Brand Belonging, Essential to Building Better Brands

A Belonging Deficit

We all want to belong. It’s part of what makes us human. The need for belonging isn’t new, but how we connect with others has changed, and not necessarily for the better. We have shorter attention spans. We glance from screen to screen so we often don’t feel completely part of any given experience. Not surprisingly, studies show feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and disengagement increasing, especially amongst younger generations.

Many people blame this sense of isolation solely on technology. But there are other fragmenting factors in addition – decreasing levels of trust with the large institutions that once provided community, rising economic inequality, political polarization, and massive migrations of people across the globe. We’re moving around, switching jobs more often, spending more time FaceTiming than getting actual face time. In fact, the need for belonging grows daily. And this “belonging deficit” has created a gap for someone to fill.

Enter Brands: Brand Belonging

Recently, IBM iX did a study all about brand belonging. The study looked at 172 brands across six strategically selected categories. It measured brand belonging by both individual and collective drivers. Though named differently, these drivers centered around feelings of connection, trust, community, purpose, life enrichment, empathy, and delight – feelings we’ve been helping our clients build for years. Brands who tapped into these emotions and showed up as top performers on IBM’s Brand Belonging list. The payoff? These top performers grew revenue over six years at three times the rate of the lower-performing brands. Wow – belonging matters.

So How Do You Make People Feel Like They Belong?

A huge pay-off awaits brands that can make their way to the top of that Brand Belonging list. So we took the findings and insights from IBM iX’s study and all that we’ve learned in the business of brand building, and compiled some strategic ideas for how you can foster brand belonging and reap the benefits.

1. Again and again, find purpose. And then live it.

Purpose-led has always been the way. And now more than ever, it’s not enough for your brand  to have a clear, aspirational purpose. You have to put that purpose into action. It should guide your decisions, your behaviors, and the way you grow forward. By living that purpose at every moment, people have something to latch onto that isn’t abstract. They can feel like they are a part of why you do what you do.

As a top performer, PBS is a great example in IMB iX’s study. They put their visionary purpose – entertaining and expressing a diversity of perspectives that helps people achieve their potential and strengthen the social, democratic, and cultural health of the US – into action at every touchpoint. It governs from where they give back to the subject matter they feature

2. Build a growing relationship

No good relationship remains stagnant. It grows, gains meaning, enters new stages, and deepens its relevance over time. Smart brands take this same approach to their customer relationships . Marriott – another brand at the top of IBM’s list – provides an exemplary loyalty program to build connection with customers. They also further deepen relationships with customers by personalizing experiences based on their likes, including customers in their  innovation labs, and even investing in new brand based on what will deepen their relationship with loyal customers

But it isn’t just about customers. Although IBM’s study focused mostly on B2C brands, in our work we see this playing out even more in the employer brands we help build. Businesses invest in an employer brand because they hope to create that deeper sense of community employees now crave and even expect. Whether it’s a cutting-edge wellness center or spaces where people can better come together around shared passions, employers that make  community-building a top priority are seeing the benefits in loyalty and employee happiness are endless.

3. Make every moment better:

Every moment counts. Take Disney as an example – also on the top of IBM’s list – a company who believes the technology should tell a story and bring people along, not pull them apart. Disney leverages advanced data analytics to enhance guest experiences so that customers feel every moment is meaningful. Technology works to connect and not isolate. To do this successfully requires high levels of both empathy and innovation. Disney leverages both in driving brand belonging to new levels.

4. Don’t just provide, empower your community

Awesome tools and products are great, but they don’t really mean anything if people aren’t confident using them. Recently, we’ve been working with a continuing education company that provides the courses nurses and doctors need to up-level their practice and fill requirements. For the past decades, they’ve built a loyal community – and not just because their courses are great, but because they actually aim to inspire people to put into practice the skills they learn. To grow that sense of community (and in turn, grow their business), we focused on helping them up-level the feeling of empowerment that comes with gaining knowledge and skills.

The Feeling of Belonging

When we speak to our clients about how they want to make people feel, some feeling of connection, trust, or community almost always comes into play. Companies like Airbnb have made “belonging” central to their brand purpose. Many brands are shifting their priorities to community building through tactics like user-generated content. Other businesses are tapping into personalization and investigating new ways to humanize technology so it better belongs in people’s lives. Brands are looking to create spaces, experiences, products, and services that foster feelings of belonging because that’s what makes them more meaningful to the people who matter most.

If you need help creating connection or building community with the people who will drive your business forward, please reach out.

Emotive Brand is a San Francisco brand strategy and design agency.

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