A (Religious) Brand Experience: The Science of Brand Devotion
November 6, 2008 ‐ 1 comment
If you’ve ever encountered eye-rolling at your assertion that shopping is a religious experience, you may now revel in vindication. In his new book Buyology, Martin Lindstrom explains that the neural region that governs buying habits and brand allegiance is the very spot that lights up in response to religious iconography. Lindstrom elaborates that it is the act of partaking in rituals surrounding certain brands – “such as putting a lime wedge in a Corona or slowly pouring a Guinness” - that keeps us coming back for more. (As does the alcohol content of said products. We’re just saying.) Brand enthusiasts, does this terminology of almost spiritual brand devotion and ritualization sound familiar? With its echoes of the Symbolic Frame, Lindstrom’s findings will resonate with adherents to the gospel of Terrence Deal and Lee Bolman. Though Deal and Bolman’s focus is the loyalty within organizational cultures (rather than allegiance to retail products), they too attest to the significance of rites, traditions, and symbols in creating brand allegiance. Like the Corona drinker’s ritual of stuffing a lime wedge into the bottleneck time and again, when the ladies and gentlemen of Ritz-Carlton confer for their daily lineup, they know exactly what to expect: they will discuss one of the Ritz’s 12 Service Values, important departmental news, and any issues from the day before. Similarly, the strict adherence to calling one another “ladies and gentlemen” is a crucial tool in creating a unified culture. According to Deal and Bolman, such linguistic and ritualistic consistencies inspire loyalty and unity within an organization. We’ve long been fervent believers in Deal and Bolman’s theories, and now we’re rejoicing in Lindstrom’s assertion that it’s not flashy, fleeting images of products in ad campaigns that sell; rather, products that create meaning to the consumer are what ultimately inspire repeat buying. Successful brands resonate because they create a valuable experience, and, as Lindstrom’s MRI’s unequivocally tell us, quite literally get stuck in our heads. What makes your brain’s branding synapses fire? Is it the act of stirring a sugar packet into your daily Peet’s beverage, or twisting apart an Oreo? At work, is there a ritual that keeps you motivated? Tell us about brands that inspire your devotion – we’d love to know.
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Bret Kinsella
December 13, 2008 8:53 am
The findings are logical. People define themselves in part by their associations. Work, clubs, alumnae associations and yes religions. We are what we do, have done and are associated with. As people associate themselves with brands, they add color to who they are. A adherent to the iPhone / iPod may be (or merely think of themselves) as hip or technologically cutting edge. Someone loyal to Toyota may think of themselves as practical and efficient. Private label consumers may be cost conscious and feel good about getting a good deal on comparable products. The sale of Hybrid vehciles prior to the run up in oil prices was often a sign of a "green" lifestyle. I am sure not all brands you buy create the same "association" connection as religion. And, I suspect the presence of similarity of brain activity between brands and religion doesn't necessarily indicate the intensity of the feeling. However, in a small way, you would expect similar connections of association. On the brand front, I favor Oakley.

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