Brand Religions: the 5 beliefs of the Relationship Religion

Over the past weeks we introduced Brand Religions, our mapping of today’s most popular marketing strategies. We kicked off with the Penetration Religion, over the Influencer Religion and now wrapping up with the 5 beliefs of the Relationship Religion. This last school of thought is inspired by Kevin Roberts, global CEO of Saatchi & Saatchi, who wrote Lovemarks and also by Susan Fournier’s work Consumer-Brand Relationships and by How Cool Brands Stay Hot by Joeri Van den Bergh, NxtGen expert & Managing Partner at InSites Consulting. Again, we will highlight five key beliefs that go hand in hand with this religion.

#1 Thou shalt put emotions at the core

Research by neuroscientist Antonio Damasio showed that when the emotional centers of our brain are damaged, not only do we lose the ability to laugh or cry, we also lose the ability to make decisions.
More than 95% of our decisions are taken automatically, impulsively, intuitively by the so-called type-1 processes. Only a small number of our decisions are taken by the more rational part of our brain. When making decisions we do not say “what do I think about this”; we rather guide ourselves by using “how do I feel about this” as a key heuristic. Emotions are at the core of our decision-making processes. In fact, researches argue that the very point of choice is arguably always based on emotion. If you want people to take action – whether it is voting or buying a product – you need to appeal to their emotions. In neurologist Donald Calne’s words: “Emotion leads to action, while reason leads to conclusions”.
There is a lot of discussion regarding the emotional spectrum, yet most agree that there are such things as primary and secondary emotions. Paul Ekman’s research even uncovered six universal expressions of emotions, namely happy, sad, fear, anger, surprise and disgust.
In advertising, many brands play on emotions. We can all probably recall an ad which made us laugh or left us with a positive feeling, yet there are also narratives out there that tap into the other sides of the emotional spectrum. Here is an example of an ad that triggers surprise:

And there are even those that tap into things that make you cry:

Therefore, emotions are a key metric when evaluating an advertisement execution. This is also how we approach ad testing at InSites Consulting, where we use different tools and techniques to understand the emotions conversed by an ad (e.g. eye-tracking, Implicit tool). As emotions are type-1 processes, we should also use measures that tap into this thinking. An example is the implicit association task, where an ad is shown and afterwards participants see different (emotional) items for a limited amount of time (1 or 2 seconds). They press the space bar if they feel the item can be linked to the ad. This method filters out over-rationalization, which is essential when wanting to measure the prompted implicit emotional associations linked to a stimulus.
Tweetaway greenTweetaway: Thou shalt put emotions at the core by @KPallini via @InSites #brandreligion #brandlove #relationship #marketing

#2 Thou shalt build a relationship with thy consumers

So, in this religion it is all about creating an emotion connection with your consumer. Research has shown that consumers do feel some affinity with the brands around them and that these relationships are conform concepts from the interpersonal relationship space. Miller, Fournier and Allen explored these inter-brand-consumer relationships and uncovered 15 different relationship types. Some examples are:

  • Exchange: where one gets a straightforward benefit at a reasonable cost – it does its job, nothing more and nothing less. A common example is Colgate toothpaste.
  • Adversarial: a brand you refuse to buy or that you are actively against. This could be Microsoft for an Apple user or vice versa. Another brand which could fit in this category is Monsanto, which is apparently rated fourth most hated brand.
  • Secret affair: a brand you downplay or keep hidden; you do not want others to associate you with it. Common examples are brands like Tampax or Kotex, the latter with a campaign that included a strong message.
  • Communal: a brand that you go out of your way for to support. You have a strong desire to help it succeed. An example is the supermarket chain Wegmans, which is top of the list when it comes to being the most loved brand. Some people even wrote love letters to the chain to share their love with the brand and their wish to have a store near their homes.

Tweetaway pinkTweetaway: Thou shalt build a #relationship with thy consumers by @KPallini via @InSites #brandreligion #brandlove #marketing

#3 Thou shalt craft thy DNA

Relationship marketing starts with building a strong brand identity that consumers can identify with. The core is to know yourself as a brand. Before you even meet the consumer, you must fully understand yourself. If you don’t know who you are and what makes you different, better, or special as a brand, how do you expect a consumer to do so?
Next, it is about knowing your type. Every brand has an ideal consumer who feels that brand was made for him or her. The trick for marketers is to identify that ideal consumer, their functional, emotional and social needs and to match those needs with what your brand has to offer.
Identification is key here and as such serves as an important metric in this religion. Identification refers to the extent to which a consumer recognizes an overlap between their personality and a brand’s. Academic research has shown that brand identification does not just result in preference, it also reinforces purchase behavior. This is also something that Diesel understood when, on their Pinterest page, they wanted to provide content in line with their target audience.
Tweetaway blueTweetaway: Thou shalt craft thy DNA by @KPallini via @InSites #brandreligion #brandlove #relationship #marketing

#4 Thou shalt build to last

You do not want to have a fling; the aim should be to have a long-lasting marriage with your consumers: true love. So, this is really about a long-term investment; rather than about trying to encourage a one-time purchase, relationship marketing tries to foster customer loyalty for the long run. And as Kevin Roberts puts it, love equals loyalty beyond reason. In a love relationship with a brand, people will do whatever it takes to protect and help that brand. Remove the brand and people buy a replacement. Take a love brand away and you have got a protest on your hands. The latter is also what happened a few years ago when Burger King removed their Whopper from the menu as a stunt:

This religion, in contrast with the penetration thinking, believes in loyalty in the long run. According to this thinking, brand loyalty comes with positive financial results, because loyal customers typically buy more of the brand’s products, buy them more often and are willing to pay a higher price than other customers. Next to that, they can also function as brand ambassadors, which we could say brings us back to the Influencers Religions we previously discussed.
Tweetaway redTweetaway: Thou shalt build to last by @KPallini via @InSites #brandreligion #brandlove #relationship #marketing

#5 Thou shalt work for thy love

Just like human relationships, a (love) relationship goes with its ups and downs. We all know that love is hard work. Similarly, brands should work to keep the spark alive. You need to keep on understanding and collaborating with consumers to keep that love in place. If not, the disconnect will grow and you are on your way to a divorce.
A brand that failed at keeping the spark alive is Abercrombie & Fitch, as their extreme positioning to the cool kids backfired. They did not see how their target audience had enough of the six packs, the half-naked torsos or the dark fitting rooms and that walking around with hoodies with a huge logo no longer matches the definition of cool.
An example of a brand that did manage to keep the spark alive is AXE. If I ask you what comes to mind when you think of the typical Axe advertisement, you would probably say things like a guy with a six pack being chased by a group of gorgeous women. AXE understands that the definition of masculinity is changing. One of the things they do, is connect with their target audience in an online community to understand what makes them tick and to learn from their feedback. Below, you can see one of their latest campaigns, which still reflects the brand image yet differently and more in line with their target audience.
Tweetaway yellowTweetaway: Thou shalt work for thy love by @KPallini via @InSites #brandreligion #brandlove #relationship #marketing

Want to find out more on our Brand Religion thinking? Download the full paper sign up for our Brand Religion Smartees Webinar on Feb 28.

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