IAE Paris - Sorbonne Business School
*Faculty member of the Business Science Institute.
Article originally published on The Conversation France.
Brands have always been symbols to identify and differentiate products or services. They are also social markers. But beyond these functions, brands today claim values that aim to become a growth lever by giving meaning to individuals: consumers (a Harley Davidson customer will not only buy a motorcycle: he will also join a community that shares values around freedom and escape), but also employees (for example, the toy manufacturer Lego will federate its teams around a mission to develop the creative potential of children).
The central question in brand management is therefore: how to build these meaningful brands? Several research studies conducted within the framework of the Brands & Values Chair at IAE Paris provide some answers that shed light on some rather unexpected factors that concern both customers and employees.
Consumers are not only looking for brands that look like them
First of all, on the consumer side. We know that today's individuals are looking for meaning. Some studies even claim that they are increasingly attracted to brands that embody values. A current research allows us to better understand how consumers apprehend the values proclaimed by brands. Indeed, we verify that a person who claims values, for example open-mindedness, will prefer a brand that he perceives as open-minded rather than a brand that is not open-minded. On the other hand, an individual who only claims this value of openness will prefer a brand that is associated with both openness and another value (for example, power), rather than a brand that is only open-minded.
In other words, if a person claims for example two values, let's say red and blue, he will prefer a red, blue and green brand rather than a red and blue brand only. How can this be explained? These results are in line with the theory of self-expansion which shows that, in interpersonal relationships, individuals have a need to enrich themselves. They will therefore form relationships with people who are both similar to them and allow them to expand into other areas.
This result is very interesting because it challenges the idea that people buy brands that are similar to them. Therefore, brands should not only target individuals who carry their values. Especially on social networks, instead of targeting people according to their current interests, brands would be more valuable to people less similar to their symbolic universe to whom they would allow new discoveries.
Beware of overly passionate salespeople
On the employee side, secondly. Numerous studies have shown the benefits for companies of employees who identify with the brand they work for. They are more committed, they defend the brand inside and outside the company. They become brand ambassadors to customers.
However, in a research published in the Journal of Business Research we reveal the limits of this quest for brand passionate employees.
One of the findings is that salespeople who identify with the brand have a certain resistance to change. They may find it difficult to accept the changes that the brand needs to make in order to stay current. Their passion for the brand may lead them to distort the brand's history. But the most dangerous thing is that some of the salespeople who identify with the brand forget about the customer. They may be spokespersons for the brand, but they can generate dissatisfaction among consumers who are experts in the product and do not always appreciate the brand's story. Or with consumers who are very attached to the brand and who do not always appreciate passionate salespeople who interfere in their relationship with the brand they want to be exclusive.
This research challenges the current practices of some companies that recruit salespeople based on their passion for the brand. This type of practice neglects customer orientation. To ensure a good customer experience, and in all sectors, there needs to be a return to a balance between brand orientation and customer orientation in the recruitment and training of salespeople. Specifically, companies need to ensure that salespeople embrace the brand's values while remaining customer-focused. Conversely, salespeople must take into account customers' expectations without betraying the brand's values.
Going beyond a reductive vision of the brand
These relatively unexpected results clearly show that companies still have an overly simplistic view of brands, which can reduce the embodiment and influence of the values that we want to defend in an organization. In other words, the potential to create value for employees, consumers and companies is not fully exploited.
Brands are a lever for growth, inspiration and innovation to help organizations grow and create jobs. There is nothing like a brand with values to motivate and give meaning to any organizational action that wants to create value for different stakeholders. It is high time to stop considering brands as a simple logo that would only be used for communication purposes.
Article translated from French with https://www.deepl.com/translator
Géraldine Michel's articles on The Conversation France.
Géraldine Michel's articles & books via CAIRN.Info.