Uncovering the Drivers of Attachment

Five years ago, when we launched UTA Brand Studio, we built our strategy around a central premise: that attachment was a superior metric to use for designing brand experiences. Back then, attachment was a relatively new concept in branding literature. But we were drawn to this newly defined relationship between people and brands. Attachment was a more intuitive benchmark for our team—a benchmark that provided more opportunities to translate strategic insight into design ideas and creative content.

Attachment enables productive branding conversations. It forces us to think about audience engagement, with a goal of making those audiences feel they have to have a brand close to them. It pushes you to think about creating experiences that make consumers feel they can’t live without the brand. It focuses on the core values of a consumer and how a brand could reflect and serve those values. In short, brand attachment drives our creative teams to empathize with target audiences and relate to them through the lens of beliefs and values.

Surprise and Delight

The lesson behind the Pokémon Phenomenon

For several weeks in July the world’s media was besieged by Pokémon Go.

The latest in a long-line of product extensions for Nintendo’s uber-successful Pokémon franchise, Pokémon Go immerses you into a virtual world hidden within the real world, creating a modern version of a scavenger hunt that leads you down streets and into public spaces on the hunt for waiting Pokémon.

“It’s amazing how many more people I see around the neighborhood while I walk my dog since Pokémon Go came out,” said one Facebook user. Indeed, there were multiple news reports of incidents caused by avid players walking into traffic or trespassing onto private property in their quest for new Pokémon. The image below is from a yard-owner who wasn’t so pleased by the many strangers wandering onto his front lawn.

Yard sign

To say that the launch of Pokémon Go was a success would be a huge understatement. One month after its launch, the app has been downloaded over 100 million times and is reportedly generating $10 million a day in revenue. Users could not stop playing. They could not stop hunting for the next Pokémon. They could not stop buying up levels. And they could not stop talking about it with friends.

In this success lies a lesson for marketers about brand and product experience.

Five Barriers to Brand Loyalty

To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)

Marketing, as in life, is full of cycles. Led by explosive growth in the tech sector, the CMO mantra has been “demand generation” for about a decade. But to every season there is a turn, and loyalty is ascending again. While the need to acquire new customers is still a pressing concern for every marketer, smart marketers are once again coveting the benefits of a repeat customer, a loyal customer. Loyal customers are less expensive to service and more likely to promote your brand to their network—effectively, free marketing support.

As loyalty comes back into focus, many marketers are bemoaning its premature demise, and they are blaming Millennials. As we explored in our recent podcast, the blame is misplaced. In fact, there’s plenty of evidence that Millennials are as capable of loyalty as their parents and grandparents. A 2015 study by IRI found that 44% of Millennials say they are loyal to brands. While they are often value-seekers and price conscious, 52% of those surveyed said they choose quality over price.

We have learned a lot about loyalty in our research on consumer attachment. In study after study, both in the academic community and in our own proprietary field work, attachment has reliably proved itself to be one of the strongest predictors of customer loyalty. Not surprisingly, the forces that weaken attachment also prove to be destructive to loyalty.

We’ve compiled a list of the top five barriers to both attachment and to brand loyalty.

If You Build it, They Will Come

Brands existed before broadcast media, but it’s broadcast media that’s empowered modern brands. That’s why it is surprising that more brands are not embracing live streaming platforms: Twitter-owned Periscope, YouNow, and the newly-launched Facebook Live. Because audiences for these platforms are not only showing up, but growing rapidly, they promise to become coveted and profitable consumer targets.

The potential of live streaming is reminiscent of the early days of broadcast media, when there were no reruns and brands thrived on the context of “happening now.”

Conditional Love: Millennials + Loyalty

Run Time: about 20 minutes

The “M” word—Millennial, a term that’s launched a thousand eye rolls. Even the laziest observer of pop-culture media can parrot back the sentiment agreed upon by so many op-eds—those born after 1984 (a debatable date) are an impulsive bunch, who are as entitled as they are fickle. But what if we’ve all got it wrong?

There are roughly 86 million Millennials in the US with an estimated $200 billion in annual buying power. Simply put, their purchase behavior matters. It’s no wonder that marketers are consistently trying to understand them. But in this rapidly evolving landscape where every view, every click, every tendency can be quantified, it’s not easy to get, let alone retain, Millennial attention.

In this episode of THE POINT OF ATTACHMENT, we explore the brand loyalty of Millennials and attempt to answer two main questions:

1. Do Millennials care about brands?
2. And are they brand loyal?

To get to the bottom of the matter, we’ve examined a fun pocket of the branding universe: the world of whiskey.

Harmonics. Brand Harmonics.

Last month, Sam Smith won an OSCAR at the 88th Academy Awards for “Writing’s on the Wall,” an original song he wrote for Spectre, the 24th installment in the James Bond film franchise. “Writing’s on the Wall” is not the first James Bond title theme to win an OSCAR (that honor went to Adele for “Skyfall”), but it joins an impressive number of chart-topping and award-winning musical siblings, including ”Goldfinger” (Shirley Bassey), “Live and Let Die” (Paul McCartney & Wings), “Nobody Does It Better” (Carly Simon), “A View to a Kill” (Duran Duran),  and “For Your Eyes Only” (Sheena Easton).

From Getty Images

Photo Credit: Getty Images

The success of Bond music offers a great lesson for brands.

All of these popular title themes have a harmonic signature that is composed to complement the world famous James Bond theme (think fat guitar twanging “dum di-di dum dum”). That instantly-recognizable theme may be one of the greatest examples of sonic branding of all time. Created by Monty Norman and advanced by composer John Barry, the theme relies on four simple chords that alternate between major and minor. This pattern holds the magic that has allowed five decades of pop stars to riff on it in a contemporary and relevant way. Audiences sense a Bond theme before it has fully played out. The brand is revealed without cluttering the song. It is the true secret agent.

Many brands have learned to achieve this goal through visual means. You can sense the presence of Apple in a commercial without seeing a logo, for example. Modern visual identity systems often work harder than the logo itself. Typography, color palette, imagery and grid systems provide powerful cues that trigger our mind to credit a brand. But fewer brands achieve this goal with sound. For brands that are bold enough to employ sonic branding, most rely on mnemonics (the Southwest “bing”) and jingles (McDonald’s Ba-da-da-da-da … I’m Lovin’ It). But imagine trying to compose a pop song around these devices. You might succeed once. But could you build a legacy like Bond’s with this approach? Doubtful.

The Nurturing Nineties—Nostalgia or something more?

You could have fired a canon in the office without casualty. The time was just after 1pm and the agency was observing the collective recess and power meeting ritual in Beverly Hills known as the lunch hour. But somewhere down the hall I could hear the muffled sounds of … laughter. Guffawing, actually. And it was laughter from more than one person.

I wandered around the corner to discover a throng of assistants gathered around a monitor in an empty office. Immersed in their content, they didn’t notice me standing in the doorway. I suspected that they were watching some breaking YouTube video. But they weren’t. They were watching an episode of Friends.

No. This is not a flashback from 1995. This was October, 2015. And the assistants were all under the age of 30. Most of them were in grade school when the episode originally aired. When I asked why they were watching Friends, they replied “because it’s the best show ever.”

Cast of Friends.

More than an isolated occurrence, content from the 1990’s is back en vogue.

The Point of Attachment Podcast: Anthro-po … what?

Run Time: about 23 minutes

It. Is. Alive!

At least, that’s what marketers want you to think. Some of the most successful brands of all time win consumer trust and affection by seeming human. Academics call it anthropomorphism, which is a really horrible word to describe a phenomenon that leads consumers to perceive human qualities and characteristics in inhuman things.

In this all-new episode of THE POINT OF ATTACHMENT, we explore new insights and research on anthropomorphism. We start in conversation with Professors Ann McGill and Maferima (Rima) Touré-Tillery, who recently co-authored a study that was published in the Journal of Marketing. It explored whether anthropomorphic brands were more persuasive than non-anthropomorphic brands.

The Point of Attachment Podcast: For Love or Money

Run Time: about 20 minutes

Why do so many people groan about Valentine’s Day? It’s an annual marker that is supposed to be a celebration of love, but for many it comes across as a 24-hour commercial ritual and a gauntlet of high-pressure relationship expectations. As our strategy director, Marisa Robertson put it:


It feels like a holiday for the marketers rather than a holiday for you and your significant other.


Branding Everything

In late 2012 researchers published a study in the journal Nature that asserted breast cancer was not a single disease, but rather an umbrella for ten genetically distinct diseases. This finding was significant because it revealed the need for nuances in treatment. One genetic type of the disease will respond to a protocol in a very different way than another. By understanding the fundamental differences, scientists have a richer understanding of how to treat each variant, to save more lives, and to reduce the trial-and-error approach that leads many women and men to suffer agonizing paths to wellness.

Marketers would do well to learn from this breakthrough in the science lab. In the same way “breast cancer” is not homogenous, “brand” is a blanket term that encapsulates increasingly diverse subtypes. Yet, managers and consultants generally approach brand development and management uniformly. Survey the landscape of branding and marketing agencies and you will find some differences in the semantic language used to express essentially the same framework for brand strategy: a positioning or promise statement, followed by an articulation of values (or pillars that define differentiating behaviors) and some collection of descriptive attributes that are variously referred to as “personality,” “voice,” and/or “DNA.”