The Brand Pyramid
Building Customer Loyalty
When you shop in your local grocery store, there may be some brands that you don't feel any connection with.
On the other hand, you might be really passionate about other brands. For example, perhaps you drink only a certain brand of coffee, cook with a particular brand of olive oil, or use a certain brand of cell phone because, perhaps subconsciously, these products help to define "who you are."
If you're in marketing, then you'll know how important it is that your brand speaks to your customers on an emotional level. When someone feels a strong positive emotional tie with a product, that emotion creates brand loyalty, and this inspires repeat purchase.
You can use the metaphor of a journey to describe how customers move from just knowing about your brand to feeling loyal to it. So, how do you know where your customers are on this journey, and how do you encourage them along it? Do most of your customers just recognize your brand and drop it as soon as competitors put similar products on sale? Or, does your brand create a sense of personal identity and loyalty with your customers?
The "Brand Pyramid" is a useful tool that can help you identify where your customers are on this journey to loyalty. In this article, we'll explore how you can use it to increase people's loyalty to your brand, product, or organization.
According to marketing expert Seth Godin, a brand is a "set of expectations, memories, stories, and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer's decision to choose one product or service over another."
Brands can distinguish products, services, and even entire organizations.
There are several different versions of the Brand Pyramid, but most are based on the model originally created by Millward Brown, a global marketing research and consulting firm, in the mid-1990s.
The firm spent 30 years tracking brand-health studies from thousands of organizations. It then used this research to create its original model.
The pyramid, as shown in figure 1, illustrates the five key stages that customers go through with a brand, starting with basic awareness and finishing with complete loyalty.
Figure 1 – The Brand Pyramid
Clearly, your goal is to get as many of your customers as possible to the higher levels of the pyramid. After all, the higher people are up the pyramid, the more money they're likely to spend with your brand. (This is why the pyramid is inverted.)
Let's look at each level in more detail:
Level 1: Presence
At this level, customers are aware of your brand, but little else. They may have tried your products and services before, but they have little or no emotional attachment to them.
Level 2: Relevance
At this level, customers start to think about whether the brand meets their wants and needs. It's here that they begin comparing the cost of your products with respect to the value these provide.
Customers begin asking questions like:
- "Does this brand fit my needs?"
- "Is it in the right price bracket for me?"
- "Is it worth it?"
Level 3: Performance
Here, customers begin comparing the brand with others, to see whether it delivers on its potential.
They're also starting to associate the brand with a specific identity, and they're beginning to recognize it and associate with it.
By now, the brand is on the customer's "short list" of brands to choose from.
Level 4: Advantage
At this level, customers have determined that there is a distinct advantage to using the brand, compared with others. They're also beginning to associate the brand with their emotions and with their sense of self.
Level 5: Bonding
Here, customers have established a bond with the brand. They've determined that cost, advantage, and performance are all at levels that they're happy with.
They've also formed a strong emotional attachment to the brand; the brand has become an integral part of their self-image, and helps represent who they are. This, in turn, encourages them to exclude other brands in favor of this one.
Customers at this level are also likely to be vocal advocates of the brand, which helps build further awareness within their family, social, and professional circles.
It's usually best to assume that customers move through each stage in sequence, from Presence to Bonding.
Applying the Tool
You can use the Brand Pyramid when developing a marketing strategy for your brand, product, or service. When you understand the five stages that people go through while they build loyalty to your brand, you can focus your marketing efforts on leading target customers through them.
Remember, however, that there is some crossover between each of the levels, and it may be difficult or impractical to focus on just one stage at a time.
Here are some strategies and tools that you can use when applying the Brand Pyramid to your own situation:
Presence and Relevance (Levels 1 and 2)
Here, you can use The Marketing Mix and 4 Ps to lay the foundation for your marketing strategy, and to help build awareness of your brand.
Additionally, you're likely to have different groups of customers, with different wants and needs and with different potential levels of profitability. It helps to use market segmentation or the STP model here, so that you can focus your marketing strategy on delivering offerings targeted at the distinct groups of people most likely to engage with your brand.
Your customers will also want to know how your brand fits with their wants and needs. Price is important here: if the price is too high, customers won't buy your product. If the price is too low, they might assume that quality matches the low price.
It can also be helpful to use the Conjoint Analysis tool to measure buyer preferences. This can help you identify what your customers truly want from your product or service; in turn, this information can help you fine-tune your product design and marketing to address these issues. (Kano Model Analysis can also be useful here.)
Remember, there is still little to no emotional attachment to your brand at this stage; customers are comparing price and value. As such, make sure that your marketing strategy addresses these key concerns.
Different customers will be at different levels of the pyramid at different times. The Product Diffusion Curve helps you think about how you can target different customers at different stages of a product's lifecycle.
Performance (Level 3)
To reach this stage, you need to show that your brand is better than your competitors' brands.
Ensure that your marketing materials give customers the information they need to compare your product with competing products. Depending on your audience, show your customers how much better your brand or product is by communicating its benefits rather than its features.
If you haven't already done so, conduct a USP Analysis, which will help you identify your brand's uniquely valuable features.
Advantage and Bonding (Levels 4 and 5)
To reach these final stages, you need to communicate the perceived further advantages of your brand.
It might be lower in price or superior in quality to your competitors. However, "softer" influences may also be relevant here. Customers might begin to identify your brand with emotions such as fun, excitement, or approval from peers. In your marketing strategy, you need to address and enhance these emotions.
Once your customers have a strong emotional tie with your brand, they're more likely to advocate its benefits to others in their social, family, and professional circles.
Here your brand likely has a culture surrounding it. Provide reinforcing rewards and incentives to your most vocal advocates, host events that are important to your key customer base, and do whatever you can to reach out to your customers, on a personal level.
The Brand Pyramid illustrates the five key stages that customers go through as they build loyalty to a brand, product, or organization. The five stages are:
You can use the Brand Pyramid as part of the process of developing an effective marketing strategy. Your aim is to get as many customers as possible to the higher levels of the pyramid.
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