Relating to customers – or too close for comfort? It’s a fine line for brand marketers, study suggests

By Caroline Scott-Thomas

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Brand Marketing

Relating to customers – or too close for comfort? It’s a fine line for brand marketers, study suggests
Brands are often keen to portray themselves as one of the family – but could subtle differences in linguistic intimacy make some potential customers feel uncomfortable?

According to researchers writing in the Journal of Consumer Research​, there could be a world of difference between perceptions of language like ‘you and [the brand]’ versus ‘us’ in marketing communications. Consumers’ existing feelings toward a brand, as well as their expectations of closeness with the brand, often determined whether they reacted more positively to one or the other.

The researchers presented consumers with a number of marketing statements, some of which coupled the customer together with the brand using ‘you and [the brand]’ or ‘we’, and others which avoided the use of language that coupled the customer with the brand. They judged the use of ‘you and [the brand]’ to be more linguistically distant than ‘we’.

“Customers expecting a close relationship with both real and hypothetical brands evaluated the brand more favorably after reading a message that referred to the brand and the consumer in terms of the pronoun “we” rather than the phrase “you and the brand”,”​ they found. “However, this effect reversed when customers expected the relationship to be distant.”

The researchers suggest that in terms of appropriate language, customers consider unfamiliar brands in much the same way as strangers; some terms – such as ‘we’ – may be considered too familiar.

“On the basis of prior research, one might expect that, if it had any effect at all, language subtly implying closeness between the brand and the consumer would facilitate persuasion. The present research suggests that this is not always the case,” ​they wrote.

Considering that impressions of marketing communication depend on existing feelings toward brands, the researchers suggest there may not be a one-size-fits-all approach that is effective for forming close relationships with consumers.


Source: Journal of Consumer Research

Vol. 39, 2012, DOI: 10.1086/664972

“We Are Not the Same as You and I: Causal Effects of Minor Language Variations on Consumers’ Attitudes toward Brands”

Authors: Aner Sela, S. Christian Wheeler and Gülen Sarial-Abi

Follow us


View more