Friday, March 19

Shopping Psychology: How Consumers Connect To Brands

A new study of social media from Chadwick Martin Bailey reinforces what many people already think they know: 60 percent of Facebook fans and 79 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to recommend a brand after becoming a fan or follower. And 51 percent of Facebook fans and 67 percent of Twitter followers are "more likely" to buy from brands they connect with.

And yet another study recently conducted by, a consumer insight firm, revealed that consumers do not identify with brands. In fact, not a single consumer said they believed any brand cared about them, except as a source of profit. And many, according to the study, said they have no love for any brand and found loving a brand to be unnatural.

Can they both be right? How about wrong?

Marketing's Understanding Of The Brand Relationship Is Digressing.

I tend to advocate for the brand definition as proposed by Phil Dusenberry, former chairman and chief creative of BBDO Worldwide. Dusenberry, if you don't know, was responsible for campaigns such as "We bring good things to life," "It's everywhere you want to be," and "The choice of a new generation." Those campaigns belonged to GE, Visa, and Pepsi. He also helped elect Ronald Reagan and co-wrote "The Natural" with Robert Redford.

“Brand is the relationship between a product and its customer,” he said.

Dusenberry was right. (He was right about several things, which you can glean from one of his last interviews. But where we can deepen his thinking is understanding that brand relationships do not always occur because of a direct connection between a brand and a consumer. There are some degrees of separation between the consumer and the brand.

Consumer-to-brand. Some brands do have a direct relationship to the consumer. Most notably, Apple and Coca-Cola have some of the strongest direct relationships. We can see it in psychological studies and intense interest.

Consumer-to-experience, tied to brand. Some brands rely not on a brand relationship, but the consumer experience provided by the brand. Offline, the Four Seasons has mastered the experience. Online, Facebook delivers. On a smaller scale, horseback riding might be the experience people connect to, regardless of who delivers it.

Consumer-to-product/service, tied to brand. Some brands win because they deliver a specific product or service people expect. The concept has propelled McDonald's to the top of quick service restaurants. Amazon demonstrates it online. Or, a consumer might love their car, but not the manufacturer.

Consumer-to-idea, tied to brand. While he might not have framed it up this way, Dusenberry's initial success with the Pepsi Generation concept was directly tied to association of an idea to a brand. The idea of "change" propelled Barack Obama to his presidency (and has also contributed to declining poll numbers as the "idea" has not materialized).

Consumer-to-group identification, tied to brand. One of the most recent success brand stories is undoubtedly Zappos. And although Tony H. was wrong to think the Zappos branding strategy is unique, he created a culture people wanted to belong to. In the 1970s, so did Kiss.

Consumer-to-individual Identification, tied to brand. If you ever wondered why Chris Brogan or Seth Godin are popular, it is because people identify with them. Offline, it's any number of celebrity spokespeople and motivators like Anthony Robbins.

Consumer-to-friend(s), tied to brand. Most recently, Geoff Livingston demonstrated friends will support friends and personal connections, especially to do good, because it brings the degree of separation between the cause and the friend within two degrees. It motivates people to join fan pages on networks like Facebook, even if the friend or follower has no connection to the brand.

Keep in mind, that many brand relationships work across several of these connections. Many of those mentioned above do not rely on one connection exclusively. And, there are several other relationships not listed here.

However, it can also illustrate how some social media and marketing constructs weaken relationships between a brand and the consumer. Ergo, if the only reason a consumer buys a book is because they have a connection with Oprah, the connection to the author is three degrees removed (consumer-to-Oprah-to-book-to-author) and the publisher could be as many as seven degrees removed from the publisher. Or, in considering the primary difference between Coca-Cola and Pepsi, the former has a direct connection and secondary connections whereas the latter has relied on secondary connections.

How does this help us decipher two studies? People do connect to brands, but they often do not connect to them in any way they can or want to articulate. Conversely, the majority of people who follow a brand on Facebook or Twitter are "more likely" to buy from those brands is virtually predetermined. Why else would they follow a brand? Well, we provided several possible reasons above, most of which people would not want to or cannot articulate.

So what is really going on? It seems evident that social media can help companies benefit from secondary connections — individual identification, friend identification, group, experience, idea, and so on — stuff that they never considered before. However, relying too much on social media can also cause interference between the consumer and the brand.

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