Establishing Brand as a Relationship

In a world full of commoditized products, creating an emotional connection that sets your brand apart from competitors is more important than ever before. But a marketer’s concept of exactly what a brand is can greatly shape how they approach this challenge.

Over the past 20 years, the marketing and advertising industry has shifted away from thinking about branding as a series of promises, messages, and visual assets pushed out to consumers. Today, there's an understanding that brands are inseparable from the dynamic experiences that are built around them; experiences with the power to engage customers in a two-way relationship. Many now consider the customer’s experience to be the new brand (perhaps the word “new” is a stretch, since the entertainment industry has understood this for decades).

A good customer experience is certainly the most tangible way for companies to bring their brands to life. Experience, though, is merely another means of communicating what a brand does and stands for to your audience, albeit in a more interactive and authentic way.

A Harvard Business Review article by Mark Bonchek and Cara France discusses the shift to thinking about “brand as relationship.” In their view, brand innovators tend to create different kinds of relationships, specifically relationships that are more collaborative and reciprocal than the standard provider/consumer relationship that naturally occurs between brands and the people who consume them. They cite Airbnb, which has disrupted the standard model in the industry by shifting the consumer-brand relationship from host/guest to neighbor-to-neighbor, as a means of creating a sense of belonging.

This fundamental decision regarding the desired relationship between consumer and brand represents an opportunity for marketers to intentionally and thoughtfully define their brands’ unique roles within the lives of customers in a way that both helps to differentiate from competitors and opens them up to new ways of emotionally connecting with consumers.

Brand relationship, therefore, is the critical–but often missing–strategic connective tissue between traditional brand positioning and customer experience. It's the foundation for building that emotional connection.

So, the next time you find your team contemplating how to best establish an emotional connection with your audience, be sure to ask this question:

"What kind of relationship do I want to create between our brand and our customers
in order to maximize their emotional engagement with us?"

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