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How attached are your customers to your brand? How about your employees? Your shareholders?
Brand attachment isn’t a concept that’s familiar to most marketers. In fact, when I bring it up in discussions with potential clients they often ask me what I’m talking about. Yet, attachment is a far more important concept for a business manager or owner than most of the other health measures we think about it.
Brand attachment measures how much consumers (or any members of a brand audience, for that matter) view the brand as an extension of themselves. This differs quite a bit from measures of brand attitudes. When we measure attitudes, we mostly aim to gage how much people like a brand. In contrast, attachment measures how much people will say that a brand is like them—they identify with a brand because it reflects their values and resembles the way they see themselves.
In a 2010 study published in theJournal of Marketing, researchers found that by measuring the strength of a consumer’s attachment to a brand, they were able to predict actual behavior better than when they measured the strength of a consumer’s attitudes about a brand. They measured attachment by asking consumers questions such as “To what extent is [brand name] part of you and who you are?” and “To what extent does [brand name] say something to other people about you?” The deepest brand loyalties coincided with brands that reflected or extended a person’s self-concept.
We perceive who we are through our self-concept. It’s not a single variable. Instead, it’s a complex collection of many characteristics that may include our gender roles, ancestral heritage, educational background, racial identity, religious beliefs, and political persuasions, among other factors. We’re aware of some of these factors, while others are deeply ingrained in our subconscious. But they all add up to our sense of identity. Our self-concept begins to develop the day we’re born, and it evolves until we take our last breath. Some of us are bound to self-concepts we defined long ago, while others are tweaking our lives one day at a time in a constant journey to change. In either case, we often enlist brands to help us validate and realize our self-concept.
Whether its your best customers, potential customers, employees or investors, the strongest brands have a way of sticking to a self-concept. They become indispensable and a natural extension of personal identity. That’s why you’re better off asking how attached are my stakeholders instead of how much do my stakeholders like me.