Decades ago, the ultimate relationship a brand could forge with its audiences was loyalty. It was a bond that would drive customers to choose your brand above all other brands. Now, we’re aiming for even deeper connections. Brand loyalty is well and fine. But we’re after brand attachment. While brand loyalty is tied to preference and affinity, brand attachment is an emotional connection. It has the power to not only get audiences to choose you when they’re in the market for your product or service, but to create a market all your own.
Now, these two terms are often used interchangeably, but we view brand attachment as a connection that goes one level deeper than loyalty. To prevent confusion, let’s break down the definitions:
Brand loyalty occurs when your audience is compelled to choose your brand above other options when given the choice.
Brand attachment is a strong connection between the brand and the self – when customers choose to be close to your brand even when there is no choice to be made.
What is Brand Attachment?
Consider the Chuck Taylor sneaker. What was created as a basketball shoe lost popularity among athletes in the ‘70s, but falling out of favor soon proved to be the best business move the company could have made. Skate kids, musicians, and a multitude of counterculture representatives claimed the shoe as their own. The connection these outcasts forged with the brand was deeper than those who had once purchased the shoe for its form and function. This audience became attached to the brand, purchasing pair after pair long after they had grown out of their subculture phase.
This phenomenon wasn’t driven by a loyalty that caused customers to choose the Chuck Taylor whenever they were in the market for a new shoe. They weren’t even particularly well suited for the applications their customers used them for. Sandpapery skate decks quickly tore them up. They didn’t have the support to provide lasting comfort on stage. People kept buying them again and again, but not out of loyalty.
No, the audience had a genuine affection for the retro styles, a passion for the counterculture the brand represented, and a connection to the memories they created while wearing the shoes. It was a level of brand attachment that helped them sell 600 million pairs before being acquired by Nike in 2003 for $305 million.
Laying the Groundwork
As one might imagine, a connection this deep and profitable doesn’t come easy. Even for Chuck Taylor, the evolution of their brand was more phenomenon than not. So how do brands go about triggering this phenomenon in the event that hip skate kids don’t embrace your product to the tipping point of trendy? You have to be proactive about creating the connection through your brand story. Share content that demonstrates your passion and values as a company.
There is no clear recipe for brand attachment and the ingredients are complex and varied. But we do know there are a few branding elements you need to pay special attention to if brand attachment is your aim.
We spend a great deal of time going into how to find your company’s Why in Finding Your Why: A Brand Purpose Exercise but it deserves a place here as well. Particularly the famous Simon Sinek quote: “People don’t buy what you do they buy why you do it.” This goes double when you’re focused on creating an attachment between your brand and your audiences, and quadruple when you’re trying to create that connection with younger audiences. Consider the rise of the millennial searchers:
“Millennials appear to be more interested in living lives defined by meaning than by what some would call happiness.”
– Jennifer Aaker and Emily Esfahani, New York Times
Brands with a Why that resonates with their customers are far more likely to develop the requisite depth of connection and meaning for brand attachment than those who are simply selling a product.
Brand values are a natural component of your brand. But you can’t be afraid to go bold with these values. No one becomes attached to wishy washy branding designed to appeal to everyone. They’re attracted to brands that feel like they were designed just for them. This means being bold enough to commit to a brand story and authentic values that align with your audience’s own values and story.
Authentic being the key in all of this. Your audience will be able to smell fraudulent values the minute they hit that first touchpoint. Your values should remain true to who you are as an organization even if that means risking lost customers. There is no shortcut to brand attachment, but those who invest the time in building a genuine brand and messaging that brand out to audiences will be all the more successful as each generation comes to demand more of the companies they do business with.
Just as you can’t play it safe with your values, you also can’t shy away from infusing some personality into your branding. Cold, clinical messaging might not offend anyone, but it won’t attract anyone either. Take the time to develop a brand personality along with the rest of your brand elements and make sure everyone understands how to thread that personality throughout your brand storytelling. Your audiences want to see themselves in your brand and that won’t happen if your marketing lacks humanity.
Harnessing the Power of Content
We’re not done yet. You can have the most meaningful Why, the boldest values, and the wittiest brand personality in the world, but it won’t do you an ounce of good if you keep it all to yourself. Your brand content, in all its forms, is the vehicle that will turn these ideas and principles into deep connections with your audiences.
The power of this content is one reason it’s so important to make sure everyone who plays a role in creating your content is well versed in the elements of your brand that are designed to draw your audiences deeper into a relationship with your organization. Every piece of content that fails to align with your values, carry your Why, or represent your personality is a wasted opportunity.
Build your editorial and marketing calendars out with topics, promotions, and partnerships that align with the values you share with your audience. Lead with your Why and add depth to your brand story at every touchpoint. Talk like the people you’re trying to reach, in the spaces you know they frequent. Before you know it, your customer relationships will become attachment and even advocacy that’s strong enough to impact your bottom line.
Start by exploring some brands that have successfully used this strategy to change the way they connect with their customers. Consider the way Barbie® was able to come back from the brink of irrelevance by focusing on creating products and content that turned a fading icon into a role model for a new generation. Or how Target used content marketing and strategic brand development to refocus their story and fight through the foretold death of brick and mortar. Use these as inspiration as you find your own story to tell.