How the Biggest Brands Form an Emotional Connection with Their Consumers

For the past decade or so, top brands have been racing to create an emotional connection with their target audience.

By Codrin Arsene

The jury is out — MLBM has just released its 2019 BIS Report, presenting the 10 most intimate brands in the US right now. And for the first time ever, Apple has been toppled by Disney to become America’s top brand based on consumer intimacy.

Called Brand Intimacy, this data-heavy and customer-centric approach to branding and marketing is helping companies craft highly recognizable and lovable brands that resonate well with their consumers. How are the big 10 doing it?

This article walks you through amazing ways the biggest brands are creating a deep, emotional connection with their audience. We’ll touch a little on the report, as well as brand intimacy and its benefits.

What is Brand Intimacy?

Brand Intimacy (BI) is a term that was coined by MLBM, and it refers to the measure of how intimate or close we are to brands we use. In technical terms, it is the technique of quantifying the emotional connection or bonds consumers form with the brands they usually use.

In reality, consumers are more likely to purchase and stay loyal to brand that they feel more emotionally connected with.

The closer you feel to a brand, the more willing you are to spend on their products, and the less likely you are going to live without them.

A Quick Look at the 2019 Brand Intimacy Report

This year, the top 10 list is a healthy blend of familiar and a few not-so-familiar brands.

Rounding out the list is a newcomer Chick-fil-A, the Georgia-based fast-food chain. Americans are so in love with the chicken eatery that 24 percent said they “can’t live without it,” as per consumer surveys.

At the helm is Disney having outranked Apple to take pole position for the biggest brand in terms of intimacy.

Ranking third is the online retail giant Amazon followed by US carmaker Chevrolet, video streaming service Netflix, American motorbike titan Harley Davidson, Sony’s PlayStation, Google’s YouTube, and another American carmaker, Ford.

This comprehensive study looked at how over 400 top brands are leveraging emotional science to engage and connect better with their consumers.

It delves into more than 20000 brand stories, 156k brand evaluations, 18k interviews, 6200 consumers, and over 1000 hours of interesting insights.

MLBM ranked these brands based on 5 key criteria:

1) Users – How many consumers the brands are already involved and engaged with.

2) Emotional connection strength – Brand with stronger bonds with their consumers scored higher on this criterion.

3) Archetypes – Emotionally connected brands usually showcase at least six patterns. These include indulgence, nostalgia, ritual, enhancement, identity and fulfillment.

4) Stages – How far along is a brand towards full emotional connection. A brand can be in sharing, bonding or fusing stage.

5) Brand Intimacy Quotient – BI Quotient is a score ranging from 0 to 100, and is calculated based on the insights from the first four components.

Why Build an Emotional Connection with Consumers?

Why does brand intimacy matter?

A strong, lovable brand can be a major asset that can ensure continuous growth, encourage user consistency, increase demand, and create a competitive advantage.

However, today’s consumers have more choices than ever before.

When they want to buy, they have to choose from a sea of thousands and thousands of competing brands.

This consumer edge means brands have to go above and beyond to demonstrate value and stand out, which is where brand intimacy squeezes into the equation.

Every brand has an opportunity to intimate with their consumers, but the most emotionally connected brands reap the biggest benefits. This perks and advantages include:

Brand intimacy creates a financial advantage. Brands that have cultivated emotional connection with their consumers have shown a clear financial edge over those who don’t. As per the report, the most intimate brands have continued to perform better than the S&P and the Fortune 500 for ten years running when it comes to profit, revenue and other key financial indices.

More intimacy with consumers offers increased price resilience. Take Apple, for instance. Their products aren’t exactly cheap. But because they have a strong bond with their users, they can hike their prices without losing significant users. The more connected a consumer feels towards a brand, the less interested they are in the pricing.

Emotions influence purchase decisions. Employing emotional science drives consumer’s willingness to buy your product or use your service. This one is actually a no-brainer, and something forward-thinking brands have leveraged for decades. The most emotionally connected brands have 2x the number of customers willing to pay 20 percent more for their product.

Helps build brand loyalty. This goes hand in hand with price resilience. Top intimate brands create stronger bonds which, in turn, translates to a higher sense of loyalty. Even better, brand-loyal consumers are likely to spend 10x times more than others, especially new customers.

Helps create brand champions. Stronger bonds and more transparency are creating a unique league of customers: brand champions. These are consumers who are willing to talk about a brand they use in a positive light. They don’t just love the brand, they are also more than ready to share their positive experiences and recommend their products to their close circles.

How are the Biggest Brands Intimating with Consumers? They are going mobile to meet consumers where they are

Top brands like Netflix, YouTube and Disney have taken their engagement and emotional connection efforts to one of the most private devices: the smartphone.

And given that close to 93 percent of adult Americans own and use smartphones, this is a smart move. What’s more, one in every 5 Americans browses the internet exclusively using a smartphone.

The benefits of entering the smartphone ecosystem are clear. Brands that have “gone mobile” enjoy an average Brand Intimacy Quotient of around 39, which is reasonably higher than the overall of 31.

It is apparent that brands with strong smartphone presence have a higher chance of cultivating emotional bonds with their consumers. Digging deeper, brands that offer mobile-centric content and services show a higher emotional connection with their users than those that aren’t.

More intriguingly, the creators of smartphone devices – like Apple – have become the principal targets of user’s passion and love.

They focus on building mutual trust and creating great experiences

In the business world, trust is everything.

It’s the foundation of brand intimacy and relationships. Most brands on the top 10 list prioritize mutual respect and trust when creating true and honest connections with their consumers.

Not just that – these intimate brands are focusing on creating a better experience, not the sale. They enhance their consumer relationships by incorporating rituals, practices, traditions and a culture that fosters mutual trust.

Airbnb is a classic case here. The sharing-economy company has created an emotional bond with travelers who want more personal experiences by leveraging the core ethos of mutual respect and trust.

The endgame here is for the brands to become a part and parcel of the lives of their consumers. And by building trust, they gain much more than conventional loyalty. They create an emotional connection and gain brand ambassadors.

They embrace a culture of consistency

In an era when consumers are all about experiences, consistency helps build stronger bonds and credibility in a massive way. When brands show their willingness to go the extra mile to fulfill their customers’ needs, the consumers will reward them with stronger brand affinity, loyalty, and intimacy.

They create rituals and make consumers lives better

The most intimate brands like Apple and YouTube are going the extra distance to ensure their products become an integral part of their users’ daily lives, actions, and their very existence. iPhone users, for instance, have made the device a virtually crucial piece of their daily existence.

In other words, they create rituals through consistency, which is why the two brands are Millennial favorites. YouTube, for example, has an incredible 16 percent of millennials in the fusing stage, the ultimate stage of forming an emotional connection.

They create a sense of community

Closely related to creating rituals, brands that want to create emotional bonds with their users create a strong sense of belonging.

Take Starbucks, for instance. The coffee shop chain is known for fostering a deep sense of community. By establishing itself as the go-place between work and home, Starbucks has formed an incredible connection with its staunch customer base.

Their sales and marketing approaches are based on reciprocity

The biggest brands are also intimating with consumers by giving back. More specifically, customer-centric brands are connecting with like-minded consumers by giving and supporting causes that they actually care about. They don’t just incentivize their uses, they give before they even sell, and show continual appreciation to their consumers.

Apple, Chick-fil-A, and Harley Davidson are big winners when it comes to reciprocity. Not on the top 10 list is another classic example: Patagonia. The outdoor clothing and apparel company uses social activism to take emotional connection with their customers to the next level.

Even small, direct-to-consumer brands are also jumping on the bandwagon to create an emotional connection with their consumers by always giving back.

Here are two examples:

Kool8, a water bottle startup that’s already raising a few heads. Its giving spirit is reflected in just about every facet of the startup, from the manufacture to the aftermath. 20 percent of all Kool8 proceeds go to delivering clean water to deserving communities in underdeveloped countries. By doing this, Kool8 connects on an emotional level with eco-conscious and social-conscious customers. It’s a win-win situation.

Tiesta Tea is another upcoming brand that uses reciprocity to build intimacy with consumers. The specialty tea company has created a foundation that’s dedicated to giving back to communities that are facing extraordinary economic struggles. They are already changing lives in Chicago, Africa, and other developing regions.


Brands, small and big, have a greater opportunity than ever before to connect deeply and emotionally with their consumers. By focusing their efforts to engage with their customers in a meaningful way, they don’t just create better relationships.

The benefits of brand intimacy are immense, and they include:

  •   Increased trust, credibility and brand loyalty
  •   Improved price resilience
  •   Use of technology to create stronger bonds
  •   Stronger emotional connection drives consumers to make a purchase
  •   Intimate brands have an added financial and competitive edge

How to effectively foster stronger emotional connections with consumers. Borrowing a leaf from the most intimate brands like Apple, Disney, and Amazon, you have to:

  •   Create a sense of community
  •   Center your sales and marketing strategies on mutual principles of mutual respect and trust
  •   Give back to causes that your consumers care about
  •   Meet consumers where they are, be it mobile, social media, etc.
  •   Be consistent, and know your consumers

Codrin Arsene is the CEO of Digital Authority Partners, a content marketing company in Chicago, Il.

Emotional Stock photo by Pakpoom Phummee/Shutterstock