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Intimate Brands Explained

Intimate Brands Explained

Intimate brands David PR Group

We all have emotional connections to brands, whether we care to admit it or not.  If you always buy a certain brand of toothpaste, religiously order a call brand at a bar or ritualistically check the same app every day to get your sports scores, then you have an emotional connection of some depth.  And some brands are more intimate than others.

Think of folks who go to Starbucks every morning, only use Apple devices, drink Coke products exclusively, only drive Hondas, or who can’t imagine their lives without Amazon.  These represent some of the most intimate brands in America.  If you discuss this with Mario Natarelli of brand agency MBLM (“emblem,” get it?), he will tell you that such relationships are measurable, achievable, and produce quantifiable benefits for companies.

For the past five years, his company has been researching brand intimacy and sharing some of the results, typically with an annual listing of the most intimate brands.  I spoke with him about the most recent study and why this is important for marketers, business owners, and reputation managers alike.

Natarelli firmly believes that intimacy represents the next paradigm in marketing.  Many of the traditional marketing models are broken and discombobulated due to the proliferation of messages and advancements in technology.  It’s a scientific fact that buying decisions are impacted by emotion, so we better start measuring it and changing our marketing approaches.  He posits that it’s not just about what we push out and distribute to our customers, but what it feels like on the other end.

The report provides a comprehensive review of 400 brands across 9 industries in terms of their ability to create and sustain brand intimacy. They surveyed 6,000 consumers aged 18 to 64 and modeled data from 52,000 brand evaluations to quantify the key components that drive intimacy.

Looking at the MBLM study, some results are not surprising.  Companies like Apple, Coke, BMW, and Toyota grace the top ten.  But what struck me was that their competitors Microsoft, Pepsi, Mercedes, and Honda scored well but not as highly – none reached the top 10.

What factors make the difference?

The most intimate brands have built stronger relationships with their customers, and we know that means more than a pat on the back.

Natarelli and his team compared the financial performance of intimate brands with S&P 500 and Fortune 500 indices, and the intimate brands fared better in both revenue and profit growth over the past 10 years.

They also surveyed customers of the most intimate brands and found that intimate customers said they would be willing to pay more for products on the list.  Intimate brands command a price premium, enjoying more financial resilience than brands in the same industries that are not intimate.

Looking at the list, one might say it is full of blue-chip stocks that spend a ton on advertising, but Natarelli points out that many companies on the list are not necessarily represented on traditional indices.  The main point is that intimate brands perform well over time and have the potential for higher margins.  Science and statistics back it up.

So how do you make your brand more intimate?

According to Natarelli, the first step is recognizing and appreciating the power of emotions and intimacy.  Do you understand the essence of your brand and what it means to your customers?

Then, are you measuring it, in terms of the bonds you are building with your customers?

Next, determine how intimacy helps you.  Can you use intimacy as a way to build growth?

Then, strategy and tactics: How are you communicating? Is your digital strategy fully aligned? Are you sharing information with your customers when and how they want it?

Finally, are you telling your story clearly and in a meaningful way and focusing on the customer experience?

Aside from a purer sense of loyalty and the ability to charge higher prices, intimate brands also help protect a company’s offline and online reputation.  As this is a topic I follow closely, I asked Natarelli how intimate brands handle slip-ups, and he said that brands that build goodwill and equity with their customers can weather bad situations better than others.

He pointed to how Apple handled the U2 album giveaway issue in 2014.  Many Apple customers were surprised and upset that the company could add music to their iPhones without permission.  Yet Apple’s strong brand only took a minor reputational hit.  Such situations also show that intimacy can cut both ways.  Brand intimacy offers a great benefit from customers, yet much is also expected of these brands.

To review a copy of the brand intimacy report, visit  http://mblm.com/brandintimacy/report.


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