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How brands shape consumer attitudes

How brands shape consumer attitudes

There are some statements that stick with you as soon as you hear them. For us, it was the following statement from ONR founder Jason Ten-Pow: “There’s a misconception that customers make that decision [to buy a product], and while that is somewhat true, the reality is that brands and industries set the context for that decision-making.”

Simply put, brands set the tone for consumer-buying decisions. After such an interesting conversation, we couldn’t stop there. How else are brands influencing consumers? We reached out to Yuvay Ferguson, Ph.D., Assistant Dean of Impact and Engagement and Associate Professor of Marketing at Howard University’s School of Business, for an answer to our question.

Here’s what we learned:

The foundation of consumer attitudes

Before a consumer sets their eyes on a product or brand, a few things have to happen. The brand, and its products, have to be developed. And a number of conversations around brand storytelling, product marketing and buyer personas need to be had. 

These conversations help to lay the foundation of one important concept: consumer attitudes. This, Ferguson says, is what sets the tone for a consumer’s behavior during every interaction with your brand.

“The key component is attitude. A couple of theorists, Martin Fishbein and Icek Ajzen, really introduced the marketing world to considering consumer behavior and the attitude that’s formed through consumers’ interactions with a brand,” Ferguson said. “You can have a perfect product, but if for some reason consumers feel negatively, then that’s going to make an impact.”

Encouraging positive consumer attitudes

Building positive attitude formations starts by being clear on what your consumers are looking for and working within those expectations. 

“It can come from how a brand treats their employees, how they’re seen in the news, or how consumers feel when they’re interacting with a brand,” said Ferguson. “All of those things play into how you see a brand. Companies need to focus on their target audience and ensure that they feel positively about your brand beyond the purchase process.”

This isn’t just a strong strategy for cultivating a brand that has a defined audience — it also works well for satisfying consumers who prioritize their belief systems. If you’ve had your ears to the ground lately, you may have noticed consumer emphasis on topics like ethical consumerism and/or diversity.

These are growing concerns for consumers but they aren’t anything new. Ferguson says people haven’t changed. It’s that companies' realization of how people actually process a brand has changed. 

“When targeted marketing first started happening and people thought, 'Hey, we should have some diversity in our ads, let’s put some Black people in our ads,' they were thinking, 'we have Black consumers, we should talk to them,' but they weren’t understanding nuances,” said Ferguson. “Instead, they’d show scenarios that weren’t authentic to Black people.”

What’s the issue with this? Marketing messages that don’t resonate with consumers, can slowly turn them away from brands in search of another company that will better suit their needs. 

“While it might not be a one-to-one: 'I saw the ad, and I don’t like it anymore,' [it may be that the consumer] slowly starts to have an association with the brand that is 'this isn’t MY brand, it’s not for me,' ” said Ferguson. “Fortunately, companies have evolved, and marketing has become so sophisticated that we’re able to understand all of the nuances that a consumer goes through as they’re building their attitude towards a brand.”

Spending time and resources on understanding your target audience can make a huge impact on how consumers behave in connection with your brand. One major focus, Ferguson says, should be on cultural and generational competency — specifically in the messaging and imagery that’s being displayed to consumers. 

“Gen Z and younger millennials are very big on: 'I can’t think positively about you if your social justice activity is not there, you’re not thinking sustainably.' Previous generations aren’t so fixated on the environment,” said Ferguson. “[Ask yourself,] what are the demographics of your target audience? What are their psychographics? What are their generational attributes that may box in how they see a company?”

Brands have major responsibilities, one of which being their role in creating and maintaining positive consumer attitudes. Elements of your brand, from your messaging to your reputation, impact how consumers look at and feel about your brand.


Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.

Picture of Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener

Lindsay Keener is a brand journalist for Quikly. She covers stories that help to inform and educate consumer-facing marketers.