By Dr. Lau Kong Cheen - Brand Consultant at Temporal Brand Consulting (This article was published in the Singapore Marketer, June –August 2007 Issue)
In today’s competitive market place, all brands compete for the share of mind of their target customers. For brands to stay completive and be successful, it is imperative that they build a solid relationship with their customers. Successful brands have deviate away from just competing on the basis of price and features. This is because many brand owners have realized that such an approach to attract customers in the market place is not sustainable. However, by building relationships with the customers, the brand is able to grant another dimension of offering to the customer. That is, it is able to invoke a unique emotional appeal that customers want to embrace. Such emotional appeal can vary in terms of depth and breath. This becomes another dimension of competitive advantage that is difficult for others to replicate. In this vein, it becomes an important differentiator. It is as good as one attempting to create a twin brother for a successful brand.
The underlying question is then: “How can brands build and sustain strong relationships with their customers?”. One of the vital factors for establishing meaningful relationship with customers is that the brand has to be able to integrate into their lifestyles. With this, the brand is able to connect with the customer as a friend or companion; where intimacy, commitment, inter-dependence and self-connection underline the foundation of the customer-brand relationship. As such, it is utmost important for brand owners to acquire insights into the desired lifestyles of their customers. The lifestyles of the customers will depict the type of identity, roles and aspirations they want to project within their social structures.
Brands have been widely used by in our society as a communication vehicle. They function as symbols that vividly radiate our identity to our reference others and our social environment. For instance, a person who wants to be perceived a successful would want to associate with brands such as Mercedes, BMW, Rolex and Mont Blanc. While, a person who wants to be perceived as youthful and fun would want to associate with brands such as Apple, Swatch or Billabong. This is because these brands carry the personality and emotional appeal that assists the user to communicate their identity within their social structures. As such, these brands help the customers to exhibit the type of lifestyles that they possess or aspire to project. Once the brand is able to perform this task well, the customer will yearn to develop a stronger relationship with the brand as the brand has now become an extension of the customer’s identity.
As such, to comprehend and gain insights into the lifestyles of customers, brand owners have to explore and examine the different types of identities that customer desire to express. Most social psychologists assert that our identity is portrayed via our lifestyles. In addition to that, we possess different lifestyles depending on the social structure that we engage in. For instance, one may engage in an outdoor lifestyle in the weekend while during the week would engage in a more business-like kind of lifestyle. More specifically, each of these lifestyles is linked to the types of roles that one is expected to perform within their social environment. In short, one has to fit into the social identity that is expected from the lifestyle.
With the above understanding, it is critical for brand owners to comprehend the types of roles that the customers want to perform within their social structures. This is because people will constantly search for brands to help them perform self verification. If the self-verification process indicates a poor match between the person’s identity and their desired lifestyle, undesired mental anxiety will be experienced. Thus, to avoid such mental anxiety, a person will have to attempt to consistently match their identity with the expected lifestyle within their social structures. By endowing each specific brand with the right personality dimensions and emotional appeal, then the customers will be motivated to purchase a particular brand. Customers will develop a strong desire to continue building a relationship with a brand that will help them live their lifestyles. As such, brand owners have to ensure that their brands have to keep relevant to the evolving lifestyles that are found in our society. Not only will this enhance the brand-customer relationship, this will also enhance the trusts that customers placed on these brands.
In short, within the concept of branding, it is vital to inject relevance into the customer-brand relationship. Such relevance can be achieved when brands stay relevant with the lifestyles that the customers embrace within their social structures.