By William Shintani and Ashwin Kulothungun
The most pressing issue for brands is how to build better relations with consumers
A brand is a vital and foundational component of every business, start-ups included. Today, brands and their behaviours are heavily influenced by the consumer: their reputation and their promises are constantly being questioned, evaluated and recommended by users.
The biggest challenge for a brand is getting noticed – the market is saturated with hundreds of options, all competing for the attention of the same consumers. As an example of this overload: a person receives, on average, more than 5,000 marketing messages a day.
This also means that competition is fierce – a brand’s differentiators are often rapidly copied and integrated into rivals’ offerings, creating a sea of sameness for consumers.
This demands that businesses think holistically about their brands, constantly questioning how they can stay relevant, adapting rapidly in an omnichannel environment, and fostering communities around reciprocity and a real exchange of control.
Brands today must be agile, proactive, and hyperconnected with their consumers. The path to success requires them to consistently measure behaviours, search for technological advancements, and have an inexhaustible sense of urgency.
It is crucial to identify and understand your key audiences and the various groups that influence them. It is also critical to look at the groups that your audiences have influence over.
A brand needs to recognise and address the priorities of its audiences to build strong emotional connections.
The essence of your brand is a foundational blueprint that will guide it through every engagement with audiences. It starts with a purposeful and single-minded strategic focus that articulates how the brand wants to be perceived in the marketplace. Supporting this are the visual expressions of the brand, from identity to secondary graphics, colour, and more. A strong essence creates an ownable force of attraction and succinctly communicates the brand to consumers.
Take Apple as an example, the brand has consistently ranked number one in the Brand Intimacy Study in the past three years. 46 percent of all users in the study associate the brand with the identity archetype (when the brand reflects an aspirational image or admired values and beliefs that resonate deeply) while 21 percent of users, the highest in the study, report their relationship with the brand being in the fusing stage (when a person and a brand are inexorably linked and co-identified).
With the brand’s essence in place, focus on building an emotionally driven narrative that connects the purpose of your brand with your audiences’ needs and aspirations. A brand’s story establishes tools, content, and campaigns that foster engagement and build bonds with consumers. A strong story provides a distinctive advantage in an increasingly competitive business environment by inviting dialogue and speaking to audiences effectively. YouTube, the world’s largest video-sharing platform, ranks high in the enhancement archetype (customers become better through use of the brand – smarter, more capable, and more connected) with 47 percent of users, and in the ritual archetype (when a person ingrains a brand into his or her daily actions) with 48 percent of users reporting for the same.
The next step is to orchestrate a unique brand experience. It includes all of the physical, environmental, and digital worlds where a brand exists and interacts with consumers. A focus on making these experiences engaging, personalised, memorable and crafted will delight audiences in every interaction, across more places and devices. Emirates, ranked number two, is deeply rooted in the fulfillment archetype (exceeds expectations, delivering superior service, quality and efficacy) as reported by 51 percent of users in the 2019 study. Sixty six percent of users also report having an immediate emotional connection with the brand.
As technology becomes an extension of consumers through smartphones, tablets and other devices, brands have become essential components and tools for daily living. Brands that participate in this new environment, where they become part of an individual’s personal space, must learn how to cultivate relationships.
The table stakes for start-ups have now been elevated, because expectations are higher than ever. The relationships formed between a consumer and a brand are reciprocal, and must be developed with trust, transparency, privacy and security in mind. But these are still just baseline expectations, upon which only a well thought-out and developed brand can create truly meaningful emotional connections with consumers.
MBLM researches and evaluates the emotional relationships that brands across 15 industries share with consumers across various demographics and socio-economic levels. Our research over the past eight years shows that more intimate brands benefit from several advantages, including consumer price resiliency, higher revenue, and higher profit margins.
The bonds between consumers and brands mimic human relationships: they evolve and transform over time. Thus, brand building is an iterative, continuous and ceaseless process. It requires not only the commitment to analyse and assess progress over time, but also the audacity to take new risks and try new approaches, as technologies, media, and ultimately, consumers, evolve.
Does your offering provide unique solutions to an unfound problem, and are you communicating it effectively across all channels?
Are you using yesterday’s strategies to solve tomorrow’s marketing problems?
What kind of bond, if any, has your brand built with key audiences, and how strong is that bond?
Do you have a compelling narrative that consumers can relate to?
Have you developed ways to leverage the ubiquity of device usage to become a more valuable part of consumers’ personal and work lives?