Apple Rocks Brand Relationships
I sit in my home office flipping through the newest print edition of Wired magazine, admiring the dazzling old-fashioned quality of high resolution photos on paper.
An old-school white space suit covers the front, Apollo Mission Era. The 1970's space theme dominates the cover design and the article titles. The nostalgia is fitting as I have not opened a hardcopy magazine in years.
I flip the cover, and full page facing ads leap at me. On the left is the same space suit, now tricked out in bright white, shiny silver, the whole right side in gold foil. The pimped images make Apollo cutting edge, as only Apple can, making the old new to advertise the colors and styles of the iPhone 6s.
The branding resonates with me. Apple is hip, and I am a loyal customer, who gushes over my iPhone 6s Plus and 15" Retina Macbook Pro.
I flip Wired over, and a vivid photo of a handsome young man fills the cover. The image, I see, was shot with an iPhone 6 Plus, an exquisite full page selfie, set against a black background.
Apple perfectly merges their glitzy imagery with the Wired theme, creating a tangible exhilaration for the brand and space at the same time.
The experience is fresh but not completely new.
The familiar memories of the Apple brand that I have loved since my first iTouch enrich my experience of this ad set, creating brand nostalgia.
The crisp Apple ads connect neural pathways in my brain, linking the present experience with memories. My relationship, loyalty, and bond are reinforced.
How do they get into my mind?
Powerful brands fuel relationships and continued success with positive bonds and trust, connecting to their solid customer base.
The Internet and social media have created a new paradigm in marketing, focusing brands on relationships and bonding with customers. Powerful marketing now grows exponentially over time as long lasting customers become advocates for the company. Brands can now be more closely connected with their target audience than ever before.
Traditional branding emerged with the industrial age, especially widespread mass marketing. Typically the brand was defined as the face that a business presented to the public, including logo and design.
The real marketing took place at the level of the store owners and merchants who knew both their customers and their products and aligned the two. Marketing was focused on the transaction, and the company was usually very distant from the customer base. Customer service and transparency typically were not considered important or necessary.
The goal in traditional marketing was to get your product in front of as many people as possible through production and distribution.
The advent of the Internet and social media fundamentally disrupted the old marketing habits, which neglected customer relationships entirely.
Traditional Branding vs. the Complex New Brand Relationship
This evolution occurred and continues at a rapid pace with changes in technology and communication. The new marketing paradigm dissolves the distance between a brand and its customer base. The Internet brought brands close to their customers and made transparency and connection priorities.
In the new relationship marketing brands are expected to establish reciprocal connections with long term customers, where both the company and the customer receive benefits.
Relationship marketing is far more complex than marketing has ever been in the past.
In the journal article "Relationship Marketing: An Important Tool For Success In The Marketplace," scholars describe the transition from old school branding to the new relationship marketing:
"Traditional views of marketing are now being challenged and are slowly giving way to a new age of marketing, emphasizing the process of developing and maintaining an effective level of organizational-customer relationship. The process aspect of marketing is gaining prominence - having both transactional and relational qualities - which strives to establish, maintain, and enhance the relationship with customers in order to mutually satisfy the real objectives of both parties. - The customer is important, these new views say, - we want to retain our customers, not overlook them and have them defect. Relationship marketing (RM) is the key to success under this new era of marketing."
Relationships are established over time with great care for immediate customer service and satisfaction. Companies move beyond the traditional domains of marketing such as the 4Ps: Product (or Service), Place, Price, and Promotion. Social media transcends this simple framework by making real time relationships with customers possible and expected.
Relationship Marketing: Brands Building Trust Through Empathic Bonding
Forbe's defines relationship marketing as "a strategy designed to foster customer loyalty, interaction and long-term engagement. It is designed to develop strong connections with customers by providing them with information directly suited to their needs and interests and by promoting open communication.”
Thinking back to my experience with the Apple brand, memory was key in my experience, and brand memories are important in this definition because we are talking about long-term relationships. In the brain, positive memories convert to emotional bonding, uniting me with the Apple devices I am now using.
So how does a positive relationship develop? Positive and intimate interactions between the brand (in broad terms) and the customer must consistently occur so that positive emotions are repeatedly reinforced over time. Repetition creates memories and bonding.
Time is necessary for power bonding to take place, and concerted effort in the present is essential. A company must put together a marketing plan that describes how it will facilitate bonding and then follow through for years rather than just weeks or months. An intimacy and trust in the brand develops with this repetition, and the customer can progress all the way to a brand advocate embedded in your brand community, radiating your brand to the world.
Steve Jobs knew better than most how to develop intimacy between brand and customers, and this quality made him an icon. Jobs had an unusually powerful ability to enter the minds of the public, not just giving them what they wanted, but exceeding their expectations with dazzling products that were both functional and aesthetically pleasing.
The iPods and later the iPhones didn't just play great music efficiently. They created an intimate physical experience from the opening of the exquisite packaging to the slick, smooth feel of electronic perfection in your hands, to the sound of the glorious music. Jobs was a master of empathy, anticipating each essential element of a customer's moments with Apple products.
Empathic Steps in the Process of Establishing Trust in Customer Relationships
Because marketing deals with long term processes of relationship bonding, empathy is central to a company's effective marketing strategy. Empathy is the tangible, action oriented capacity that companies use to move customers through permanent bonding with their brand. Empathy describes the unique human ability to shift points of view and imagine another's perspective, seeing, feeling, and thinking as other people.
In relationship marketing, you should move through a cycle of empathic understanding and actions, but the path is not linear. In other words, you might start with 1-3 and then realize that you need to jump back to number 1. This is the empathic marketing cycle that your brand and customers live in if you are successful:
Empathy is the highest evolved and most powerful mental capacity in humans, and by putting empathic bonding into action, a company can generate relationships with the public.
Here is how you can put empathy into practice in bonding and marketing:
Rise to Empathy and Your Company Will Follow
For some companies, unlike Apple, radical changes in marketing come difficult and at a cost. Many are stuck in the ruts of traditional marketing and are unsure how to approach the new relationship marketing with empathy.
I am ready to help and hope to create a discussion in the comments that is free and open. I will field and respond to whatever questions or comments you might have. Drop me a brief note in the comments, and let's discuss this.
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