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Researchers Explain How Brands Make You Fall In Love

Functional benefits just don’t cut it, according to new research into how brands "narrow the psychological distance" between themselves and the objects of their affections.

Brands spend millions of dollars trying to make consumers fall in love with them, and according to C.W. Park, director of the Global Branding Center at USC’s Marshall School of Business, these attempts are usually miserable failures. "If you really ask people, they have only vague understandings about each brand," says Park. "Or they’re not aware of many brands in the first place."

Park realized that he felt close to some brands--like the Pittsburgh Steelers. "When the Pittsburg Steelers lose, it ruins my entire day. I lose my appetite. And yet they don’t even know that I am existing in this world. They’ve never sent me a birthday card," he says.

Park and his colleagues conducted a series of surveys, assessing people’s love toward Apple and their vitriol toward England’s Manchester United. They even assessed the supermarket-buying behaviors of 1,000 Austrians. The results were recently published in the Journal of Consumer Psychology and reveal that making a consumer fall in love with a brand depends on "narrowing the psychological distance" between the buyer and the product. "People need to think of the brand as an extension of him or herself," says Park. But how? Below are some of the (seemingly obvious but clearly not easy) steps to forging a loving relationship.

Make Buyers Fall in Love.

1. Enticing Self Benefits. Park says that products must entice consumers through the senses. Is it aesthetically pleasing to look at it? Does it sound good, smell good, feel good?

2. Enabling Self Benefits. The product should make people’s lives more comfortable and convenient. "It’s about functional pleasure and letting consumers know what kind of life they can live by using a brand," says Park.

3. Enriching Self Benefits. This is the most important. "The consumer relates to the brand through shared values or principles," says Park. In other words, the message must resonate deeply with the consumer’s sense of self. Park points to Nike’s slogan, "Just Do It" and Apple’s "Think Different." The former is about not making excuses. The latter is about ingenuity and creativity. These are ideals that connect with consumers; they create a psychological bond.

As Park explains, "So many brands focus on the functional benefits of a product, but that’s just the starting point in developing a relationship with the consumer."

He points to Tiffany as a perfect melding of enticement, enablement, and enrichment. The blue Tiffany box has come to symbolize all three of these: the perceptual pleasure of fine jewelry, the quality and functionality of the product (i.e., how easily you can complete an outfit with a pair of Tiffany diamonds), and the personal enrichment you feel by owning Tiffany. "The color of the box alone says, I am somebody. I bought this product at Tiffany. I belong to a special class of people," says Park.

Uh-oh, Samsung

Park contrasts Tiffany, Apple, and Nike with Sony. He says 10 years ago, Sony was an incredibly powerful brand. The idea that your CD player or VCR was a Sony meant something to people. "But Sony was primarily focusing on performance and functionality," says Park. "So was Toyota, Honda, all these Japanese brands." At a certain point, practical concerns took precedence over building a psychological connection with consumers.

"All these Japanese brands--they’re all cold," says Park. "There’s nothing in them that makes your heart warm and cozy. And these days Samsung is right there. Performance is good. It’s a must." But, he says, that performance means little without spiritual affinity.

Cast in religious terms, this all might sound a little silly. But think about your favorite sports team and what its success or failure means to you. If the team doesn’t inspire you, then you won’t root for them. If the product doesn’t inspire you, then you won’t buy it. "People say they like Toyota and Honda," says Park. "But whether they love it is a different matter."

[Images: Flickr users Longhorn Dave, Jim Wall, and Dustin McClure]

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7 Comments

  • David

    Authenticity and relevance are everything. Even though Apple and Nike seem to know what is next, everything they do is backed by intense observation and analysis. This process allows these companies to make that big creative leap, because they have observed the market and anticipate need.

    It truly is a balance of science and creativity. But without authenticity, a brand is a facade.

  • Olivier Laube Immobilien

    love that comment! its like human beeings - no? wether they inspire u or they are cold like ice :-) selfreflexion is a nice tool... 

  • Joeblow

    how is this news...we've been talking about consumer benefits, shared values and higher order advertising as marketers for years...

  • Guest

    We've also been encouraging people to stop smoking, recycle more, compost, etc for decades. Nothing happens over night. A reminder backed by a little actual research never hurt anybody. Including yourself. Carry on. 

  • Brett W. Gould

    Quality article, Jennifer.  Short, sweet and to the (actionable) point. Reminds me a lot of Jonah Berger's book, "Contagious". Thanks for sharing your thoughts here.

    Brett
    @BrettWGould:twitter