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Brand Echo: Transmitting Brand Preferences

Transmitting brand preferences through the ages

Man and babyDespite my mother’s insistence, I could not for the life of me find a significant difference between Heinz ketchup and generic house brand ketchup (or is it CATSUP?!), except for the price. Even today the 64 oz. Heinz bottle costs $4.75 while the same sized ShopRite bottle costs $3.85 (I just checked on NetGrocer.com). That’s a 23.3 percent premium for brand loyalty. I think I’ll stick with the generic brand, thank you.

Yet if you call my two sisters and ask them about ketchup, they’ll tell you that they prefer and buy only Heinz. Therein rests the power of generational branding. My parents transmitted their brand preference to two out of three children. And if each subsequent generation transmits that preference to two children and to at least one spouse each (not counting divorces and remarriages), then in theory my parents will have transmitted their Heinz preference to something like 28 individuals in three subsequent generations (children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren).

The ketchup example shows that brand preferences can be transmitted from person to person. Even when my parents and my sisters could agree on little else, ketchup remained sacrosanct. And we can deduce some of the primary mechanisms for transmitting this brand preference, namely, the emotional association of a brand with a beloved parent, the habituation to the physical characteristics of the product such as its taste, texture, or smell; a socio-economic preference, perhaps as an expression of status or social class; or simply the force of habit. It’s obvious that the mechanisms don’t operate at a rational level, but instead convey the brand’s emotional content through a complex web of associations.

For every possible means of transmitting a brand preference, perhaps the most important variable is time, and in generational branding time is on your side. The opposite is true of transmitting brand preferences outside a family, especially if you consider author James B. Twitchell’s claim that a consumer sees between 2,500 and 3,000 advertising messages every day. To approximate the power of generational branding outside the family requires branding programs that embed a brand into a consumer’s daily routine.

Some marketers have taken a tactical approach to insinuating brands into social interactions. In buzz marketing, for example, marketers inject brand messages into consumers’ everyday discourse, often by stealth. They employ attractive models who engage in public consumption, as well as “thought leaders,” celebrities, and putative journalists who endorse brands for money. Buzz marketing is tactical in that it delivers a short-term sales blip (making it fine for a product launch), but it doesn’t build brand value in a systematic way. It’s a variation on classical, top-down marketing in that the endorsers are not genuine members of the brand community.

In contrast, achieving the kind of effect we see in generational branding requires a bottom-up approach that cultivates relationships with true brand devotees who, in turn, can transmit their brand preferences to others. As in generational branding, this takes both time and social interaction: time exposed to the brand and social interaction in which to impress the brand preference on others. The challenge for marketers is twofold. First you must earn the consumer’s attention by providing useful and enlightening content outside the context of the purchase or use of the product. Then you need programs that support social interactions with and among consumers, whether through Web sites, events, clubs, or other promotions. Given enough time and enough social interaction, your best customers may eventually become the best promoters for your brand. “Anticipation…. is keeping me waiting.” END

David M. Kalman is the president of Terrella Media, Inc.