The customer should always come first.
Many brands are of the opinion that if you put your customers’ needs and wants center stage, then they’ll stick with you through thick and thin. But, it’s not as easy as that.
You need to give your customers reasons to stay, and one way to do this is by building brand affinity.
This means looking at customers as individuals and analyzing how close the connection between you actually is. Now, this all sounds good — but it’s quite difficult to achieve, with many companies only able to reach certain levels of brand loyalty.
Don’t be like those other companies — reach for the stars! Plus, we’ll be here to help you along the way, starting with this beginner’s guide on building brand affinity.
What Is Brand Affinity?
Brand affinity can be defined as what your individual customers think about your brand. It’s the connection between brand and consumer and encompasses everything that makes up this two-way relationship.
Unlike brand equity — which relates to your brand as a whole — brand affinity is a concept that only concerns the individual consumer.
Let’s put it this way — brand affinity is what’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 increase online impressions.
The only real way to improve brand affinity is by spending time every day making each individual customer 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 Vs. Brand Loyalty
Brand affinity is often compared to brand loyalty. While they may seem similar at first glance, they are, in actuality, quite different.
Brand loyalty is best explained as a customer repeatedly buying from a brand because it’s familiar to them and they trust its value: “I know it’s good, so I’ll buy it!”
Affinity, however, goes a few steps further. To truly call something “brand affinity”, you need customers 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, and the majority said Alaska Airlines. However, the strange thing was that many of those surveyed had never actually flown with the airline.
So how did Alaska Airlines manage to build such a strong relationship with customers who had never used their service before?
Well, through strong personal endorsements, the airline had been able to build a name for its excellent customer service. This led customers to become more than just loyal to the brand — they developed a strong, emotionally-based sense of affinity for it.
Why Is Brand Affinity Important?
90% of Americans use customer service as a deciding factor when choosing to patronize a new business. So, if you’re working on your brand affinity, better customer service should be a natural byproduct.
As Ben Arndt previously mentioned, having your customer service team put more effort into personalized experiences can quickly improve your brand affinity. Customers will actively want to use your brand and they’ll have a solid reason why — your excellent customer service.
Working to improve brand affinity also encourages stronger content from your marketing team.
It’s no secret that to be successful in today’s market, brands need to create value. One way brand managers often choose to do this is by publishing high-quality content — which, in turn, benefits brand affinity.
72% of marketers agree that good content increases brand engagement — it helps people find your website and encourages them to remain on it longer. And the longer they’re on your website learning about your brand, the more time they’re spending with you.
As we’ve seen above, time spent with a brand is one of the main factors that lead to strong brand affinity. So, while it might not be obvious at first glance, improving brand affinity will inadvertently transform your content strategy as well.
Ultimately, great brand affinity will woo customers. Why? You’re giving them emotional reasons to like and use your brand — and because of this, they’ll be far less likely to try out the competition.
How to Measure Brand Affinity
Quite often, when we analyze our brand metrics, we focus on what’s immediately measurable by looking to a specific target audience or consumers as one complete demographic.
However, when it comes to brand affinity, we need to take a step back. Rather than looking at the bigger picture an entire audience creates, it’s necessary to hone in on the little guy and ask:
What does the individual customer or consumer think of your brand? What values does a customer share with your brand? Do they prefer your brand over the competition? Will this customer stick with your brand in the long run?
The answers to these questions can provide a solid picture of your brand affinity.
We know what you might be thinking right now — that sure sounds a lot like brand loyalty. But think about it this way — a customer can be loyal to a brand but still have no affinity for it.
There doesn’t have to be a strong emotional connection between customer and brand if we only look at loyalty. A consumer might stick with a company because they believe they’re getting the best option for that price — regardless of whether or not they share any values or connection with that brand.
When you can generate strong brand affinity, it lends itself to a solid and enduring relationship with customers. In this situation, there’s not much that could convince them to switch to your competitors.
The Benefits of Brand Affinity
From encouraging deeper trust to building stronger relationships, brand affinity offers a variety of benefits.
1. It Helps Build Relationships
In this day and age, many businesses inadvertently come across as more robotic than personal. For many consumers, this is quite off-putting — they would much rather deal with a brand that showcases a more human, personable side.
When trying to build brand affinity, you can’t ignore the importance of relationships. Without building a customer’s relationship with a brand, there’s no way to encourage affinity.
Photo by David Hurley on Unsplash
2. It Develops A Brand Personality
No one is going to patronize a boring brand. No distinctive features, design, or story? No thank you!
To help build brand affinity with customers, you need to spend time working on your brand’s personality. If the brand was an individual, what would they be like? What kind of goals and ambitions would they have?
Once you’ve decided on a brand personality, you then need to weave it into other parts of your brand marketing strategy. Use it to create engaging content that attracts your target audience or to help you figure out the new demographics for your audiences.
Plus, a brand personality helps you master the tone of voice for all your content, as you’ll now have a clear idea of how your brand would speak.
3. It Creates Trust
When forging strong relationships with customers, there has to be a certain level of trust. And many of the reasons customers trust brands are also the reasons they have an affinity for them — it’s a symbiotic relationship. More trust equals more affinity and vice versa.
For instance, 39% of consumers around the world reported that they trust a brand if they know it treats its customers well. Additionally, many consumers point to societal reasons to encourage trust for brands. Over a third of those surveyed agreed that a brand that treats its employees fairly will gain their trust.
4. It Improves Satisfaction Levels
Remember the story about Alaska Airlines? In that example, you saw how brand affinity helped to boost the brand’s satisfaction levels — which was also the case for customers who had yet to fly with them.
When people like what you do or have a strong emotional connection to your brand, they’ll want to talk about it. Hopefully, this message will then spread far and wide.
The more that consumers hear about the satisfaction your brand brings, the more they’ll believe that you’re a brand worth doing business with.
How to Build Brand Affinity
So, you now know what brand affinity is and why it’s worth your time. To move forward, you’ll need the right building blocks.
Thankfully, you probably have most of these tools in your arsenal already — including hard-working customer service and an engaged community.
1. Improve Your Customer Service
Let’s bring it back to Ben Arndt. He tells us that his brand, DUNK Basketball, does everything it can to improve its 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 the service you provide them with is subpar. And as 54% of customers expect better customer service today than they did a year ago, this is a part of your brand that requires constant improvement.
And don’t think that you can hide poor customer service. 72% of customers won’t take any action before reading reviews, so you better hope yours are good!
In closing, make sure your customer service is up to scratch in order to encourage a loyal customer base. What’s more — work on improving it consistently, as excellent customer service can really help to build a strong relationship.
2. Don’t Ignore Other Metrics
You should still be tracking brand awareness, consideration, preference, and equity. In fact, these combined metrics can give you an overall idea 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 monitoring your brand awareness, equity, and engagement already. These all benefit your brand and its health in various ways. But, as you can see, they are also key for building strong brand affinity.
3. Create a Strong Customer Community
As you now know, brand affinity is all about focusing on individual customers. However, you still have to consider how your customers act and think on a community level.
One way to win over your target audience is to create a strong, supportive community for customers. This will provide each of them with a sense of worth and belonging. Additionally, it will help create the belief that your 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 something more than just customers — they’re now your fans.
Furthermore, they’ll now be able to form connections with other customers, as they all have a shared interest and identity. This will then help to strengthen their bond with your brand as a whole — which should build a very strong brand affinity.
4. Encourage Customer Engagement
Once you have a community set up, you need to give them a reason to continually return to your brand and interact with it. So, why not encourage engagement in the comment sections 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 get 53% more likes and 104% more comments compared to text-only posts, meaning adding photos to your social media feeds is a great option.
With this approach, you should start to see your brand affinity increase. Plus, you should keep an eye on any other brand metrics you’re tracking — like your brand awareness or equity.
These should also benefit from increased engagement, as all those extra comments and likes will spread your post further in people’s newsfeeds. And you know what that means! Your brand name is being shown to a higher number of potential customers.
Although brand affinity might seem too closely related to loyalty and equity to track, as you have seen in this article, it’s definitely a metric you need to watch.
What Should Your Next Steps Be?
To conquer brand affinity, start by working on your brand engagement, fostering a customer community, encouraging better customer service, and tracking other key metrics.
As we’ve shown throughout this article, these are all tactics that can benefit and improve your brand affinity.
Once you have all of those aspects running smoothly, you’ll finally realize why you should have done it sooner: better relationships, stronger loyalty, and a well-developed brand affinity.