How do customers respond to your Brand?

I have always held a strong belief that Brands behave just like human beings do! As such an interaction of a customer with a brand follows exactly a similar pattern of interaction of one person to another unrelated person.

Let’s say a person X hopes to have a relationship with person Y. Every person does this from his own social behavior status, which could be broadly divided into 3 levels: (a) Acceptance (b) Association (c) Adoption

3 Response Levels (image copyright - one%inspiration)

Preliminary contact / hand-shake happen when each interacting person Accepts the other person’s invitation. This happens quite frequently, regardless of space, time or context. None of the participants have long-term intentions of carrying on; hence the relationship is superficial, and open.

When these persons meet again, there’s an existing element of recognition or identification between them, which breeds conversations, interactions and occasional dependencies. This stage is known as Association. There’s overt / covert liking of each other’s qualities, but linkages are not strong. There’s also a general agreement to meet / interact again, and often this behavior stays for a long time.

At the 3rd level the association solidifies into a firm relationship, which slowly gets deep-rooted. The belief and motivations of one person gets internalized in multiple ways into that of the other person, leading either of the persons to adopt the other’s belief, principles and attitudes. Strong and sustainable bonding is the outcome of such adoption processes.

Likewise, a customer’s response to a brand also follows a similar pattern:

Acceptance happens when a brand pulls a customer through instant promotions; e.g. “Buy One. Get One Free”; “50% Discount before 30th July”; “More you buy, more points you win.” etc. Garnier may launch a sachet pack of its shampoo variants, to woo customers into using the brand. Many consumer electronics brands also use the method to clear their inventories, by giving “Bundled offers” during festive seasons. Although behaviors vary from brand to brand, customers have a general tendency to claim these deals, with little or no regard to the Brand or its values. Additionally, customers tend to shift the moment another brand offers a better deal.

On a longer term this method follows the law of diminishing returns, and hence should not be used too often, unless the Brand itself symbolizes “Discounts” or “Value”. Many retail stores, have followed this method to great success – by making sure that returns are higher than the inventory cost.

Association happens when a brand pulls customers by appealing to their needs – whether emotional or social or rational. As a result customers start identifying themselves with the brands, and hence differentiation occurs between competing brands. When Garnier promotes Fructis shampoo, it’s appealing a customer’s rational need to have stronger hair. It’s not necessary that the customer, even after using the shampoo, will keep on using it forever. Needs might change, or another brand may offer the same need packaged with another one. The linkages here are not strong; therefore constant interactions and experiences are needed to sustain association and convert into long-term Adoption.

ADOPTION happens when the customer looks forward to the same brand to meet multiple needs. Let’s say that the Garnier Fructis shampoo customer had a few experiences with the brand, and has decided to use other variants of Garnier shampoo that meets her other hair care needs – e.g. shiny hair, damaged hair, etc. PLUS starts looking for Garnier for other grooming needs – e.g. skin care, hair color, eye care, etc. A combination of meeting needs in all the above cases, would makes her believe Garnier’s message of “Take Care”.

Adoption is a permanent and deep-rooted experience between a customer and a brand, especially since a customer’s belief about the brand strongly links with their own belief-system – emotionally, socially and rationally. If Innovation is what a customer looks for, repeated associations and interactions with Apple will definitely believe that the brand stands for emotion.

For a brand to be strong, a combination of all the 3 level processes is perhaps needed in some proportions.  Even though the first 2 levels are temporary, there are many ways to develop permanency through these stages. For example, while using Garnier for hair care, a customer discovers that the brand stands for “No Animal Testing”. This realization may motivate the customer to continue with not only the shampoo brand, but also with other Garnier products.

Therefore for a Branding effort to succeed, strategic efforts are needed to develop the relationship at each level, esp. since, like a relationship between 2 individuals, Branding also is a social process, where change is the element that keeps the relationship fresh.

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About shantanu.sengupta
I'm a passionate Strategic Marketing professional who deeply understands the interplay of Technology, Collaboration and Design that drives brand innovation and growth in a post-recession world today. I believe that marketing solutions cannot be found by referring to historical case studies, esp. since no two marketing problems are the same. As a result, instead of adhering to a jargonised approach to marketing, I follow Design Thinking principles, challenge existing norms and processes, and search for innovative ways to solve marketing problems. I specialize in developing and implementing marketing and communication strategies across B2C and B2B channels, with a clear focus on brand development and customer engagement that increases future brand value.

2 Responses to How do customers respond to your Brand?

  1. Kamleshwar says:

    Very insightful !!
    However I would like to know how much branding differs in the case of service companies, like say consulting companies. How do they brand themselves? What kind of branding practices they follow like Deloitte/KPMG, etc.
    Sir please share your thoughts on this. Thanks for your help.

    • shantanusengupta says:

      Branding of consultancy firms (or even product marketing firms) should start from values and differentiation the company offers vis-a-vis competition and marketplace. Branding as a concept is universal for every type of company – product, service or non-profit. Hence principle will not differ at all. However, extent and pattern of the 3 levels talked above will differ. For example, ACCEPTANCE for Mckinsey’s would be faster than say Tata, whereas ASSOCIATION and ADOPTION might take a longer time. Therefore perhaps it would be safer to say that for service companies, it’s a less cluttered battlefield than product companies, ASSOCIATION and ADOPTION hence happen almost simultaneously – if at all.

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