Updated: Dec 8, 2018
THERE'S A PROBLEM
We're living in an age of deficit; a deficit in belonging. It's no secret that we all have a deep desire to belong to something; to be a part of a movement, a group of people or a system of beliefs. This deep need to belong isn't new, and hasn't changed much since the dawn of time. What has changed, at a warp-speed pace, is how we connect with others.
If you're thinking, "Yeah, but I don't think that's necessarily a good thing," then you'd be right. We've developed shorter attention spans. Our lives seem to be spent in front of screens, constantly scanning, swiping and clicking. Our attention divides so fast and so frequently that we don’t feel connected to any given experience. In fact, one recent study has shown an increase in feelings of anxiety, loneliness, and disengagement, particularly amongst younger generations.
While technology is a contributing factor to this digital-age isolation, it's not the sole cause of it. A host of other factors have influenced the belonging deficit we're experiencing – decreased levels of trust with large institutions that once fostered community, growing economic inequality, and rapid political polarization. This is all to say, there's a problem. A belonging deficit exists, opening the door for someone to fill the gap.
Our attention divides so fast and so frequently that we don’t feel connected to any given experience.
Enter Brands: Brand Belonging
A comprehensive analysis of brand belonging, done by IBM iX, looked at 172 brands across six strategically selected categories. It measured brand belonging, paying particular attention to two distinctly different drivers. The drivers, individual experiences and collective (community) experiences, have significant impact on the sense of belonging a person feels.
While the study revealed six belonging experience drivers, we've simplified it to four factors – Authenticity, Identity, Connection and Engagement. Brands who tapped into these emotions and showed up as top performers on IBM’s Brand Belonging list. So what's the big deal? Over a six-year period, the top performing brands grew their revenues at three times the rate of the lower-performing brands. Whether you're a sceptic or a believer, one thing is clear, belonging matters... a lot!
...top performing brands grew their revenues at 3x the rate of the lower-performing brands.
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. BE AUTHENTIC - IN PURPOSE AND INTENT.
Authenticity has always been the foundation of a strong brand. Authentic intent, vision, leadership, and purpose can be clearly identified in the best brands, and are glaringly absent in the least successful. What's clear is that now more than ever, it’s not enough for your brand to simply have an aspirational purpose. That purpose must be truly authentic, and must be put into action. Everyone from the leadership to the front-line, and everything from product design to marketing should be a clear reflection it. The risk of failure is simply too great if any of these factors is disingenuous, fake or fraudulent.
The effort put forth to build and maintain a truly authentic intent allows for simple and effective decision making in times of rapid change and critical decision points. The decisions are made more simple by the fact that authentic purpose is manifested in a tangible way. The abstract concepts of aspirational ideas are replaced by deep connections to an activated, authentic and meaningful purpose. For consumers of a brand, it means they feel like they are a part of why you do what you do.
A great example of this is PBS, a top performer in the IMB iX study. PBS executes their authentic 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 everything, from where they give back, to the subject matter they feature. As a public funded brand, there is no clearer example of the financial significance of the sense of belonging.
The effort put forth to build and maintain a truly authentic intent allows for simple and effective decision making in times of rapid change and critical decision points.
2. WHO'S IDENTITY MATTERS?
Where authenticity is truly all about you and the brand, identity is quite the opposite. Why your customers choose to do business with you is a reflection of who they see themselves as, not what you see your brand, product or service as. Building belonging in your brand, therefore means allowing the personality, style, character and identity of your customers to be reflected consistently throughout.
One brand in the music industry, SJC Drums, staked its future on this very idea. As a five-time winner of Best Custom Drum Company, as selected by drummers worldwide, it certainly has paid off. The company prides itself on building any drum a customer can imagine. From a WWII army tank design to matching a customer's Gucci boots, and Deloreans to Daisies, they deliver products that are an extension of their customer's identity. Everyone wants to belong where they feel uniquely represented and appreciated.
3. CONNECT, TRULY
Connection is about creating shared experiences that enrich lives, build community and strengthen bonds with others. Building community around a brand isn't a project that can be launched to the marketplace. It's a continuing effort to enrich the lives of your customers through your authentic purpose, while reflecting their identity. The shared experiences your brand creates must live both online and offline. Facebook communities are a great forum for your customers to share their experiences, and proudly showcase their use of your brand, but they don't always achieve the level a brand needs (enrichment) to build belonging.
Enter the need for offline connection. If you're a bicycle shop, organizing rides with community give-back tie-ins is one method. In the case of SJC Drums, they don't consider their patrons customers, they call them family (more on that concept in a future post). So, naturally, SJC helps their family organize gatherings they call Family Reunions, where people showoff their custom drums, share stories, play music and engage in the community, building lasting relationships and creating memorable experiences.
But it isn’t just about customers. 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 that 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 endless benefits in loyalty, employee happiness and productivity.
4. ENGAGEMENT IS THE KEY
Success cannot be measured in transactions. Behind every click, like, follow, comment or sale is a person. The connections your brand creates, and the communities built both online and offline, are only as meaningful as your customers believe them to be. Engaging activities are the only way to truly solidify the deep sense of belonging necessary to fulfill your brand promise. Be responsive to questions in your communities. Be supportive to people sharing their experiences. Be a promoter of your customers, and they will be a promoter of your brand ten times over. Be eternally curious about the identity of your current and potential customers.
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. Some brands are shifting their focus to building belonging through 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 don't hesitate to reach out.