Brands are an integral part of daily life for much of modern society, where we are presented with choices about our consumption every day. Frequently, its choosing between two different iterations of the same product, with not much to separate them except for an image and maybe a secret ingredient or two. Some people define themselves and others by the brands of products purchased, and an even greater number of people have an emotional connection to one brand or another, positive or negative.

A brand’s success is predicated upon this ability to effect an emotional reaction in a potential consumer. This can be done through effective advertising, by providing a superior product, or through incidental absorption into an individual’s memories or daily routine. For example, I’ve spent a fair amount of time travelling this year, and there are some days where i’ve been tired, sore, and out-of-sorts, with the only light at the end of the tunnel being the cold glass of Coca Cola I knew was waiting for me at my hotel. Or waking up more tired, sorer, and out-of-greater-sorts, only to find the comfort of Starbucks at every street corner regardless of city or even continent.

I do not get joy from using these brands because I’m seeking to define myself through them, and I certainly don’t crave Starbucks or McDonalds because I think they are unsurpassable examples of coffee or cheeseburgers. I know I can get better quality. But these products do provide a sense of comfort and an assurance of stability. It’s impossible to go through a day in Chicago without seeing one or both of those institutions. As such, seeing them in unfamiliar places provides an impression of normalcy through standardized surroundings.

Of course, I don’t think about all of this as I sip my Coca-Cola back in the hotel room. I just drink it and feel a little more at home. Or I turn the bottle around, let my entrepreneurial side take over, look at the label and wonder: how can a product establish such a strong connection with consumers? Coca Cola and McDonalds have a competitive advantage in creating memories because they were omnipresent for many people’s formative years. But newer products, like Facebook and Twitter, can occupy a position like that in people’s psyches as well.

Providing a superior product, which can be tangible or more related to services or experiences, seems to be the unifying factor among successful brands. When consumers really enjoy something, and repeatedly use it, it can become a habit for them. And stability, comfort, and normalcy are frequently functions of routine. Once a brand has reached this stage–being a particular part of a person’s routine–it can become a source of comfort for evoking a particular habit or memory.

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