Once More with Feeling: Why Companies Should Take a Values-Based Approach to Brand Relationship Building

By Hill, Dan | Ivey Business Journal Online, September/October 2007 | Go to article overview

Once More with Feeling: Why Companies Should Take a Values-Based Approach to Brand Relationship Building


Hill, Dan, Ivey Business Journal Online


In the past, most marketers thought that a buyer's decision was purely rational. Or, what's love go to do with it? These days, however, marketers know that strong emotion is what builds and sustains the relationship between the brand and the buyer. This author describes why and how marketers can build that kind of relationship with buyers.

The Irish poet William Butler Yeats was describing an era of political strife in Ireland when he wrote, "The center does not hold." But he could have easily been writing about today's marketplace. It's not just in politics that the middle of the spectrum seems quieter than voices at either end, left or right, liberal or conservative. The same can be said of marketing and brand relationship building in particular, for over time the tradition of trying to be all things to all people to secure a broad but uncommitted mass market has begun to fray. What's the new, more viable branding approach in a marketplace saturated with choices? It's the need to connect to customers' values and belief systems strongly enough to break through the clutter and create an enduring brand with real brand champions.

What we are talking about here is passion, emotions and feelings because the goal of creating loyalty is nothing if not emotionally imbued. After all, what is loyalty if not a feeling? Unfortunately, at present, inspiring loyalty is a game being played defensively as companies use customer relationship management (CRM) software to track previous purchases made, buying habits, and demographic information that captures numbers instead of the people behind the numbers, and certainly not how emotions drive behavior. What CRM does well is inform a company what customers have done. But it is not nearly as good at anticipating what they will do, including the degree to which they're vulnerable to brand switching, because CRM doesn't provide much insight into the target market's values, which must be honored in order for a strong, emotionally-based brand relationship to flourish.

The purpose of this article is to demonstrate a new alternative. Instead of relying exclusively on numbers derived from demographic and usage profiling, companies can profit from a strategy that reflects customers' beliefs because everything customers see in the world gets "bent" through the prism of the values they espouse. Thus, companies should figure out which values matter emotionally most to their target markets and then be sure to address those values.

To bring that point alive, three topics need to be addressed. The first is to acknowledge that all too often companies are both overly rational and narrowly self-centered in their approach to building a brand relationship with customers. Second, breakthroughs in brain science and the emergence of a research tool known as facial coding provide both the strategic rationale and a logistical means of bringing emotions into business practice. Third, no target market is more desirous of a heartfelt, emotional approach to branding or more frustrated by the status quo than women, who make up the bulk of the buying public.

The need to be more customer-centric

Despite the wave of business books and articles heralding the concept, very few companies are actually customer-centric. All too often, they choose the what (their products, services, et cetera) over the who (their customers). Too often, the goal of getting ahead of rivals ends up having only a tangential relationship with getting closer to customers. Instead, companies need to focus on the people they serve. That's because those companies that do pursue a genuine customer-centric brand strategy will enjoy a significant advantage as a result of greater emotional equity, and that will drive sales. Yes, be true to the essence of the brand, but at the same time be forever on the move, proactively understanding and mirroring the target market well enough so that the company will become and remain closer to that market. …

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