Emotional Branding Vs Doppleganger Brand Image


A brand is an offering from a known source. It takes years for a company to build its brand image and to get acceptable reputation of its own. The American Marketing Association defines a brand as a “name, term, sign, symbol, design or a combination of them, intended to identify the goods or services of one seller or group of sellers and to differentiate them from those of competitors.” Brand not only allows the consumers to assign responsibility for performance and satisfaction to the manufacturer or distributor or service provider but also helps decision making where they need to choose as to which brand is satisfying their needs.

In order to clearly understand the concept of emotional branding  and the organized thinking and forces behind it let us first understand what it means and a little about its origin.

Emotional branding is not a new concept but an age old concept which had emerged as a very strong brand management paradigm. Emotional branding keeps the consumer as the pivot, is affinitive and uses an approach wherein a story is framed to drive the product such that it gets or filtrates inside the lives of consumers so as to build a deep emotive bond in the minds of the consumers.

This kind of building accomplishes to objectives mainly: one is that of market differentiation and suitable competitive advantage. These brands carve out a niche for themselves in the market and develop and entertain their brand community developed over a period of time. Such emotional branding touch lives of the common people and generate loyalty and trust for the brand. There are people who would buy only and only a “Harvey Davidson” or an “Apple” phone just because of their emotional attachment to the brands and the value that they hold. A proud “Harley Davidson” owner would always carry it with pride out of his emotional attachment to the brand.

Emotional bonding has several advantages of its own and has been widely used for marketing, associating with people and building a community of their own. But there is one aspect that disturbs this wonderful phenomenon of emotional branding and here comes into the picture what is known as the “doppelganger brand image”.

The “doppelganger brand image” is basically the effect of exposing the brand image to a cultural backlash. The doppelganger brand image is basically a family of defamatory images and stories about a brand circulated locally by a network of consumers, anti-brand activists, bloggers etc. With the passage of time these criticisms coalesce and form a larger threat which can wipe the brand image of its foundations.

A Doppler brand image competes with the actual brand image    culturally and goes out against the meaning that the brand normally conveys. It clouds over the actual meaning the brand is supposed to convey and gets the consumer confused. This tarnishes the long built image of the brand and poses a serious threat.

I believe the following factors give us an understanding:

i. Age at which the relationship with emotional branding take place for the consumer:

The age at which the customer engages with the brand is critical to the brand’s longevity. In the naïve stages the “doppelganger brand image” can pose as a serious threat.

For the consumer to truly engage with the brand it needs to be very visible both in the house and on TV. Brands develop an emotional engagement and change from those as a child to a teenager and then to a young adolescent and finally into a mature adult, through all these phases the emotional engagement with the product occurs and changes.

ii. Relevance of the branding matters with time:

A brand must stay relevant and adapt itself to the macro consumer trends or it will diminish and die through neglect. The emotional branding must check and maintain itself at all stages so as to survive the ill effects of the “doppelganger brand image”.

iii. Defending a premium positioning:

We need to ensure that “doppelganger brand image” is not able to tarnish the premium image of the brand as it could lead to several brand destruction. Brands find it extremely difficult to maintain premium position for long terms. There are examples of a relationship between price premium and longevity- where price premium is defined by a brand having a higher value than volume market share.

Starbucks coffee shop is a very good example in this regard. Starbuck aims at doing two basic things for its emotional brand building strategy:

(1)   It aims at providing to its consumers  the sense of an authentic coffee shop experience

(2)   To establish warm feelings of connection with the coffee shop owner/operator.

However due to the “doppelganger brand image” effect being easily available as a substitute for local coffee shop owners it is working in the favor of the competitors as they simulate a similar kind of an environment and being a part of the local culture are able to blend in more easily harming the Starbucks strategy of emotional branding.

Emotional branding shall forever hold its importance for the feelings of man dominate his rationale and the love for the brands a child grows up with into a man is influenced and enforced to his liking by his surroundings and choices he makes. At the same time the doppelganger brand image problem can change the notions of people and make them turn away from the love that years of emotional branding had built for their brands.

In this global village where you have access to millions by clicks of a few buttons you can consider the ill effects of “doppelganger brand image”  a serious threat for no matter which company you talk about especially with the number of  choices and reduction of decision time as time is passing by.

The author is ex-employee of Infosys and currently pursuing MBA from Xavier’s Institute Of Social Service (XISS).
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Priyo Ranjan

The author is an ex-employee of Infosys and he is currently pursuing MBA from Xavier’s Institute Of Social Service (XISS).