Strong customer-brand relationships matter; marketers know that the modern consumer not only has high expectations when it comes to product, pricing and service but more importantly they want to engage with brands and form a relationship.
Studies show that consumers often treat brands as relationship partners in much the same way that they treat each other in an interpersonal context.
Being attracted to certain brand is one thing but being emotionally attached takes the customer- brand relationship to a different, more significant level. An emotional bond is positively associated with brand loyalty.
We know that loyal customers are much more likely to recommend, purchase and revisit the brand, while at the same time they are resilient to negative information and often defend the brand from negative criticism.
What creates a loyal customer?
To find out we need to understand some basic psychology and in particular the attachment theory.
This is one of the most well researched frameworks in the field of relational psychology, and can shed a light on how and why consumers form emotional connections to brands.
One of the most basic human needs is the desire to form strong emotional attachments with others. Think of love. The definition of love is a complex one however, in its simplest form, can be defined as an emotional bond that breeds a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person.
According to the attachment theory, people are pre-programmed to form emotional attachment with other people.
This process begins in infancy when an attachment is formed with the primary caregiver, and continues through the adult stage with romantic relationships.
Three attachment styles emerged from the experiment:
The emotional bond that develops between romantic partners is based on the same motivational system that gives rise to the bond between infant and caregiver.
According to the Journal of Personality & Social Psychology:
“Almost everyone falls into one of the three categories: secure, anxious, or avoidant. About 20% of people are anxious, 25% fall into the avoidant camp, and the remaining 55% are considered secure”
In a romantic loving relationship we experience a deep emotional connection when we feel that our partner cares about us and makes sure that our needs are satisfied. So the more our needs are satisfied, the more we love that person and the more we express our loyalty and commitment to them.
There are certain traits that describe each attachment style:
Secure - Low on avoidance, low on anxiety, interdependent: willing to rely or depend on the partner and able to be emotionally close to the partner, don’t fear rejection.
Anxious: Low on avoidance, high on anxiety. Crave closeness and intimacy, want to be emotionally close yet feel insecure about the relationship.
Avoidant: High on avoidance, high on anxiety. Self-sufficient, often uncomfortable with intimacy and primarily value independence and freedom. Find it difficult to foster interdependence and commitment.
From romantic to brand relationships, style matters…
Commercial relationships behave in similar ways to personal relationships.
In essence, consumers develop attachments, both cognitive and emotional, to brands that can be counted on to fulfil their needs.
All of these attachment styles can influence the consumer behaviour and help explain why consumers prefer certain brands.
“Brand love is the degree of passionate emotional attachment that a satisfied consumer has for a particular brand name” Aaron Ahuvia Professor of Marketing Michigan University.
Several psychological studies conclude that attachment styles predict consumers' reactions to brands and recent research focuses on classifying consumers based on the two dimensions of avoidance and anxiety.
Study results show that anxious attachment style people prefer sincere brand personalities and tend to be attached with it; when they like a brand they form a relationship with it.
Avoidant attachment style people have stronger relationships with brand perceived to be exciting. However they are unlikely to be attached to any particular brand. They are more brand sensitive. The change in a brand’s personality may cause their behaviour towards the brand to change as well.
They also do not invest much emotion in relationships. For this reason, they might prefer a particular brand over another but they are not likely to be attached to it so will try new brands in the market.
With intense competition, building relationships based on emotional connectedness is what can take a brand ahead of the game. Seeking to understand customer attachment styles can help you select and invest in relationships with the right customers, those who believe in your products or services, while at the same eliminate investing in short lived customers.
Zana Apostolova is a Business & Consumer Psychologist