11 Mar Creating Brands that Generate High Price Points, Customer Loyalty, and Strong Word of Mouth

In an article in the Journal of Marketing* from 2010, the authors prove quantitatively that higher levels of brand attachment result in higher price points, increased loyalty, and customers willing to promote your brand through social media and word of mouth. So if brand attachment is so valuable, how can people create high attachment brands?

To create brand attachment, we must remind ourselves that consumers are people, and people form relationships at a very deep and emotional level. Companies that seek such strong bonds must go beyond projecting their brands as a collection of attributes and benefits, and bring the brand to life in a very human way. To do this, we must delve much deeper into the minds and culture of the target customer.

Marketers are caught up in a world of spreadsheets and marketing data, and must provide rational explanations for management to support their decisions. It is easy to understand why brand managers rely on a rational approach when managing brands. They focus heavily on communicating the pragmatic brand benefits and the supporting “reasons to believe.” But when humans shop, up to 80 percent of decision-making occurs beneath the level of consciousness. The strong emotional bonds people have to brands, such as Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Innocent, and Apple are not rational, and are sometimes not related to pragmatic brand benefits and “reasons to believe.” These bonds are developed beneath the level of conscious thought, where customers unconsciously manage their self-image, in a place ruled by emotion and instinct rather than reason and logic.

As a first step in creating strong bonds with their customers, marketers must seek out the emotionally charged gaps between their self-perception and the culture around them. This is what Doug Holt, Author of “How Brands Become Icons: The Principle of Cultural Branding,” calls “image projects;” those things that these individuals want to express that are in conflict with culture. According to Holt, marketers must “cultivate empathic understanding of the identity projects of prospects who best align the brand’s cultural and political authority.”

Once these “identity projects” are identified, the role of the brand is to side with the brands followers join their cause. Holt says iconic brands are “cultural activists that challenge the cultural status quo, seeking the collective cultural perspective unites them.”

In order to create a brand that plays this role in culture, companies need to stop focusing on developing brands that solely satisfy rational needs. Holt argues that brand managers should not let “cultural activism” be smothered by “rationality and pragmatism.” Developing brands with strong bonds is similar to an author writing a screenplay. Brands must be developed like a lead character, based on Jungian personality archetypes that bring them to life. Archetypes describe human personality traits that are found in both mythical stories as well as contemporary novels and screen plays. There are twelve archetypes, such as, the hero, the outlaw, the innocent, and the sage. Brands that project an archetype through mythology can be cast as a cultural activist, which resolves the ‘image projects’ of the target customers.

In “How Brands Become Icons: The Principle of Cultural Branding,” Holt describes how in the past, iconic brands like Harley-Davidson, Budweiser, Mountain Dew, and Volkswagen have developed deep attachment bonds by resolving ‘image projects’ through cultural activism.

“Brands become cultural icons by performing myths that address society’s most vexing contradictions.” – Douglas Holt

Today we see Chipotle activating their brand in the same way. In their short film and soon to come series, the main character, the Scarecrow is cast as the Innocent archetype in an animated mythos. The scarecrow sides with those who distrust large food manufacturers and are seeking purity, goodness and simplicity.  In doing so, Chipotle is moving beyond rational brand attributes, such as fresh, healthy, and convenient, and is taking the role of a cultural activist, sharing an empathetic understanding of those who see the world as the Scarecrow sees it, and becoming a part of their culture and identity.

Holt believes that in order “to build iconic brands, the challenge is to develop a cultural activist organization: a company organized around developing identity myths that address emerging contradictions in society; a company organized to collaborate with creative partners to perform myths that have the charisma and authenticity necessary to attract followers; a company that is organized to understand society and culture, not just consumers; and a company that is staffed with managers who have ability and training in these areas.”

Building high attachment brands is not about what is “hot” at the moment, having the most social media followers, or a celebrity following. It is achieved by taking a place in shaping culture along with the “cultural activists” for they, in the long run, are the influencers on the greater population.

Written by Mark Capper, president of Kompas Strategy

*(Brand Attachment and Brand Attitude Strength: Conceptual and Empirical Differentiation of Two Critical Brand Equity Drivers, Journal of Marketing, vol 74, Nov. 2010, pp 1-17)

Kompas Strategy