Why Consumers Rank YouTube, Amazon Highest in 2019 Brand Intimacy Study

Just two years ago, YouTube ranked 10th among millennials for emotional connection. Today, it’s #1. What made the difference? The largest study on brand intimacy surveyed thousands of consumers around the world to find out.

Along the way, researchers uncovered an intriguing parallel.

Tugging at the heartstrings of consumers may not come naturally to the business-minded. Traditional marketing models tend to emphasize rational thinking and deliberate decision-making. These strategies are typically very straightforward, black and white, like a balance sheet.  But advances in neuroscience and behavioral studies have taught us that emotion plays a huge factor in how people process information.

For the past decade, MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Study has explored the success of brands leveraging the science of emotion. Factors like fulfillment, identity, and nostalgia all play a vital role in attracting and retaining customers, no matter what product, service, or idea is on the table. It could be as revolutionary as smart eyewear or as ordinary as lawn care. Whatever the “thing,” today’s consumers long for memorable connections between brands and themselves. Nail the emotional bond, and good things happen.

As Marketing Dive explains, “Brands that build trust and focus on customer experience stand the best chance” of connecting with consumers. Unfortunately, this is an area where many brands struggle. Continual demand for escapism – an era of shoppers who long to be distracted from reality, even while seeking solutions for real-life issues – leave many marketing teams weary.

But, building strong bonds doesn’t happen overnight, and only the truly committed earn their way to the top.

YouTube is an excellent example. Just two years ago, the company ranked 10th among millennials in the MBLM intimacy study. Today, it tops the chart. Yes, providing extensive, entertaining content to a diverse audience helped. Significantly expanding services in recent months helped, too. But, chiefly, what drove YouTube’s success is a deep-rooted understanding of its users. As MBLM Managing Partner Mario Natarelli said, “YouTube is doing a good job at building a brand that caters to the wants and needs of this audience.”

What Do Modern Consumers Want?

Researchers say six patterns are consistently present among emotionally-connected brands.

1. FULFILLMENT, occurring when brands exceed expectations by delivering superior service, quality, and efficacy.

2. IDENTITY, reflecting values that resonate deeply with consumers.

3. ENHANCEMENT, attained as customers become smarter, more capable, and connected by replying on the bran d.

4. RITUAL, when a person incorporates the brand so regularly that it becomes a vitally important part of life.

5. NOSTALGIA, eliciting memories of the past and the warm feelings associated with them.

6. INDULGENCE, creating a relationship around moments of pampering and gratification.

    No wonder then that digitally-savvy millennials (now a quarter of the world’s population) lean heavily toward tech brands like Xbox, Google, and Spotify. But, even among all age groups surveyed, “the top 10 has become increasingly saturated with media and entertainment brands,” the report says. Millennials chose YouTube as their most trusted brand, and slightly older age groups from 35 – 54 and 54 – 64 both selected Amazon.

    At this point, you may be feeling like you don’t stand a chance if you’re not in the media or entertainment business. But actually, some of the highest rated companies in the report are in automotive, retail, consumer goods, and food industries. The U.S. top ten list includes brands like Disney, Apple, Chevrolet, Netflix, Harley-Davidson, Playstation, Ford, and Chick-fil-A.

    Developing Brand Intimacy Starts Online

    Since many consumers now function within the “Smartphone Ecosystem” – handling everything from business e-mails to grocery shopping on mobile devices – brands do well to meet them there.

    More than 3 billion people are active on social media networks alone, making the Internet a wild, wonderful neighborhood. It’s a place where user-generated content like real-life photos, reviews, videos, and contest entries converge to create a digital playground for marketers.

    While organic content can do some good floating around cyberspace, the goal should be to bring UGC home – to take thousands of tiny conversations on social media and consolidate the most influential onto the brand’s digital properties. This creates maximum, measureable results.

    Great ideas include:

    • Telling the brand’s story with customer-created photos and conversations.
    • Building community around a hashtag campaign, then showcasing all (or moderated) entries on social hubs.
    • Converting customer photos into shoppable ads.
    • Featuring trending products on e-commerce sites, as recommended by actual purchasers.
    • Publishing real-time fan posts at festivals, concerts, conferences, and other live events.
    • Requesting rights to use UGC in offline, print campaigns, too.
    • Incorporating digital content into retail displays, allowing influencer content to nudge consumers down the purchase path.

    Seeing authentic, peer-driven content is exactly what consumers want. Indeed, the brand intimacy researchers quickly noticed that digitally-active brands generally outperform those who aren’t, and for good reason. A brand that has a strong presence online and on mobile devices is in a better position to “expand its capacity for fostering emotional connections with users,” the report explains.

    Emotionally-Connected Brands Gain Something Else, Too

    It’s not a coincidence that brands creating emotional bonds have twice as many customers willing to pay up to 20 percent more. Trust is worth more. And when it comes to building that trust, the marketing industry now knows that embedding peer content alongside brand messaging is key. Simply integrating a fan’s social media post is enough to boost engagement by 28 percent, increase e-mail click-through rates by 73 percent, and get visitors spending 90 percent more time on a website!

    The impact that social media marketing has on building brand intimacy is enormous.  

    But the MBLM study uncovered something else.

    In both revenue and profit, the emotionally-connected brands “significantly outperform” top brands in the Fortune 500 and S&P indices. Average growth from 2008-2017 was 8.68 percent for the top 10 most intimate brands, compared to only 3.66 percent for leading Fortune 500 companies and 4.75 percent for leading S&P brands. “In dollar value,” the press release states, “this translates on average to the top 10 intimate brands having $37 billion more in total revenue over a 10-year period compared to the Fortune 500.”

    In profit, the gap is even bigger. During the same period, profit growth jumped 44.98 percent for brands ranked high on the intimacy report vs. only 20.45 percent for Fortune 500 companies and 6.37 percent for S&P companies.

    What Next?

    All brands have the ability to create strong emotional bonds with consumers. It simply requires a bit of know-how and gumption. Social Proof Psychologist Robert Cialdini puts it this way: “People give back to you the kind of treatment they’ve received from you. If you do something first, by giving them an item of value, a piece of information, or a positive attitude, it will all come back to you. The key is to go first.”

    Related Read: “Instantly Attract Customers With These 5 Social Proof Techniques”

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