Sticky Branding


Recently, I received a book about shaving. Yes, shaving. As an author, I’ve come across all sorts of books, but never one about shaving. This book, which is over 200 pages long, explains in copious detail how to shave. It seems the days when shaving was a simple part of morning ablutions, executed with a basic razor, are gone.

The book is the result of an intense marketing effort by the Gillette Company to teach the world of men (and women, who typically purchase for their partners) you simply can’t shave without using Gillette’s latest five-blade razor.

Gillette handles are inexpensive; the major expenditure is the replacement blades. Once you get used to the Gillette handle (and only Gillette blades fit it), you use Gillette blades. That is, until the new blades you buy require a new handle. And so…

This is “sticky branding,” and we’re much more prone to it than we imagine. Sticky branding is when you’re hooked on the brand as much for the emotional attachment as for its features, making it almost impossible to try another.

Have you ever tried substituting Microsoft Word or PowerPoint with Persuasion or WordPerfect? I’m pretty sure you wouldn’t even consider it (not that you’re in love with Microsoft products, which certainly have their fallibilities). Disregarding the time spent installing another program, if you did install new software your work would be incompatible with almost every other office computer. Word and PowerPoint are a global passport to the rest of the business world, guaranteeing anyone can open your documents. No rational or emotional argument could persuade you to change.

If executed correctly, sticky branding can be so sticky the consumer finds it almost impossible to become unstuck. Don’t get me wrong; if a Gillette shaver were of the worst possible quality or Microsoft products were unusable, people would switch. However as both products are on par with any of their closest competitors, a sticky branding strategy is the trump card.

Amazon has become a market leader in online retail. A company that started out as an online bookstore is now a global player in everything retail: books, CDs, toys, perfume, clothes… the list goes on.

One reason for’s success is the site’s layout. It’s simple and easy to use. Its one-touch order feature makes ordering anything so easy, people don’t want to use another service.

Google is another company that’s taken the online world by storm. What started as a simple search engine has quickly grown to become the largest search engine in the world. This simple, easy-to-use search engine has become a market leader. People have become so used to it they couldn’t switch, even if they wanted to.

In principle, sticky branding creates a bond between the consumer and the product based on navigational and distribution criteria. It works across many disciplines. Take a Nokia phone. If your batteries die, chances are you’ll find a colleague with a charger you can hook up to. The hotel reception desk probably has a spare one for just such an occasion. Nokia’s universal charging plug is just one of its many sticky brand components. Add to that the fact Nokia’s navigation is so intuitive and remains so consistent that once a user is used to it, he’d find change particularly disconcerting.

This is an experience similar to that of Apple computers. Distribution was once Apple’s weak link. Since the iPod hit the market, this changed.

Sticky branding came about by leveraging a combination of human habit, strong distribution, and consistent navigation. It’s a technique in which a consumer finds it hard to switch, instead remaining locked in because of the brand’s easy accessibility.

Sticky branding is one of the most desirable branding techniques, yet very few brands truly succeed in making it happen. Focus on the fact that humans are creatures of habit, and the sticky component of your brand can be the glue between your brand and the consumer.


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Overhead view of a row of four business people interviewing a young male applicant.