For all the political turbulence over the past few months, the economy has been chugging along quite smoothly. Stocks are at all-time highs, consumer spending is increasing, and the job market continues to improve. Gallup’s Economic Confidence Index hit an all-time high in January, reflecting Americans’ growing optimism about the economy.
Sales are up and people are feeling good, but the question is: for how long?
The economy may continue to improve; then again it may not. But here’s the thing: shrewd businesses never leave success up to chance. They are already thinking beyond this current boom cycle as they plan their business models and marketing campaigns. And that means branding, because as easy as it is to cash in on “product fascination” in the good times, creating emotional connections or “brand love” is what makes for successful enterprise over the long haul.
Fads come and go, and what’s fashionable today becomes passé tomorrow. When measuring the true health of a company, it’s not so much about the transactions tallied as the relationships built. Sales may reflect today’s business “weather,” but the state of the brand reflects the more overarching climate. And when done right, it’s the brand that lasts, that engages with people emotionally, that earns their trust and business. But this kind of staying power requires a deeper commitment to achieve.
Amazon is one company that has demonstrated successful commitment to brand love. For nearly twenty years, the company had operated at razor thin margins, prioritizing long-term growth over short-term profits. And what does Amazon have to show for that commitment? Many extoll the company’s renowned customer service, its extended streaming selection, and its industry-leading R&D (just ask Alexa). But in a word, they’ve earned trust. More than any of the other 300 plus companies surveyed in Forbes’s Prophet Brand Relevance Index, customers affirmed that Amazon is “available when and where I need it.” And for millennials, no other brand is more relevant to their lives.
But brand love is also about emotion as much as pragmatism and relevancy—it’s “love” after all. And authentic emotion requires a personal touch. Brands have recognized the value of social media as an outlet to engage customers one-on-one and build real relationships with their base. Over the course of two months tweeting “I love you” to nearly 1000 brands, Forbes writer Curtis Silver found among those who responded, 59% did so within an hour, and many not with generic templates, but bespoke responses—"Don't even care if that was a joke. You seem nice," tweeted CareerBuilder. It’s not exactly customer service—there’s no problem to fix—it’s recognition of customers as individuals. Social media manager Scott Monty highlighted the value of this kind of outreach, summarizing, "If a brand doesn't practice love to its community on a regular basis, it won't be seeing any brand love coming back to it."
Businesses need to market themselves as pragmatic, relevant, and emotionally engaged. In short, it’s not enough to have a great product; it takes a great brand, too. And companies that fail to realize this maxim today, that fail in this relatively prosperous economic short-term to take action to position themselves for long-term success, are ringing their own branding death knell.