Brand Management

Persuasion in the Marketplace; Belonging to the Brand

Written by Paula Gray

Persuasion in the Marketplace; Belonging to the Brand
By Paula Gray

Persuasion is the act of changing an individual’s attitude or belief as a result of receiving a message. This is a large part of brand management; to create an environment and opportunity to persuade a consumer to purchase one product over another. How do companies go about persuading consumers? How do they differentiate their product from a competitor’s nearly identical product, in the mind of the consumer? How do they create a particular attitude or belief around their product? Why would individuals allow themselves to be persuaded?

The persuasion is an internal process within the mind of the listener. There are several factors or needs that may motivate the individual: the need to be accurate, the need to be consistent, and the most important need for acceptance and belonging to a group. Too many brand managers ignore the latter to their detriment. An examination of all three motives will reveal why understanding the need to belong can create a brand that consumers fully participate in as a community.

Humans naturally want to feel that they hold an accurate view of the world around them. When the issue is of particular importance, they tend to spend a great deal of time and effort to analyze the relevant evidence (Lundgren & Prislin, 1998). However, when individuals do not have adequate time to research and analyze data they often resort to shortcuts for evidence.

There are three main sources of the shortcut data. The first source includes ready ideas in the message, which are those that are easily pictured in the mind of the consumer, and therefore considered cognitively ready. Advertisers often use this method by repeating a key phrase several times. Requesting that the listener picture an idea or concept makes it more believable and enhances the readiness as well (Garry & Polaschek, 2000). The second type of shortcut data is the response others have to the message, which the individual allows to influence their own response. The third type of shortcut data is the credibility of the message deliverer or source of the message. The individual bases the credibility on trustworthiness and expertise.

The need to be consistent can be explained with the theory behind the consistency principle, which states “people are motivated toward cognitive consistency and will change their attitudes, beliefs, perceptions, and actions to achieve it” (Kerick, Neuberg, Cialdini 2007). In our society, consistency is considered a positive quality or attribute in a person.

The modern well-managed brand also taps into the consumer’s need to belong. A brand can have a community surrounding it, which is similar to a neighborhood, but a brand can span geographic distances and is often defined by a state of mind or shared conviction. A sense of belonging is what draws cult like devotion from some brand followers. “A community of like people implicitly and sometimes explicitly endorses the individual. It’s a vital ingredient of the sense of belonging -(Atkin 2004).

Successful brand managers understand that they cannot create a space that is a place for everyone to belong. There is no way possible to satisfy all demographics at the same time so they may target a group that identifies as being separate from the mainstream. Harley Davidson brand of motorcycles includes in its brand guidelines the “Harley Truth #1: Harley is not for everyone.'”

In order to hone in on those persuadable consumers, and appeal to their need for belonging, a brand must create a mutual sense of separation with them. The brand manager will need to determine the potential customers’ feeling of difference, declare the brand’s difference with language and tenets, demarcate the brand from the rest of the world, and vilify the competitors (Atkin 2004).

The need to belong is a fundamental human need. Lisa Berkman of the Harvard Public School of Health, part of a group of sociologists and physicians who study the effect of social support on recovery rates among their patients said “The degree to which we feel part of our community or have deep abiding social and psychological resources help to determine how protected we are against biological, environmental or interpersonal assaults” (Berkman, et al 1992). Brands can provide the communities where people can interact and belong. They can provide venues for association that are relevant to contemporary conditions (Atkin 2004).

As the brand becomes a community, it can serve to satisfy not only the need to belong but also the other motivations behind a consumer’s persuasion. By also creating a space with credible, like-minded messengers, and by maintaining consistency it sets up an environment where a consumer is more likely to be persuaded to buy.


Atkin, D. (2004). The Culting of Brands. New York: Penguin Group.

Berkman, L., Leo-Summers, L. & Horowitz, R. (1992) Emotional support and survival after myocardial infarction, Annals of Internal Medicine (117, no. 12): 15 December, 1003-1009.

Garry, M., & Polaschek, D. (2000). Imagination and memory. Current Directions in Psychological Science. 9, 6-10.

Julka, D.,& Marsh, K.(2000) Matching persuasive messages to experimentally induced needs Current Research in Social Psychology, Vol. 5, No. 21 Retrieved November 12, 2009 from

Kenrick, D, Neuberg, S. & Cialdini, R. (2007). Social Psychology Goals in Interaction (4th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon.

Lundgren, S. & Prislin, R. (1998) Motivated Cognitive Processing and Attitude Change Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, Vol. 24, No. 7, 715-726

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About the author

Paula Gray

Paula Gray is an anthropologist and the Director of Research and Knowledge Development at AIPMM. She has traveled the globe to work with companies throughout the US, Europe, Africa and Asia-Pacific to help them gain a deeper understanding of their customers. She is featured in Linda Gorchels' book The Product Manager's Handbook and has contributed to several books on product management including The Guide to the Product Management and Marketing Body of Knowledge (ProdBOK). She is also the author of numerous blog posts and papers including Business Anthropology and the Culture of Product Managers.