There is a prevalent view in our industry that attitudes follow behavior and theefore do not matter. In many cases that is true, but in others it is not. Marketers who ignore brand attitudes risk making a big mistake, because in many cases attitudes do lead behavior.
I think the belief that attitudes do not matter is in part fueled by the fact that in survey results, positive attitudes almost always reflect brand usage. Big brands have more people agreeing that they possess positive qualities. On the one hand that is good to know – you want people who use your brand to think positively about it– but on the other hand it hides more subtle differences between competing brands. For this reason, Millward Brown has routinely stripped out this brand size effect for many years now, in order to understand the relative standing of a brand depending on different image statements.
However, even when brands are shown to be endorsed differently across image statements on a relative basis, you still do not know whether that attitude will drive behavior or vice versa. For instance, analysis of BrandZ data over a five year time frame shows that almost all brands that grew also grew their salience. This suggests that the two are related; however there is no proof of causation. This is a classic chicken and egg situation; buying a brand you found in-store will make that brand salient to you, but increased salience might also encourage you to buy a brand for the first time.
Chicken or Egg?
The only way you are going to figure out which is the chicken and which is the egg is to study attitudes toward, and usage of, brands over time. Ideally you would do this at the individual respondent level, but a reasonable alternative is to study attitudes toward, and usage of, a brand over time. Do changes in attitudes lead behavior, or lag them?
In my experience the answer is both. Sometimes attitudes lead, often in more considered and longer purchase interval categories, and sometimes they follow, often in impulse categories. Even then, you cannot make assumptions one way or the other, because it also depends on which particular attitude you are examining. For instance, people can recognize when a brand is different from others even when they do not use it, and we often find that brands that over-index on difference relative to current usage are poised for growth, provided that the difference has the potential to be meaningful to more people than the brand’s existing user base.
People buy the brands they like, and they like the brands they buy. Marketers need to encourage and grow this reciprocal relationship. My colleague Bill Pink, Partner Client Solutions in North America, believes the focus on what leads and what lags is misleading. Instead, he argues that the focus should be on understanding the network of relationships between attitudes and usage, and also identifying where the opportunities are in that network to enhance the reciprocal relationship between attitudes and behaviors, and in that way grow both.
Written by Nigel Hollis,Executive Vice President and Chief Global Analyst at Millward Brown