T-shirts & Tattoos: A Lesson in Identity Branding

Posted by: Chris Elsbury
  • April 3, 2017
  • 2

My wife and I recently hired a contractor to help us renovate our home. Before the ink had dried on the contract, our contractor presented the whole family with t-shirts bearing his company name. My kids got excited, and soon enough, we were all slipping into our shirts and taking photos with the contractor’s brand badged across our chests. While seemingly an innocuous gesture, our contractor actually tapped into a powerful psychological principle that may serve him well as we encounter the inevitable bumps on Renovation Road.

Humans create identities and attitudes towards objects/brands based on past behaviors and experiences. By merely donning our new shirts at a time of eagerness and optimism, we took the contractor’s brand into our lives in a more personal way, as part of our identities. The interesting thing is that once something is established as part of our identity, we tend to be more biased in our opinions about the topic and more forgiving of transgressions. Another example might help bring this idea into focus.

Consider a new Harley Davidson owner, who clearly has a positive view of the brand at the outset. Over time, the more positive experiences the owner has with the motorcycle, coupled with brand promotion experiences in the form of gear and merchandise, the more likely it is that the owner’s brand attitude will become even more positive. In the case of Harley Davidson, some motorcycle riders become so enamored with their brand of choice that they tattoo the logo on their skin. These consumers are likely to process new information about Harley Davidson differently than a more casual consumer. While they may not recognize it, they will view the brand through a biased lens, emphasizing positive information as further proof of the brand’s superiority and, at the same time, quickly rationalizing negatives. After all, a complaint about Harley Davidson would be like a complaint about themselves. And I think most would agree that while we as consumers may complain about a lot of things, we tend to forgive the person we see in the mirror.

Now while my contractor has yet to explain any clause in the contract that would call for a tattoo, their t-shirt gift may have a smaller but similar effect. With our whole family now proudly wearing our t-shirts, rationalizing the choice we made in conversation with people who ask about the t-shirt, we have brought their brand closer to us. And therefore, when problems occur with framing or tiling, I wonder if, on a less-conscious level at least, we’ll be a little more forgiving than we would have been otherwise. After all, we are now no longer on the other side. We have actually started to join their team.

so what?®

Brand-building efforts that drive “closeness” between the brand and its consumer base are worth their weight in gold. A brand that engenders high levels of identification will have more loyal consumers who will purchase its products over competitors and be more forgiving of minor issues. As researchers, we need to focus on the power of brand identity, measuring it both from the perspective of how much consumers identify with a given brand (relative to competitors), and just as importantly, what aspects of the relationship drive the identification.

More later – just had a call that there is a problem at the house that I need to check out, but I’m already pretty sure it’s not the contractor’s fault.

2 Comments
  • Samantha
    April 4, 2017
    The only thing missing from this blog post is the family pic in the t-shirts!
  • EJA
    April 3, 2017
    Great blog, Chris!

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