Building Brand Intimacy: How to Emotionally Connect With Customers

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Word of mouth is one of the most effective ways to attract new customers. But how do you encourage word of mouth referrals?

Emotions are the driving force behind 50% of all buying decisions. According to the Small Business Administration, “creating strong emotions — either positive or negative — can help build a bond between your customers and your business,” which is definitely a goal all businesses share. Positive emotions are vital to a good retail customer experience as a loyal customer is more likely to recommend your business than a one-time customer.

A brand’s connection with consumers’ emotions, also known as brand intimacy, directly affects the growth of its business. Brand intimacy encourages bonds that are reciprocal and are deepened by emotions. The user must have engaged with or repeatedly tried a brand before a connection is expected.

A strong emotional connection is determined by the degree of overall positive feelings a customer has toward a brand and the extent to which a person associates the brand with key attributes. Some of the patterns or markers of such intimacy include but not limited to: Fulfilment, when your brand delivers superior service that exceeds expectation; identity, nostalgia, indulgence, ritual, and enhancement.

There are various stages that reveal the degrees of brand intimacy with customers: Sharing is when the user and a brand engage and interact. In the Bonding stage, acceptance and trust are established when an attachment is created and the relationship between a user and a brand becomes more significant and committed. Fusing is when a person and a brand are inexorably linked and co-identified. The identities of the person and the brand have merged and become a form of mutual expression.

Marketing agency MBLM developed a model which measures brand level intimacy and assigns a brand intimacy quotient. A first step is building strong emotional connections with the customer. This can be achieved by investing in any of the six archetypes or characters of bonds. These are:

  1. Fulfillment - Meeting a customer’s need beyond their expectations. This positions your brand as one that over delivers.
  2. Identity - Creating an aspirational image that resonates deeply with consumers. Customers identify as a group and feel the brand represents them.
  3. Enhancement - Helping customers become better, smarter and more capable through using your brand. This reinforces your brand reputation and makes consumers even more connected to your brand.
  4. Ritual - Making your brand part of the daily routine of your readers. Think of the blog that you read daily and consider how you feel about the brand. Certainly, the connection is far more intimate than a blog you visit randomly.
  5. Nostalgia - Evoking the memories customers have of your brand is a sure way to make the connection deeper. This is particularly effective if a brand had been part of a customer's childhood.
  6. Indulgence - Creating a relationship around fun and gratifying experiences. Consider your to-do activities in your moments of bliss and reflect on the brands you interact with.

Best Practices for Small Businesses

Practice empathy.

One of the easiest ways to connect with your customers is to read body language, ask questions, pay attention and offer concise solutions at any point of contact. This is especially important in the sharing stage. If consumers feel you are not invested enough in solving their problems, they won't be moved into a relationship.

Be authentic.

The best way to send a brand to oblivion is to lose it a sea of sameness. Gone are the days when outlandish corporate speak was the trade of the market. Today's consumers expect a brand to connect with them in an instinctive human way. Doing these means finding and pushing your brand's uniqueness in non-intrusive ways.

Take for example, the #LiveOutside ad created by Jansport regarding the outdoor culture showcasing street artists painting bare walls in cities around the world and posting on JanSport’s social media channels.

Tell stories.

If you look at the six archetypes the MLBM study identifies, you would find that it would be nearly impossible for a brand to score for any of those points without strong storytelling. Timepiece brands use storytelling to build strong traditions around their products. No matter how big or small or the brand is, we see storytelling playing a pivotal role in building brand intimacy.

Understanding the variables that enable brand intimacy should be given priority. By consistently investing in any of the six characters of bond, you can guide your customers from the sharing to fusing stage where they become brand ambassadors.