NEW YORK: Lowe's, the US home-improvement and appliance retailer, has partnered with market research firm GfK to better understand – and engage – blocks of consumers.

GfK worked with Susan Fournier, professor of marketing/Questrom Professor in Management at Boston University, on a study covering three continents, 11 categories and some 1,800 brands. (For more, including Lowe's approach to building a brand identity, read Warc's exclusive report: "How Lowe's discovered its brand personality".)

The resulting "Global Relationship Landscape" analysis, presented at a recent conference, was based on 27 consumer/brand relationships, each described in terms of personal connections – among them "casual", "love-hate", "family friend", "best friend", "buddy", "annoying acquaintance", "complete stranger" and "victim/villain".

Kim Cameron, senior market research manager for Lowe's, explained that social-identity theorists had suggested that those consumers who feel passionate about brands and have a close relationship with brands, exhibit symptoms similar to the relationships that people have with close friends or family members.

"And those close brand relationships are actually built through very specific types of experiences that at a high level are both positive and memorable," she said.

"Of course, these are kind of abstract concepts," she added. "We needed a methodology to be able to gauge our baseline performance and track improvements over time."

By pursing its analysis with GfK, Lowe's sought to define the positive and negative attributes of its brand personality, particularly with reference to primary competitors like Best Buy, Costco, Sam's Club, Target and Walmart.

One area of focus was developing a solution that had structural stability across cultures. Or as Jo-Ann Osipow, GfK's evp/brand and customer experience, put it: "If somebody in Shanghai says, 'Okay, that brand is a best friend', does that mean the same thing as someone in Nashville?"

A second priority was to ensure the relationships that the study developed were relevant for the brand context: "Not every human relationship is fully relevant to brands," observed Osipow.

The third objective involved benchmarking – at both the category and the brand level – the learnings about consumer/brand relationships to better understand the patterns of success that some brands have been able to build.

Data sourced from Warc