Marketers often say they want to create communities, evangelists and ambassadors for their brands, but consumers feel a “belonging deficit,” in their lives, according to a new study. Brands that can help them bridge that gap can grow revenue and market share at double-digit rates, the survey found.
Consumers are more technologically connected than ever before, but at the same time they feel more emotionally disconnected than ever, said Kelly Mooney, chief experience officer of IBM iX North America. The consumer experience unit of IBM joined with Ipsos to research the difficulties in engaging consumers in current environment of isolation and distrust. The researchers found consumers long for sharing collective experiences with other people, she said.
“It used to be churches and clubs and other organizations that filled that gap, and they’re not playing that role,” said Mooney. “We started wondering if brands can play a new role today.”
At a time when brands are expected to have a brand purpose and communicate via personalized messages, the study warned that consumers don’t share that sense of belonging. The report cites surveys that found 40% of 18-24 year-olds have never felt an emotional connection to a brand.
The survey asked 4,248 consumers around the world to evaluate 172 brands across three individual experience drivers such as compelling relationships and three collective experience drivers that included empowered communities.
The top scoring brands were seen as encouraging innovations to make the world better and bring like-minded people together to improve their lives. In the U.S., the top-scoring brands were Apple, Amazon and PBS.
In spite of the U.S.’s reputation for individualism, collective drivers were very important, noted Mooney: “We learned that people want to have their relationships with others strengthened. They want to be inspired to improve the world in some way, they want to come together to do something that’s important, or they want to be attached to something that’s cool and interesting that they can talk about.”
The reward for brands can be considerable. The survey studied the results of those brands higher in the Belonging Index and those lower and found the top brands gained market share of 10% on average over a three-year period; the top performers grew revenue at three times the rate of the bottom brands over a six-year period.
Many brands claim to be purpose-driven, but it does not filter through all their activities, said Mooney. They isolate purpose in social-responsibility campaigns or internal communications, she said.
“Sometimes brand purpose is stuck in a PowerPoint,” said Mooney. “What consumers are hinting at us more and more is that those things should actually coexist.”
To make that happen, marketing has to become “a horizontal function” connected to R&D, sales, finance, customer service, merchandising, and all other company operations, said Mooney.
“You really have to start connecting all of those dots,” she said. “Customer experience cannot be just this utilitarian, customer service-oriented activity. It has to really intersect with brand communications and what the brand stands for in a way that hasn’t been fully developed in brands today.”