How do people want to spend time with brands (and what are brands doing about it)?

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brands that people want to spend time with

We’ve just had Guy Fawkes here in New Zealand. In Wellington, there was a big fireworks display in the harbour as there is every year. It got me thinking about what brands consumers go crackers over, why and is that changing?

Recently, the research firm APCO Insight released its list of the top 100 most loved companies. Their study measured consumer attachment to brands based on eight emotions: understanding, approachability, relevance, admiration, curiosity, identification, empowerment and pride. There are some interesting results. Yahoo beat Google. Disney beat everyone (OK, maybe that’s not so much of a surprise) and Apple came in at ninth (which certainly would surprise many).

Most loved brands - top 25

According to the study:

  • The tech sector outperforms across all emotions, and rates especially well on relevance, meaning people see these brands as fitting with them and playing a meaningful role in their lives. But they could inspire more curiosity.
  • Retail brands are seen as highly approachable but people are less enthusiastic about wanting to be associated with them.
  • Restaurants are also approachable for the most part, but they don’t appear to help consumers feel as confident or self-assured as they could.

So what does this tell us about how we react to brands? Why is one brand more loved than another and are the criteria for loving a brand changing? (We could debate the use of the word “love” – a concern that Hilton raised with me last week. But, for the sake of keeping with the spirit of the research, let’s assume it means the brands that people feel intensely loyal to.)

My thoughts:

  • We favour the brands that help us love ourselves: the brands that we feel “get” us, welcome us and empower us. The rise of tech in APCO Insight’s research shows just how much devices have mainstreamed their way into our psyche. Machines telegraph our own currency (and therefore relevance) to others in addition to being relevant to us. More broadly, brands help us resolve things – personally and for those around us. There’s a lovely thought that explains this in this article by Joan Khoury – a good brand, she says, “is an exterior way out of an interior crisis”;
  • We look for brands that show leadership: the brands that we admire, that we identify with and that we are proud to call our own. So there is both a sense for consumers of wanting to be in control of the brands they buy but also wanting to be part of a wider community. Step inside an Apple store and there is both the celebration of the individual and a palpable sense of community;
  • We differentiate between brands that we feel welcomed by and brands that we welcome being associated with. My reading of this research finding is that we like how a great shopping experience feels but we don’t necessarily want to broadcast who and where we go. That suggests retail brands still have work to do to lift their desirability as brands as distinct from merchants;
  • We want to be guided at some level, but in ways that lift our confidence rather than telling us directly what to do. Compelling brands navigate rather than direct. They light a path and invite … and increasingly they need to do that over a multi-channelled, multi-stage buying pattern that David Armano has christened the “purchase spiral” using, I surmise, a combination of in-store, content, reviews, word of mouth recommendations and paid marketing. There’s a great article on this here. That further suggests that conversion cycles are increasingly individualised and therefore that calls to action that help consumers get to a point of comfort at each point of their personal conversion cycle, especially for considered purchases, are critical. Brands need to pay a lot of attention to who stays in and who opts out, where, when and why right along that buying process if they are to make sense of what works and what doesn’t. Each experience in that elongated pattern has a pass/fail. Each “converts” in the sense of impelling consumers forward, or it doesn’t.

That, in turn, would suggest:

  • Experience design is critical, content is now part of experience, and responsibility for experiences is becoming shared. The brands that consumers love keep giving them more and stimulating them to want more. Sounds obvious. But it reinforces the point that experiences are not isolated, that there is no one big-bang experience and that content alone doesn’t make you loveable – the full (wider) experience needs to aim to evoke the eight emotions that APCO Insight refer to: understanding; approachability; relevance; admiration; curiosity; identification; empowerment; and pride.
  • To make that happen, the experiences that brands provide to customers will need to be sourced from across the business, not just created and championed by the marketing department. This excellent PSFK article on Designing Customer Experiences clearly articulates the evolution ahead: “The new customer experience is actually a journey and it’s driven by the shared experiences of other consumers. It’s perpetual. It’s emotional. With big data, social media listening, research, customer information is more than readily available. More importantly, experiences and the emotions that people feel and share must be met with more than a listening or research team. This understanding and awareness requires a handheld escort throughout all avenues of the organization that in some way, shape or form contributes to the customer experience.”

Photo of “Fireworks” taken by Julie Stiles, sourced from Flickr
Chart of Top 25 Most Loved Brands, sourced from APCO Insight

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