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Image of a tub of Ben and Jerry's, strawberry cheesecake flavour

Brand Attachment vs. Brand Loyalty: Let’s Talk Ice Cream.

Christine Oneto

Jan 24, 2020

Brand loyalty is something many marketing professionals strive to achieve, however, in order to be successful in driving this, one must first understand the differences between loyalty and attachment. 

What is Brand Attachment?

You’ve probably heard of the terms brand engagement, brand development, and brand loyalty; but have you heard of brand attachment? And, how does brand attachment differ from brand loyalty?

In a breakout session by JoAnn Sciarinno at Content Marketing World, brand attachment was defined as “the emotional connection between humans and brands.” Thus, just as people can be attached to a person, they can also — by and for a host of reasons — become attached to a brand. For example, if you are an ice cream lover, you are probably attached to a particular brand, like Häagen-Daz or Dreyers. For me, it’s Ben & Jerry’s. I like their unique flavors with creative names (C’mon, Chunky Monkey? Cherries Garcia? Everything But The…who else could think these up?), and I love that they use milk from cows that are fed organically with no rBGH’s. For me, this is why I choose Ben & Jerry's over other competitors.

Whereas brand loyalty may be somewhat superficial, brand attachment goes much deeper.

My reasons for being attached to Ben & Jerry’s, above, exemplify the 3 elements JoAnn Sciarrino described as going into the forming of a brand attachment. They are:

  1. Affection: (They got me with their names)
  2. Connection: (with their sustainable practices)
  3. Passion: (for my favorite flavors)

When these three emotions are in play, it is highly likely that there is brand attachment. It may be an indirect influence on the brand, but it is a strong influence. More than brand loyalty, brand attachment almost becomes a part of you.

Brand Attachment VS Brand Loyalty

How Does Marketing Foster Brand Attachment?

Whatever it is that attracts you to a brand, to begin with, this most likely has to do with the way PR and advertising have served up the content, as well as what other competitors in the market are doing. In this exposure to PR campaigns and ads, you are then brought into what Sciarrino calls the “virtuous circle of brand attachment.” There are three specific phases for the brand, which follow along this path. From each of these, it leads to the other:

Advertising & Marketing to – -> Brand Attachment to – -> Financial Performance

Thus, if I am so attached to Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream it then follows that by me buying it repeatedly, their financial performance improves (even if by a small amount). Multiply that by millions of customers, and your bottom line is happily shored up by engaged, repeat customers. Apple is another great example here: we’re so attached to them that we’re willing to buy new chargers despite how annoying and expensive it is to do it, even when competitors have equally as good products to offer.

What are the advantages of Brand Attachment over Brand Loyalty?

The good thing for brands and companies is that consumers with strong brand attachments influence other people around them. So, in this sense, there are brand advocates that develop from their strong brand attachments. These fans or followers of the brand are not only becoming fans or followers to stay, they are also bringing their friends along, increasing the customer base for the company. They are true brand evangelists, going beyond brand loyalty. It has been proven that:

Highly attached consumers are more motivated to devote their own resources…defending the brand, degrading alternative brands and devoting more time to the brand through brand communities and brand promotion using social media.

When we in PR use paid, earned and owned media it is with the goal of getting prospects and current customers to feel this brand attachment and, essentially, gravitate long-term towards a brand, at an emotional level. When we can publicize for them – say, via re-tweeting a tweet – we extend the reach of their original impression, the impression created by the “brand-attached” party. Thus, once brand attachment is attained, it almost makes our jobs that much easier, right? Sharing these brand messages can be so effective because they far and away exceed promotional messages in resonance with the customers (because of their authentic customer voice).

Brand loyalty

Bottom line: Find out what your customers’ passions, connections and affections are. Target your PR with that in mind, and see how they follow by becoming attached to your brand – not just showing loyalty, but true attachment. Hopefully, there will be a way we can measure this in the future, by mining and scoring or rating this attachment data via the impressions garnered and corresponding reactions from our customers. This will help prove brand attachment is one way that all companies should strive for the optimum in brand reach: keeping their customers routinely coming back!

And that's a wrap; hopefully you now understand the difference between brand attachment and brand loyalty!