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McLellan: Does brand intimacy matter?


Building a strong brand is an essential part of every business’s marketing efforts. It allows you to differentiate yourself from your competitors, it helps you withstand pricing pressures in the marketplace, and, when done well, it creates loyalty among your customers that can’t be bought or stolen. Like any relationship, you can screw it up by breaking a promise or behaving outside your values. But if you honor your word, those relationships are golden and just get stronger as time passes.

There are many aspects of branding, but one of the ways to think about and measure brand is brand intimacy. What exactly does that mean?

Brand intimacy is the emotional connection that people feel for and toward your brand. There are three stages that reveal and measure the strength, depth and intensity of the brand relationship.

Sharing: This is when the consumer and the brand interact. Knowledge is being shared back and forth. The brand is connecting with the consumer and letting them know exactly what the brand stands for, has to offer, etc. This is sort of the honeymoon phase of brand intimacy. It’s more about the brain (information) than the heart (loyalty), but it can lead to a bond being formed.

Bonding: In this stage, the consumer begins to rely on the brand. It’s the initial levels of trust, where trial purchases from the sharing stage move to a commitment of brand loyalty. This is when someone drives past three Starbucks to get to their Dunkin’ coffee.

Fusing: We all know people who have been fused with a brand because of the depth of their consumption and loyalty. The fusion stage is when the person and the brand are inexorably linked, and people co-identify them. The identities of the person and the brand are woven together. I’m a great example of this. I am a huge fan of Disney to the extent that at least a couple of times a month, someone will post a Disney-related item or story on my social media channels to make sure I saw it. When they think Disney, they think Drew.

Why does this matter? We know, thanks to advances in behavioral science and neuroscience, that consumers process information and then make their buying decisions based on emotion. This is true for toothpaste and multimillion-dollar pieces of equipment and everything in between. That emotional connection translates to dollars pretty quickly.

Brands who have achieved intimacy with their consumers have twice as many customers who are willing to pay 20% more for the same product or service. The Brand Intimacy Study, which has been conducted for over a decade, has shown that the top intimate brands, when compared with the S&P 500 and Fortune 500 lists, deliver superior financial results in terms of both revenue and profit growth.

This isn’t just a marketing tactic. Building brand intimacy with your consumers is all about the bottom line. One of the most impressive stats in the study is the “can’t live without” percentage. Apple is the second-highest brand in the study. Thirty-eight percent of Apple users said they could not live without the Apple brand and its products. Can you imagine having more than a third of your customers believing that they could not live without you?

In next week’s column, we’ll explore what it takes to build brand intimacy with your core customers so you can begin to enjoy the benefits of having such a loyal base of consumers. They will not only be a rock-solid foundation, but they’ll also be eager evangelists that you can mobilize to attract new consumers into your sales funnel and move quickly from consideration to trial to regular buyers.

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