When you think about the affinity that you have for different brands, you quickly realize that they fall into different categories – you may not have the as much brand affinity and loyalty to your soap vendor as you do to your favorite shirt manufacturer, or your car manufacturer.
Could there be such a thing as a universal brand loyalty hierarchy – akin to Maslow’s needs hierarchy? And if so, would it help marketers in determining what marketing program might work better to promote and position their products?
Let’s try this out and see where it leads…
At the highest level of the brand loyalty hierarchy are products that help define who you are and what you stand for. They are the products that define your personal brands – let’s call them Image Defining Brands. Brands that fall in this category in the consumer space include your clothes- you might want to wear only Nautica shirts because you are a sailor, or a sailor wanna be. Another product that probably falls in this category is the car you drive – with some people driving all wheel drive vehicles to indicate their love for the rugged outdoors and adventure travel, and others swearing by the Toyota Prius to indicate their dedication to a cleaner planet. In the corporate world, products that fall into this category are products that can affect a person’s image or career. Early adopters of Lotus Notes collaboration software or Linux servers come to mind. Being early in buying VoIP solutions would probably fall into this category as well. The key is that those brands define who I am or who I want others to think I am.
Next ring down are products that do not necessarily define your image, but they make you feel good – let’s call them Feel Good Brands. You may not really have much brand loyalty to a soap vendor who’s product you use, but you buy the same soap over and over again because it smells good and makes you feel good when you step out of the shower. Another example in this category could be Fair Trade Coffee – it really does not make a difference to your image whether you drink Fair Trade Coffee or not – after all it is not written on your cup. But it makes you feel good that the laborers that brought you this coffee were treated fairly. In the business world, products that fall in this category are products in well established and mature product categories. If you are in charge of deciding which CRM system to bring into your company, it is no longer a career defining decision, or even an image defining decision – it is very much a “feel good” decision. You will choose a solution that will make you feel good about your decision.
One ring further down are the products for which you have little brand affinity. They don’t define you, nor do they make you feel much different than if you were using another brand – let’s call them Commodity Brands. Low end pens and pencils come to mind. You may buy a pen from Bic because you know that they have a reputation to last long and not leak on planes, but in reality you might be just as satisfied and feel just as good with a Papermate pen. The same is true for the gas you put in your car, you may have a slight preference for Mobil because it has a reputation of being a cleaner gas, but you really would not feel much different after filling up your tank with with cheap LuKoil gas. In the business world, brands that fall into this category would be office supplies, or snack/vending machine service providers. The key buying decisions for these brands are reputation and trust.
Of course, product vendors can create products in certain product categories that allows them to move up (or down) the hierarchy. Luxury pens are perceived by some buyers as image defining products. And while Fair Trade Coffee in your own cup may not help define your image, being a Starbucks vs. a Dunkin’ Donuts kind of coffee buyer may do just that.
More on this later…what are your thoughts?