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Brand Love?

John Laurence - Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Is it possible to rationally persuade people to pay a premium for your brand?

A couple of years ago I decided to buy a new notebook computer. I started off with extensive research of the various options that can be obtained at various price points. Knowing full well that under the hood of a laptop reside many of the exact same components – processors made by Intel, graphic cards made by Radeon etc. - I whittled down my consideration set to a particular brand and model (Acer) that gave me the best bang-for-my-buck and happily set off to the mall to purchase said machine. A couple of hours later I excitedly returned home with a Sony Vaio, which cost me a full 50% more than the notebook I had only a few hours earlier intended to purchase.

As my wife asked me, what happened? I effortlessly gave her a host of rational reasons, from Sony’s leading build quality and reliability through to their obsessive attention to detail. But deep down, I know that’s not the real reason I am willing to pay a premium for Sony. The real reason is the same reason that a lot of people are willing to pay more for an Apple product. It’s the self-connection the brand has for me on an emotional level. 
To quote Dan Ariely, the author and Professor of Psychology and Behavioural Economics, “We have a gut feeling about what it is we want, and we go through a process of justification and rationalization in order to manipulate our preferences so we can get what we really want. At the same time, we retain the impression, to ourselves and others, that we are acting according to our rational preferences.”

The story highlights what researchers such as Professor C. Whan Park of the University of Southern California are becoming increasingly cognisant of - Brand Commitment, defined as an intention to engage in behaviours that maintain a brand relationship in the future, is related but distinct from Brand Attachment, defined as the strength of the bond connecting the brand with the self. To quote Professor Park, “Brand attachment more accurately predicts intentions to perform behaviors that utilize significant consumer resources (time, monetary, reputational). It is also a stronger predictor of actual consumer behaviors than is brand attitude strength.”
Being committed to a brand may simply be because there is no better competitive option available or it may be for simple economic reasons. Being attached to a brand is largely due to the emotional or social benefit a brand brings you. Nokia, for example found this out the hard way when new players like Samsung started bringing in more innovative products at a lower price point and Apple delighted customers with their sleek and intuitive iPhone.

This is not to say that having your brand hit the mark on an emotional level guarantees you fanatical brand loyalty or leading market share. There are other important factors to consider when attempting to build these dynamics, such as the category you are competing in and your current market penetration. But if you want to induce people to fork out a premium for your product or service, you are going to have a hard time achieving it on a purely rational basis.