Companies can create greater engagement, differentiation and loyalty when defining a brand’s particular kind of relationship. This is especially true regarding areas of digital marketing – such as social media platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn – where people can develop a relationship with the brand directly.
What is a relationship brand?
Relationship brands have an inherent sense of belonging attached to them. Customers like knowing that they are part of a larger group who experiences the brand together. But their experiences remain unique to them.
Difference between relationship branding and object branding
A brand starts out as an identifying mark. It is a name, term, design or symbol that identifies a seller’s product or service as distinct from those of other sellers. It is applied to indicate ownership. A brand is sometimes thought of as a logo and tagline, such as KFC’s ‘Finger lickin’ good’ or Woolworths’ simple tag line of ‘The Difference’, which encapsulates its competitive advantage very succinctly.
Brands evolved from objects into ideas. It was no longer something you made, but something you managed. Brand equity has become something that companies want to maximise so that the equity that their customers associate with their brands is the most valuable.
Most recently, brands have become your customers’ experience with the product, service or company. It’s no longer something you manage over time, but something you deliver in the moment. Many brand managers actually go on social media marketing courses so that they can learn how to market their brands on these platforms.
Brands are currently evolving into relationship branding, which means that they are focusing on developing a relationship with their customers and leveraging off this so that they can develop loyalty among their target audience.
Types of branding relationships
The default brand relationship is one-directional and asymmetrical. The company provides the product or service, and the customer consumes it. But with social media playing a much larger role in branding innovation, brand relationships are becoming more collaborative and reciprocal:
Brands that operate with the roles of host/guest usually occur in the hospitality industry. It’s one-directional, asymmetrical and transactional.
Airbnb has cultivated a neighbour-to-neighbour and citizen-to-citizen relationship on a global scale. It is reciprocal, symmetrical and collaborative.
This usually presents itself in the taxi and delivery industry. It’s one-directional, asymmetrical and transactional.
Uber and Taxify (which is now called Bolt) have established differentiation to the driver/passenger brand by introducing new roles along two dimensions. Passengers are encouraged to sit in the passenger seat as if driving with a friend.
This is best defined in the way that Uber encourages potential drivers to build their own business on Uber. The brand relationship is more reciprocal and personal.
In the airline industry, innovators have also redefined brand roles. With singing flight attendants, free snacks and a mission of ‘Inspiring Humanity’, airlines are adopting a human-to-human relationship with their flyers.
Financial services have redefined the relational roles of their industry, going from card issuer/card holder to club/member. This is especially true when it comes to reward and gift card schemes.
• Cast member/guest
Disney redefined the relational roles of amusement parks from operator/rider to cast member/guest. Actors dressed as Disney characters interact with guests and encourage them to become fully immersed in the Magic Kingdom.
Brand archetypes usually focus on the attributes of the brand. However, there is an opportunity to redefine brand roles in every industry. Media has been defined by broadcaster/viewer for decades. Health care has been defined by doctor/patient. Education has been defined by teacher/student.
In each of these industries, there is an opportunity to create a new relationship based on co-creation and collaboration. Consumers are emotionally connected to relationship brands. This emotional connection leads to brand loyalty, brand advocacy and brand guardianship by consumers in the form of word-of-mouth marketing. That’s why it’s better to make the change from an object, idea, or experience branding to relationship branding.