Why use yesterday’s thinking for tomorrow’s challenges? From Amazon to Apple, Whole Foods to Harley Davidson, we all have strong emotional connections to the brands we love. Yet in recent years, approaches to branding have stagnated, relying on models, structures, and thinking from decades ago. In the fast-paced, constantly-changing world of the modern marketplace, approaches to branding must evolve if they are to survive.
Brand Intimacy: A New Paradigm for Marketing by Mario Natarelli and Nina Plapler rewrites the rulebook on how to establish your brand, connect with your consumers and expand your market presence—all while increasing sales and consumer satisfaction. Mario is the Managing Partner at MBLM, New York and an established marketing leader to executives and their companies. Over the past 20 years, Mario has helped companies of every size and type, working across the globe to transform, align and manage their brands to deliver growth and value. Prior to MBLM, Mario was the CEO of FutureBrand North America and Middle East and was the co-founder of HyperMedia. He is a graduate architect with a degree from the University of Toronto. We interviewed him about Brand Intimacy, and on the power of appealing to instincts and emotions.
Let’s face it, if you’re a brand today, just being noticed, meaning, rising above the saturation of the marketplace, is a major challenge. The average person watches 12 hours of media each day and checks their phone over 110 times a day. Brands are being redefined by their users, not their owners or creators.
What a brand stands for – how it behaves, relates, and appears in a customer’s life is now heavily influenced by consumers. Eighty-four percent of millennials don’t trust traditional ads. The way we interacted with brands 20 years ago is irrelevant today. And yet we use the same methods for measuring, building, and managing brands.
We like to say that branding is no longer just art and science; rather, it’s psychology, technology, and just a bit of new religion. Today, brands must spread their message across numerous channels and platforms, and be prepared to build a community of engagement.
It starts with the understanding that 90 percent of decisions are made on emotion. Almost every decision we make is based on emotion, not rational thought and measured consideration. Brands that do well today are the ones that touch peoples’ emotions in deep, meaningful, and authentic ways. What this suggests is that to influence decision-making, you have to appeal and connect to people’s emotions.
We did extensive proprietary research, and also assessed multiple theories and models and studied the psychology of intimacy.
A key finding was that Brand Intimacy parallels human intimacy. People have a standard way of developing significant relationships with another person or brand – the steps are similar, the processes are the same, and the outcomes aligned.
Brand Intimacy results in greater longevity, more growth, and higher price resilience. We see that as consumers move from non-intimate to highly intimate relationships, so does their willingness to pay a premium for the brand.
Other key findings are that Brand Intimacy happens in stages and that intimacy is not permanent. Without work and dedication, intimacy can become indifference, which is its opposite. We’ve also found that technology can be a double edged sword and can both enable and diminish Brand Intimacy.
We’ve defined a Brand Intimacy model around six archetypes and three experiential stages. Erik Erikson’s definition of intimacy: “the ability to fuse your identity with someone else’s without the fear that you’re going to lose something yourself,” helps us frame what we mean by Brand Intimacy.
We use six archetypes, or markers, to measure the character and nature of emotional bonds between a person and a brand.
- Fulfillment: always exceed expectations; deliver superior/quality service; good value for the money
- Identity: values the customer identifies with; projects a desirable lifestyle
- Enhancement: makes life easier; helps the customer be more effective, smarter, more capable, more connected
- Ritual: becomes a part of the customer’s daily routine, as a vitally important part of their lives (more than a habit)
- Nostalgia: reminds the customer of fond memories and associated warm feelings from the past
- Indulgence: pamper the customer with a sense of personal luxury; appeals to the senses
The model is built on behavior, not academic theory. This helps us look at brand management from a holistic perspective. Everything a company does, including howit does things, makes a difference.
Let’s look at the three stages of Brand Intimacy – sharing, bonding and fusing – which comprise a number of emotional and rational milestones that are achieved when brand relationships become more intimate.
Consumers might vacillate between two stages before moving forward; some stages, due to a variety of potential factors, might move faster or slower than others.
Our Brand Intimacy Report2018 is the most comprehensive study of brands based on emotion. This year’s U.S. Top 10 Most Intimate Brands demonstrates the growing dominance of media & entertainment, emerging as the year’s most intimate industry and, along with apps & social platforms, linked to ritual, becoming habit forming.
Apple, for the third year in a row, remains in first place, considerably ahead of all other brands. Google breaks into the Top 10 for the first time.
Too often companies neglect their brand essence – their core foundation – either because they ignore it or they do not acknowledge the changing business landscape. They neglect the intangible, emotional impact of their brand because they don’t know how to measure emotional connections. Or they may lack an authentic story. Even worse, well-executed brand experiences can by hamstrung by antiquated infrastructure and processes.
- Examine the bonds your brand builds
- Articulate and motivate through your brand essence
- Align your brand and your cultural values
- Design and communicate for today’s aesthetic sensibilities
- Manage your brand and foster your marketing community like an operating system
- Drive your brand to inform and please customers in every interaction
- Use the proliferation of devices and platforms as an ally
- See your brand as a community and yourself as the activities coordinator
- Don’t let the deluge of data drown out the signal from the noise
- Create and sustain ultimate brand relationships
Are your customers increasingly passionate or indifferent? Why?
Brand Intimacy is a discipline that can be acquired – and increasingly an existential question.
INTERVIEW by Christian Sarkar