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Brand loyalty


Why are martial art students so loyal to a martial art style, even when it is proven to be fraudulent? People prefer to believe that it is because they made the rational and correct choice when they chose their martial art. Actually, it may be because they are rationalizing their choice to protect their self-worth. If they refuse to believe evidence that shows they made the wrong choice then, to themselves, they believe they made the right choice and were not fooled.

Brand loyalty

People tend to compete for status by comparing and defending their choices in products, including their choice of a martial art, to the choices of others. Usually, these competitions are between men, because men will defend their ego no matter how much evidence proves them wrong. They develop loyalty to a brand, such as a style of martial art, and they stay loyal to that brand without ever really knowing why.

Brand loyalty is not just something people acquire on their own, it is a marketing strategy that has been used for centuries. For example, in 1877, Quaker Oats created the Quaker logo for their bags of oats so people would associate the trustworthiness and honesty of Quakers with their product, even though the company had no connection to the Quakers. The logo branded the product and helped create brand loyalty.

In 2004, researchers at Baylor University wanted to find out how brains respond to cola, and how brand affects the response. The researchers carried out several taste tests. Subjects tasted drinks in cups and then were loaded into an MRI machine with a plastic tube in his or her mouth that delivered tiny squirts of Coke and Pepsi while the machine monitored their brain activity. Sometimes the drinks were both anonymous, and sometimes only one of the two drinks was labeled—while the other, secretly, was always the same soda as the labeled drink.

They ran the "semi-anonymous" trial for both Coke and Pepsi, with different people. When people did not know what either drink was, they were equally likely to pick Coke or Pepsi as the favorite. But when one cup or one tube-squirt was labeled as Coke, participants preferred it to the other, unlabeled drink (even though both contained Coke). Oddly, the same was not true for Pepsi.

As for the pictures of brain activity: No matter what the drink, a part of the brain that responds to rewards lighted up. This makes sense since every test involved a drink with lots of sugar in it. But when one drink was labeled Coke, other parts of the brain also lighted up—regions involved in memory and cognitive control.

The experiment suggests that when you know what you're tasting, you not only respond to the flavor of the product; your brain also gets excited about other things it knows about the product. The subjects had been branded in the past and were loyal to Coke, even if they actually enjoyed Pepsi more. Their emotion’s huge mental constructs prevented them from admitting it, even to themselves.

When martial art students are told during every class about the effectiveness of the martial art and how great it is, they tend to believe it, no matter evidence to the contrary. Add to this the enormous amount of time, money, and commitment the students have put into the art and you get brand loyalty. The students do not want to admit to themselves that they made the wrong choice, so they continue to delude themselves into believing their initial choice of a martial art was a good one.

Branding builds upon these beliefs by making people think that they are, or might become, the person that the product claims they will become. Branding makes people believe they too will be thin, grow hair, attract a mate, or may become a martial arts master.  If you look at martial arts advertising, they don’t put down other arts or even brag about how great they are. Instead, the ads tell you how self-confident you will become when you are able to defend yourself against attackers. The ads tell you that the martial art will make you different from everyone else, make you special. Once you believe the hype, you are branded and will defend your martial art by finding flaws in the alternative choices and pointing out benefits in your martial art. A number of cognitive biases help create this behavior.

Cognitive biases

Endowment effect

This is when you feel the things you own are superior to the things you do not own. Psychologists demonstrate this by asking a group of people how much they think an object is worth. The group will agree to an amount, and then someone in the group will be given the object for free. Later, the researcher will ask the person how much they would be willing to sell the object for. The person usually asks for more money than the previously agreed worth.

Ownership adds special emotional value to things, even if those things were free. Once you have committed to a martial art, you tend it think it is worth than other martial arts.

Sunk cost fallacy

This is when you have spent money on something you find you really do not want to do and then cannot get the money back. For example, you sign a long-term contract with a martial arts school, realize you really do not want to learn the martial art, but you take the lessons anyway since you cannot get your money back.

In another example, after studying a martial art for a long time, you find out it is a fraud, but since you have already invested so much time and money, you keep studying the art. People are unwilling to switch to alternatives after they have become invested in the brand.

Choice-supportive bias

When you are looking to buy something, such as martial art instruction, you tend to compare and contrast all the different qualities of all the different martial arts. When faced with choosing a martial art, people are confused since they have yet to become branded; they have no emotional connection to anything, no emotional motivations. After some time, you eventually settle on a martial art, but then you get “buyer’s remorse” and wonder if you made the right choice. In response, you look back at your decision and rationalize your actions by believing the art you chose was the best of all the martial arts you could have chosen.

When defending your martial art, before making indefensible statements look at all the facts and empirical evidence. Do not let brand loyalty cloud your judgment.

  • McClure, S.M. et al. "Neural Correlates of Behavioral Preference for Culturally Familiar Drinks." Neuron. Oct. 14, 2004, Vol. 44, pp. 379–387.

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