Study finds consumers sometimes pay premium price for a brand they follow online – even when they don’t trust it

Wednesday, 21 July 2021

NUI Galway

A new study, led by Dr Elaine Wallace at NUI Galway and senior academics from the University of Coimbra, Portugal, have investigated whether consumers follow a brand on social media that reflects their real self, or if they follow a brand to create more of an ideal self-image, and whether this would be associated with different outcomes offline. 

Companies often try to understand the relationship between followers of their brands on social media, and how those brands perform in the offline, real world. When consumers follow brands on social media, they sometimes do so to signal something about themselves (the real self), or to create a self-image that might be more of an ideal.  The study explored if that meant some consumers’ relationships with brands on social media are more superficial. 

Specifically, the study investigated whether individuals would pay a premium price for those brands offline, for instance would they still pay if the price of that good went up, or if it was more expensive than other brands in that category. The study also investigated whether these followers on social media would talk about that brand with their friends.  

Participants in the study followed a brand on social media, which included fashion and sports clothing brands.  55% of the respondents were female, with an age range from 23-37 years.  56% of the participants were heavy social media users, spending at least three hours online daily.  The social media platforms used were Instagram (50% of users) and Facebook (40%), as well as sites such as Pinterest.  While 57% of the respondents were students, the majority of the remainder were working. The data was collected in Portugal. 

In the study, the authors considered whether brand trust (measured as the credibility, integrity, and benevolence of the brand) would influence those outcomes such as willingness to pay a premium price.  In addition, the study investigated brand engagement, which is the degree to which social media users would spend time and interact online with the brand they follow. Both trust and engagement are typical characteristics of a strong brand relationship.

As expected, when consumers believed that the brand they followed was a reflection of their true selves, they would pay a premium price for it, and talk about it with friends – but only when they trusted it and were engaged with it.

Surprisingly, when consumers believed that the brand they followed helped them to show off an ideal self-image, they did not trust the brand or engage with it – yet they would still pay a premium price for it, and they would talk about the brand with their friends.

Lead author of the study, Dr Elaine Wallace, Senior Lecturer in Marketing at the J.E. Cairnes School of Business and Economics at NUI Galway, said: “We were surprised with our findings. Strong brand relationships are usually based on trust. Why would consumers sometimes pay more for a brand, even when they don’t trust it?  We believe that when brands are used to create an image on social media, consumers are willing to pay more for them in the real world, because they allow them to create an image offline too – yet this relationship might be somewhat superficial because they don’t necessarily trust that brand."

“By contrast, when people follow a brand that reflects their true selves, they need to first trust that brand, before they will pay more for it. We believe this signals a more authentic relationship between the consumer and the brand.” 

The full study is available in the Journal of Business Research: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jbusres.2021.06.058

-Ends-

Keywords: Press.

Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
« Back


Featured Stories