Can a marketer ever make consumers love their brand? Nigel Hollis, executive vice president and chief global analyst at Millward Brown, considers the evidence.
There’s a growing belief in the marketing community that “brand love” is a bogus concept. Attitudes follow usage, goes the argument, people love the brands they use. So get more users and more people will love your brand. That’s true, of course – but it turns out that people like some brands more than others, and that “excess” emotional connection makes them willing to pay a higher price.
Before I continue let me just make it clear that I think the idea of “brand love” is, if not bogus, way over-stated. Do you feel passionate about every brand you use? How about that cereal bar you just ate? What about your insurance company? And do you really love your car or does it just feel comfortable, like a pair of old shoes?
Millward Brown’s Neuroscience Practice regularly tests people’s instinctive liking for brands and finds that most register as a mild positive. However, when we tested the reaction of a marketing director to their own brand, their response was off the scale. Unlike our marketing director normal people do not love brands; in all but a very few cases they take them for granted and feel a mild liking at best. But that does not mean this emotional connection is without value.
We measure the strength of affection people have for brands in surveys by asking respondents to place them on an affinity scale from love to hate (the end-points don’t get used much). Sure enough, we find that the proportion of people who say they like a brand is strongly correlated with the proportion that uses it. But it’s far from a perfect correlation; there’s a wide variation around the general relationship. So we can infer that people like the brands they use, but they like some more than others.
To explore the value of this emotional connection we compared brands with “excess” affinity, stronger affinity than might be expected based on usage alone, with ones that had “weak” affinity.
It turns out that brands with excess affinity are stronger brands. People are slightly more likely to want to buy them and more willing to pay a higher price for them. While they were thought to be more expensive, people were actually more likely to think they were worth what they cost.
In the real world this can translate to people paying over 20% more for brands with excess affinity than those with weak affinity. In these days when people can check prices with a click, the belief that it’s worth paying more for your brand is a big deal. You can either take the extra margin and impact profits directly, or keep your price low and drive volume instead.
People are not one-dimensional beings, and the better brands engage with all five of our senses
So how do you super-charge the emotional connection with your brand?
Not surprisingly the best way is to deliver an enjoyable experience on a repeated basis. Positive, ongoing experience of the brand will strengthen the emotional bond without any further intervention. But why stop there? Why not make the usage experience as delightful as possible by engaging the senses?
Research conducted by Millward Brown for BRANDsense confirmed that the more positive and distinctive sensory impressions come to mind the more loyal people are to a brand. People are not one-dimensional beings, and the better brands engage with all five of our senses the stronger the impression they’ll make.
The next step is to directly associate the brand with positive feelings.
A great example of emotional enhancement is Lurpak’s Weave Your Magic campaign which envisions the cook as a magician: turning ordinary ingredients into something extraordinary. In pre-testing the campaign was often described as “inspiring”, and it helped drive sales growth in multiple countries and win a Creative Effectiveness Lion.
Whether people buy into your brand’s purpose and values or simply admire the celebrities associated with it, affiliation is a powerful way of building a strong emotional connection. Look at how Under Armour’s decision to feature American Ballet Theatre’s principal dancer Misty Copeland in its advertising helped boost sales of its women’s clothing line. Under Armour ranks with brands like M&Ms, Subway and Google when it comes to creating a stronger than expected emotional connection.
Super-charging the emotional connection with your brand will help insulate against today’s constant pricing pressure
Last but not least, don’t forget that people value value.
Offer a good product at a good price and many people will be grateful. Not everyone can afford the brands they’d like to buy but that doesn’t mean they want to suffer a bad product. The success of the Aldi supermarket chain in Europe is testimony to the fact that people do appreciate a good deal. In the UK people’s affinity with Aldi is stronger than usage alone would predict, ranking alongside perennial favourites like Pampers, Virgin Airlines and Dove.
Super-charging the emotional connection with your brand will help insulate against today’s constant pricing pressure.
While I’ve illustrated the ways brands build strong emotional connections separately, the truth is that they’re inter-related and work synergistically. Smart marketers know that they need to architect the whole brand experience using product innovation, design and marketing to evoke a positive reaction across all touchpoints.
You may never get people to love your brand, but if they like it that little bit more it will be worth the investment.