The Real Reason You Can’t Quit A Brand: Hope Schau, Professor of Marketing

Hope Schau

If you’ve found yourself unexpectedly loyal to your Mini Cooper or Rip Curl sunglasses, there’s a reason for that.

It’s called brand reflexivity and new research by Hope Schau, professor of marketing, is showing that savvy brands are using it to keep you engaged beyond point of purchase.

“We found that brands with long trajectories need to create moments of engagement with their customers,” says Schau. “In other words, because the relationship with a consumer cannot stop at purchase, companies need to make sure they are reengaging existing customers and keeping them connected.”

Schau and her co-author Melissa Archpru Akaka from The University of Denver found that companies that apply moments of reflection are able to broaden their story, align themselves with their customers’ values and therefore create a lifetime bond that ultimately increases the demographics of their customer base.

For example, although Mini Cooper’s demographic skews as young, speed-loving and Brit-friendly, by creating baby books of new Minis on the production line and sharing these images with Mini owners on an annual basis, the brand is able to stay connected with its consumers even as they move into a different demographic. This practice also provides the opportunity for additional revenue as customers come back to Mini for service or accessories like checkered door handles or duffle bags—which further extend the brand.   

“For brands like Mini, reflexivity is all the more important because their consumers are typically not purchasing a new car every year,” says Schau. “So car brands, luxury brands, lifestyle brands and brands that create custom products have to find ways to create lifetime customers. Ultimately, that’s less expensive than new customer acquisition.”    

Even the Facebook Memories/On This Day feature is more than just a way of reminding you what you did eight years ago and with whom.

“When you see those memories in your news feed, you connect that memory with Facebook and therefore feel a bond with the platform,” says Schau. “It becomes harder to quit Facebook because it’s providing you with these moments. And obviously not quitting Facebook helps Facebook.”

The authors used surfing as a focal point of their research. Like many activities, including golf, tennis and yoga, surfing is cultural, typically something individuals do for life and around which they build an identity. It also is rife with the opportunity to create moments—i.e., that first wave you rode, your favorite surf spot and that custom board you saved up to buy.

Through participant observation and by conducting interviews, the duo concluded that through reflexivity, companies surrounding surfing have the potential to reframe themselves as more inclusive and more substantial than the stereotypical persona of a young lackadaisical Caucasian surfer dude.

“In other words, brands are almost unlimited in the types of stories they can tell, which helps broaden their customer base,” says Schau.

The research is forthcoming under the title “Value Creation in Consumption Journeys: Recursive Reflexivity and Practice Continuity” in the Journal of the Academy of Marketing Science.