When was the last time you analysed your reasons for purchasing a product? I don’t mean the purely fundamental or functional reason for buying something but the implicit reason for choosing one product over another. Why do we choose branded products over no-name items of ostensibly similar quality?

It has been generally accepted by consumer researchers that consumers are unconsciously – and sometimes consciously – aware of their use of products to define their sense of self. Some theories of this nature postulate consumers choose brands which can authentically engage in self definition; that is, when I buy a pair of jeans my most engaging motivation is that of choosing a brand which most accurately fits my self-concept. The motivation of needing jeans to cover my legs or to keep warm barely rates a mention in this context.

I find this theory fascinating. If I, as a consumer, choose brands which are viewed as an extension of my self-identification does it mean that every purchase is essentially a prop to my self-identity? How about consumables? Is the breakfast cereal brand in my shopping trolley telling all other shoppers about my true, essential self? Well, at some level people do use most purchases for self completion. This can happen from an item as mundane as breakfast cereal (I buy x brand cereal because I care about looking after myself and staying in shape) right through to highly involved purchases (If I buy a house in Dalkeith people will know I am successful in my career).

Not all product categories have a place in a consumers’ sense of self, however producers and marketers alike should be aware of the role products play in an individuals sense of identity, and therefore can be a very useful tool when considering the positioning of a product or service. Whether a consumer chooses type x brand of milk because she believes it makes her a better mother or decides to invest in a certain combination of shares on the stock market because that makes her a more conscientious citizen, brands are increasingly being used by consumers to bridge the gap between their actual and ideal selves.

Now that’s definitely food for thought on your next shopping trip!