Brand Religions: the 3 beliefs of the Relationship Religion

In 2017, retailer Tesco launched its brand community Food Love Stories, focusing on how good food brings people and families together. Getting up close and personal with their core consumers – those that enjoy preparing a healthy meal for their loved ones – resulted in a stunning 38% sales increase the first year, and winning the Grand Prix in the MediaCom category at Cannes Lions that same year. With Food Love Stories being an ongoing going effort, Tesco used this existing connection to help people feel closer to each other during the COVID-19 pandemic. In the spirit of “dedicating the food you love to the people you love“, consumers were encouraged to cook their go-to-dishes in honor of their friends and family. Tesco’s dedication to build strong, emotional connections with their core consumers builds on the beliefs of the ‘Relationship Religion’. This school of thought highlights the importance of building a long-term relationship with consumers, as this leads to loyalty and positive sales results.

#1 Thou shalt put emotions at the core

When making a decision, we don’t say to ourselves “What do I think about this“, but rather “How do I feel about this“. It’s a common mental shortcut, illustrating how deeply emotions are embedded in our decision-making processes. In fact, research has shown emotion and reason are often intertwined, but when in conflict, emotions win. If you want people to take action – whether it is voting or buying a product – you need to appeal to their emotions.

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. A campaign that triggers shock or surprise is ‘Shoppable Girls’ for the Canadian charity Covenant House. By creating a fictional fashion brand, ‘Shoppable Girls’, Covenant House created the illusion that not the clothes but the girls wearing them were for sale, thereby raising awareness of sex trafficking.

Body image for Shoppable Girls

#2 Thou shalt identify with thy consumers

The ‘Relationship Religion’ is all about creating an emotional connection, a relationship, with your consumers. Research has shown these consumer/brand relationships might even mimic everyday human relationships such as marriages, best friends, acquaintances, adversary relationships, or even flings. Regardless of the relationship type, building a consumer/brand connection starts with building a strong brand identity that consumers can relate to, and even identify with. If you as a brand don’t know who you are and what makes you different, better or special, how do you expect consumers to know?

Based on the work of Carl Jung, the authors of The hero and the Outlaw, Mark and Pearson, outlined twelve brand archetypes, each with their own set of characteristics:

Brands with a strong positioning have a dominant archetype. Gillette recently marked the outlaw space by switching their tone from male aspiration ‘The Best a Man Can Get’ to male responsibility ‘The Best Men Can Be’. Although disliked by many, their 2019 campaign finds fresh relevance by making clear it is time to move on from their old ‘boys-will-be-boys’ macho positioning, challenging men to redefine masculinity. Laundry brand Persil, on the other hand, would be positioned in the caregiver space, encouraging children to play outside with the promise that its products can get their dirty clothes clean again. During the COVID-19 pandemic, they transformed their initial tagline ‘Dirt is Good’ into ‘Home is Good’ to reflect the lockdown reality. Empathizing with the difficult situation many parents were and still are facing, Persil provided support by inspiring them with fun indoor kids activities.

The choice of brand archetype will influence the type of consumer that will identify with your brand. Identification is key in this context, and refers to the extent to which a consumer recognizes an overlap between their personality and a brand’s. As research has shown that brand identification does not just result in preference but also reinforces purchase behavior, it serves as an important metric in this religion.

#3 Thou shalt build long-lasting love

The holy grail here is building a long-term relationship with consumers, creating true love. Rather than trying to encourage a one-time purchase, the ‘Relationship Religion’ aims to foster customer loyalty in the long run. Brand loyalty programs are a great way to strengthen the bond with consumers and even turn them into brand ambassadors for their love brands (see ‘Influencer Religion’ [insert link]).

With consumer behavior being altered by the COVID-19 pandemic, brands embrace new opportunities to reshape these loyalty programs. Think for example about offering ‘shop from your car’ privileges, tapping into the need for superior safety. Retailer Sam’s Club introduced this concierge service for seniors and at-risk club members in March 2020, and since its debut, over 800,000 orders have been processed. Another example would be tapping into the rise of local activism. Japanese retail group Rakuten, for example, joined the digital charitable giving platform For Good Causes, enabling members of its loyalty club to donate their reward points to a good cause of their choice.

However, just like human relationships, a (love) relationship comes with ups and downs. Brands should actively try to keep the spark alive. People change, their expectations change and for brands to stand the test of time, they need to move along with these changing desires and behaviors.

The ‘Relationship Religion’ highlights the importance of building a long-lasting emotional connection with consumers. Online Insight Communities can aid brands in shaping these relationships, through an in-depth understanding of their core consumers’ needs. The always-on character of online insight communities allows brands to establish a structural and ongoing connection with consumers anytime, anywhere. For AXE/LYNX, for example, we set up an online community to capture their audience’s changing perception of masculinity, and to better understand what makes them tick. Curious how we approached their challenges? Read all about it in the AXE/LYNX case.

Would you like to find out more about our brand-religion thinking? Download the full Brand Religions bookzine and stay tuned, as we’ll share the key beliefs linked to each religion in the coming weeks!

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Niels Schillewaert
Global Branding & Communication Expert
Co-founder & Managing Partner

Contact Niels