Laid bare: the facts about brand bonding

A new study links qualities such as pleasure and belonging with people’s brand choice and, importantly, exposes areas where marketing is failing to make the most of these connections.


Women are much more likely than men to say that brands improve their lives, yet a significant amount of them are being ignored by brands, according to new research seen exclusively by Marketing Week.

Furthermore, brands are failing to appeal to well-off men. Men earning at least £50,000 a year feel much less enriched than the average person, as do men aged 45 to 64.


The Brand Enrichment Report, commissioned by agency Creston Unlimited, identifies eight factors that influence more than 80% of consumer purchases. In order of their impact on buying decisions, these are: pleasure, responsibility, status, saving, individuality, effectiveness, belonging and confidence.

Pleasure zone: has reworked its business premises to give customers more emotional buy-in, while O2 is one-of-a-kind in the mobile sector, focusing marketing on improving people’s lives.

The extent to which people say that brands help them make more of their lives on each of these measures is strongly linked to their age, sex, income, marital status and whether they have children.

Women earning less than £15,000 gain far more from brands than average. So too do single parents. But brands are neglecting these consumers although they could be fertile in terms of creating positive sentiment, according to Creston Unlimited managing director John Crowther.

“Poorer women get an enormous amount out of brands on every single dimension, but particularly on status and belonging. But you almost never see the C2DE demographic as a target audience on a creative brief. Mass market brands are missing quite a lot of big tricks,” he says.

Financial sevices brands: how enriched customers are, click the table to enlarge

Low-earning women feel particularly enriched by the brands they use in terms of the three factors that are most influential in

Mobile phone operators: how ‘enriched’ customers are, click the table to enlarge

buying decisions. They are 89% more likely than the average person to get a benefit in terms of pleasure and are more likely than average to feel connected to brands that give them higher status and make them feel more responsible.

The 8 dimensions of brand choice: click table to enlarge

Conversely, women earning above £50,000 are less impressed by the effects brands have on their lives. On six of the eight measures, they score lower than average, but they do score higher on two – pleasure and status. Luxury brands tend to focus on these attributes of their products already when targeting these women.

Like low-income women, parents who are single, separated or divorced also feel much greater benefit than average on the three most important measures of pleasure, responsibility and status, but also on belonging. The report suggests that brands can act as “surrogate partners” for these individuals as well as providing escapism; yet, Crowther points out, single parents rarely feature in advertising.

“This is an interesting missed opportunity for communications,” he adds.

Childless people who are married or living with a partner gain less from their relationships with brands – they are 13% less likely than average to believe that brands add to the pleasure they feel in their lives.

Age proves just as important in determining consumers’ sentiments towards brands as income and marital status. There is pronounced variation between the priorities of different age groups of the same sex.

For example, younger women get more from brands. Those aged 18 to 24 are more likely to feel that brands improve their lives than other age groups on every measure except responsibility. Responsibility is even less of a motivation for 25- to 44-year-olds, but for women over 45 it is the most valuable of brand traits.

Women over 65 are also enriched by brands that give them a sense of belonging, but those under 45 consider individuality to be more important. Women’s desire to stand out from the crowd in the first half of their lives is something that many fashion and homewares brands have latched onto (see Frontline, above).

Men, too, show plenty of variation in the enrichment brands give them at different life stages. For example, men aged 45 to 64 care very little about status, but it is the prime motivator for men aged 18 to 24. They are 115% more likely than average to believe that owning a particular brand can elevate their status.

This is one trait that marketers already appear to be well aware of, as communications to this group tend to emphasise how they can appear superior to their peers. Perhaps surprisingly, though, young men are 51% more likely than average to feel that brands instil a sense of responsibility in them. This is a theme that marketers certainly under-exploit when targeting men of this age.

Financial services is an example of a sector that could be doing far more to appeal to young men, according to Crowther. He suggests brands are not making young men feel as important as they could be, even though they have a high lifetime value. According to the study, status is one of the least common feelings evoked by financial brands, and less than half of those surveyed say financial brands bestow responsibility on them.

Flaunt it: Wish Want Wear buys in statement pieces to tap into the ‘express my individuality’ trend

The Co-operative Bank is one of the few companies that performs slightly better than other financial institutions on status and responsibility. These organisations tend to do best appealing to people on the basis of the effectiveness of their products, the confidence they give and the financial saving customers can achieve. Crowther adds that they also tend to lack differentiation generally, in terms of how they improve people’s lives.

The financial services sector is not alone in brands’ conformity to one broad profile. Mobile is another industry where competing companies offer the same kinds of enrichment as each other. But some brands do succeed in standing out: O2 for example shows relatively strong differentiation from other operators.

“O2 stands out as bringing a lot more pleasure into people’s lives,” says Crowther. It also performs much better than its competitors on the sector’s other weakest attributes – status, individuality and belonging. In fact, it enriches more of its customers’ lives than other mobile operators on every measure except saving money, where it is beaten only by Virgin Mobile.

O2 is perhaps reaping the benefit of focusing marketing on its Priority Moments loyalty scheme, where customers get access to exclusive experiences and rewards. This way it can enrich customers’ lives in ways its competitors do not.

Companies in all sectors, no matter which type of person they are targeting, could still have much to learn about what consumers gain from their relationships with brands. While the research upholds some time-honoured truths, it also shows that some groups’ priorities are not being fully appreciated by brands.

About the survey

The eight dimensions of brand enrichment are those that most often determine consumers’ reason for choosing a brand. There is a hierarchy in their influence, with the most important – pleasure – being responsible for nearly a quarter of all brand choices. The other seven are confidence, status, responsibility, effectiveness, individuality, saving and belonging.

Agency Creston Unlimited defined these measures using qualitative research among 20 people, working with market research company ICM to explore what brands do for people today. From the ensuing conversations, researchers identified which sentiments impact most on brand loyalty and recommendation, arriving at these eight factors, which determine 83% of buying decisions.

This initial research has been used to design the 22 questions that make up the quantitative study, for which ICM has surveyed 3,500 consumers on its nationally representative Omnibus panel.

The frontline

Jo Casley MyDeco

Jo Casley
Head of PR and marketing communications (online homeware retailer)

We target women in their late 30s and early 40s with young children who are thinking of improving their decoration. For our target audience, the emotional connection between a brand and customer is very strong.

Towards the end of last year we changed our business model from an affiliate platform to a transactional ecommerce site. We knew from looking at our traffic patterns and talking to users that there was not an emotional connection between our brand and shoppers. Our being an affiliate was partly to blame: we would bring people to our site only to push them off somewhere else. We did create a strong connection with people who came to use our 3D room planning tools and find inspiration, but they were not the people coming to shop.

We talked to women who fit our target profile and found that they adore John Lewis but would like to have an alternative so they don’t have to buy every single thing for their house there. They also do not want their home to look like someone else’s. That was the thinking behind our move to be fully transactional. Designer-makers and independent boutiques have now become our suppliers and sell through us.

We did some research with YouGov last year and found that, of our target market, 47% describe their home as merely average, only 22% say their home is individual and 12% say it is stylish. When they describe their own personalities, 49% say they are independent, 55% say they have a flair for the creative and 34% describe themselves as individual.

The study exposed a massive mismatch between how people describe their personalities and how they describe their homes. So the point of the new is to give our audience an alternative to shop for their home that is not the high street.


Suruchi Bhargava
Wish Want Wear (designer fashion rental service)

Our target market is women aged 25 to 45. They could be young professionals, working women or mothers, or other target markets such as students and slightly older women. Because we offer dress rentals starting as low as £27 and going all the way up to £250 for a dress that would retail for £2,000, we cater to a broad income spectrum.

Our customers don’t necessarily look for a designer name or brand. They use us as a way to express their individuality, which is something that is highlighted in this research.

They feel a sense of confidence knowing they are wearing a dress that has been beautifully crafted. That is the assumption of a designer dress – that it is a quality product.

Because an outfit doesn’t come with a weighty price tag, they are able to experiment and that reflects the pieces we buy. When we go to a designer we try to buy the more striking pieces, the statement dress and the more colourful items. If a girl wants to buy a safe black dress, she will probably just go and buy it because she knows she will get more wear out of it.

Our communications focus on PR because this is a concept that needs to be explained. With online advertising, it is important to choose the right channel, through blogs whose voice people trust and believe.

Status has not really played a factor in the way women spend with us. It does not matter what the brand is, it’s the quality that counts. For example, some of our best selling outfits are from brands that are only available in the US and not even well known here.