Opinion

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Distance may make the heart grow fonder, but not necessarily your brand

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Well, as with most psychological constructs the behaviour we exhibit can usually apply to a variety of contexts. Take relationship building for instance, this is the key skill in promoting both successful work and personal endeavours, vital in encouraging long lasting relationships. Upon breaking this ability down, research has suggested that it is “closeness” and “intimacy” that are among the two most important elements. 

The reason for this is simple; closeness promotes emotional intensity, while intimacy, the romantic touchy feely “stuff”, intensifies our feelings and leaves a lasting impression of our partner. All of this is being built on the ideal that we can frequently interact with our partner, thus making distance a destructive “baddie”. After all, if we can’t see our partner and physically interact with them, how can we get to know and love them?

While this was indeed a problem three decades ago the social, technological and economic advancement of our society has given couples the flexibility to interact remotely. More specifically, cheaper flights, longer working hours and increases in connectivity, promote not only the engagement of such relationships but also their social acceptance. Recent consensus for instance, has estimated that in the US alone a whopping 3.5m Americans are thought to engage in long distance relationships, the number ever increasing. But surely this can’t be a good thing?

Researchers Crystal Jiang and Jeffrey Hancock have shed light on this by suggesting that although interactions may decrease with distance, those that do occur are considerably more intense, memorable and influential. Such couples keep their love “alive”, they suggest, by engaging with each other at a highly personal level, discussing deeper issues, such as love, trust and future plans. It was therefore suggested that it is these elements that develop the psychological part of the relationship, which in turn, has implications to the relationships between retailers and their consumers.

Indeed, similar to human relationships, brand relationships have many of the same components. For instance, accessibility to products plays a key role in increasing familiarity and convenience to the brand, akin to the effects of closeness. Similarly, building brand identity can increase purchasing even when uneconomical and, like intimacy, is emotionally driven. Such effects, otherwise known as brand affinity, encourage “targeted marketing,” which directs itself toward consumers’ personality, preferences and desires. 

The aim of this? Simple: to develop an intimate relationship with the consumer so that the brand is repurchased without forethought. But how does this brand affinity interact with distance and are the effects like with humans? According to Klaus Fiedler, the effect of distance on purchase decisions depends primarily on whether we consider the feasibility or the desirability of the product as most important. 

Doctors John Lynch and Gal Zauberman illustrate this by showing that although consumers like to choose deals where they get “money-back,” they never actually redeem them. They suggest that because the redemption is generally in the distant future, consumers would be better off considering a cheaper option with no rebate, but alas don’t. Distance can also be increased to encourage the amount spent – a definite win if your offerings include rebates such as in banking or telecoms. 

The benefits of distance do not stop there, Torsten Bornemann and Christian Homburg show that these effects can actually allow you to raise your prices. Having found that distance increases product desirability relative to feasibility, high prices are more favourable when paid at a later date. As a result it seems key for marketers to drive home the product’s quality, perceived and/or real, so prevents attenuation to the monetary sacrifice needed. 

Read on to find out why advertising and offering future promotions are critical to success.

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