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Why do consumers choose one brand over another? Here's what psychology says.

Why do consumers choose one brand over another? Here's what psychology says.

For most marketers, brand loyalty is a particularly interesting topic. We spend large amounts of time trying to figure out how to cultivate it in our target audience, what needs to be done in order to keep it and how to gain it back if it happens to slip.

In some cases, brands get especially lucky. Their marketing tactics promote brand advocacy and inspire consumers to share positive sentiments with peers and loved ones. A tangible example is the almost-immediate realization that a consumer fully represents the exact archetype of a certain brand‘s consumer base; simply by looking at a consumer or hearing their customer values, you’d say to yourself, “they do look like a _____ shopper.”

By no means is this a stereotype or rash generalization, but an observation that speaks to the consumer psychology behind brand demographics and target audiences. It’s also a clear sign that a brand has done an impeccable job at establishing their brand identity and communicating it to the right people.

To delve deeper into this topic, we called on Dr. Banwari Mittal, a marketing professor at Northern Kentucky University and author of "Consumer Psychology: A Modernistic Explanation," and Christen Hansen, a brand and influence expert. They talked to us about brand personality and what makes consumers prefer one brand over another.

Here are the highlights of our conversation: 

Brand personalities often align with personalities of target consumers 

Something of a fundamental rule, many brands know that before they can start making any waves in the marketplace, they must first determine the type of brand they are going to be. In order to do this, they have to figure out what they have to offer.

How will they present themselves out into the market? Is their target market filled with stay-at-home parents or gym fanatics? It’s that specification that helps a brand get one step closer to achieving a personality.

“All brands come to live a life donning a persona, just as all people do. Either a persona is given to them, or they acquire one anyway as they live in consumers’ sociocultural world and consumers make sense of them,” Mittal said.

Brands acquire personalities in four ways. Mittal explained them below:

1. In the way they are born (who created them, how, with what materials and with what look and style)

2. By intentional brand communications — the personality brands create through advertisements

3. By consumers sharing their perceptions: Consumers’ observations on the street of who is using what brand, seeing the brand's ads and celebrities that engage with the brand, brand talk on social media, etc.

4. For brands that do not distinguish themselves in one of the above three ways, they also can acquire the personality of being a generic, almost “brand-free” brand: Most supermarkets and general department stores carry this image.

Consumers then choose their shopping decisions based on two factors: the product or the brand. Those who choose the product, look at the brand as an afterthought. According to Mital, “to these people, shampoo is a shampoo is a shampoo. They believe all shampoos or cereals or paper products or jeans do the job, so why spend more?” These aren’t the typical candidates for brand advocacy.

Then, you have the consumer who consciously chooses a brand. They believe that brands differ both in performance quality and personality, and so as a result, these consumers choose based on their perception of brand personality.

“Certain customers fit certain brands better, because the brand reflects and reinforces the internal narrative customers tell about themselves inside their minds,” Hansen said. “A customer will go to A over B, because it reinforces their positive identity narrative. They want to feel like they are going for higher quality, compared to B’s (perceived) lower quality. Or maybe the classy home decor options from A fit the image they have of themselves of being stylish yet budget-conscious. Whatever the reasons, they choose A because it fits their identity and they feel part of a tribe.”

Hansen says this is partly due to what psychologists call “ingroup bias,” a form of favoritism people have for others who belong in their same group. This bias can occur within socioeconomic backgrounds, belief systems and even the stores where someone shops. 

Ingroup bias often leads people to believe that the people, places or things associated with that group are of a higher standard than those outside the group, otherwise known as the “outgroup.”

“We may prefer to shop somewhere because it perpetuates our sense of identity and tribal belonging. Similarly, we may avoid shopping somewhere else because of 'outgroup bias,' where we judge the people who shop 'there' to be different from us,” said Hansen. “For example, someone may prefer X food establishment to Y, because they see Y customers as people who are 'different' than them. Maybe X provides their food in a way 'that those Y people couldn't handle.' Or maybe they could be telling themselves, 'if I went to Y I'd be waiting behind a person who took forever to order their insanely complicated drink.' And so they prefer the simpler, no frill options at X.”

Mittal expressed the same principle: “[One consumer could be on the lookout for] trust in the performance of a product — basic utility, basic quality without fringe. [They view themselves as] wise and believe it is foolish to spend extra for fancy stores, for fancy brands. [In their eyes], a product can be good without branding, and they can buy many national brands from this store at a value price,” said Mittal. “[Another consumer] wants a smaller, younger, vibrant store where they find designer brands without the exorbitant price.”

To put it plainly, consumers' wants, needs and desires are different. People shop places because of "ingroup bias," or their belief that a brand will further cement their chosen identity, and people choose to avoid places because of "outgroup bias."

Getting a customer to develop such deep loyalty with a brand that they wouldn’t dream of purchasing from a competitor is a huge goal. Understanding the psychology behind why consumers stick heavily beside certain brands is one way you can find similar success.motivate-consumers-urgency-marketing-ebook-cta

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.