Loyalty and the importance of authentication

You’re travelling to work on the train/bus/underground, or walking the streets of a busy city. You see someone you think you know out of the corner of your eye and you’re certain you went to college with them but it has been over a decade since you last met. You take a second look to make sure it’s who you thought it could be. Sometimes that confirmation is instant; other times you hesitate to really make sure.

So, what’s happening in this story? The important point to note is that recognition is the first stage of a two-stage process of identification. A second stage – authentication - quickly follows recognition, a process that is also true of the brands we select when shopping. Our System 1, subconscious brain, scans the environment around us for relevant stimuli (why it picks people out we know we will cover in a future post) when it sees something relevant it begins to draw the attention of the System 2, conscious brain. Authentication is the process of confirming what we initially thought we saw as being the genuine article; this process is either done quickly by the System 1 brain or, if this fails, it becomes a System 2 process.

Primal Instincts

Why we authenticate is a function of our evolution. As we evolved into the species we are today, we were vulnerable when out hunting or gathering. Our predators tended to hang around our food sources or we had a taste for fruits and berries that could kill us. Instinctively we learnt to check more carefully for threat and risk, a process that we ideally did through our System 1 brain as fractions of a second could often mean the difference between life and death. We still carry out this process today when we spot people we know or find a brand we think we want on the shelf of a supermarket store. In the world of shopping for brands, authentication is the difference between making a mistake or not.

How we identify brands is just like how we identify people; the System 1 brain does not store pictures. What it does store are the minimum elements of stimuli that enable recognition and authentication. Certain features, or, in the world of brands – brand assets - are used for recognition. The same or other elements of a brand’s stimuli are used for authentication i.e. Is this genuinely the brand, variant, pack type, flavour etc. for which I am looking? When the same elements of a brand’s stimuli are used for authentication and recognition, or the features used for authentication are distinctive, the process can happen almost instantly within the System 1 brain.

Brands that enable a System 1 authentication process appear to have higher loyalty. However, the truth is that the brand is just easier to buy using the System 1 brain – see it, pick it up, check it and put it in the trolley with no need to consciously think about it!

Life or death?

If the System 1 brain cannot complete the authentication task, the process is taken over by the System 2 brain; a process that opens the purchase process up to more rational, comparative and experiential decision-making where other brands will have a greater chance of influencing the purchaser through price and promotions. Not quite life and death, but it may feel a bit like that if you are the brand manager.

So, if you are worried about loyalty, ask yourself how shoppers authenticate your brands at ‘the moment’ that really matters - the moment when the shopper decides to pick a brand off the shelf and put it in their trolley or, clicks on it to put it in the virtual basket of the online shop – and make sure that it is a System 1 process. It may feel like a small thing but in those fractions of a second it could be the difference between winning and losing!

For more information on the importance of authentication mail fran.walton@waltonbarker.com or ring +44 (0) 3302 230 543.


Fran Walton has worked in brand insight and consultancy for over 25 years for both agencies and clients alike. Fran has always held a keen interest in the human decision-making sciences. He has applied this knowledge to help brands communicate more effectively in retail environments and across new media, and to drive diffusion of disruptive innovations.