The customer should always be number one.
Many brands are of the opinion that if you put your customers’ center stage, they will stick with you through thick and thin. But it’s not as easy as that.
You need to give your customers a reason to stay and you can do this by building brand affinity.
This means looking at the customer as an individual and seeing how close the connection between you actually is. Sounds good but difficult to achieve, with many companies only able to reach levels of brand loyalty.
Don’t be like those other companies; reach for the stars! We’ll be here to help you along the way, starting with this user guide on building brand affinity.
Brand affinity is what the individual thinks about your brand. It’s the connection between brand and consumer, and everything that makes up this two-way relationship.
Unlike with brand equity, which is relating to the overall brand, affinity is a concept that only regards the individual consumer.
Brand affinity is the thing that’s making your customers want to spend time with your brand. This isn’t something that can be increased or improved by tweaking conversions or trying to better online impressions. You need to spend time to make each and every one of your customers feel like they matter to your brand.
As Ben Arndt of DUNK Basketball puts it: “[Brand affinity is] an excellent foundation for building a solid customer base and genuinely costs little apart from personal effort from staff.”
Brand affinity gets compared to brand loyalty very often. They may look very similar, but they are actually very different.
Brand loyalty is all about a customer repeatedly buying a brand because it’s really familiar to them: “I know it; I’ll buy it!”
Affinity, however, goes a lot further beyond this. You need the customer to be loyal because they have a strong emotional connection to the brand.
Take the example of Alaska Airlines. A travel magazine surveyed its readers to find out which airline they believed delivered the best customer service. The majority said Alaska Airlines. The strange thing was, though, that not many of those surveyed had actually flown with the airline.
So how come Alaska Airlines managed to build a strong relationship with customers who had never used them before?
Through strong personal endorsements, the airline had been able to build a name for their excellent customer service. This then led to customers being more than just loyal to the brand—they developed a strong, emotionally based sense of affinity with it.
90% of Americans use customer service as a deciding factor when choosing a new business. So, when you’re working on your brand affinity, better customer service will be a byproduct.
As Ben Arndt mentioned, getting your customer service staff to put in even just a little bit more effort to be personal can quickly elevate your brand affinity. Customers will want to use your brand and they will have one solid reason why—because of your excellent customer service.
Brand affinity also encourages stronger content from your team.
It’s no secret that brands need to create value these days. One way many brand managers choose to do that is by publishing quality content. This is also beneficial for brand affinity. 72% of marketers agree that good content increases engagement. That helps people come to your site and encourages them to stay on it longer. The longer they are on the site finding out about your brand, the more time they are spending with you. And, as we’ve seen above, time spent with a brand is one factor that leads to good brand affinity. So, it might not appear apparent on the face of it, but trying to improve brand affinity will inadvertently transform your content strategy as well.
But ultimately, great brand affinity will really woo customers. You’re giving them emotional reasons to like and use your brand, and this way they will be far less likely to run to your competitors anytime soon.
Quite often, when we look at brand metrics, we focus on ones that are measurable by looking at a specific target audience or consumers as one complete demographic. When it comes to brand affinity, we need to take a step back. Rather than looking at the wider picture an entire audience creates, this time it’s necessary to hone in on the little guy. What does an individual customer or consumer think of your brand?
What values does a customer share with your brand? Do they prefer your brand in your product category? Will this customer stick with your brand over the long run? The answers to these questions can help to give a solid understanding of your brand affinity.
We know what you might be thinking right now—that sure does sound a lot like brand loyalty. But think about this: someone can be loyal to a brand but have no affinity with it.
There doesn’t have to be a strong connection between customer and brand if we only look at loyalty. The consumer might stick with a company because they believe they are getting the best option for that price, regardless of whether they share any values or believe it to be the best brand.
When you have a strong brand affinity, you know you have a very strong and enduring relationship with customers, and there could be little that gets them to switch to your competitors.
From creating trust to building stronger relationships, brand affinity comes with a variety of benefits.
In this day and age, businesses can come across as more automatic than personal. For many consumers in various target audiences, this can be quite off-putting. They would much rather deal with a brand that has a very human and personable side.
You can’t ignore relationships when trying to build brand affinity. Without customer relationships with a brand, there’s going to be no affinity.
No one is going to follow a blank brand. No distinctive features, design, or story? Boring!
To help build brand affinity with customers, you really need to spend time working on your brand’s personality. If the brand was an individual, what would they be like and what would their life goals be?
Once you’ve got this personality sorted, you can then use it for other parts of brand marketing. Use it to create engaging content that pulls in your target audience, or even use it to help you figure out the demographics of your audience in the first place. Plus, it helps with designing your tone of voice for all your content, as you’ll have a clearer idea of how your brand should speak.
When forging sturdy relationships with customers, there is always going to be some trust. All the reasons why customers trust brands are often also the reasons they have an affinity with it.
For instance, 39% of consumers around the world trust a brand if they know it treats its customers well. There are also societal reasons for consumers to trust brands: over a third agree that a brand that treats its employees fairly and well will also gain their trust, which will lead to a strong affinity.
Remember the story about Alaska Airlines? In that example, you saw how brand affinity helped to boost the brand’s satisfaction levels—and that was also the case for customers who had yet to fly with them.
When people like what you do, they will want to shout about it. If they have a strong emotional connection to your brand, they will also want to shout about it. When this message ends up spreading far and wide. The more that consumers hear about the satisfaction your brand brings, then they will take it for a given that you’re a brand worth doing business with.
So, you know what brand affinity is and why it’s worth trying to build it. Now you just need the building bricks to help you construct it. Thankfully, you’ll probably have most of these tools already in your arsenal, including customer service and an engaged community.
Ben Arndt tells us that his brand, DUNK Basketball, do everything they can to boost their customer service:
“Providing excellent and responsive customer service is a means of setting ourselves apart from competitors. We understand our product is at the higher end of the cost scale but know that clients are willing to pay a premium if they're confident they'll receive a positive service experience and recognize we'll work the extra mile if needed to attain their satisfaction.”
Remember when we talked about building relationships? Well, you won’t have a great relationship with customers if your service to them is poor. And as 54% of customers expect better service today than they did a year ago, this is a part of your brand that needs to always be worked on.
Don’t think that you can hide poor customer service either. 72% of customers won’t take any action before reading reviews, so you better hope yours are good!
Ensure your customer service is up to scratch to capture loyal customers. Make sure it endures, as it can really help to build a strong relationship with your consumer base.
You should still be tracking brand awareness and equity. In fact, these combined can help give you an overall of your brand affinity too.
Matthew Crouch, a Brand Journey Consultant at Soto Consulting explains this point further:
“At Soto Consulting we work with a wide variety of businesses to learn how to identify brand affinity as a combination of metrics: brand awareness, brand engagement, and brand equity. You need to assess affinity according to these three layers in sequence as in a lot of ways stakeholders prefer to see improvement in each of these areas than a specific affinity metric.”
So, not only will working on these other metrics help you build affinity, but it could even make it easier to explain to your boss or CFO why working on affinity is important.
Matthew’s example can help demonstrate this clearly:
“In 2014 we worked with a client in the FMCG space to challenge the campaigning for one of their hero product brands. We helped them to develop a new brand archetype, that of the caregiver, threading a Corporate Social Responsibility through the brand in the form of an ‘Upstander to bullying’ message.
"This campaign engaged consumers on an emotional and ethical level (far beyond previous tactics) and resulted in a 400% lift in sales within one month, becoming the most visited product brand on the retailer’s website (within the category). But not only that, the brand’s social media sphere of influence grew by 300% in size and climbed in engagement levels by 800%.
"So, we successfully saw growth in all three layers of affinity because we tapped into a deeper connection with target consumers than previously. Do not underestimate the power of a non-transactional message and ethos within your brand messaging. We didn’t and the campaign in question won us the 2016 Marketer of the Year Award (Fresh Produce Industry).”
Ideally, you should be watching your brand awareness, equity, and engagement already. These can all promote your brand and its health in various ways, but as you can see they are also key for strong brand affinity.
We’ve said that brand affinity is all about focusing on individual customers. But you still have to consider how your customers act and think on a community level.
One way to get all of your target audience on your side is to try and create a strong community for customers. This will give each of them a sense of worth and belonging, as well as helping to create a belief that the brand is adding value to their lives.
We asked Jesse Mullins, Director & Growth Specialist at Ooze Studios, how brand managers can start to build a community:
“Give your community members a name. Having individuals say “I’m an x”, or “we are y’s”, is incredibly satisfying. Of their own free will, your community is calling themselves singularly or collectively a branded term. If done well and with good intentions, this goes viral.
"At Ooze, we call our community members Success Lovers; they are winners and strive for success. They like to win.”
By doing something as simple as giving your customers a nickname, you end up turning them into more than just customers—they’re now your fans.
They will be able to form connections with other customers as they’ll now have a shared interest and identity. And this will then help to strengthen their bond with your whole brand. It will be part of this community’s identity, so it'll create and build some very strong brand affinity indeed.
Once you’ve got a community set up, you need to give them a reason to keep on returning to your brand and interacting with it. So why not encourage comment engagement on all of your social media posts?
This is something that Jesse Mullins also encourages brand managers to do:
“Give your audience a ‘forum’ to interact with each other and your brand. The word forum has many interpretations, ultimately it’s an opportunity for your community to engage publicly. It’s important they know they aren't alone. If you just use emails to communicate with your audience you are limiting yourself.
"Socials are a good place to start as they have minimal barriers of entry to setup. Every community is different, figure out the optimum platform to create deep connections with your audience, and work your way towards it.”
Again, this is something else you can do to help your customers feel a tighter connection to your brand, as they’ll feel very much involved in the conversation.
One way to increase engagement in the comments is to post content that followers want to engage with. Photos and images get 53% more likes and 104% more comments compared to text-only posts, so these are ones to post more often.
You’ll see your brand affinity start to increase before too long. Plus, keep an eye on your brand awareness, equity, and any other brand metrics you’re tracking. These should also benefit from increasing comment engagement as all those extra comments and likes will spread your post further in people’s newsfeeds. And that means that your brand name is being pushed in front of a higher number of potential customers.
Brand affinity might seem too closely related to loyalty and equity to track, but as you have seen in this article, it is certainly a metric to watch. You need to know what your individual customers think of you so that you’re able to keep them coming back. And, increasing affinity is also a fantastic opportunity to strengthen trust and engagement within your community.
Start by working on engagement, a customer community, better customer service, and also tracking other key metrics. These are all things we’ve shown that can benefit and improve affinity. Once you’ve got all that running smoothly, you’ll notice why you should have been doing it sooner: better relationships, stronger loyalty, and a well-developed brand personality.