The Case for Engaging with Emotions: Key Takeaways from MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Survey



Having the best product isn’t enough anymore; MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Survey argues it has to connect emotionally with your customer too. We share the survey’s key takeaways.


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“Brands matter. Emotions count.” are the four words MBLM used to open their 2019 Brand Intimacy Study. MBLM, an agency and lab dedicated to “build[ing] greater intimacy between people and brands that drives performance and returns,” compiled the study to demonstrate the impact that this metric can have on a brand’s prosperity. And in this report, the result of nine years of insight and the input of 6,200 consumers across three countries, shines an important light on how crucial connection can be to brand persistence and success. After reading through the study, here are a few important takeaways for any brand looking to create strong relationships with their customers or audience.

Disney, Apple, and Amazon Took Top Honors

These brands took home top honors from consumers in creating brand intimacy. Each had successfully cultivated an image and experience that consumers felt good about making part of their lives. Across six archetypes of affinity, these three brands had Fulfillment (or the ability to exceed expectations, provide outstanding quality, and efficiency) in common; Apple and Amazon were also tops in Enhancement, or the ability to make people and their lives better. For these consumers, it mattered that the product wasn’t just there to meet their status quo, but was contributing to a demonstrable improvement.

Brand intimacy can also be formed through frequency of exposure, so it’s notable to report that Apple and Amazon also scored high on the Ritual archetype, or the ability to seamlessly become part of a consumer’s daily routine. While Disney, by its very nature, doesn’t necessarily have the ability to deliver this. However, categories of goods and services that ranked highest in brand intimacy were ones that had the potential to be similarly integral: media and entertainment, automotive, tech and telecommunications, retail, consumer goods, and fast food. More infrequent contributors, like travel or hospitality and theme parks, ranked far lower.

Engage with the Smartphone Ecosystem

Is your brand easy to interact with via smartphone? If it is, it holds a significant advantage in the race to customer’s hearts. It’s no surprise that brands who have access to consumers in that medium perform better, but the degree to which they did better might be. “Brands that are a part of the smartphone ecosystem,” MBLM wrote in their report, “generally outperform those that aren’t. The average Brand Intimacy Quotient (the figure calculated and then used to rank the brands listed) for those in the ecosystem is 38.8, which is significantly higher than the overall study average (31.0).

The top brand among millennials, in addition to Apple, was YouTube. Ranked eighth overall, it is cited as a brand that 28% percent of its users can’t imagine living without. It is also the highest ranked social platform, with Pinterest coming next (and highest in terms of what we traditionally call “social media”) at #28 on the list. YouTube’s prominence toward the top likely has much to do with its rapidly improving mobile experience, a metric that for MBLM, includes “apps, access, content/info services, and devices.” Brands that can capitalize on creating an intimate and desirable experience on these now-ubiquitous devices will win—not only due to frequency of exposure, but also for an ability to get closer emotionally to the customer.

The Business Imperative of Brand Intimacy

“With advances in behavioral science and neuroscience, we now understand that humans process information and make decisions based on emotion,” MBLM shares early on in their report findings. “This suggests that to influence and affect decision-making, you have to appeal and connect to people’s emotions.” This can be a directive for marketing the right way, but MBLM also makes a strong statistically-based argument that there is a business imperative associated with working this way.

In addition to highlighting the archetypes of intimacy and highlighting the stages of brand intimacy, the report was crafted to “showcase how brands based on on emotion continue to outperform top brands in financial indices such as Fortune 500 and S&P 500, demonstrating the clear business advantage of leveraging emotional science.” How big is the difference? The average revenue growth for the top 10 companies that appeared on this index was 4% better that of the top 10 brands listed on the S&P Global Index, and 5% over that of those appearing on the Fortune 500. In terms of profit growth, the numbers are even more staggering: Brand Industry Survey’s top 10 brands performed between 25% and 40% better than those on the other two indices. Moreover, top intimate brands have twice as many customers willing to pay up tp 20% more for their products or services. The takeaway? In their words, “top intimate brands deliver superior results in relation to revenue and profit growth, suggesting the importance of emotion in driving the world’s leading brands.”

It’s not enough to have a good product anymore. That product has to stand out in the marketplace not only for its strengths, but for its ability to strengthen the life and experience of the customer. Stories that appeal to emotion and create a sense of intimacy are making a difference for the brands that choose to tell them—and MBLM’s full report shares all the details on how they’re doing it.

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