In the field of consumer behaviour, multiple studies converge on the fact that consumers hold between five and seven brands in their consideration set across a broad range of product categories. It is highly likely that consumers will purchase one of the top three brands in their consideration set. In the low-involvement category, the battle for attention is even more fierce. Consumers are more likely to purchase the top brand in a consideration set of no more than 3 brands. This makes strong brand awareness a good predictor of a brand’s competitive edge. Investments in building brand awareness can help access category leadership, and lead to brand loyalty.

Product categories are not created equal. Neither are brands. As an agency that has gained the trust of renowned brands such as Cathay Pacific, Coca Cola, Ikea, Estee Lauder, Blackstone and GP Batteries, among others, the Spectra team takes pride in helping challenger and leader brands build equity. Airlines, cosmetics, private equity and batteries are competitive product and service categories, and require ongoing attention to maintain top brand position.
There is one feature that defines the dynamics between brands and their customers more than any other — customer involvement.

Buying patterns are driven by the level of involvement a product enjoys. Purchase decisions of low-involvement and high-involvement product and services mainly differ by the level of interest and the level of effort in collecting information needed to make a decision.

As a consumer, you have certainly considered buying a number of products over the past few months. When looking at the latest smart phone, you’ve most likely looked at a number of options, evaluated alternatives, and engaged in a problem-solving exercise weighing the pros and cons of various models and brands compared to your needs and aspirations. You then decided for one particular brand and model.

Now when you last ran out of toothpaste, or laundry detergent, you may have bought the product you first recognised without giving it much conscious thought. That is high-involvement vs low-involvement in practice. Involvement considerations apply to products, but also at deeper levels to consumer involvement and purchase involvement.

Kapferer and Laurent (1985b) developed the Consumer Involvement Profile (CIP) scale to identify 5 factors influencing involvement levels.

5 factors influencing consumer involvement levels

Interest. High-involvement products and services occupy consumer thoughts without the stimulus of an immediate purchase.
Pleasure. Feelings of enjoyment or pleasure play a key role in purchase decisions.
Sign. Self-image or ego refers to the activities undertaken by customers to communicate their membership of specific groups that develop and reinforce their self-concepts.

Risk probability. Galloway (1999) introduced the notion of risk probability to product involvement with “the width of the zone of tolerance,” which he suggests is inversely proportional to the degree of involvement.

Risk importance. High hedonic products such as luxury goods or highly priced delicacies lead to a magnified perception of financial and functional risk. Such products may be high not only on their pleasure potential but also on their ‘pain’ potential in terms of the physical dangers (functional disadvantage) present in choosing the wrong brand.

Rankings for the world’s most valuable brands show that Amazon, Apple and Google are all high-involvement product category leaders. At Spectra, we study Kantar’s World’s Most Chosen Brand rankings, which lists brands that have been chosen over 1 billion times over a 12-month period. This list gives more stage time to low-involvement category leaders that face greater branding challenges. Coca-Cola topped the list for the 7th consecutive year, with consumers choosing the brand no less than 5.5 billion times.

As the champion of brand awareness building, Coca Cola has achieved brand loyalty in a low-involvement product category. How do we achieve the same success?

Brand awareness: The main lever to elusive loyalty

Follow this link to review our previous analysis of successful brand loyalty programmes. [

Why don’t you google it? Do you have a band-aid? I’ll have a coke please. Few brands have the privilege to become proprietary eponyms and enjoy the benefits of top-of-mind awareness. The customer’s ability to recognise or recall a brand is a condition to decision-making in the purchase process. Purchases don’t usually take place until a consumer is aware of a product category and a brand within that category.

Brand recall.
 Brand recall is unaided or spontaneous recall. It refers to the ability of the customer to correctly elicit a brand name from memory when prompted by a product category. It indicates a relatively strong link between a brand and a category.

Brand recognition. Brand recognition is aided recall and refers to the ability of the customer to correctly differentiate a brand when they come in contact with it. This does not necessarily require that customers identify the brand name. Instead, it means that customers can recognise the brand when presented with it at the point-of-sale or after viewing its visual packaging. Brand recognition indicates a weaker link between a brand and category.

For high-involvement and low-involvement products where no significant differences exist between competing alternatives, spontaneous brand recall leads to loyalty. 

If a brand has secured the top spot in your category already, it is not time to despair yet. Here are 4 brand and business tools we have successfully implemented to help brands graduate from brand recognition to brand recall and enjoy a strong, differentiated position in their categories.

1.Bring brand benefits centre-stage and play up customer satisfaction

Keep feature talks to product development meetings. Benefits are what count in low-involvement categories. And nothing beats benefits expressed from a customer perspective. Many challenger brands usually focus on a specific problem, and offer a solution to that problem through their product. As specialists, they enjoy higher-than-average customer satisfaction levels. Sadly, too often these insights are tucked away in dusty trophy cabinets. Sensodyne does not make that mistake.

Sensodyne makes tooth sensitivity its core message. The brand invests heavily in creating awareness through the use of chill tests, bringing the problem of tooth sensitivity into the mainstream — then it presents a solution. The strategy pays off. Formerly a small player in a specialist segment, Sensodyne is now a $1billion brand, capturing market share from leaders Crest and Colgate in a growing global market.

Best-in class use of endorsement. Sensodyne invests in close cooperation with dentists, and is now known to be the No 1 sensitive toothpaste brand recommended by dentists, according to independent research (TNS survey). They harness the power of the third-party voice.2. Dare to bring emotions into the equation.

2.Dare to bring emotions into the equation

It is hard to imagine consumers exhibiting an “ongoing commitment” to a battery brand (Miller & Marks, 1996). But some brands have successfully escaped consumer indifference by using emotions in categories where you least expect emotions. Axe goes for sex appeal, Lays for celebrations and good times, Dove for real beauty. The learning? Pick a theme larger than the brand, larger the product, and larger the category. As a matter fo fact, pick a theme that is larger than life. And don’t be apologetic about it.

Emotions as fuel for brand energy

Forrester’s new energy framework identifies Emotions as the main fuel for brand energy. The firm surveyed 4,500 respondents and asked them to think of a retailer or bank of their choosing. Three contributors to Brand Energy were identified: Emotion, Salience and Fit.
Almost 50% of Brand Energy derived from “Emotion” — a dimension that reflected a basket of emotional motivators. Second in contribution, about 30%, is “Salience”: a brand that is top-of-mind and prominent has tremendous advantage. Salience stems not only from traditional awareness building, but also from the longer-term impact of positive emotional experiences. Finally, “Fit” contributes to 20% of Brand Energy. Fit is about relevance (deriving from price, product, availability, etc.) and also about alignment to the consumer’s world view (do you belong to the “tribe” of Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts?). It is worth noting that these dimensions are, as one might expect, highly connected. A brand that is “for people like me” triggers emotions that create long-term salience and feeds enduring preference.
Even when interest in a given product category is low, we encourage our clients to break the status quo and build awareness of their brands around consumer emotions. A battery brand doesn’t naturally trigger emotions. But the experiences it facilitates, whether video games, photography, or drones, offers a plethora of emotions to draw energy from. And this is what we sought to achieve with our recent work with the GP battery brand.

3. Embracing the subscription model: Aim for members, not just customers

The growing popularity of the subscription model is not about to weaken. According to a survey by McKinsey & Company, 46% of customers already pay for an online streaming service and 15% have subscribed to an e-commerce service within one year of the survey.

A few household brands such as GoPro and Adobe have shifted to a subscription-based business model and many new tech businesses are founded on the very principles of subscription. Netflix, Spotify, Blue Apron, Ipsy, to name a few.

The idea of charging a low recurring fee (monthly or annually) for a product or a service is not a revolution in itself. But when perfectly executed, companies that master the art of the subscription model elevate their relationship with their customer base and win true members.

In the low-involvement category, a few brands have nailed it. The Dollar Shave Club is a favourite for the simplicity and the value of their offering. But simplicity is hard and requires a sharp understanding of what drives core customers in their purchase journey.

Mandarin Oriental fans, Apple Fanboys and Official Disney Fans are more than customers. They are brand members, a community of brand advocates that form the epicentre of the brand ecosystem. And any successful subscription-based business knows the value of brand members. Robbie Kellman Baxter calls them superusers. In his must-read book, The Membership Economy, Baxter lays out a few core principles to create a successful membership business that adds value to the customer while building recurring revenue.

Steelcase is a century-old global company that offers a range of architecture, furniture and technology products and services designed to help people reach their full potential in the fast-changing workplace. As a key contributor to the creation of workplaces, Steelcase found customer focus on the most visible part of their offering, office hardware, limiting. In an effort to offer more value to customers, and users, Steelcase, in cooperation with Spectra developed the WorkLab.

The Steelcase WorkLab is a program that enables organizations to explore, test and validate the latest workspace environments. Employees and employers can experiment with new settings and spaces to understand the possibilities before launching a full change management program. 
The management vision is that it will become the seed for what will be a leading subscription model for the group.

4.Maintain high levels of innovation

Innovation is vital to all businesses. And if innovation is now a common theme in high-involvement categories, it is usually a relatively uncontested and accessible opportunity for low-involvement categories. Whether it is business model innovation, product innovation or marketing innovation, innovation can be used as a tool to build brand awareness.

Hoover led the vacuum cleaner category for decades. As a low-involvement product, marketing was driven by product features that only manufacturers actually understood. In recent years however, one brand name has managed to make vacuum cleaners relatable and cool again. Yes, we’re thinking of Dyson.

Our team has had the privilege to help this iconic brand achieve stellar growth in Asia. Dyson makes innovation the central component of their brand DNA. The brand pairs a narrative based on innovation and performance with fact-based user benefits. The next time you come across a Dyson ad, pay attention. The white panel depicts people you care about and the health benefits of using Dyson, while the dark panel explains the science and technology behind each machine.

Led by founder James Dyson, the brand has done so well in building around the theme of innovation, it earned the privilege to enter a new product category — hairdryers. The Dyson Supersonic was so well received it propelled the brand to new heights. Now far from being a simple home appliance company, Dyson enjoys the brand premium of a technology company, with hundreds of patents to its name — and this fuels brand awareness and recall, allowing the brand to outperform its competitors along the customer journey.

Getting to the top, and staying there

Low-involvement products and services are highly exposed to the risks of commoditisation. The low loyalty levels that define products like batteries, tissue, insurance or printers, are also a reinforcing factor in the phenomenon of commoditisation. With lower barriers to entry, any product category is subject to oversupply, resulting in a market filled with undifferentiated offerings, ruled by fierce competition. 

In these competitive environments, brands that acknowledge the reality of low-involvement and leverage Benefits, Emotions, Subscriptions and Innovation to build top-of-mind awareness are the ones that are poised to win.

The Membership Economy, Robbie Kellman Baxter