Our attachment to brands is primarily an emotional one. I have often discussed the two forms of knowledge we have about brands, the factual, declarative knowledge and the emotional meta-knowledge – well, do not underestimate the emotional power of brands. It probably represents our most powerful attachment.
Psychologists often talk about the ‘halo effect’ – the way we make decisions in the first few seconds of contact. If we make a positive decision we spend the future looking for reasons to justify that decision, or if our first impression is negative we concentrate on finding faults and ignoring any plus points. Anyone who has chosen a car has almost certainly gone through this. It is love at first sight in the showroom, but if asked about the key factors influencing choice, we quote the excellent fuel economy, load carrying capacity and safety features.
Most of the brands we deal with are very similar in performing the function they are created for – the physical delivery. What influences our choice and loyalty is emotion. Even when there are differences in this physical delivery, it may take a great deal of evidence to overcome our emotional attachment. Carl Rogers coined the term ‘unconditional positive regard’ – I liken this to the love we have for our children: blanket acceptance of the person no matter how they behave.
The emotional power of brands has similar dimensions and this has important consequences for anyone managing or promoting brands. Alastair Compton in his great book ‘The Craft of Copywriting’ (now sadly out of print) made the point that if you have a clear, demonstrable competitive advantage – shout it loud: if not, use showmanship. He quoted the example of lager advertising. Lager is pretty much a commodity with very little measurable difference between products or brands. That is why advertisers have come up with some of the most inventive and memorable campaigns for that particular sector.
To understand emotional attachment to brands we need to look at some of the components and drivers:
- History – a brand history we can relate to and connect with, just as we do with a nation’s history or that of a family.
- Narrative – closely linked to history, but it can also be a narrative woven around the brand as we see it or how we would like to see ourselves.
- Archetypes – brand personalities we can relate to or aspire to.
- Sensual attachments – visual images, sounds, touch, scents and kinaesthetic experience.
- Ideas – concepts we aspire to and want to be a part of.
It is important to remember that this is all about people – it is about the social constructs we weave around the brand. People have emotions and people buy – these two facts are inextricably linked and at the root of our brand love-affairs.