Guest Post – Consumer Relationships That Last

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How can brands build deep and lasting connections with target audiences? And what do brands that enjoy strong relationships have in common?
By Bob Grove

The cacophony of the last few months around political events, what caused them and how or why the triumphant won, has left a muddling backdrop for brands and marketeers constantly seeking to build engagement with their existing and potential consumers.

Brands have grappled with media fragmentation and the resulting decline in advertising influence for a lot longer than the politicians. Elections, referendums and scandals are newsworthy in their own right.  Brands, on the other hand, do not have the inherent right to earn attention and they are typically competing in a far more crowded field than the often binary choices presented by politics. Yet the intent is somewhat similar. Brands are looking for consumers to buy them, stay loyal to them, advocate for them and defend them. Deeper than reach, impressions or engagement – which disappointingly are too often the dominant marketing measures – brands are seeking commitment from consumers. Commitment that transcends short-term awareness or one-off purchases to become a lasting relationship.

The Edelman Brand Relationship Index, measures the strength of this commitment between brands and consumers across 18 brand categories, in 13 countries and 13,000 consumers. The survey provides insights into the actions consumers will take on behalf of their favorite brands, and identifies the drivers that will strengthen the consumer-brand relationship across seven dimensions illustrated below.
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Respondents selected their favorite brand, one they already buy, in any of the 18 brand categories – including travel, luxury goods, personal care, credit cards and OTC medicines – and evaluated them against the seven dimensions (above). This resulted in a Brand Relationship Index score as an average across the seven dimensions. Out of a possible score of 100, the global average for the respondents’ favorite brands was 38, which suggests there is vast territory for brands to deepen their relationships with consumers (see below). The brand relationship spectrum has been categorized into different levels to identify how consumers feel about that brand.

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The scores were remarkably similar across countries with 54 and 52 being the highest from China and India, respectively. China’s and India’s high scores are probably a reflection of the massive shift to a more consumerist society in recent years, as the socio-economic fabric of these countries have changed. The significant and quick rise of the middle classes in both countries has made brands more important in defining who people are.

Respondents around the world pointed to different communications drivers of their relationships with brands. For example, those at the “indifferent” or “interested” stage of their relationship, could be reached primarily through paid media strategies to raise awareness.

Consumers at the “invested” and “committed” stages of their brand relationship were more influenced by peer-to-peer and owned media. For example, peer-to-peer media showed a +7-point advantage over paid media for those consumers in the “committed” stage. Is it important that consumers are committed? The study showed that committed consumers are far more likely to regularly buy, even pay a premium, advocate for and defend the brand. These are clear tangible benefits on cost of acquisition and revenue for any marketeer. Given this somewhat obvious truth, it’s baffling that many brands today still primarily rely on a paid strategy supported by un-engaging and pushed social media content.

A few brands are already at the “committed” stage of their relationship with consumers. Social media and automobile brands showed the highest percentage of committed consumers at 17% and 14% respectively. OTC medicines were the lowest category with only 8% of consumers at the “committed” stage. Whilst these numbers may appear meagre, it is clear that building deeper relationships with consumers is attainable for any brand category.

Brands that have reached this pinnacle, show real and concrete actions that connect them profoundly with their consumers. These brands rely more on peer-to-peer engagement, as opposed to paid media. Of course, they have a combination of both, but their peer-to-peer recommendations are driven by better storytelling, which is possible because they are better at listening to their consumers. Listening needs to be authentic, rather than the all-too-often experienced, “thank you for your comments” type of response.

Most importantly, perhaps, is that the brands with “committed” responses shared common values with their consumers. Most often this means that they are working for a greater good of society. Equally, it could be about other focused passion points that are important to some consumers, although that may present challenges to scale beyond a niche affinity group and is easy to replicate in today’s rapid-to-market copy-cat business models. Without scale, few brands prosper long term, as innovation, the newest thing or disruptive business model make them vulnerable.

This is why, for “committed” consumers the greater good for society, or Brand Purpose, tends to stand firm. Brand Purpose extends far beyond CSR and is integral to the vision and mission of a company. It has to be authentic in how they operate as a business and how they communicate. It is not short-term. It has real business impact. The Earned Brand study showed that 62% of consumers will not buy a brand if it does not meet its obligations to consumers, the community and society at large.

We have lots of work to do as marketeers or communicators, although these labels themselves are somewhat indistinct today. “Invested” or even “committed” consumers are possible if a brand and indeed companies, decide to lift their relationships with consumers beyond short-term sales results gained through stunt driven marketing or paid media. As for the politicians, they may have figured out that simple messages that connect directly with their citizens work for a while, but living up to their promises will be tough. Brands that understand how to acquire commitment from their consumers will long outlive the politicians.

David Brain

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