proposed in the
studies of organizational behavior and then deﬁned in a relatively
straightforward manner, stressing individual and organizational
perceptions of obligations while also highlighting the stability
of their connection (Robinson et al., 1994;Coyle-Shapiro et al.,
2019). Above all, a psychological contract is the manifestation of
a spiritual contract. Moreover, the psychological contract has been
extended to a variety of contexts in recent studies and is no
longer limited to organizational settings. Customer psychological
contract is the extension of the psychological contract from the
organizational scenario to the marketing scenario, which speciﬁcally
studies the relationship between the consumer and the enterprise (Bi,
2019;Tomprou and Lee, 2022). Previous studies have shown that
transactional and relational psychological contracts are two types of
psychological contracts (Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019). In summary, the
customer psychological contract symbolizes a process of deepening
the relationship between subjects (e.g., individuals) and objects (e.g.,
the media). The two categories of psychological contract reveal that
this concept typically describes the relationship from both utilitarian
and hedonic perspectives (Ozturk et al., 2016).
In addition, with the transformation of media technology, we
are entering the “engagement” era (Ferrer-Conill et al., 2021).
Consistent with the acceleration of customer participation evolving
into customer involvement, numerous studies have still classiﬁed
these relationships as having no profound bonds (Myrick and
Erlichman, 2020;Yamamoto et al., 2020;Barari et al., 2021).
Thus, the proposition of customer engagement found
by researchers aimed to identify this profound connection.
This novel relationship has resulted in customer engagement
both in customer psychology and behavior. Thus, customer
engagement is a typical manifestation of a deeper customer
relationship (Brodie et al., 2019). Undoubtedly, the permeation
of customer engagement has a typical impact on all customers
(Gummerus et al., 2012;Meire et al., 2019). Kilger and Romer
(2007) conﬁrmed that customer engagement impacts consumer
purchase intention. Lin et al. (2021) stated that the popularity
of live broadcasting is directly related to customer engagement.
Although prior studies have begun to explore the impact of
customer engagement (Pentina et al., 2018), few have explored
the role and impact of this novel relational formation in
Building upon the new media has brought an evolved relationship
between customers and media; brand communication has thus
been shifted and inﬂuenced by this relationship transition (Youn
and Jin, 2021). In addition to information function studies, this
relational transition demonstrates that brand communication in the
digital age may be shifted by psychological and behavioral aspects
of customers (Park and Ha, 2016;Steinhoﬀ et al., 2019). This
analysis has oﬀered a research gap for this study; therefore, we are
aiming to ﬁgure out the eﬀect of customer relationship exerting on
2.2. Hypotheses deduction
According to the literature on psychological contracts mentioned
before, there are two ways to construct a customer psychological
contract from the perspectives of transaction and relation, which
reﬂects the two-fold of information function (Ham et al., 2019;Yuan
et al., 2022). First and foremost, from the utilitarian perspective,
customers always seek out the value of information. From this
standpoint, information value provided by the brand can facilitate
customers to make useful decisions. Thus, customers could have
“perceived quality” through the information value. This may lead
to the construction of a psychological contract from a transactional
aspect (Luo et al., 2018;Zhao et al., 2020). In contrast, there is also
a relational and psychological way for customers to build up the
customer psychological contract. In terms of customers, brand image
can oﬀer them a more hedonic and sentimental experience (A-Qader
et al., 2016;Park and Kim, 2022). As a result, a brand image can
have more inﬂuence on the customers’ psychological aspect from the
hedonic perspective. Overall, the compared hypotheses shall be posed
and identiﬁed. Therefore, Hypothesis 1 and its sub-hypotheses can be
proposed, as follows, in accordance with the preceding analysis.
H1. Diﬀerent forms of information function lead to the
construction of the customer psychological contract in both
utilitarian and hedonic ways.
H1a. The perceived quality has more impact on the construction
of a transactional psychological contract rather than a relational
psychological contract via the utilitarian aspect.
H1b. The brand image has more impact on the construction of
a relational psychological contract rather than a transactional
psychological contract via the hedonic aspect.
In this study, however, considering that the customer psychological
contract can be constructed by information from both utilitarian
and hedonic perspectives, it can be deduced that the customer
psychological contract can facilitate the customer relationship
to march into the status of engagement (Kumar et al., 2019).
According to current research, the psychological contract can be
categorized into two aspects; one is behavioral, and the other is
psychological (Gillani et al., 2021;Asante et al., 2022). When it
comes to customer engagement, two constructive ways are to be
recognized. Based on the two aspects of information function,
the behavioral aspect of the psychological contract represents
the utilitarian aspect. Similarly, the psychological aspect of the
psychological contract represents the hedonic aspect. That is, the
transactional psychological contract can be linked to the utilitarian
aspect, and the relational psychological contract to the hedonic
aspect (Tomprou and Lee, 2022;Yuan et al., 2022). Speciﬁcally, from
the utilitarian perspective, the transactional psychological contract
has played a critical role. Similarly, the relational psychological
contract is necessary for customer engagement from a hedonic
perspective. Once customer engagement has been activated, brand
communication will be improved. Consequently, Hypothesis 2,
with its sub-hypotheses, and Hypothesis 3 were developed here
H2. The customer psychological contract facilitates the
achievement of customer engagement.
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Research model of hybrid communication in utilitarian and hedonic aspects.
H2a. The transactional psychological contract facilitates the
achievement of customer engagement via the utilitarian aspect.
H2b. The relational psychological contract facilitates the
achievement of customer engagement via the hedonic aspect.
H3. Customer engagement improves brand communication.
In order to build the whole hybrid brand communication model,
all the factors should be taken into consideration. To begin with, as
for the utilitarian aspect, it can be concluded that perceived quality
could beneﬁt the construction of the transactional psychological
contract. Furthermore, the transactional psychological contract
facilitates the establishment of customer relationship and then lead
to achieving customer engagement, ultimately improving brand
communication via the utilitarian aspect. In addition, from the
hedonic perspective, the brand image assists the construction of
the relational psychological contract, thus resulting in customer
engagement. Therefore, brand communication can be improved by
this impact mechanism in a hedonic way.
In summary, this two-fold aspect of customer psychological
contract, as well as customer engagement, oﬀers a chain mediation
to improve brand communication from both utilitarian and hedonic
perspectives. Based on this, this study presents Hypothesis 4 and its
sub-hypotheses, listed later.
H4. The psychological contract and customer engagement act
as chain mediators in the mechanism of improving brand
communication from both utilitarian and hedonic perspectives.
H4a. The transactional psychological contract and customer
engagement play a chain mediating role in the mechanism of
improving brand communication via the utilitarian aspect.
H4b. The relational psychological contract and customer
engagement play a chain mediating role in the mechanism of
improving brand communication via the hedonic aspect.
2.3. Research model
Consistent with the literature review mentioned before, it is of
signiﬁcance to ﬁgure out the eﬀects of information function exerted
in brand communication. The two-fold of information function has a
diﬀerent role in brand communication. Based on this, Figure 1 shows
the research model developed in this study.
Speciﬁcally, to begin with, perceived quality facilitates the
construction of the transactional psychological contract and leads to
customer engagement, which improves brand communication from
the utilitarian perspective. Moreover, the perceived image assists
in building up the relational psychological contract hedonically.
Then, brand communication will be improved as a result of
customer engagement being achieved from the hedonic perspective.
As for mediators, transactional psychological contract and customer
engagement play a chain mediating role in this mechanism from
the utilitarian perspective. Similarly, relational psychological contract
and customer engagement act as hedonic chain mediators.
This study has mainly relied on a survey method. All participants
were required to ﬁnish the questionnaire for inclusion in the study.
Therefore, we distributed our questionnaires through social media
platforms, in which a third-party survey corporation was entrusted
At the beginning of the questionnaire, all participants were
requested to ﬁll in a brand they were familiar with. The remaining
questions were required to be ﬁnished in accordance with the brand
they ﬁlled in.
Speciﬁcally, this questionnaire was designed in four parts. In the
ﬁrst part, after ﬁlling in the brand, there are questions about perceived
quality and brand image. The second part is items of customer
psychological contracts and customer engagement. The third part is
for testing brand communication. The last part of the questionnaire
was designed to collect the demographic data of participants as
control variables. All parts of the questionnaire adopted a 5-point
Likert scale for responses (from “1 =strongly disagree” to “5 =
3.1. Survey procedure
Due to the whole survey procedures were taken place in China
from January 2021 to June 2021, it is necessary for our researchers to
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take the diﬀerence in the research context into consideration. In order
to ensure the reliability and validity of the results of this study, it was
decided that all the questionnaires be translated into Chinese and that
local versions of the instruments be adopted as much as possible. This
study tries to ensure that the instruments adopted by this research
closely follow those already published in high-level domestic and
international academic journals.
To ensure the suitability of the instrument, this study ﬁrst
introduced a pre-test for all questionnaires. Approximately 10
individuals were requested to ﬁnish and examine the instruments.
After this small-scale testing, we revised the instrument based on the
result of the data pre-test.
After that, a large-scale survey was conducted to verify the model.
At the beginning of the instrument, participants were required to
ﬁll in a brand with which they were always communicating. Then,
they were asked to ﬁnish the survey based on what they had ﬁlled
in. The instrument was distributed by ourselves and the third-party
survey corporation as well. Overall, a total of 575 valid questionnaires
were collected in this study after setting up reverse question items,
establishing question items in the same direction, and removing
questions in which the answer time was too short (t<180 s) and
those with a series of identical answers. These 575 questionnaires
include 325 from the “snowball” collection and 250 from the third-
party survey corporation. The psychometric properties of the sample
are displayed in Table 1.
In the large-scale survey, 54.6% of the survey participants were
female participants (Nfemale =314, Msex =0.454, SDsex =
0.208), which is slightly more than for male participants. It also
can be observed that people aged 31–40 accounted for 32.2% of
the total sample that paid more attention to this research (Mage =
3.715, SDage =0.0486). At the same time, the majority of these
participants, 52.5% of the whole sample, have a bachelor’s degree
(Medu =2.93, SDedu =0.0343). People from companies accounted
for 52.5% of the entire sample (Mjob =2.417, SDjob =0.506). Finally,
persons with a salary exceeding 8,000 CNY per month made up 37.9%
of the whole sample (Msalary =3.823, SDsalary =0.05).
3.2. Measurement of variables
As for the measurement of variables, this research ﬁrst adopted
suitable items to test all six variables. Furthermore, in order to identify
whether these items are ﬁt for this research context, conﬁrmatory
factor analysis (CFA) and reliability analysis were employed for each
measurement of these variables. Table 2 shows the reliability and
convergent validity results of all the above-mentioned variables in the
First, we attempted to ﬁnd suitable items for measuring perceived
quality and brand image. For measuring perceived quality, this study
refers to the items of perceived quality provided by Yoo and Donthu
(2001) and Snoj et al. (2004). Since this variable was measured by
only two items, we just assessed its reliability and validity based
on Cronbach’s α, which was 0.749. In terms of brand image, there
were six items that refer to measure this variable, according to Keller
(1993) and Yoo and Donthu (2001). We then utilized CFA and
reliability test to identify whether this measurement is ﬁt for this
research. The whole results show that this variable is suitable for
TABLE 1 Psychometric properties of the survey.
Category Characteristics N%
Gender Male 261 45.4
Female 314 54.6
Age Under 18 1 0.2
18–25 103 17.9
26–30 139 24.2
31–40 185 32.2
41–50 114 19.8
51–60 29 5.0
Above 60 4 0.7
Education High school or lower 28 6.8
Junior college 99 17.0
Bachelor’s degree 435 52.5
Master’s degree or
Occupation Government agency
or public institution
Enterprise employee 302 52.5
Students 77 13.4
Other 55 9.6
Salary (monthly) Under 1,000 CNY 30 5.2
Above 8,000 CNY 218 37.9
N=575; this study will assign a value to the control variable, which has listed later. Gender: 1
=male; 0 =female. Age: 1 =under 18; 2 =18∼25; 3 =26∼30; 4 =31∼40; 5 =41∼50; 6 =
51∼60; 7 =above 60. Education: 1 =high school or lower; 2 =junior college; 3 =bachelor’s
degree; 4 =master’sdegree or higher. Oc cupation: 1 =government agency or public institution;
2=enterprise employee; 3 =individual industrial and commercial households; 4 =students;
5=other. Salary (monthly): 1 =under 1,000 CNY; 2 =1,000 CNY−3,000 CNY; 3 =3,000
CNY−5,000 CNY; 4 =5,000 CNY−8,000 CNY; 5 =above 8,000 CNY.
Moreover, in terms of the variable of the psychological contract,
we have referred to the research regarding employee psychological
contract (Coyle-Shapiro et al., 2019) and customer psychological
contract (Kingshott and Pecotich, 2007). After the interview of
30 people and grounding theory, ﬁve items for the transactional
psychological contract and four items for the relational psychological
contract have been generated. After CFA, the results of these two
concepts show it has a great degree of validity and reliability. As for
customer engagement, the measurements of this concept referred to
some studies regarding social media engagement (Brown et al., 2022)
and customer engagement (Brodie et al., 2013;Kumar et al., 2019).
The pre-test results for testing customer engagement show that the
measurement of this variable possesses a great degree of validity and
reliability for this study.
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TABLE 2 Reliability and convergent validity result for measurements of variables.
Validity and reliability index Perceived
CMIN/DF – 3.33 1.962 2.91 3.7 –
RMR 0.014 0.016 0.011 0.029
TLI 0.965 0.988 0.995 0.944
GFI 0.985 0.993 0.973 0.958
CFI 0.981 0.994 0.991 0.96
RMSEA 0.064 0.041 0.058 0.069
Cronbach’s α0.749 0.818 0.81 0.71 0.858 0.676
Number of items 2 6 5 4 10 2
N=575; CMIN/DF represents χ2
df ; RMR, the root-mean-square residual; TLI, the Tucker–Lewis index; GFI, goodness-of-ﬁt index; CFI, the comparative ﬁt index; RMSEA, root-mean-square error
Finally, according to some studies on communication and brand
communication (Voorveld, 2019;Harrison and Windeler, 2020), the
measurement of brand communication was considered based on
two items from the perspective of personal inﬂuence. The brand
communication passed the validity and reliability test based on its
Cronbach’s αof 0.676.
3.3. Data pre-test
3.3.1. Data quality
Since questionnaires were gathered in a variety of ways, an
independent-sample t-test was conducted on the data from two
distinct sources to determine whether the questionnaire collection
method inﬂuenced the analytical results. The results of the
independent-sample t-test are presented in Table 3. The test reveals
that the alternative ways of questionnaire collection had no impact on
the study results. In order to avoid common method biases (CMBs)
in this survey, Harman’s single factor test was used to test sample data
in the statistical control, eﬀectively also avoiding common approach
deviations in procedural control. It can be observed from the
analytical results that the CMB of this survey is within an acceptable
range (Var%component 1=30.012, Cultimative%component 1=30.012).
3.3.2. Descriptive analysis and multicollinearity test
This study performed a statistical analysis and a validity test
for a more comprehensive follow-up regression analysis. Table 4
displays the descriptive statistics, convergent, and discriminant
validity results for the survey data. At a certain point, this study ran
a multicollinearity test on the data to ensure that it was appropriate
for regression analysis. Using SPSS 22.0, the VIF value of all variables
was found to be <10, which indicates that the independent variables
are not multicollinear, and regression statistical analysis can be
conducted. Furthermore, when it comes to the convergent and
discriminant validity of all these variables, we used AVE and CR to
test whether the variables are of discriminant validity. Based on the
results in Table 4, the A.V.E and C.R values are acceptable (AVE >
0.5; CR >0.7). This result demonstrates that the variables in the
theoretical framework are of acceptable discriminant validity.
In order to test the model proposed in this study, this study
depended on SEM through Amos 24.0. All results are displayed
in Figure 2.
In this study, gender, age, education, occupation, and salary
(monthly) are used as control variables. This research ﬁrst
concentrated on the main eﬀect without control variables, then the
control variables were added to the analysis. The results of SEM
without control variables have already demonstrated a great degree of
model ﬁt. In turn, the results of SEM with control variables showed a
better model ﬁt than without controls. The coeﬃcients of each path
are shown in Figure 2 and Table 5. Speciﬁcally, the above estimates
are parameters without controls, and those below are with controls.
It can be observed that these controls have some impact on
brand communication. For the last estimate of this model, the main
eﬀect of brand communication is now not considered signiﬁcant
(p>0.01). This demonstrates that brand communication, which
is of great complexity, is primarily inﬂuenced by a variety of
factors. Nevertheless, this does not prevent us from analyzing
the whole communication mechanism. Table 5 details the results
4.1. Improving brand communication from
the utilitarian and hedonic perspectives
Based on the SEM results, it can be observed that brand
communication can be improved through utilitarian and hedonic
ways. This fact is supported by the evidence listed later. First, when
it comes to the utilitarian aspect, perceived value inﬂuences the
construction of the transactional psychological contract more than
the relational psychological contract (βTransaction =0.392, P<
0.001;βRelation =0.143, P<0.001;βTransaction > βRelation).
For the customer, the utilitarian aspect of information has always
been focused on making decisions and so on. In contrast, from
the viewpoint of the hedonic aspect, a perceived image shows more
impact on the construction of the relational psychological contract
than on the transactional psychological contract (βTransaction =
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TABLE 3 Independent-sample t-test for variation in the methods for instruments.
Constructs Levene’s test for equality
T-test for equality of means
Customer engagement Equal variances assumed 0.035 0.852 0.141 0.89 0.01 0.04
Equal variances not assumed – 0.14 0.89 0.01 0.04
Equal variances assumed 0.006 0.939 −1.01 0.31 −0.06 0.06
Equal variances not assumed – −1.011 0.31 −0.06 0.06
Equal variances assumed 0.421 0.517 0.966 0.33 0.04 0.04
Equal variances not assumed – 0.964 0.34 0.04 0.04
Brand image Equal variances assumed 0.302 0.583 0.953 0.34 0.04 0.04
Equal variances not assumed – 0.941 0.35 0.04 0.05
Perceived quality Equal variances assumed 0.95 0.33 1.035 0.30 0.05 0.05
Equal variances not assumed – 1.039 0.30 0.05 0.05
Brand communication Equal variances assumed 0.041 0.839 −0.073 0.94 0.00 0.04
Equal variances not assumed – −0.073 0.94 0.00 0.04
N=575; SD, standard deviation.
TABLE 4 Descriptive statistics, convergent, and discriminant validity.
Variables Mean SD AVE CR 1 2 3 4 5 6
Customer engagement (1) 4.08 0.52 0.65 0.85 (0.81)
Transactional psychological contract (2) 3.72 0.67 0.56 0.86 0.498∗∗ (0.75)
Relational psychological contract (3) 4.13 0.52 0.55 0.83 0.657∗∗ 0.510∗∗ (0.74)
Brand image (4) 4.17 0.53 0.53 0.87 0.676∗∗ 0.435∗∗ 0.697∗∗ (0.73)
Perceived quality (5) 4.11 0.59 0.8 0.89 0.472∗∗ 0.413∗∗ 0.512∗∗ 0.521∗∗ (0.89)
Brand communication (6) 4.30 0.50 0.76 0.86 0.526∗∗ 0.366∗∗ 0.574∗∗ 0.568∗∗ 0.586∗∗ (0.87)
N=575; ∗∗P<0.01; SD, standard deviation; AVE and CR provide evidence of the validity of this model following testing; the diagonal value is the square root of AVE.
SEM results of the hybrid communication model in utilitarian and hedonic aspects. N=575; ***P<0.001, **P<0.01.
0.564, P<0.001;βRelation =0.624, P<0.001;βTransaction <
βRelation). These results led to the identiﬁcation and support of
Hypothesis 1 and its sub-hypotheses.
Moreover, psychological contracts have accelerated the process
of achieving customer engagement. Through the results oﬀered
by SEM, it can be observed that the psychological contracts,
whether transactional or relational, positively inﬂuenced customer
engagement overall (βTM =0.124, P<0.001;βRM =
1.035, P<0.001;βTM < βRM). Thus, Hypothesis 2 and its sub-
hypotheses are supported. These ﬁndings of estimates present us
with a more interesting phenomenon that relational psychological
contracts present greater impacts on customer engagement than
transactional psychological contracts.
At the last stage of this communication process, customer
engagement leads to the improvement of brand communication.
Although brand communication was found to be inﬂuenced by
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TABLE 5 Results of SEM.
Hypothesized path Model without controls Model with controls
Path coecient SE CR Path coecient SE CR
TPC ←PQ 0.428∗∗∗ 0.098 4.353 0.392∗∗∗ 0.097 4.025
RPC ←BI 0.584∗∗∗ 0.054 10.818 0.624∗∗∗ 0.057 10.956
RPC ←PQ 0.186∗∗∗ 0.038 4.847 0.143∗∗∗ 0.04 3.589
TPC ←BI 0.523∗∗∗ 0.102 5.132 0.564∗∗∗ 0.102 5.542
CE ←TPC 0.087∗∗ (p=0.004) 0.03 2.89 0.124∗∗∗ 0.035 3.497
CE ←RPC 1.102∗∗∗ 0.096 11.437 1.035∗∗∗ 0.096 10.821
BC ←CE 0.837∗∗∗ 0.066 12.638 0.134 (p=0.187) 0.101 1.32
BC ←Gender – 1 –
BC ←Age 1
BC ←Occupation 1
BC ←Education 1
BC ←Salary (monthly) 1
CMIN/DF 3.092 2.423
RMR 0.028 0.032
TLI 0.905 0.912
GFI 0.902 0.907
CFI 0.915 0.922
RMSEA 0.06 0.05
N=575; ∗∗∗ P<0.001, ∗∗ P<0.01. PV, perceived value; PI, perceived image; TPC, transactional psychological contract; RPC, relational psychological contract; CE, customer engagement; BC, brand
communication; SE, standard error.
many factors according to multiple previous studies (Harrison
and Windeler, 2020), it is still positively inﬂuenced by customer
engagement (βwithout controls =0.837, P<0.001;βwith controls =
0.134, P>0.01). These analysis results support Hypothesis 3.
Consequently, due to the results oﬀered by SEM, it can be concluded
that brand communication can be strengthened from both utilitarian
and hedonic perspectives.
4.2. Mediating eect analysis
In order to test the whole mechanism, the mediation of this
theoretical model was tested. According to Preacher and Hayes
(2004), the test of the mediation eﬀect has relied on the Bootstrap
utilized through SPSS 24.0 PROCESS. The results of this test are
displayed in Table 6.
Bootstrap is one of the primarily signiﬁcant methods to identify
mediating eﬀects, especially chain mediating eﬀects. In order to
test whether there is mediation or not, we shall ﬁgure out whether
the conﬁdence interval contains 0. The provided results support
Hypothesis 4 and its sub-hypotheses. From the perspective of
cognition, the transactional psychological contract and customer
engagement act as mediators in this mechanism. Through the
Bootstrap ﬁndings, it can be observed that if one wants to strengthen
brand communication in the utilitarian aspect, one should ﬁrst start
from the perceived value and then pass through the transactional
psychological contract and customer engagement, ultimately
achieving a great degree of brand communication [CI (95%)direct =
(0.2979, 0.4203);CI (95%)indirect =(0.0899, 0.1861)]. Similarly,
from the viewpoint of aﬀection, the results show that the relational
psychological contract and customer engagement play a chain
mediation role in improving brand communication [CI (95%)direct =
(0.1504, 0.334);CI (95%)indirect =(0.2184, 0.3755)]. Thus, through
this ﬁnding, the mechanism by which the hedonic aspect strengthens
brand communication was determined.
5. General discussion
This study has characterized the mechanism by which
brand communication is improved from utilitarian and hedonic
perspectives. In this study, the theoretical model was ﬁrst proposed
following a literature review based on the linkage of the practical
background. Relying on the questionnaire survey method, this
study applied SEM to test the theoretical model. The results
of testing demonstrated that all the presented hypotheses were
entirely supported. This ﬁnding leads to the conclusion that brand
communication can be strengthened from utilitarian and hedonic
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TABLE 6 The chain mediation eect testing based on Bootstrap.
Mediator 1 Mediator 2 Dependent
CI (95%) Eect TSE
Perceived quality Transactional
Direct (0.2979, 0.4203) 0.3591 11.5207 0.0312
Indirect (0.0899, 0.1861) 0.1348 - 0.0243
Brand image Relational
Direct (0.1504, 0.334) 0.2422 5.18 0.0468
Indirect (0.2184, 0.3755) 0.2937 - 0.0401
N= 575; SE, represents standard error; CI (95%), represents the conﬁdential interval at 95% level.
perspectives. However, there are still some remaining aspects that
require further discussion.
5.1. Theoretical contribution
This study oﬀers some theoretical insights and contributions
to the research of brand communication mechanisms. These are
outlined as follows. To begin with, this study has established a hybrid
model of brand communication mechanism from an information
function perspective. The proposition of this hybrid model has ﬁlled
up the research gap in the marketing and branding research area, as
well as contributed to the related studies on customer psychology and
behavior. Second, during the process of research, it can be identiﬁed
that the information function of brands can provide both a utilitarian
and a hedonic function to the customers. This is reﬂected by the
chain mediation eﬀect of the psychological contract and customer
engagement. Finally, this study has provided some insights into
understanding customer behavior in which their psychological aspect
has dominated. All theoretical contributions have been organized
First and foremost, despite this model having been constructed
with utilitarian and hedonic aspects, there is an issue in that the
function and role of the customer’s psychological aspect need to be
identiﬁed in the digital era. According to prior studies, a variety
of scholars have insisted that utilitarian aspects play a critical role,
but they have not ﬁgured out the speciﬁc role of the customer’s
psychological aspect in the mechanism of brand communication
(Hayes et al., 2020;Miao, 2021;Gbadeyan and Deliceirmak, 2022).
Based on this theoretical gap, the model provided by this study may
oﬀer some explanation. Although it is necessary for many people to
depend on the utility of a brand for the utilitarian aspect, the power
of the hedonic aspect, that is, the customer’s psychological aspect,
cannot be neglected. In this model, the ﬁndings have oﬀered insights
given the fact that if there was a conﬂict between the utilitarian
and hedonic aspects of brand communication, people would yield to
their psychological aspects. It can be exempliﬁed that the estimates
of their sentiment are all above those of cognition. People need
the stimulation of their psychological aspect for enjoyment and
sentimental gratiﬁcation. On the other hand, these dominant eﬀects
of the customer’s psychological aspect in the process of brand
communication also reveal that the function of the brand is mainly
to provide a certain hedonic aspect to customers. This relationship
is a typical way in which customers connect with brands. The
role of sentiment and spirit of customers, therefore, reveals that
this consumption is relational. Moreover, this fact reﬂects that our
TABLE 7 Hierarchy regression results of control variables and customer
engagement on brand communication.
(Constant) 2.173∗∗∗ 0.179
Gender −0.038 0.036
Age −0.043∗∗ 0.017
Occupation 0.017 0.016
Education 0.004 0.024
Salary (monthly) 0.06∗∗∗ 0.019
Customer engagement 0.495∗∗∗ 0.034
N=575; ∗∗∗ P<0.001; ∗∗ P<0.01.
society may be a relational society, where every individual demands a
connection between themselves and others. Consequently, this model
provides some solutions for how the ﬁrms should make the strategy
of brand communication.
Furthermore, despite the fact that the role of the hedonic aspect
has taken precedence over that of the utilitarian aspect in brand
communication, it can be questioned whether the utilitarian function
of information provided by brands has lost its position. For the
customers themselves, though a large amount of time spent on media
has been ﬁlled with “searching for sensitive experiences of brands,”
brands not only provide such experiences but also inﬂuence the
rationale of people (Ong and Yusoﬀ, 2015). Speciﬁcally, the utilitarian
function of information provided by brands, that is, perceived quality,
is still the bedrock demanded by customers. The model developed
in this study also conﬁrms the fact that people need information
provided by brands to be rational. The improvement of brand
communication from the utilitarian perspective cannot be neglected,
no matter how dominant the customer’s psychological aspect is.
Finally, in terms of brand communication, it can be demonstrated
by the SEM results that this variable is of such great complexity that
it may be inﬂuenced by many factors. Based on the results without
the controls, it can be observed that customer engagement has more
impact on brand communication (βwithout controls =0.837, P<
0.001). However, when it comes to the status of controls, customer
engagement has not played a critical role. For determining whether
or not the control variables have a greater inﬂuence on brand
communication, our study utilized SPSS 24.0 to establish a hierarchy
regression model, and the results are depicted in Table 7.
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It can be illustrated that, as mentioned earlier, hypothesis 3 is
supported by these regression results. In this regression model, all
the control variables were found not to have a signiﬁcant inﬂuence
on brand communication, and their β-values are less than those of
customer engagement (βwithout controls =0.495, P<0.001). This
result ultimately supports the fact that brand communication is a
highly complex variable worthy of further study.
As a result, our ﬁndings contribute to the research of brand
communication by taking utilitarian and hedonic perspectives. In
order to explain the role that the information function played,
a hybrid brand communication model has been constructed. The
results of this study show that the psychological aspect takes
precedence over the rationale of the customer in this modern era.
5.2. Practical implication
This research provides not only theoretical contributions to
brand communication but also oﬀers practical implications for
managing brand information and communication in the post-truth
era. Prior studies regarding media and journalism have demonstrated
that we are marching into the post-truth era (Waisbord, 2018;Majin,
2021), in which the aﬀection of people takes a dominant position.
Based on the deﬁnition of the post-truth era from the Oxford
Dictionary, the most signiﬁcant feature of this era is “Relating to or
denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less inﬂuential
in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal
belief.” In addition, it can be observed that brand communication
always has a close connection to the media and information from
the perspective of its deﬁnition. Thus, the characteristics of the
post-truth era have inevitably inﬂuenced brand communication.
This research has revealed that the psychological aspect, that is, the
hedonic aspect of customers, has played a signiﬁcant role in the brand
communication mechanism. This results in an important marketing
strategy that corporations should pay more attention to customer
Speciﬁcally, when managers make strategies for brand
communication, they should consider both utilitarian and hedonic
brand oﬀerings. First, the utilitarian function is fundamental, so
managers should not neglect this basic function. Thus, in terms of
products, ﬁrms should focus on improving the quality of products, as
well as constructing utilitarian information the brands are delivering.
In contrast, in this relational era, according to the characteristics of
post-truth, marketing strategy should lay emphasis on the hedonic
function that brands convey. When these people start to work on
brand communication strategy, they shall put the psychological
aspect of brands to the primary position in order to build a
sentimental and spiritual image of brands. Therefore, a “warmth”
customer relationship can be built and sustained.
6. Limitations and future research
Our study has some limitations as the two-fold. On the one
hand, as brand communication is of great complexity, this study
only explored the impact mechanism of the psychological contract
and customer engagement. It is necessary for scholars to discuss and
explore the more general factors inﬂuencing brand communication.
On the other hand, the total number of questionnaires should
have been more than 575, which could have been achieved by
conducting a larger-scale survey with more questions to resolve
In terms of future studies, the results of this study provide several
insights. Initially, the future study shall pay more attention to the
relational demand of customers. The value of relationships has been
delivered by this study, and it reveals a future research direction
in brand communication. Second, the speciﬁc role and function of
aﬀection in communication should be more thoroughly discussed
in future research. Finally, the results also recall the scholarship to
balance the utilitarian and hedonic aspects in the process of brand
communication in future.
Data availability statement
The original contributions presented in the study are
included in the article, further inquiries can be directed to the
LF contributed to the whole process of this article, including
proposing research questions and research models, data collecting
and processing, and manuscript writing. ML and LT contributed to
the revision of this article. All authors contributed to the article and
approved the submitted version.
This research was supported by the grants from the National
Natural Science Foundation of China (71872052 and 72102069).
Conﬂict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or ﬁnancial relationships that could be
construed as a potential conﬂict of interest.
All claims expressed in this article are solely those of the
authors and do not necessarily represent those of their aﬃliated
organizations, or those of the publisher, the editors and the reviewers.
Any product that may be evaluated in this article, or claim that may
be made by its manufacturer, is not guaranteed or endorsed by the
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