Brand Affinity: Don’t Squander It

Moving up the brand ladder. Step One: Brand awareness. Step Two: Brand loyalty. Top step: Brand affinity. Brand affinity – most companies want it, few obtain it. And some organizations are born with it and risk squandering it.

Brand affinity is the most enduring and valuable level of customer relationship and is based on the mutual belief that the customer and the company share common values. It’s the highest, most durable kind of customer loyalty, one that breeds unshakable trust in the relationship. Brand affinity is at its strongest level when a customer believes that an organization champions the values they both admire.

Customers who demonstrate affinity for a brand buy more, buy more often and complain less than all other types of customers. Practically speaking we have observed that customers demonstrating brand affinity are likely to report a dramatically higher NPS (net promoter score) than other customer segments. One of our clients reported that their customers who had the highest level of brand affinity reported a NPS score of over 70%, compared to their transaction-based, least loyal customers who had an NPS score of 10%. Other characteristics of customers with a high level of brand affinity demonstrate higher levels of repeat purchase; less resistant to price increases; multiple product purchases; and higher profit margins. Another client reported that their customers with the highest level of brand affinity delivered 23% higher profit margins than the average customer.

For most types of organizations creating brand affinity is very difficult. However there is a special group of organizations that are born with an advantage in creating brand affinity. Organizations such as credit unions, Farm Credit System associations, and cooperatives were created based upon affinity, literally. Mutual insurance companies might also be included in this category. The challenge for these types of organizations is to not squander this innate advantage.

Believe it or not, the biggest threat to losing the advantage of brand affinity with customers lies within the organization. Strong brands are built inside out. Brands are created at the interaction of a culture and a customer. The level of brand affinity with customers starts with the level of affinity employees feel with their employer. When this internal affinity wanes, customer brand affinity slowly dissipates.

Our firm, Brand Tool Box has helped many affinity-based organizations build stronger brands by focusing on building affinity first with employees. We have found this work to be fascinating and challenging. Fascinating to observe the possibilities of very high engagement, internally and externally, that true affinity delivers. For example, one of these clients had more than 60% of employees who were “actively engaged” as reported in an internal brand engagement study. In a mirror-like fashion the number of “actively engaged” customers was very high for this client. Customers truly feel like members and they reward the organization with the loyalty benefits that reflect their brand affinity.

By the same token, it is striking how some of our affinity-based clients fail to get much traction from this organic marketing advantage. Customers are actually “pseudo-members” where their loyalty is fleeting and hangs in the balance of competitors’ latest promotional offer or a customer service misstep. Affinity doesn’t really account for much. By the same token, employees have little connection to the member-driven ethos of the organization and talent acquisition and retention problems further impact customer loyalty. Affinity provides little advantage and goes underleveraged.

How is it that some affinity-based organizations are successful at leveraging their natural strength, while others seem to struggle in this regard? Answering this question can take up a whole other blog entry, but for the sake of simplification there is one common element that can separate those that enjoy the benefits of affinity from those that don’t. If there is a silver bullet it’s clearly articulating the shared beliefs that describe the affinity that binds the organization and its members. This ethos must be authentic to the organization and its members. Story telling about how this ethos has impacted members is a fundamental part of leadership practices to drive brand affinity, internally and externally.

What can be done to take advantage of or reignite the potential of brand affinity for organizations where the internal affinity has waned? Through our experience there is a straightforward process that can be employed by any organization to create an affinity-driven culture, the first step in achieving brand affinity with members. Here are the three simple steps to follow:

  1. The process begins with the leadership team defining the organization’s brand affinity platform. The output of this process is a clearly defined set of behaviors, anchored in the shared beliefs of the organization that demonstrate their affinity for members.
  2. Provide employees with the tools to define their personal brand, the qualities that enable them to make a difference for customers and other employees. This process provides employees with the tools to determine their affinity with the organization.
  3. Facilitate a process for employees to discover their affinity with the organization and create an action plan to behave in a way that demonstrates that affinity with members everyday.

Our next blog will show how this process is applied to credit unions.

Some organizations have a natural advantage to create brand affinity; it’s a shame if they don’t take advantage of it!

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