Sunday, June 21, 2009

The 7 Doors of Connection

By Jean-Claude Saade

The Doors
Brands that really want to connect with customers on a deep and meaningful level will have to identify common ground and areas of similarity and synergy with these customers. This has to be genuine and based on the real values and vision of the brand. Efforts to attract more people and more customers are better accepted when aligned with the brand spirit and done in harmony with its core identity and main offering. Common grounds will be the soil where positive relationships between brands and consumers will grow and prosper.

Brands with clear identity and purpose and most importantly with an attractive human face and personality can mesh positive and enriching relationships with their customers. They can enter their minds and hearts and be part of their daily lives by opening one of the seven doors of consumer connection. Those are the shared values, roots, fights, interests/benefits, lifestyle, hobbies, and preferences.

We have identified these seven areas as the potential common grounds that can bridge relationships and build connections between people and brands. Therefore, building attractive and financially valuable brands would pass through these seven doors.

1. Shared Values (Peace, equality, liberty…)

Values are one of the strongest bonding factors for people in general and between people and brands. People who share and cherish the same values tend to come together and stay united in the name of these values.

Values like world peace, equality, liberty, and fair opportunities would rally people, organizations, brands, and companies who believe in them and build their lives and activities around them. Values, as common grounds, are so powerful and can generate intense emotions to the point that people are ready to pay their lives for these values to triumph, let aside paying a premium. When a brand adheres to one clear a rallying value, this will become part of the brand DNA—an intrinsic part of the brand definition, identity, offerings, and communication. Therefore, everything that the brand says or does would invite consumers who share this same value to come to the brand and stick with it; especially when the products and services offered by this particular brand perfectly answer the needs and expectations of the target group.

2. Shared Roots (Religion, ethnicity, language, culture, citizenship, education, profession, geography…)
Roots are another very important shaping factor of people in general and groups of consumers in particular. They also play an important role in the relationship between consumers and their adopted brands.

The secret about "shared roots" is their ability to facilitate and accelerate natural and easy bonding and bypass the lengthy process of building familiarity.

People connect more naturally with brands that share the same culture, geography, religion or background. They will naturally feel attracted and subsequently discover that they have many things in common, even before starting the relationship.

Let us consider a traveler in a foreign country who comes across a restaurant serving his favorite national food and dishes. He/she will be naturally attracted to go and eat in this restaurant and probably return very often if the food is really good.

3. Shared Fights (Politics, environment, wildlife…)
Similarly to shared values, shared fights and causes rally people and connect them with organizations brands and businesses that support these same fight and cause.

People who are fighting for the preservation of a balanced and sustainable environment or the preservation of wildlife and endangered species will connect with brands who are sharing this same fight like Greenpeace and the WWE. They will also connect with and support businesses and brands that are taking genuine and tangible measures to preserve the environment or to reduce CO2 emissions.

Environmentalists will bond easier with car makes which are developing and selling hybrid or electrical cars for example. In a parallel scenario, people who are fighting to reduce their countries dependency on petroleum will be more interested in purchasing flexible-fuel vehicles and would ready to pay more money for a vehicle that relies less on petroleum-based fuel. We can see that two different shared fights can lead to very similar consumer behavior seen from the outside. Shared fights will also make people ready to pay a higher price for a brand and product that share the same fights (e.g., bio products and environmentally committed companies).

4. Shared Interests and benefits (Wealth, power, information, notoriety…)
Shared interests and benefits (that is, wealth, power, or notoriety) can also bring people together. People need to put collective efforts to achieve more wealth or to gain more power and knowledge. Certain brands can share the same interest of these consumer groups and even help them in realizing their common objectives and consequently benefit from their support.

Special interests and benefits can lead people to form groups or internet-based communities for sharing ideas, knowledge and experiences in certain fields. These groups offer opportunities to interact with peers for sharing, networking, and lobbying.

Brands who share the same interests or who can help in realizing the interests and benefits of these groups can establish a solid and continuous connection with them. People who want to stay connected with family and friends online have naturally connected with brands like MSN Messenger and Skype. They would also be more ready to do business with these brands or eventually with third parties introduced by these brands.

5. Shared Lifestyle (Fashion, housing, restaurants, vacations…)
Similar lifestyle patterns would create natural synergies between people and between people and brands. People who share a certain lifestyle with a certain socio-economic belonging would easily identify with each other and present very similar patterns in terms of behavior and consumption.

People who share a certain taste for fashion, travel destinations, or vacations will directly or indirectly discover that they share certain lifestyle patterns that make them similar at different levels. In return, people from the same socio-economic levels would acquire certain lifestyle patterns and might try to imitate social groups they aspire to, but this will not affect much the end result in terms purchase behavior and relationship with brands.

Successful brands would become the symbols of a certain lifestyles. Armani, Harley-Davidson, Starbucks, Nike, Boss, adidas, and many others are lifestyle brands. All these brands have earned the status of "lifestyle symbol," which goes far beyond the functionality and the delivery of the product or service they are selling. People have always used their relationship with iconic brands to project certain lifestyle messages to the outside world.

When Apple offers the combination of iPod, iTunes, and PowerBooks with the possibilities of buying, downloading, synchronizing, and experiencing music, Apple is not only a lifestyle brand, but also contributing to the shaping of a certain lifestyle embraced by its target customers. This will lead to even a stronger relationship with the brand and prepare consumers for its next offering like the iPhone.

6. Shared hobbies (Sports, arts, music, travel…)
Shared hobbies of different natures can also bring people closer and connect them to brands that shows interest in these same hobbies.

Brands like Quiksilver and Billabong have been invented from within the hobby of wave surfing, which represents their cradle and natural environment even after becoming global brands with a wide appeal. The essence of these brands is still anchored in the surfing culture and their key reason-to-be is serving the surfing community. Regardless if these brands have become overextended nowadays, actual and aspiring surfers will continue to connect strongly with them fueled by the appeal of surfing as an expressive hobby and a way of life.

7. Shared Preferences (Food, drinks, cars, clothing…)
People who share the same Preferences will naturally manifest elements of synergy and sympathy. Those who like Italian food, Swiss chocolate, or a New Mini would find a common ground for bonding and dialogue.

Shared preferences can also favor the formation of certain consumer groups who can favor certain brands or models and promote them directly or indirectly.

Shared preferences are one of the doors for strong connection between brands and people. It can also generate positive talk value and referral power that can make current and potential customers more positively predisposed to buy new products and new versions of the same product; and obviously from the same brand.

The Door to Emotional Connection
Today, brands of all types, sizes and categories are facing one big challenge to build a strong emotional connection with consumers. Without that personal relationship their names will fade and businesses will suffer.

Like in any human relationship, this emotional connection needs a door to enter, a common ground and a genuine interest in the other person or party; being the consumer in this case.

It is worth mentioning that the art of human connection is not related to the size or the type of the company. It is more about the brand's vision, point-of-view and mission. Lack of credibility or any sign of manipulation attempts would be deadly mistakes especially on the long run considering that consumers are becoming increasingly savvy, informed, and demanding. The secret to open the seven doors is simple but difficult at the same time. We need to show the real human face of our brand, do the right things and offer the best to improve consumers' lives. When we do things from the heart, emotional connection will happen and the doors of consumer connection will be wide open for our brand.

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