New research proves affinity important to brands

by Nigel Hollis | March 13, 2017

If you ask me about my car, then I might well reply, ‘I love it’. If so, I have been thinking about cheating on my car for some time now. If I really loved my car then would I not cherish it, keep it in pristine condition and ignore new car reviews? Whether it is a car, bank, candy, phone or soft drink I doubt many people love the brands they buy.

I am not alone in doubting the power of brand love. Members of the Ehrenberg Bass Institute have long ridiculed brand love as an influence on purchase, on the grounds that the users of any brand tend to say they love the brands they buy, it is not a differentiating feature. But whereas The Ehrenberg Bass Institute would see the pursuit of brand love of futile, research by Kantar Millward Brown and Kantar Worldpanel proves that a little bit of love can have a substantial sales effect.


To my mind people do not love brands but they do quite like them. Kantar Millward Brown’s Emotional Priming research demonstrates that most brands evoke a mild, instinctive liking, not some more passionate response. And while Ehrenberg Bass are right in saying that most users like the brands they buy, this ignores the fact that some brands are liked more than usage alone can explain.

BrandZ data shows that the brands which are liked more than usage alone would predict are more likely to be seen as worth the price than ones that are less liked, but does this attitude translate into more sales?

New research based on combining BrandZ data with that from Kantar Worldpanel allows us to examine the level of attitudinal affinity consumers have for every brand they purchase. In research studies covering 34 brands, the research found that different brands achieve vastly different levels of affinity per purchase, and this variation bears no clear relationship to brand size.

The paper reviewing the findings from this research and more is detailed in a recent Admap paper authored by my colleague Josh Samuel, Head of global innovations at Kantar Millward Brown. He reports that brand affinity has an important role in encouraging repeat purchase. People are almost twice as likely to buy a brand again if they like it to start with. Josh states,

“50 percent of pre-wave brand buyers with above-average affinity for the brand repeat their purchase in the nine-month post period. This is nearly twice the repeat purchase rate of pre-wave buyers with below-average affinity, 26 percent of whom repeat purchase. This result holds true even when you adjust for pre-wave purchase frequency, so we know it isn't just due to an overrepresentation of heavy buyers in the group with high brand affinity.”

So while most people do not love brands, it seems that a little liking can go a long way to boosting repeat sales; they are not just a function of brand size. Our conclusion must be that, given an otherwise equal choice, people will pay more for a brand they like and be more likely to buy it again. But what do you think? Please share your thoughts.


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  1. Nigel, March 29, 2017

    Thanks for the comments.

    Godfred, there will always be a minority of people who do display intense affection for a brand but it would be wrong to assume the majority of buyers can be made to feel the same degree of emotion. To Emmanuel's point association with something that is loved has always been a way to get some of the love to rub off, but don't expect it to be a grand passion!

  2. godfred, March 20, 2017
    Another insightful piece Nigel. Question, what then would you call the emotions of devotees of brands like Apple, Coca Cola, Harley Davidson et al? Also does this then bring into dispute Kevin Roberts' piece on 'Love Marks'?
  3. Richard Brown, March 13, 2017

    Really interesting. When I wrote last year on this subject (, I got acurt reply from Byron Sharp. In fact, all he did was send me a link to something he'd written about the folly of loyalty ladders. I expect he read no further than the first couple of paragraphs of my post and maybe I deserved it for starting off with the old Diageo 4A's model, which does include the term 'Adorers'. But my point was similar to yours. Brand affinity hasn't become somehow a worthless aim in a world where the only thing that matters is increasing penetration. It always seems dangerous to me to assume repeat purchase will be driven entirely by satisfaction with the product experience. Good to see some research supporting the idea of, at the very least, brand liking. 

  4. Emmanuel Probst, March 13, 2017

    Thank you for your insightful article Nigel. To your point, Most people do not love brands and the power of brand love is often overstated. However, people might love taking part in an activity, visiting specific places, eating certain foods. The opportunity for brands is to position themselves as a shortcut to what people love to do.

    -I love yoga: Lululemon

    -I love movies: Netflix

    -I love gambling and shows: Las Vegas...

    Consumers might not fall in love with these brands, but at least like them more than competitive alternatives.

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