With what do most buyers first connect, emphasizing the primacy of brands in customer engagement?


Brands connect with buyers at the deepest levels of identity, activating both the recognition of a desired or wanted benefit and the self-identification as a user or consumer of a branded product or service.

The figure below depicts two essential dimensions of brands: brands serve two masters.


Buyers associate the benefits of a particular product or service within three broadly defined meta-benefits. In the context of brand marketing and customer engagement, meta-benefits frame the specific satisfactions or utilities of a particular product or service. Discussion of the specific satisfactions or utilities relates to an offering’s value proposition—distinct but related to an offering’s brand.

Brands simplify choice. Often this translates into less work or confusion in finding a needed solution—a faster and more convenient buying process. Economists refer to this as lower search costs.

Brands reduce risk associated with the buying and using experience. They telegraph assured, consistent quality. Market leadership (brands with millions of customers) conveys safety—the instinctual law that one will find safety in numbers (the herd or gated community).

Brands with higher visibility in a market often translate their popularity into broader market availability—a greater number of resellers will stock the merchandise.

Brands reflect the self-identity of buyers. Consumer brands confirm one’s social status as well as energize the desire to belong to a particular social peer group. Business brands reflect similar institutional values: industry leaders buy for other industry leaders; innovative firms tend to buy from other innovation leaders.


Sellers often confuse the meaning and value of their brands with the operational aspects of marketing and sales.

The lower portion of the figure below depicts seven important, inward-looking aspects of brand, describing a brand as a resource or tool that marketing will use in competitive markets.

While these sell-side functions of a brand are interesting and relevant to a career in marketing, most customers will experience them as noxious, offensive, and “not cool.”

Differentiation as suggested below constitutes the only sell-side function of a brand about which consumers care.

Institutional citizenship
reflects commitment to increasing the human capital of the societies in which the firm markets its goods and services. Diversity, sustainability, and literacy represent important first steps by enterprises in the long-term process of earning and keeping the trust of customers and stakeholders.

Distinctive capability represents the ways of working that analysts, press, and other stakeholders hold in high regard—“great work” for others to emulate.

Secret sauce in this context represents a trade secret that confers a small but nonetheless meaningful point of distinction of a featured product: Coke’s secret formula and KFC’s special herbs and spices that make chicken “fingerlickin’.

Buyer Motivations

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