Eileen Gilbert bought her first Anne Klein watch 10 years ago. She had just gotten divorced and wanted to treat herself to something nice. She found a watch with a plain face, a simple band and the tiny AK logo.
She paid $55 for it, and it made her proud and happy every time she wore it.
Since then, she’s bought 30 more Anne Klein wristwatches, all strikingly similar. Although she’s owned a beautiful Seiko and a sleek Movado, both gifts, neither of those more expensive watches has given her as much pleasure as her classic Anne Kleins.
“It’s simple elegance,” says Gilbert, 59, a legal secretary from Aliso Viejo, Calif., who admits to being a stickler for punctuality. “I’m simple elegance, and Anne Klein says that for me.”
William McEwen would say that Gilbert is “married” to the Anne Klein brand. The Newport Beach, Calif., author and marketing expert for The Gallup Organization has published a book about people like Gilbert, “Married to the Brand.” It examines the bond that some consumers have with brands, from Trader Joe’s to Toyota, from Cuisinart to Wal-Mart, in terms of the emotional connections that occur between people during dating, courtship and marriage.
FINDING AN ‘EMOTIONAL CONNECTION’
Drawing on more than 60 years of research from Gallup, the book draws a distinction between brand loyalty and being “married” to a brand. And it posits that it takes more than a quality product, fair or even low prices, a successful advertising campaign or a convenient location.
“Being married to the brand involves an emotional connection and not just a behavioral one. We’re focusing on things that build enduring connections. In most cases, price by itself is not enough, ” McEwen says.
In fact, he says, passion for a brand isn’t limited to exciting, expensive products like designer bags or luxury cars.
“You would think that pride is the stuff of Montblanc pens and Rolex watches,” he says. “But people tend to feel pride where they feel they’ve gotten a return, where they feel their business is rewarded for various reasons.
“That includes discount stores. Some people take much more pride shopping at discount stores than in some upscale stores. They may think they’re getting a heck of a deal.”
Or better treatment.
BUYING AN EXPERIENCE
Take, for example, McEwen’s story about Marty, who walks more than four blocks to a Starbucks near his office every weekday afternoon despite the fact that he can get coffee at work for free and probably couldn’t tell the difference among his preferred Starbucks blend, Diedrich, Peet’s or Seattle’s Best.
“When Marty walks into Starbucks, Jayson is already pouring him his grande Sumatra,” he writes. “Jayson calls out Marty’s name and greets him with a welcoming smile. ... Marty pays the $1.60, tosses his customary quarter in the tip jar, and climbs on a stool by the front window.”
McEwen says that Marty isn’t just buying a cup of coffee; he’s also buying an experience. “It’s not that Starbucks coffee is ‘worth it,’ ” he writes. “It’s that Marty feels the Starbucks experience is worth it and, even more importantly, that he is worth it.”
MAKING IT A TRIP WORTH THE DRIVE
Michelle Spargur is nearly as devoted to Trader Joe’s as Marty is to Starbucks.
Shopping at the specialty grocer is not particularly convenient for the stay-at-home mother of two from Orange, Calif. It’s out of her way, and she has to unload her young daughters from the car for the extra stop, but it’s worth it to her to buy products like Trader Joe’s whole-wheat bread and tomato soup. She also likes the selection of cheeses, nuts and chocolates, and the product-sample display.
Aside from the merchandise, she appreciates how employees created a game with a stuffed toy monkey to keep kids amused. “They’d change his location all the time, and if the kids found him, they’d get a sucker. I really liked it. It kept (my daughter) occupied while I shopped,” she says.
Her interactions with employees are positive.
“They all seem hip and normal and fun,” she says.
Spargur’s observations about the people at Trader Joe’s echo McEwen’s findings about why customers bond with some brands.
Classic marketing principles hold that there are four tried-and-true tools to build great brands: product, place, price and promotion. McEwen adds a fifth “p,” people.
“These people may be visible to consumers, they may be voices heard on the phone, or they may just be names on an e-mail response,” he writes. “They live the brand, and in the eyes of many customers, they are the brand.”