Building a Strong Brand Marriage

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If brands are about relationships, why not build a strong brand marriage?

I’m not suggesting you actually walk down the aisle with your customers. But maybe the time has come to look at brand relationships in a different way?

We all know that the best brands make strong emotional connections with their customers. Recent research suggests, however, that the best brands don’t stop there. Instead, they leverage those emotional connections to such an extent that their customers feel “married” to the brand.

In general, customers come to strong emotional connections with a brand in two ways. First, they personify the product (or the company) so that they have a relationship with it just like they would with a real person. They sometimes experience a full range of emotions when they interact with the brand, and occasionally even talk about the brand like they would a good friend. Apple Mac users fall into this group.

Second, customers can become part of a group that shares a common bond around the brand. Harley Davidson and BMW motorcycle customers fall into this group, as do the user groups of many software companies.

For most technologists and scientists, however, this emotional model of branding is just too warm and fuzzy, especially with products that mostly satisfy functional needs. Most technology companies find it very difficult to methodically and systematically build emotional engagements. They also find it challenging, if not impossible, to measure and monitor these emotional connections when they do occur.

As a result, when trying to build a strong brand marriage, many technology companies are left standing at the altar.

Engaged Customers

Thanks to some groundbreaking work conducted by the Gallup Organization around the topic of brand engagement, brand bachelorhood may soon become a thing of the past.

In their insightful book, Married to the Brand, Gallup draws on worldwide research and development efforts completed between 2000 and 2004 to define the emotional attachment necessary to bond a customer to a brand. More important, they illustrate the basic principles involved in creating the ultimate brand relationship — passion for the brand — and moving customers to the point where they feel that no other brand will do.

Fortunately for technology companies, the research doesn’t stop with luxury retail brands like BMW cars, Armani suits, or Louis Vitton handbags. It also includes those difficult to brand relationships between IT managers and their software providers or between physicians and pharmaceutical firms.

Highlights from the research include:

*There are crucial differences between a customer and an engaged customer. Don’t settle for merely gaining a customer. Instead, strive for customer engagement.

*What it takes to initially attract a first-time buyer is quite different from what it takes to convert that buyer into a fully engaged customer.

*It’s the total brand experience, and not just a few isolated elements, that determines the health of a brand marriage.

*It takes more than trust to build a long-term brand relationship. You must also have brand passion.

*Emotions are powerful, profitable and measurable.

*Every time a customer touches a company, the brand relationship can be enhanced. Or it can be diminished.

*Successful brand marriages can be achieved only by company-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.

Why Customers Say “I Do”

The best of the Gallup research involves a series of questions that measure and monitor the strength of relationship that exists between a company or a brand and its customers. As part of its findings, Gallup discovered that strong responses to these questions are directly linked to increased market share, revenues, profits and customer retention — just the kind of research and validation that emotionless CFOs can sink their teeth into.

The questions fall into two basic categories. The first three questions measure customer satisfaction; the last eight measure the strength of the customer’s engagement with the brand.

On a 5-point scale from “extremely” (5) to “not at all” (1):

*Overall, how satisfied are you with [Brand]?

*How likely are you to continue to choose/repurchase/repeat (if needed) [Brand]?

*How likely are you to recommend [Brand] to a friend/associate?

On a 5-point scale from “Strongly Agree” (5) to “Strongly Disagree” (1):

*[Brand] is a name I can always trust.

*[Brand] always delivers on what they promise.

*[Brand] always treats me fairly.

*If a problem arises, I can always count on [Brand] to reach a fair and satisfactory resolution.

*I feel proud to be a [Brand] [customer/shopper/user/owner].

*[Brand] always treats me with respect.

*[Brand] is the perfect [company/product/brand/store] for people like me.

*I can’t imagine a world without [Brand].

According to the Gallup research, the answers to these questions indicate with remarkable accuracy whether your customers consider you a life-long partner or a one-night stand. More important, they point out areas where companies can take focused action to build the relationship and strengthen the brand.

The reality is that your customers are eager to tell you the state of your brand relationships. Moreover, they would love to help you make those relationships even better. Wedding bells can chime for your brand, but only if you ask the right questions, listen closely to what your customers are saying, and take appropriate action based on what you hear.

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