I know a guy who gets up in the morning and takes a shower with Lever 2000 soap and Head and Shoulders shampoo. He shaves with Edge gel, using a Gillette Mach 3 razor; finishes with Old Spice aftershave and Speed Stick deodorant. He brushes his teeth with a Sonicare toothbrush and Crest toothpaste and flosses with Johnson and Johnson floss.
An Izod shirt, Dockers pants, and Rockport loafers are typical. Breakfast is Raisin Bran, Thomas’s English muffin, Land-O-Lakes butter and Minute Maid orange juice. He heads to work with a mug of Dunkin Donuts coffee sweetened with Splenda.
Ok, Sherlock, so it’s me. But I didn’t make this up. I can’t get out the door without using 20 brands or more, and here are two points about every one of those brands: I’ve been using them for years and I haven’t thought for a moment about changing them. When it’s time for a replacement the decision is automatic-get another one. And, of course, it’s because I trust these brands implicitly. So much so that my loyalty to them is essentially second nature, even unconscious. It’s a little ironic that a guy like me who spends my work days thinking about brands–taking them apart and putting them back together–hardly thinks about most of my own daily brand choices that much. When did I start using Speed Stick? It’s so long ago, I can’t remember.
What would make me change one of these brands? Not much. A free sample? Maybe. A coupon for another brand? Probably not. Because making an unconscious brand choice isn’t about money for me, it’s about keeping a mundane task simple and about not wasting mental energy (of which I have a limited supply). Ultimately it saves time and that’s as good as money in many cases, especially for less-than-exciting purchases like deodorant and dental floss.
Brand experts often talk about engagement with brands. How it’s a true measure of brand equity. But they often imply that this is a highly conscious, top-of-mind exercise and give examples such as sweepstakes, product promotions and social media likes, clicks and shares. But this conveniently ignores the fact that large portions of their loyal buyers would hardly describe themselves as engaged with their deodorant, their cereal or their heating oil company. They don’t consciously think about many of their brand purchases for more than a few seconds. It’s simply “get more.” They haven’t become evangelists for the brand (I have never recommended my deodorant to anyone), and they don’t chatter about most of them on Facebook.
This is not to say that everyone is locked into the same brand choices. Some people are more adventurous. Some people like variety and trying new products. Shopper marketing and couponing can be very effective. And certainly economic pressures can cause a person to switch brands. Even then, surveys have shown that many people when faced with the inability to purchase their preferred brand for one reason or another, would rather go without (not deodorant, I hope) than purchase an alternative brand they don’t know.
And of course all this assumes that the brand experience of my deodorant and other brands stays the substantially the same. A new package? No problem. Discontinue my particular scent? That could be a problem. It just might get me to try another brand, though undoubtedly one that I know.
The unconscious nature of brands applies far more broadly than what it takes to get me out the door, of course. Consider an ongoing business-to-business relationship for a product or service. Each time a company needs pencils and pens, they are far more likely to go to the office supply company they used the last time than go through a considered purchase process. For the higher cost and more complex services of, say, an engineering firm, the purchase may be analyzed, thought out, and otherwise carefully considered. But in more cases than not, the client will call the engineering firm they trust the most before engaging any others. The engineering firm that maintains a solid experience and satisfied customers creates an unconscious brand decision as much as my deodorant brand.
So while much a marketer’s goal has to be focused on getting new customers to think about their brand and make a conscious choice to buy, in another sense, their ultimate goal is to get them to do exactly the opposite. Call it blind loyalty, or subconscious affinity if you like, but customers who make automatic brand choices without thinking are the most satisfied (and profitable) customers of all.