Only eight emotional dimensions drive an impressive 83% of all consumer brand purchasing decisions, with 'pleasure' being cited as the most important dimension - accounting for almost one quarter of all brand choices - according to research by UK-based branding consultancy Creston Unlimited.
The study suggests that, more than anything else, brands can enrich people's lives by offering them fun and indulgence, while other more rational emotional drivers (such as 'effectiveness' and 'saving') were found to drive far fewer brand choices.
The key emotional dimensions that drive brand choices (in descending order of importance) are:
- Pleasure: 23%;
- Confidence: 17%;
- Status: 14%;
- Responsibility: 14%;
- Effectiveness: 11%;
- Individuality: 9%;
- Saving: 7%;
- Belonging: 5%
The research, carried out among 3,500 adult consumers in the UK, identified that the hierarchy and strength of brand dimensions, in terms of how they enrich lives, can change significantly for different sub-groups of the overall adult population. For example, when indexing men and women against the total sample, the emotional value by which brands enrich women's lives was greater across every dimension compared to men. This suggests that a brand targeted at men has to work harder to enrich men's lives than a female-orientated one.
For men, pleasure was the most important dimension, driving 26% of all brand purchasing decisions, but status ranked as the second greatest dimension at 16%, rising to 34% for young men aged 18-24.
The study also found that there were strong links between status and other dimensions, and that this correlation can be very important in terms of building the right kind of status for the market being targeted, because consumers whose status is fuelled by 'belonging' (to a 'cool' group, for example) can be quite different from status fuelled by other factors such as individuality.
For women, the key brand dimension was 'confidence', accounting for 22% of brand decisions. Women like brands to enrich their lives by making them feel safe on several levels (functionally, socially and emotionally). Brands can therefore create strong connections with women by offering different facets of brand confidence, such as physical safety (as offered by Volvo or Domestos), or social safety (as offered by Sanpro or air freshener brands). Another definition of confidence might be 'social conformity and acceptability' - such as offering the right choice of breakfast cereal when guests come to stay.
It was also found that the level of enrichment that brands offer consumers varies according to the presence of children and personal status. For example, brands are often failing to enrich the lives of people who are married or co-habiting and have no children at home. For this group, brand enrichment levels were found to be below average in every dimension examined. However, the reverse was true for single parents, for whom brands bring above average levels of enrichment, especially in dimensions such as pleasure, status and belonging. This suggests a need for escapism, or re-connection with the wider world. With single mothers or fathers rarely being the heroes in advertising, there is a possible opportunity to forge greater connections by tapping into these deep emotions.
Finally, the survey noted that the level of enrichment that brands provide also varies significantly according to income. Individuals earning 15,000 or less per year gain significantly more emotional value from buying brands than those who are wealthier, with brands offering high levels of enrichment to poorer women in particular. Interestingly, for this group, 'saving' remains one of the lowest drivers for their brand decisions, with other dimensions such as pleasure, belonging and responsibility scoring more highly, suggesting that brands offer them a form of escape, re-connection and even validation.
Conversely, brands do surprisingly little to enrich the wealthiest men, with every brand dimension offering below average enrichment. It is only at the most functional level (effectiveness) that men experience anything close to average levels of brand enrichment compared to other consumers. This suggests that a watch brand explaining the workings of the mechanism, or a car brand that highlights what's under the bonnet, and which therefore underpins luxury with effectiveness could possibly generate higher levels of engagement.
"These days, the amount of choice available to consumers is mind-blowing," concluded John Crowther, managing partner for Creston Unlimited. "In a typical large supermarket there are maybe 30,000 different products and the average person sees over 1,000 ads per day. People no longer consume brands: they edit them, and their communications, choosing only a few to interact with. To make the editorial cut, brands must reward consumers in a way that enriches their lives."