Take a look around you today, you are constantly being subjected to marketing and advertising. Every single one of them calling for your attention to a product or service tied to a brand.

All of us today are becoming more cynical and averse to marketing and advertising. At least, we would like to think so, wouldn’t we? It is nice to think that we have become smarter customers, shoppers who are more “resistant” to advertising and not as gullible as other people, or the customers of old.

But are we really?

Why do you prefer Brand X to Brand Y? Let’s delve into the concept of brand bias and find out.

The Fight for Your Hearts, Minds, and Wallets — Brand Bias

What is a brand? And what does branding even actually mean? Start-ups constantly fight to get their name and brand out there. Large corporations spend from a huge marketing budget to keep their brand relevant. There’s a reason why getting your brand onto every screen and into every household is important to create brand loyalty and to ensure that customers will constantly stay aware of them.

Top-of-Mind Awareness

If I asked you to think of fast food, big yellow arches immediately comes to mind, followed by the other fast food chains. This process is known as top-of-mind awareness and it is how each of us ranks brands in our minds.

Companies spend billions and do anything short of waging war to not only ensure that their brand ranks first in your mind, but anchor themselves there. There are brands that have been so successful at this, that their brand name outright replaces the actual generic name or term to become common nomenclature.

Examples of brands that have replaced the generic name of the products include:

  • “Tupperware”,
  • “Band-aid”,
  • “Escalator”,
  • “Styrofoam”,
  • “Google”,
  • “Jacuzzi”
  • and many more.

And when I say many, I mean it. In fact, if you look up a list of brand names that have ingrained themselves into everyday use to describe something, you’d realise that you may be more easily influenced than you actually think. And climbing to the peak is not the whole battle. The most popular soda in the world spends billions each year to ensure that they stay firmly clamped at first place in your mind.

How Your Loyalty to a Brand is Bought

paying for roasted chestnuts
Image Credit: Francesco Paggiaro from Pexels

We all have our go-to brands whenever we go out shopping. For example, if we need groceries, we gravitate towards the brands that we trust or feel have the best quality and value.

Not much can change our minds in that regard unless something is done to break our behavioural pattern through direct intervention such as free samples being handed out. What the brands are really trying to do is change our habits and buying patterns by changing our opinion.

Why The Shopper’s Opinion Matter in Brand Bias

Our opinion.

That is the most important factor when it comes to how we choose which brands to buy from. If we feel good about a brand morally and trust that same brand to deliver a quality product with good value, chances are we are going to stay loyal to that brand. Simple as that.

There is a well-known saying that goes “the court of public opinion has no due process”. This is usually in reference to high-profile court cases where the media is utilized to sway public opinion. This also applies to brands except instead of the media, it is the relationship that is being built between the companies and their customers.

The constant battle being fought to stay in the good graces of the public has left the battlefield littered with the broken remains of seemingly invincible companies that were shattered upon the anvil of public outrage.

While there are many brands which have historically stood out for bad reasons, I will choose an infamous example. This brand’s rise and eventual fall is still being taught in business schools as a cautionary tale to this day.

This is the Story of the Schlitz Beer Brand.

elevate beer
Image Credit: Elevate Beer | Unsplash

Schlitz was one of the largest and most popular beers and brewery in the United States from the 1940s to the 1950s. After that time period, however, Schlitz was dethroned by Budweiser as the most popular, and best-selling beer. In a doomed attempt to save money and ramp up production to retake their crown, the owner, Robert Uihlein Jr., began substituting ingredients for lower quality, cheaper ingredients such as replacing malted barley with corn syrup.

These changes were made slowly and over a long period in an attempt not to arouse suspicions from their drinkers as they believed small incremental changes would go unnoticed.

However, one of the later changes involved adding silica gel to the beer, to keep it looking natural as it was chilled. Yes that silica gel, the stuff inside those tiny bags that manufacturers use to keep goods dry.

silica gel packets
Image Credit: Pixabay

In a shady attempt to keep that ingredient from being officially declared and to prevent the public from finding out, they added yet another ingredient and process to “stabilise” the beer. Unfortunately, this had an unforeseen reaction with the beer leading to tiny white flakes floating inside the beer which looked disgusting. Many uncharitably and bluntly compared the beer to looking like snot.

Beer drinkers dropped Schlitz like last year’s fashion trends and desperate attempts to regain public favour was ill-fated. Nothing worked leading to Schlitz’s eventual demise and acquisition.

Modern Day Chicanery

lies within the truth
Image Credit: Pixabay

These days, however, companies are way more savvy in gaining your loyalty.  How do they do it? By using a technique and strategy called “anchoring”.

An “anchor” helps to sway buyers into making an emotional decision as opposed to a logical one.

Here is a scenario: your Internet Service Provider (ISP) offers 3 different plans:

  • Plan A is 10 Mbps on outdated broadband and costs $20 a month.
  • Plan B is 20 Mbps on the newer fibre optic network and costs $18 a month.
  • Plan c is 50 Mbps on the fibre optic network as well and costs $30 a month.

Do you see it now? Plan A is the “anchor”, and in other words, it is a trap. It’s a throwaway plan and acts as an “anchor” for consumers to compare the other plans to, scoff at and feel like they are getting great value by subscribing to Plan B or Plan C AND to also make us feel like we are “outsmarting” the company without realizing that this is precisely what they want us to do and feel.

And if you think this is an exaggerated example, it is not. These numbers were derived from a real ISP, and only the speeds and numbers were changed.

chef putting garnish in restaurant
Image Credit: Fabrizio Magoni | Unsplash

Restaurants do this as well. In order to sell a more expensive dish such as lobster, steak or fish, that may cost $50 or more, they may price a lower quality dish like a meatloaf at $25 to make you feel like its better value to get the more expensive option.

When you see an item at a display window, you may see a price tag with the word SALE, and USUAL PRICE  X, NEW PRICE Y. Sometimes, it may not even be a sale at all. The original price was the same all along and they only made it seem like there is a sale to lower the buyer’s inhibition.

This also explains how you might tend to impulse buy something you might not need, but that is a topic for another article in this series.

How Do You Know Which Brands to Trust?

The short answer is, you cannot be 100% sure. Savvy companies usually have policies in place to keep customers loyal. A loyalty program, a trade-in program, excellent after-sales support, customer service and more.

All of these exist to make the customer feel good about that brand and feel like they care about and value the consumer — which in and of itself is not a bad thing. Companies should strive to put their customers at the top of their minds so that we, as consumers, would think of them first.

chalk question mark
Image Credit: Pixabay

Of course, there will be brands such as the old Schlitz beer company which will try to cut costs at your expense.

This is why you should research brands carefully and seek out genuine customer reviews before making any purchase. Be objective and always try to find out more information and not make impulse buys at a company that just seems a little iffier than the rest.

Trying to be brand agnostic is a real possibility, but it is very difficult because of how the finesse and how slick marketing can be these days.

To that end, we all know that one person who adores a certain brand and will reject other brands instinctively. These brand evangelists are exactly what these companies want  — to keep these customers happy, loyal and more importantly, invested in their eco-system.

Ultimately though, being loyal to a brand isn’t a bad thing. Being loyal to a bad brand, that’s the real situation you want to avoid.

Why you are loyal

So we know companies work really hard to earn your loyalty. But do they really work? let us examine a few reasons why you may be loyal to a brand.

  1. Hereditary/habitual
    • Maybe your parents used a certain type of detergent and you grew up with it. As a result, the scent of the detergent evokes childhood memories. Or the simpler reason is that you use it because your parents did. Barring any big changes such as the detergent company changing their formula or scent, it’s likely you will be loyal till your end of days.
  2. Loyalty programs
    • These function purely as a way to keep customers with the brand. This is especially so in the ever-changing world of tech gadgets and products. Smartphones are a good example. To prevent users from jumping ship (despite it being easy with minimal hassle) companies usually offer a trade-in or a step up program allowing users to trade in their old device for the newest model every year.
  3. Customer service
    • You ever hear of the common saying “customer service is a lost art”? Large corporations have a particularly bad reputation for outsourcing customer care overseas to save costs. Add the excruciatingly long phone menu where you have to press a bunch of buttons and listen to long pre-recorded messages before being put through to an actual human being. This is why smaller companies and start-ups tout excellent, personable and responsive customer service and guess what. It works.
  4. Identity
    • A common strategy that brands wield is to make customers feel like this brand is part of them. Gaming peripheral companies, clothing, lifestyle and many others do their best to ingratiate themselves with a specific crowd and if done successfully, usually creates strong bonds of loyalty.

Shop Smarter With ShopBack

The next time you find yourself preferring one brand over the other, ask yourself how it will affect what you buy. Are you necessarily getting a better deal or are you just getting a brand because it makes you feel good?

To reward you for becoming a smarter shopper, here’s a treasure chest code to be unlocked on the app: SF2018″.

Simply key in the code in our treasure chest and get a prize (it could be cashback or coupon codes) on us!

*Featured Image Credit: David Lezcano | Unsplash