We all have that friend who has to have the newest Louis Vuitton handbag despite the countless alternatives at a tenth of the price. Or the teen who "will just die" if he doesn't sport the new kicks from the Nike Class of '97 Pack, which (in addition to making him a better player) says as much about him as an individual as they do an athlete.

What drives that type of obsessive behavior in people?

Simply put, it is love—brand love. The same kind of love that brings two people together also connects consumers and brands at an emotional level. By touching consumers on a deep, subconscious level, brands elicit what some would classify as crazy behavior. There's no mistaking the power of love.

We've known for decades that brand success is empowered by consumer emotion. A whopping 95% of purchasing decisions take place in the subconscious mind, according to Harvard Business School professor Gerald Zaltman's book How Customers Think: Essential Insights into the Mind of the Market.

Three essentials of a loving relationship

Honing in on one of our deepest and most powerful emotions, the principles of human relationship science tell us there are three essential components of a loving relationship:

  1. Chemistry
  2. Needs fulfillment
  3. Compatibility

The same holds true in relationships between consumers and brands.

Chemistry is that unexplainable excitement when the heart outraces the mind. It generates a sense of excitement often accompanied by what may be considered irrational desire. Luxury brands, for example, benefit from strong chemistry that drives consumer price insensitivities.

Needs fulfillment occurs at both an emotional and rational level. Identifying rational needs is easier than identifying emotional needs—the automobile needs to seat six passengers versus the vehicle should provide a certain social status.

The compatibility component is the foundation for a lasting relationship—and brand loyalty—and calls for finding common ground on values and principles.

Those emotional responses occur in the subconscious, delivering an immediate gut reaction, followed by rationalization of that reaction.

Moreover, marketing scientists have found that as consumers build emotional attachments to brands over time, they rely on "emotional shortcuts" to simplify purchasing decisions. For example, customers may order Coke without consciously considering the long list of menu alternatives.

So, how do marketers access the subconscious if consumers are unable to do so for themselves?

Enter modern-day brand matchmaking, incorporating...

  1. Compatibility matching algorithms based on human relationship science. For example, the success of matchmaking sites such as eHarmony (a service that now accounts for 5% of marriages in the US with a divorce rate at least 16% below the national average) is driven by compatibility matching algorithms.
  2. New highly-interactive survey tools designed to "tease out" consumers' emotional relationships with brands on a large-scale, like never before.

But why has the ability to reliably measure emotional brand connections on a large-scale previously been so elusive?

Traditional quantitative survey methods have struggled to capture emotional insights with their standard 5-point scale methods because they yield rational responses even when consumers are asked about emotions.

As for qualitative research tools like focus groups, those allow marketers to obtain important insights into consumers' emotions towards their brands but don't provide the "critical mass" organizations need to confidently develop breakthrough business strategies.

Understanding emotional data

Emotional data provides marketers with unprecedented insights proven to predict consumer actions, such as the willingness to pay a premium for a product, engage with a brand on social media, or even tune into a specific TV series. In fact, our own large-scale study conducted across industries with more than 250 brands and 6,000 respondents confirms how brand love correlates with such consumer behaviors.

We've put this into practice with many clients, including a financial services firm in the global retail bank and credit card issuer industry looking to identify the drivers of love within this relatively rational category.

As one might expect, rational needs fulfillment is a significant factor for consumers when choosing a business in the category—convenience of branches, competitive interest rates, etc.

What isn't so obvious is the role of compatibility. Consumers also select a bank based on how it lines up with their personal philosophy on setting and achieving financial goals—a somewhat subconscious yet highly emotional aspect of the relationship, among other emotional drivers. Understanding this core element of love allowed the brand to create a marketing communications strategy infused with emotion-based attributes to strengthen its global brand.

Now that reliably measuring emotional brand connections on a large-scale is no longer elusive, marketers can harness powerful information to help their brands become the Louis Vuitton or Nike of their respective categories.

Some key steps for marketers to increase and harness consumer love for their brands include...

1. Understanding the drivers of love for your category and brand

Are consumers more heavily motivated by the excitement surrounding a brand (chemistry), the functional and/or emotional need it meets (needs fulfillment) or the principles and values it stands for (compatibility)?

2. Knowing your target consumer

What is most important to your target consumer? Though you can optimally position your brand to deepen emotional connections with your broader consumer base, you will realize the greatest impact if you align your brand emotionally with your most important consumers.

3. Determining the white space for your brand

Once you know the drivers of love for the category and understand what matters most to your target consumers, you can find the white space that will differentiate your brand from the competition and deepen the emotional connection with your consumers.

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What Drives That Crazy Little Thing Called Brand Love

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image of Jeff Meleski

Jeff Meleski is chief executive officer and managing partner of Coherency (previously Chatter Inc.), a marketing insights and strategy agency expert in deciphering the emotional and rational drivers of consumer behavior.

LinkedIn: Jeff Meleski