The way in which we look at relationships between brands and consumers, I think, has changed a lot because we've learnt a tremendous amount in the past few years (and I really do mean 'few', i.e. four or five) about how the brain works.
If I had to summarise the main changes I would say:
We now know that old fashioned approaches to measuring relationship or loyalty by, for example, asking 'satisfaction', 'recommendation', or 'purchase intention' are very seriously flawed. In particular, the very popular 'net promoter score' which relies on a question about willingness to generate word of mouth, is very poor.
But more importantly, we know how to measure relationship more accurately than ever before and in a highly predictable way. Give me about 20 seconds and I'll be able to predict exactly how much money you are likely to spend on every brand in any category in any country of the world over the next six months. I would need 20 secs per category.
The key thing has been a combination of understanding that brand involvement is at least as important as brand satisfaction; and in knowing that the relationship between the way people score brands and what they really feel about brands is non-linear.
So - to summarise: we have a much better understanding of the role of emotional involvement in creating brand attachment, we can measure it; and we're using mathematics that is much more predictive.
It is important for marketers to understand that you cannot get real brand attachment without emotional connections.
How do emotions affect the way these connections are made/broken? The brain is modular - it is made up of pieces that are interconnected, but that have different functions and can be 'at war' with each other. We now know that emotional responses tend to be the very first thing that is generated in the brain before anything else. Our minds 'lean towards' the things we like; and 'away from' the things we don't. But we also know that the way in which emotion gets encoded depends on the extent to which those initial reactions (generated in a part of the brain called the ventral striatum) link to other aspects of what in the brain - especially what's called the pre-frontal cortex where higher reasoning takes place and deeper personal values are formed.
The key to creating connections between a person and a brand is to embed the brand in contexts that generate strong emotional responses AND that resonate in terms of our personal needs and values. Experiential marketing is a very concentrated and intense method for doing this. Storytelling (advertising) is also very good at doing it. Ideally, brand planning should ensure that the ways in which these different approaches resonate with people; convey the same message.
Direct brand experience is the most powerful way to build brand connections. What experiential marketing has the potential to do (if it's well done) is to create opportunities for brand consumption that are in the marketers control and not just casual ie that embed the brand in managed experiences - that, in turn, help to create the kind of connections that build brand relationships.
The great strength of experiential marketing is its intensity and the fact that it can be managed. Its main potential weakness is that it may sometimes be a one-off brand contact; and that there is no follow through. The experience may therefore fade over time. It's therefore very important for the event to create a foundation for the way a person will continue to experience the brand going forward. The event therefore needs to frame or setup how people may continue to feel every time they use the brand; and the desired brand image/feelings, etc should be integrated into brand communications eg advertising; going forward.
There's a lot of buzz about 'buzz': to the extent that experiential marketing can generate free PR and word of mouth, it plays a very valuable role. Our research shows that what friends say is the second most important source of brand information (behind direct experience); and that what appears in newspapers and on TV as 'unplanned PR' comes third. So one can do a lot with it.
But our research also shows that word of mouth fades quite quickly; and that mostly people talk very little about brands. In a nutshell, the strength of the relationship that a person has with a brand will depend on the extent to which the brand is embedded in things that person really cares about.
Dr Hofmeyr, Head of Innovation at Synovate, will be presenting Creating Brand Connections at the African Experiential Marketing Summit on 3 September 2008, in Johannesburg.
The 2008 African Experiential Marketing Summit - 3rd September 2008 - will take delegates on a sensorial journey, exploring food, technology and innovation in an entertaining and engaging way that is bound to keep delegates entertained as they see how experiential marketing can be used to truly build connections with their customers. As John Keats once said, "Nothing ever become real until it is experienced."
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