Why Customers Become More Loyal After Flirting With Other Brands

A Harvard behavioral scientist says a relationship with a brand is a lot like a romantic relationship. Straying is invigorating, but brings back feelings for a favored brand even stronger.

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By Kevin Allen

This story originally appeared on PR Daily

I have used Old Spice High Endurance deodorant for more than 20 years now, with only one brief bout of infidelity.

I can't remember why, but last summer I decided to branch out and try Axe or Dove Men or some other non-Old Spice brand. I applied it to my underarms, per the directions. And I have to say, I haven't sweated like that since I was given the word "surreptitious" on stage at the 1993 Kane County Spelling Bee.

I quickly returned to Old Spice and don't intend to stray again. And as it turns out, some researchers at Harvard have studied that very effect: How flirting with other brands actually builds loyalty to consumers' favored products. Behavioral scientist Francesca Gino writes in Scientific American:

When consumers who are in committed brand relationships flirt with other brands, they become even more attached to their primary brand. They are then willing to spend more money to purchase that brand's products, and more frequently.

Conventional thinking in marketing is to position your brand's key differentiators against your competitors, thus attracting people to want to try your brand, like it, and become a raving fan. What that might really be doing is strengthening the attachment fans of your competitors' products feel.

Gino's research would suggest that a Pepsi shouldn't be trying to lure Coke fans away. It should be prodding its own fans drink a Coca-Cola.

So, why is this? Gino explains:

Research on interpersonal relationships reveals that flirting with a person to whom one is uncommitted elicits excitement and other positive feelings, as it is often playful, pleasant, and arousing. In the context of brand relationships, flirting can similarly elicit excitement, as using or admiring a brand other than one's favorite may be a fresh and arousing experience. This arousal can be transferred to the favored brand, resulting in greater affiliation with the brand and a greater desire to consume it.
Kevin Allen

Kevin Allen is a contributor to PR Daily.

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