What does it mean for a brand to have truly loyal customers? In our research, it means creating a bond so meaningful between a customer and a brand that their identities become intertwined.
When a customer experiences such a connection to a brand, that customer becomes up to five times more likely to follow the brand to new categories, three times more likely to purchase the brand most often, and in the era of online reviews and social media, they are twice as likely to recommend the brand to others.
Back in the 1990’s, social psychology researchers were interested in studying the impact of a sense of shared identity on romantic relationships. To measure this shared identity and better understand its implications in an indirect yet powerful way, they developed a measure (the “Inclusion of Other in Self” scale, or “IOS”) where respondents note with Venn-like diagrams how close they feel to their partners.
Despite its simplicity, the measure proved to be a powerful predictor of commitment, satisfaction, and overlap between the self and partner.
More recently, consumer behavior researchers have applied the same ideas to the relationships between people and brands. They predicted that, just as other people can be incorporated into one’s self-identity, brands can also be a part of the self.
Indeed, shared identity with a brand was shown to be a predictor of how people feel, think, and act about the brand. Adapting similar ideas for a market research context, we developed our own approach, Implicit Identity Mapping® (IIM®), which is a technique that captures the extent to which consumers incorporate a brand into their sense of self and how they think about who they are.
IIM® can be used not only to learn the extent to which people identify with their brand, but also to profile current brand evangelists and their characteristics. Comparing high-identity consumers to lower-identity consumers can provide insights into how to leverage high-identity advocates in order to build strong identity with a broader consumer base. It can also be useful to compare the profiles of consumers with high overlap with Brand A vs. consumers with high overlap with Brand B (e.g. are Coke lovers different from Mountain Dew lovers?).
In research, we’re generally striving to predict and influence behavior. Brands can use this type of analysis to create ways for consumers to identify with them, or to incorporate the brand into themselves, and adjust their behavior accordingly.
The technique works. Through validation studies, IIM® has been found to be five times better at predicting actual consumer behavior than traditional measures of opinion towards brands, even picking up on distinctions that opinion measures missed. Our IIM® approach goes beyond opinion and stated likelihood to purchase, and addresses consumers’ deeper, more emotional connections to brands.
Understanding what drives this kind of connection can be fruitful for businesses that seek to create this type of bond. Identity Overlap®, as measured by IIM®, has been shown to predict the likelihood someone will recommend a brand to others or will follow a brand into new categories, among other behaviors.
There are many ways IIM® can be used in analytic and reporting approaches. For starters, IIM® can be used as a broad index of overall brand health. Market leaders will often lead their categories in Identity Overlap®. Niche brands with devoted followings may have highly variable levels of overlap (their devotees will have very high levels of overlap, but fewer people overall will overlap with them). Weaker brands, meanwhile, will have low overlap. Additionally, IIM® can be used as an outcome variable that measures future consideration and purchase intent.
High identity correlates with consumers having a connection with a brand. And because of this connection, these highly identified consumers are likely to purchase most frequently from the brand, resist negative information about it, recommend the brand to others, follow the brand into new categories, and resist substituting other brands when it is unavailable.
Further, a measure of identity can prove to be a valuable research tool with the following use cases:
What are the specific ways that your brand can benefit from Implicit Identity Mapping®? Contact us today and let’s start the conversation.