Catalyst Branding

Relationship Brands: Branding’s Next Chapter

October 11, 2016

As millennials become  more influential than boomers,  branders are quickly realizing that current practices need to be rethought to meet the demands of this transformative cohort.

Recent studies reveal that millennials are demanding brands to develop more individualized relationships, but there’s little consensus around what that actually means for the practice of branding.

Stepping back, it’s clear to me that the answer lies in better understanding the notion of relationships.

Millennial relationships are digital based. These relationships seamlessly flow between virtual and physical worlds.  Interaction is as much through text and social media tools as it is through face-to-face experiences.

In this digital world, the distinctions between people and entities blur.  Millennials expect  the entities they interact with to relate to them in the same fashion as the individuals in their lives.

Relationship mores shape expectations regarding behavior in the digital world as they have through history in the physical world.  Examining these mores closely provides the clues needed to build the type of relationships required to fulfill millennial demand.

Trust & empathy are the foundation

As a starting point, it’s been true through time that trust and empathy provide the foundation for sustained relationships.  Answering the “Can I trust you?” and “Do you get me?” questions help to breed the confidence so critical to building meaningful, long-term relationships.

Role defines strength

The difference between meaningful relationships and mere acquaintances is often determined by the role that relationship plays in our lives. The more meaningful the role, the more important the relationship.  Relationship brands must understand the roles that are needed and be very clear as to the role they wish to play in the lives of their millennial customers.

Personality differentiates

Personality is an underleveraged differentiator.  Think of your circle of friends.  What distinguishes one from another?  Often it’s personality that defines the difference.  Relationship brands need to learn to use their distinctive personality as a means for standing apart.

Interaction behavior must change

Relationship mores are very clear when it comes to acceptable and unacceptable ways of interacting.  Dominating conversations, talking too much, talking only about yourself and constantly interrupting are all unacceptable relationship behaviors.  Yet these characterize most brand behavior in advertising, promotion and social media.  Relationship brands need to transform these interaction styles.

Doing beats saying

In a good relationship, doing is more important than saying.  People who promise and fail to deliver are universally derided.  Relationship brands need to make delivery the priority.

Staying fresh is key

Finally, great relationships evolve through time to stay relevant in the lives of the participants.  Relationship brands need to anticipate how customer needs will transform as the relationship progresses in order to stay fresh and relevant through time.

I find it amazing how often a return to fundamentals can provide the insight needed to navigate major inflection points.  When it comes to my world of branding, a re-examination of the fundamentals of relationship behavior provides real insight as to what brands need to stop doing and what they need to begin doing once again in order to be right for the expectations of a significant new cohort.

Millennials demand relationship brands.  This simple lens can help us discover just how to be the type of brand that will be right for them, both now and into the future.

Posted under: Branding Strategy, Changes in branding, Demand Driving Strategy