A new research study from the USC Marshall School of Business suggests that attachment to certain brands or products might be much stronger than consumers think.
The study, based on surveys and real purchase data, determined that people form emotional bonds with popular brands such as Apple products, Quaker Oats Oatmeal and even local universities like USC. These bonds can be so strong that people can suffer separation anxiety if they are denied their favorite brands or products, according to the study.
Three USC faculty members — C. Whan Park, professor of marketing, Deborah MacInnis, vice dean of research and professor of business administration, and Joseph Priester, associate professor of marketing — conducted the study, which was recently published in the November issue of the Journal of Marketing.
Andreas Eisingerich, an assistant professor of marketing at the Imperial College Business School in London, and Dawn Iacobucci, a professor of marketing at Vanderbilt University, also contributed to the study.
One of the goals of this study was to address the differences between brand attachment and attitude strength and to analyze these in terms of behavioral outcomes, MacInnis said.
“We felt that brand attachment and attitude strength were fundamentally different concepts,” she said.
In order to test this hypothesis, the authors conducted a series of four different studies, which asked respondents to indicate their attachment to certain items such as Nike shoes, the Apple iPod and local universities.
The researchers found that, not only did people have strong attachments to certain brands, but they were also willing to exert extra effort to obtain these products.
“When people are highly attached to a particular product or service, they tend to go above and beyond the simple purchasing act,” Park said.
This could include spending more money on the product, paying less attention to competing brands, forgiving mistakes that the particular brand makes and defending the brand against negative input from other sources, he said.
Robyn Wolfish, a sophomore majoring in public relations, said her attachment to Apple products began after she bought an iPod.
“I felt compelled to get a MacBook to go with my Apple iPod,” she said, adding that she also plans on buying an iPhone when it comes out through Verizon Wireless. “It makes me feel trendy and ahead of the game.”
In addition, consumers’ attachment to brands was strikingly similar to their attachment to other people, the study said.
“People who are attached to other people suffer a great deal emotionally when a person dies or they end a relationship,” MacInnis said.
Relationships with specific brands or products are no different, she said.
Sam Trevino, a sophomore majoring in geology, said he thinks people get attached to brands if they feel a brand meets their specific needs.
“People like brands if they feel like their interests are somehow completely aligned with a brand name,” he said.
Though this study proves the strength of brand attachment, researchers said they are now trying to discover why this attachment forms and how they can use it as a marketing tool.
“The next step is to understand why people develop attachments,” MacInnis said. “What is their mechanism for being attached to some brands and not others?”
Park said he has determined three factors that are instrumental in creating strong attachments.
The brand, he said, needs to be entertaining, self-enabling and enriching.
“If a brand has only one of these three, attachment may not be strong,” Park said. “But if a brand possess more than one, or all three, we can expect attachment to get very strong.”
Park said he hopes to spend more time addressing the issue of creating and sustaining attachment.
“There will be many more interesting things to come,” he said.