To illustrate the difference, here’s an example: I’ve been a vegetarian for nearly 30 years, so buying the freshest, organic, in-season fruits and vegetables is very important. I have a Trader Joe’s grocery store in my town, which I prefer over other grocery stores because it has a good selection of fruits and vegetables. Plus, it’s convenient, affordable and has terrific service. That’s brand preference. I do frequent Trader Joe’s regularly and would recommend it to family and friends, and that’s brand loyalty.
But brand attachment represents something more that goes beyond rational reasons. Would I refuse to accept substitutes, even at a price reduction of up to 25%? No. Would I be willing to sacrifice my time or endure hardship such as wait in an hours-long queue to buy organic blueberries at Trader Joe’s? No. Does Trader Joe’s exemplify my values and beliefs, and are they an example of my extended self? Not really. So, even though I prefer Trader Joe’s to other grocery stores, and I am loyal to Trader Joe’s, I am not emotionally attached to the brand.
By contrast, I am emotionally attached to my local farmer’s market. I go every week that I am not away—rain or shine, freezing or sweltering. I line up at the gates by 6:45 a.m. so I can buy the very best produce when the market opens. I’ve been going for so long that I know the regular farmers by name, and they know me. I pay slightly more for the produce (affection), I endure sacrifices and hardships on behalf of the brand (passion) and the farmers market reflects my values (connection) for regenerative agriculture, ecological sustainability and thriving local communities.
'Love is blind'
Brand preference or brand loyalty without brand attachment can be fickle and easily replaced by substitutes that may offer higher performance, greater value—or both. Conversely, brands with disproportionately higher consumer emotional attachment have stronger, sustained relationships that are based on more than just rational reasons and are deeply rooted in the limbic part of the brain.
The old saying “love is blind” is commonly found in nearly every language on the planet, and for good reason. Love exists in the part of the brain where emotions and values reside, which is different from the part of the brain where rational judgment and cognition reside. A consumer who is emotionally attached to a brand will always be loyal (and prefer the brand), but loyalty and preference alone do not indicate or ensure brand attachment.
Here how marketers can build and improve brand attachment:
Evaluate the brand’s customer journey by audience (segment) to identify significant brand interactions
This can be achieved with customer journey mapping, with time on the horizontal scale to represent each paid, owned, earned or experience interactions from awareness through purchase and advocacy.
Evaluate each interaction to determine if it represents one or more of the three emotional attachment dimensions (affection, connection, passion)
The criteria can be a simple yes/no evaluation: “yes” for good attachment interaction, “no” for neutral or no attachment interaction. This evaluation process helps to highlight individual interactions that need to be revised or changed for deeper brand attachment.
For example, by using customer journey mapping, a marketer may identify a "confirmation of purchase email" as one interaction for an online retailer. This email interaction may be identified as not currently supporting any of the brand attachment dimensions. The marketer identifies this interaction as an opportunity for the brand to demonstrate and solidify the “connection” dimension of brand attachment by reiterating its shared beliefs and values to the customer through both meaningful content (supported with a reason to believe) and tonality. The purpose of this deep analysis is to ensure that the totality of all the brand interactions supports the desire to build an emotional connection.
Regularly measure and track brand attachment for their brand and compare it with measured brand attachment for other brands in the category.
This can be done by adding a few questions to any existing brand tracking study to create a composite brand attachment score for each measured brand in the category. Such questions include:
Is the brand a part of me and who I am?
Do I feel personally connected to the brand?
Do I feel emotionally bound to the brand?
Does the brand say something to other people about who I am?
Do thoughts and feelings about the brand come to natural to mind?
Does the brand name evoke good thoughts and feelings in me?
Would I be distressed if the brand were to go out of business?
Would I say that I can’t imagine my life without the brand?
Since brand attachment drives higher customer lifetime value and lower churn, it is a key measurement worth future study and elaboration.