- When customers buy luxury brands, they invest as much in the company’s reputation as in the product.
- Brand loyalty is often compared to personal loyalty, and marketers even speak of brands as having 'personality'.
- The entire thrust of consumer societies is towards over-consumption of goods and services that raise carbon emissions and endanger the planet.
When customers buy luxury brands, they invest as much in the product's reputation as they are in the product. This phenomenon is built on ancient social conformity, and consumers pay through the nose for a benefit that is often more social and cognitive than material.
Brands as Belief Conformity
A brand is essentially a self-fulfilling prophecy. Consumers learn that a particular brand is the most popular while assuming it must reflect superior quality. This belief reinforces repeat purchases as the consumer develops brand loyalty.
Brand loyalty is partly the product of a Darwinian struggle among rivals where products having design weaknesses get selected, ensuring that surviving brands are minimally good quality.
Brand loyalty is often compared to personal loyalty, and marketers even speak of brands having personality. A brand of footwear might be associated with rugged individuality and with healthy living, for example. When a brand personality is consistent with a person’s own personality, this strengthens brand loyalty
There is much about highly irrational brand loyalty, but it is irrationality that defines humans as a social species. One of the more prominent features of brand fidelity is that it is based upon social conformity. Social conformity can help us to thrive in many different settings. We are all more likely to survive if we agree on rules like driving on the same side of the road.
The downside of conformity is that poor decisions are often socially propagated, which may be why entertainment that is mediocre, formulaic, and incites visceral thrills makes more money than alternatives that call for deep reflection.
The Wisdom of the Crowd
Although group decisions often favor mediocrity, they have the advantage of mainly being more right than wrong. From that perspective, buying a respected brand is one method of handling the indecision of selecting a product.
If a self-driving car crashes into a tree and bursts into flames, the manufacturer’s brand loyalty and brand value suffer. Similarly, if exercise equipment injures a child, this is very bad for business.
If products generate such problematic outcomes, they are unlikely to be, or to remain, top brands.
So, going with dominant brands can be interpreted as a form of risk management.
While it makes sense to pay more for brand names if they guarantee some level of quality, people spend far more for top brands than this cognitive decision-making aspect would appear to merit, particularly in the Internet age when most information is free.
The Role of Price and Advertising
Why does a luxury brand cost so much more than a “Brand Y” alternative? There may well be an added element of quality control, but this is not always true.
Indeed, for some products, such as fashionable shoes, there is generally some distinction based on styling but very little in manufacturing quality. In many cases, luxury brands and cheaper shoes are made from the same materials using the same processes at the same factory, possibly in China.
The difference between name-brand products and their lesser-known competitors often reduces to the brand itself. Companies spend a lot of money on advertising and promotions to maintain the strength of the brand and the loyalty of customers. For its part, the brand is essentially a product of marketing.
In essence, customers value a product mainly because companies spend a lot of money convincing us how good it is. This is highly irrational from an economic perspective but makes more sense when one considers that the consumer is not purely interested in buying quality but also purchases status and self-esteem by advertising their capacity to buy “the best.”
The Fearless Consumer
Consumerism is a philosophy of life that springs into existence as societies become more economically developed and discretionary income rises. Most purchases are disconnected from basic biological needs in this social environment and serve instead to satisfy psychological needs.
These include a desire to communicate high social status and success and be fashionable and politically astute by avoiding products that have unpleasant connotations, such as furs from endangered species and gas-guzzling cars.
Ironically, the entire thrust of consumer societies is towards over-consumption of goods and services that raise carbon emissions and endanger the planet. This contradiction spurs many producers of name-brand goods to emphasize their climate awareness and publicize their efforts to establish circular economies and reduce their carbon emissions. To do less would be to bring their operations into disrepute and to injure brand loyalty and brand value.