I remember experiencing appealing brands for the first time in elementary school.
One of my closest friends always wanted the best of the best brands. He would only wear Nike shoes, he loved to talk about TAG Heuer watches, and his dad worked for a Lexus car dealer, so of course, we never heard the end of that!
My older brother is also into expensive brands. Often quoting his premium Diesel jeans or Hugo Boss suits.
Admittedly, I was also quite severely drawn to brands, and I still am. I remember when I bought my first Spalding basketball. I loved this ball because I knew it was the same brand used in the pros. Playing with this Spalding, made me feel like I was Michael Jordan every time I stepped onto the court.
This brand of basketball to most was insignificant. But to me, this ball meant everything. It shaped my identity and gave me optimism. And to the credit of Spalding, that’s the point.
Brands represent our identity
When I pull out my MacBook Air in a cafe (ironically, as I write this post), I’m telling the world that I’m creative and I’m trying to make a difference with my work. It also shows that I value quality.
For those who buy Louis Vuitton handbags—it represents the highest stature and taste. It shows that you have class and style.
Kanye West recently said that his clothing brand Yeezy is worth 1.5 billion dollars! He’s created streetwear and sneakers that are exclusive and “in”. His new shoes often sell out within hours. Again, because wearing the best sneakers means you’re part of sneaker culture. And being part of the culture makes the community feel like they’re part of something special.
Many minimalists believe that people are attracted to brands because of how it makes them feel in social circles. Expensive brands mean that you’re powerful and successful. While this mentality is partly true, the psychology of brands is far more profound than that.
Even without flaunting your brands to people in your social circle, the marketing these brands do does something to our brains.
The psychology of brand development
When researching for this topic, I came across a white paper called The consumer psychology of brands, by Bernd Schmitt.
Schmitt introduces a consumer-psychology model of brands broken down into a five-part framework including; identifying, experiencing, integrating, signifying, and connecting.
While we’re always going to be influenced, having an understanding of how we interact with brands can help us to find how we can make better-informed buying decisions.
In the next section of this post, we’ll explore the consumer-psychology model in greater detail.
As part of identifying, a consumer identifies the brand and its category, forms associations, and compares the relations between brands.
So let’s say the category you’re looking in is sneakers. When you go into a shop or an online store, you’re naturally looking for brand associations that are recognisable.
Converse All Stars have been around for over 80 years and were the first mass-produced sneakers for basketball. Since then, all-stars have been an iconic brand for casual sneakers.
So it’s only natural that when you go looking for sneakers, you recognise the Converse logo—with which you’ve already built trust.
When categorising brands and products, consumers are dependent on what they can recognise or remember. In the absence of identifying a specific brand, consumers may then relate unknown brands to brands they already know and trust.
For example, there’s a brand of sneaker called Etiko, which has a similar design to Converse sneakers. But, Etiko prides themselves on making shoes ethically with naturally sourced materials.
If you were looking for sneakers and stumbled across Etiko, you perhaps wouldn’t recognise the brand. But you may draw similarities to Etiko and Converse All Stars because of their resemblance. At least that’s what I did.
Experiencing refers to sensory, affective and participatory experiences that a consumer has with a brand.
The experiencing process for Converse sneakers involves how we interact with their shoes at a sensory level. How do these shoes look with what I’m wearing? How do they feel when I tie the shoelaces? When I sit down or stand up? Light? Strong?
There’s also an element of participation which is part of a community. This process involves seeing brands on advertisements or social media. Or physically interacting with the shoes in person in a store.
Integrating means combining brand information into an overall brand concept, personality and relationship with the brand.
Associating a brand with a human-like personality is quite common in the integrating process.
Converse sneakers used to represent performance on the basketball court. However, now, they are considered to be a casual sneaker for more laid-back everyday environments.
Signifying refers to using the brand as an informational cue, identity signal and cultural symbol.
It’s at this stage where brands penetrate deeply into how humans communicate with each other.
More often than not brands we choose to engage with become part of our identity. You become the guy who drives a BMW or the girl who wears yellow-framed glasses.
Our decision to buy particular brands over others signifies to the world who we are and what we represent.
Finally, connecting with the brand includes forming an attitude toward the brand, becoming personally attached to it and connecting with the brand in a brand community.
The connecting phase of brand psychology is about how we feel towards brands. It plays on our emotions as we become attached.
For example, you trust Converse so much that you routinely buy their sneakers for ten years straight. You become attached to the brand to the point where you don’t consider alternatives.
Furthermore, your loyalty is enhanced through the brand community. Much like attending an exclusive sneaker release event where you can connect with other people who love Converse shoes.
Being an ethical consumer is a brand in itself
To summarise, we engage with brands at five different levels; identifying, experiencing, integrating, signifying and connecting.
The psychology of appealing brands is incredible, and that’s the point. Businesses are competing for our loyalty, and they must play on our psychology to win us over.
The challenge, however, is that many of the brands we love and adore, do more harm than good to our environment, human rights and animals.
So what happens when lesser-known ethical brands enter the market and get overlooked entirely?
This is where we as conscious consumers need to change the psychology of brands.
Maša mentioned something to me the other day which I thought was profound. She said that her friends and family see Maša, the human, as a brand. She’s a brand that represents compassion, intentionality, toxin-free.
So when Maša buys new products, people who know her assume there’s are a story behind her purchase—and are curious to find out why she chose to support a particular brand over others.
The Minimalist Vegan is a brand which you have engaged with at some stage of the process outlined above. Your connection to our blog enables us to expose you to new brands like Etiko in blog posts like 35+ Ethical and Sustainable Clothing Brands To Support in 2019.
So next time you’re looking for sneakers, you’ve broadened your scope of brands to consider.
It’s this last point that I would want you to take away from this article.
You can change consumer brand psychology by being a conscious consumer of products. You can be that person in your community that introduces amazing ethical brands to your peers—so they have something else to be aware of when buying new products.
What’s particularly exciting about this moment is that there’s a far more powerful story to tell about ethical brands than the alternatives. And it starts with us.