According to recent research, you probably love The Walt Disney Company, Yahoo!, Google and Sony.
These companies top APCO Worldwide’s list of the 100 Most Loved Companies. The business strategy firm’s 2013 study measured the emotional attachment consumers have to brands based on eight emotions: understanding, approachability, relevance, admiration, curiosity, identification, empowerment and pride.
The rankings are the result of a decade-long research project including a global survey of more than 600 of the world’s largest corporate brands among more than 70,000 people in 15 key markets across the world.
More and more research is showing that emotional attachment is the most reliable predictor of brand choice and loyalty. Not the lowest prices. Not the longest list of features. Not the biggest marketing budget. A feature can be matched. A claim can be echoed. But an emotional sweet spot is an incredibly powerful long-term advantage.
While products and services exist in the world, brands exist in the mind. The brand relationship is the emotional link between the consumer and the brand. Successful brands focus on facilitating the development of the brand relationship.
You may be thinking that since your company isn’t a mega-brand like Disney or Google this doesn't apply. Not so. The brands that have the most to gain by focusing on building emotional attachments are small businesses and business-to-business companies.
So how do you go about building enduring stakeholder relationships? APCO has built a research-based model focused on four key elements: alignment, authenticity, attachment and advocacy.
Alignment is meeting the most important expectations of stakeholders. This is about understanding what your organization does best and connecting it to what stakeholders want.
Authenticity means you say what you mean and mean what you say. This is about building trust. It requires clear communication and consistent implementation.
Attachment builds on alignment and authenticity. You can’t build ongoing relationships without them. Attachment is about the deep emotional connections that establish loyalty and trigger positive behavior.
Advocacy is the hardest of the four key elements to achieve. While many brands tend to think about ways to get their customers to advocate for them, in the APCO model, advocacy begins with companies becoming advocates for the interests of stakeholders.
The research shows that companies that advocate on behalf of their stakeholders’ interests (and have achieved success through alignment, authenticity and attachment) have stronger, more enduring relationships with their stakeholders than do their competitors. When companies become advocates for their customers, customers are much more likely to become advocates for the company.
Because your brand exists in the mind of your customers, helping your customers become brand advocates requires a clear understanding of what they are thinking. This is too important to leave to chance. You can’t assume – you have to ask them.
Smartly designed brand research with stakeholders can help you understand why your best customers love you. How is your brand aligned with their priorities? What do they expect from you?
Once you understand how to align your actions and communications to best connect with customers (and potential customers), you’re well-positioned to build authenticity, attachment, advocacy – and love.
Brands in highly competitive categories where clear and rational differentiation is difficult have the most to gain from an emotional approach to branding. When you don’t have a unique rational claim to make, you really have no choice but to win consumers’ hearts rather than their minds. All brands and all products, regardless of the industry, can leverage the power of personality and emotion to strengthen their appeal.
This article originally appeared in the Corridor Business Journal.