Take a moment and think about the last time you bought paper towels. How long did you stand in the supermarket aisle, surveying various options and weighing the pros and cons of each one? If you’re like most people, you probably didn’t spend much time thinking about it, and made your purchase decision based on thought shortcuts, or heuristics, which are often used for low-involvement decisions, such as which type of paper towels to buy.
A 2009 study on Purchase-Decision Involvement (PDI) demonstrated that many everyday purchase decisions are low-involvement, affective (feelings-driven) versus cognitive (thought-driven) and based on attributes of the brand versus attributes of the product itself.
Because of consumers’ low involvement in decision-making for everyday products, marketers of household brands can take advantage of one well-known heuristic tactic, the association principle. Per Cialdini’s description of the association principle, consumers will respond to a product itself in the same way they respond to things they like in an advertisement. Essentially, they associate the positive thoughts they have towards, say, an advertisement’s attractive model or heartwarming message, with the product itself.
It should be noted that in this digital age, the term “advertisement” can be extended to a variety of corporate messaging, including advertising, social media presence, blog posts, press releases, marketing collateral, website content, public appearances of brand representatives, and press coverage, which is all available, and widely discussed, online. These elements combine to form an overall brand personality.
To maximize the influence of the association principle, brand communications professionals must develop specific brand personalities that allow consumers to align themselves with the values of the organization. In his book, Engage! The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web, Brian Solis, a digital analyst, sociologist, and futurist tells us that brand personality is formed by the “shared attitudes, values, goals, and practices that characterize an organization.” These personality attributes “help define, strengthen, and protect the brand… culture is at the epicenter of affinity. There must be a cultural fit between you and your customers.”
This brings us to an important point: the focus on the association principle and heuristic purchase decision-making cannot be discussed without addressing the particular importance of a consumer’s perceived similarity with, and therefore liking of, a brand.
Interpersonal similarity is widely considered an element of liking, which increases influence. Cialdini cites a perfect example: “One researcher who examined the sales records of insurance companies found that customers were more likely to buy insurance when a salesperson was like them in age, religion, politics, and cigarette-smoking habits (Evans, 1963.)” Of course, a brand cannot have the same attributes as a person, but can personify specific values, which a customer will also identify with as similar.
Sally Hogshead, a world-renowned brand consultant and speaker, mirrors this belief in her Book, Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation, saying “people bond more quickly with others who have similar values and traits to their own,” and offers a specific way for brands to help customers recognize a cultural fit: “to accelerate trust, a message can tap into values that extend over time.”
A perfect example: P&G’s “Thank you Mom” campaign, which aligned its messaging to the longstanding value of parental love, through a series of advertisements, and supporting social media content, that showed moms using P&G products to support their Olympics-bound kids throughout childhood. The corporation positioned itself as a partner for moms: "Behind all of our brands is a company called P&G," said Marc Pritchard, P&G's global marketing and brand building officer, "and behind every Olympic athlete is a mom, and moms of athletes are there every step of the way, and P&G is in the business of helping moms every day."
According to Reuters, the first “Thank You Mom” campaign, which was centered around the London Olympics, translated to a $500,000,000 sales boost for everyday products, including Bounty paper towels. In developing its “Thank You Mom” campaign, P&G successfully activated the association principle (Moms are helpful, therefore P&G products are helpful”), and increased consumers’ perceived similarity with the corporation’s brands (“I am a helpful mom, P&G products are helpful like me.”)
Kim, Jooyoung, and Yongjun Sung. "Dimensions of Purchase-decision Involvement: Affective and Cognitive Involvement in Product and Brand." Journal of Brand Management (2009): 514-16. Web.
Cialdini, Robert B. Influence: Science and Practice. Vol. 5. N.p.: Pearson Education, 2009. Print.
Hogshead, Sally. "Trust: Why We're Loyal to Reliable Options." Fascinate: Your 7 Triggers to Persuasion and Captivation. New York: HarperCollins, 2010. 167-85. Print.
Solis, Brian. "Brand Personality, Discovery, and Promise." Engage! The Complete Guide for Brands and Businesses to Build, Cultivate, and Measure Success in the New Web. Hoboken: John Wiley & Sons, 2011. 97-106. Print.
Kieffer, Brittaney. "P&G Stays Fresh." P&G Stays Fresh. Haymarket Business Publications Ltd., 1 Sept. 2012. Web. 02 Mar. 2015.
Weir, Keith. "Olympics-Sponsor P&G Sets More Modest Target for Winter Games." Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 06 Jan. 2014. Web. 3 Mar. 2015.