The key to achieving brand love in the 21st century
Whether you’re a single person or a brand, it’s clear that the rules for finding and keeping love have been upended in recent decades. Doing this successfully requires both people and brands looking for love to operate within a tricky digital ecosystem (e.g., dating apps and ad fraud); align courtship behavior with still-developing norms (e.g., #metoo and privacy rules); and deliver consistent value to prevent abandonment to a competitor (e.g., “ghosting,” and disruptive upstarts/start-ups).
For love-seeking people and brands alike, it’s a chaotic marketplace to navigate. But while modern daters have little other choice but to keep swiping away on their mobile devices in their journey for a soulmate, an analysis of Kantar’s U.S. MONITOR database of Americans’ lifestyles, attitudes and marketplace motivations suggests a far more controllable path for brands looking to start on the path to brand love. Comparing American consumers’ perceptions of brands today vs. 20 years ago, we designed the following five-step path for marketers looking to establish a deeper bond with consumers:
STEP #1: Get noticed through delivering dependability
It’s perhaps tempting to believe that the best way to achieve brand love is through grand gestures that sweep consumers off their feet and make them swoon for days on end. But the truth is that whether we’re addressing the dot.com era or the Trump era, U.S. consumers’ top priorities remain centered around those rather boring, basic brand attributes of reliability and quality:
For modern brands, the first step on the path to brand love is getting noticed, and the best way to accomplish that is to establish a reputation for consistently delivering on quality and reliability. Much like their human counterpart, brands that show any red flags in these areas are unlikely to even get a second glance.
STEP #2: Get a first date through lending a helping hand
While consumers’ demand for reliability and quality has remained steady over the last two decades, their need for help and guidance to manage marketplace choice has increased significantly. In fact, as consumers have an explosion of options that strain their cognitive capacity, they’re showing a far greater preference for brands that simply help them steer clear of confusion and clutter and make the right decision for their needs:
For brands, it’s perhaps never been more important to create products and services with a clear purpose communicated in a simple, transparent and highly intuitive way. Those that do so effectively—such as Bud Light’s recent decision to display ingredient labels on its packaging—can feel confident that they’ll at least get considered for a deeper relationship.
STEP #3: Maintain the momentum by keeping it fresh
As anyone who has ever been in an intimate relationship knows, the moment it becomes stale or stagnant is when it’s time to get concerned about the future viability of the union. As this 20-year comparison shows, this same principle applies for brands seeking love, too, as we’ve seen a big uptick in consumers seeking to be kept informed about new, interesting, and trendy developments:
For brands, moving from an occasional sale to a consistent one requires a constant evolution, if not reinvention, to keep their customers engaged and loyal. One way to do so: Take a page from the legacy brands melding touches of nostalgia with innovation to stave off challengers.
STEP #4: Get engaged by tapping into emotion
From both people and brands, going from a committed relationship to a potentially lifelong one is a leap that requires going far beyond cold, rational appeals. But while functional benefits play a far larger role in the decision-making process for brands than for people, the role of emotion is well established in marketing. In fact, of all the brand attributes measured in this 20-year analysis, brands that provide emotional satisfaction showed the biggest uptick since 1998:
For a brand, it’s clear that the role of emotion needs to be a primary consideration if it hopes to connect with the consumers of today and tomorrow. It’s a lesson that even the stodgy, ultra-rational Economist magazine recognized as it refreshed its brand communication and messaging.
STEP #5: Tie the knot by getting intimate
The last and final step on the path to establishing love is related to consumers’ growing expectations around receiving highly personalized and relevant communication from the brands in their lives. Much like modern couples deciding to commit to a life together, today’s consumers are increasingly expecting the brands in their lives to know them in a deep and intimate way. In fact, brands that reflect the unique taste and individuality of its consumers showed the second-highest increase among the brand attributes measured in 1998 vs. 2018:
The desire to serve up the right message to the right person at the right time has been the dream of marketers since the advent of the Internet. But as Big Data and artificial intelligence capabilities continue to grow, marketing messages, services and products themselves—such as Sephora’s Virtual Artist app that maps facial features and suggests different shades depending on a user’s skin tone—will need to move from dream to reality if the elusive goal of brand love is to be achieved.
Data note: All U.S. MONITOR data shown is among ages 18+ Americans and are nationally representative; the methodology used for 1998 data (RDD and door-to-door) differs from methodology in 2018 (online only).