Of brand love, brand affinity and brand preference
The first test of any brand and its communication is that it must be noticed. Every category has multiple players and unless the potential consumer is aware of your brand, existence is rather pointless. Similarly, a brand’s advertising has to be noticed among the hundreds of commercial messages vying for attention every day. If it is not remembered, everything else is academic.
Get into consideration set
The next test for any brand is to get into the short list of acceptable brands in a category. Be it a housewife or an enterprise they will mentally form a list of brands which they will consider for purchase. If a brand is outright rejected either because it is unknown or has a bad reputation or perception, then it is doubly difficult to get back into the consideration set. We can all relate to this with virtually every purchase decision – be it a mobile phone or a travel destination.
Become a preferred choice
Even in a situation where we have shortlisted a few options possibly based on rational considerations, deep down we could be making an emotional choice. Prof Baba Shiv of Stanford University says in this video that our rational brain is only good at rationalising what the emotional brain has already decided. When there is a conflict between emotion and rational, the former usually wins. However, merely being the preferred choice doesn’t guarantee a sale – there are several other factors at play. When it comes to air travel for example, a convenient timing or price offered by an airline which is not the preferred choice may still get the sale. The choice of a mobile phone or holiday could be driven by budgets or a promotional offer. But overall, the brand which enjoys a perception edge over competition has a better chance of getting the sale.
The dictionary defines affinity as a natural liking for and understanding of someone or something. Subliminally we develop affinity towards brands – be it a public figure, a celebrity, airlines or grocery stores. A combination of factors come into play depending on the category. Product experience tops them all – an area where Apple seems to do well. Sometimes the quality of service by the staff can make a difference. In other cases it could simply be ease of use (as we see often in mobile apps offering similar services). A great user experience in a mobile app can create an edge for a digital wallet. On-time performance could do it for an airline brand. So in most cases, that intangible feeling of ‘liking’ a brand is a commendable achievement.
Command a premium
In an era where product experiences can be matched or surpassed in no time and at a cheaper price, can your brand still command a premium? That would be a litmus test for how strong the affinity and equity is. Here again, the iPhone is a good example. Many feel that there are good enough or superior options at a far lesser price and they opt for it in large numbers. However the iPhone has enough buyers willingly paying a hefty premium. In many categories – like cars, hotels and restaurants there are consumers willing to pay the little extra in return for an experience they enjoy.
Businesses are built on repeat purchases. Strong brands become part of habitual purchases (depending on the category e.g. tea) or even when it is an occasional purchase, evoke a sense of loyalty. Genuine affinity and ‘love’ for a brand can even make the consumer forgive the occasional poor experience. Sports franchises are good examples of this. F1 and football teams evoke a great sense of loyalty, even when the team is going through a bad patch. But if a brand doesn’t command that feeling even a small mistake seems unforgivable. One maybe indulgent towards a preferred airline’s occasional snafu but we can be overly critical of brands to whom we don’t have any sense of affinity or loyalty.
The ultimate goal would be to create a band of evangelists who not only recommend the brand but also defend it in a public forum. We see that happen commonly with Android, iOS, OnePlus, Samsung and Apple’s hardware on social media. Again, fans of sports teams and Apple are great examples of evangelists. While the latter are ready to defend their brand on social media the former take it one step further by willing to get into brawls! Restaurants, travel destinations, movies automobile brands and several others depend heavily on word-of-mouth recommendations to expand their customer base.
Overall, I feel attributing an emotion-laden word like ‘love’ which has profound connotations, to the way we react to a low involvement floor cleaner brand or a high involvement fashion brand is bit of an exaggeration. At best, an intangible preference, bias and affinity does come into play in certain categories and we need to acknowledge that. Your views?