Consumers today can choose from an endless assortment of brands to welcome into their daily lives. A preferred phone. A favorite soda. A dependable vehicle. A coveted sneaker.
And yet, even with a bevy of options, several names always seem to rise to the top in each category. Apple. Samsung. Coca-Cola. Nike.
But what allows a brand to become so omnipresent? How does it get to a point where consumers feel affection for a commodity? Some folks love their morning Starbucks coffee. Others have a bad day if their preferred shampoo runs out. What goes on behind the scenes to manifest an iron-clad brand loyalty?
“It’s one word: ‘my,’ says Adam Ritchie, principal, Adam Ritchie Brand Direction. “I drink several cups of coffee a month. I say, 'I’m getting a coffee.' The other day, I heard a woman on the street say, ‘I gotta get my iced coffee!’ My. Mine. The coffee hasn’t even been poured yet, but it’s ‘my’ coffee. When something is so much a part of your life that you feel pre-ownership over it, that’s as personal as it gets.”
Measuring “Most-Loved” Sentiment
Earlier this summer, consumer intelligence platform Talkwalker released its annual roundup of the most-loved brands. The report, aptly titled “Brand Love Story 2021,” revealed which companies thrived during a year of uncertainty.
Fashion and beauty brands made up a third of the list, which Talkwalker found to resonate with popular characteristics of comfort and distraction. The top 10 U.S. brands included Fenty Beauty, Netflix, Hulu, Sony, Nintendo and Samsung. In a year where many of us stayed at home, these names come as no surprise considering the amount of time spent with them.
Elena Melnikova, CMO at Talkwalker, defines “brand love” as about “more than people just wanting to buy a brand,” but establishing a connection.
“It comes down to consumers developing emotional and psychological ties to a brand, which leads them to willingly engage with a brand, experience joy from a brand, and ultimately results in increased loyalty, advocacy and trust,” Melnikova says.
However, brand affinity does also translate into big bucks. According to a Khoros report, 86 percent of U.S. adults said they’d spend more on products and services from a brand they love. Thus, Fenty Beauty reached $2.8 billion in revenue for 2020. Netflix enjoyed a cool $25 billion profit, and Hulu came in with $4.4 billion.
From Jan. 2020 to Jan. 2021, Talkwalker gathered data for 1,228 brands from 30 industries, based on several industry listings (including S&P, Fortune 100 Best Companies and BrandZ) and regional marketing expertise.
“Each brand was ranked based on engagement rate and net sentiment using [Talkwalker’s] Quick Search to create a shortlist of 153 brands,” Melnikova says. A score was formulated based on this, in addition to consumer engagement rate and sentiment across social media and news, percentage of mentions that were categorized as related to ‘joy’ and percentage of mentions that contain love-related keywords (“love,” “favorite,” “best,” “obsessed with,” among others).
Talkwalker created a report using brand names, social handles and related images using its AI-powered image recognition and logo detection at the platform’s ‘Topic’ level, then applied a filter with those “love” keywords that isolated the comments around those specific types of posts, according to Melnikova.
Talkwalker is not alone in these assessments. Several brands appeared multiple times on lists released this year, including Morning Consult’s Most Trusted Brands and Moosylvania’s Top 100 Millennial Brands. Brands including Sony, PayPal, Netflix and Samsung overlapped several lists.
How Brands Can Build a Consumer Love Connection
1. Become customer-centric
Understand your audience, not just what they mean to your brand, but think more broadly. What are the issues they’re facing? How has the pandemic impacted them? What global topics will get them engaged?
2. Find where your customers talk
There are numerous ways for consumers to stay connected. Find the channels that will work for them, and shape your conversations to suit those channels.
3. Start conversations
Don’t focus on your brand message. Consumers are looking for authentic connections with brands, and that means telling stories that they want to hear. Whether it’s tackling topics that are making global impact, or simply asking how they are, these will be perfect starting points to connect.
4. Join conversations
Marketing should be a two-way street. Be proactive, and join the conversations that are happening around your brand. Use social listening to find mentions you may have missed and answer questions people are asking.
5. Keep monitoring your brand love
Your brand love, and consumer perception, can change at any moment. A new campaign can give you a love boost, while a social media crisis can pull you down. By monitoring your brand constantly, you can shape the conversations to mitigate any potential risks.
The Power of Social Listening
No brand becomes a star overnight, nor does strategy work in a vacuum. However, measuring brand affection with social listening is the new digital focus group, allowing organizations to learn more about audience sentiments.
Nkongho Beteck, senior manager, social media and digital content, National Retail Federation (NRF), says social listening can benefit brands, but it’s about more than just searching what people are saying about your organization.
“From a corporate perspective, retailers are not only using social media to see what consumers and other members of the public are saying about their products and their brands, but they are also listening for sentiment around their competitors,” Beteck says.
“For example, along with our company name, NRF may search ‘retail,’ ‘retailers’ or ‘trade association.’ A company with many competitors like Nike would also want to search for related retailers like Adidas, Under Armour, New Balance, along with terms like ‘sports,’ ‘sneakers’ or ‘active apparel,’ to gauge where share of voice is happening on social media. This kind of information can inform organizations where gaps in their brand awareness could be and which new audiences to engage.”
Building a Brand
While numbers and spreadsheets provide relevance, data only goes so far. In these pandemic times, Ritchie says, strong brands emerged by meeting audience needs.
“If you look at how brands moved consumers from casual to die-hard during the pandemic, the standout ones came to their rescue by inventing new products and services that met consumers exactly where they found themselves,” Ritchie says. “Bumble partnered with Babe Wine to help couples break up and move on — literally — with a new service that gave you wine, paid for your moving expenses, helped build your dating profile and deleted all traces of your ex from your phone...Heineken rolled out “Heineken Haircuts;” mobile hair studios parked outside pubs where a celebrity stylist would give patrons a clip while they sipped a beer.”
Building a Legacy Through Culture
Sony doesn’t make “most-loved” lists year after year by accident. Ken Byers, co-founder and principal at Confidant, who works with Sony Electronics on branding, campaigns and content, credits Sony’s longitude by building agency at certain moments in time.
Sony found cultural touchpoints during the pandemic, when so many depended on entertainment and distraction during stay-at-home orders and lockdowns.
“Brand love has to be propelled by culturally iconic moments,” Byers says. “When you consider what you were doing during the pandemic...perhaps you were one of the many people clamoring for your PS5. Or maybe you picked up a new photography hobby with an Alpha. Or your kid recently watched a Sony Pictures Animation movie on a Bravia.”
The Role of Communicators
Talkwalker acknowledges the impact of the pandemic on organic social mentions and experience sharing, particularly because face-to-face interactions simply weren’t available. This made PR have an even higher influence than usual.
“As face-to-face conversations dropped, the organic mentions of brands online dropped too,” Talkwalker reports. “People were telling fewer stories about real-world interactions. To compensate for this, savvier brands turned to traditional PR.... People wanted escapism, and these stories gave them the opportunity to think beyond the current crisis.”
Ritchie agrees that the communicator’s role, no matter what size or age of the brand, makes a real difference when it comes to online AND offline perceptions. This can include inventive storytelling as well as providing ideas for new customer care and experiences.
“The communicator’s role in making brand diehards is to invent new products and services that are the truest embodiment of the brand — not just to promote what’s already coming down the conveyor belt,” Ritchie says. “A brand doesn’t need deep pockets...to take this approach. You need an on-brand product or service idea — one that could make news just by existing, one which your audience would love — the drive to make it real and the persistence to promote it. That’s how you build a brand beyond social or any other platform...This creates diehards, puts PR in charge of all functions right from the start, and elevates the profession from a brand’s mouthpiece to a brand’s creative engine.”
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