October 16, 2021

The following is republished with the permission of the Association of National Advertisers. Find this and similar articles on ANA Newsstand.

By Claretta Bellamy

As one of the most powerful emotions, love can strengthen a relationship, influence an environment, and elevate the image of a brand. Within the past year, consumers' loyalty toward some of their familiar favorites was tested by the isolation, social distancing, and downright fear stemming from the pandemic. However, consumer-facing brands have persevered by packing more of an emotional message and catering to their audiences' strongest passions.

"Brand Love Story 2021," which was released earlier this year by social media firm Talkwalker, analyzed conversations from more than 1,200 brands and identified the following key brand-love indicators:

  •     Aspirational
  •     Engaging Fandoms
  •     Positive PR
  •     Engaging Social Media Strategy
  •     Trend Engagement
  •     Corporate Social Responsibility
  •     Nostalgia for the future
  •     Employee advocacy
  •     Customer experience
  •     Influencer marketing

Beauty brands were among the top performers in the report, with Huda Beauty, Benefit Cosmetics, Urban Decay, and other fashion and beauty companies making up 30 percent of the list. Each brand benefited by creating easy-to-share, snackable influencer content and generating higher engagement as a result, according to Talkwalker.

"Our goal was to identify the traits and tactics shared by these most successful and most loved brands and to create a blueprint for success that can be replicated by other brands as well," says Elena Melnikova, CMO at Talkwalker. "The report has been dominated by the brands that actually provided opportunities for self-care, emotional reassurance, or with an opportunity to escape the reality of the pandemic, as well as the trend of the socially conscious consumer."

The report also shares five ways for brands to build meaningful connections with consumers: become customer-centric, find the channels in which customers are congregating, start conversations, join conversations, and monitor how brand perception fluctuates over time, particularly right after a new ad campaign drops.

Intuition Is Key

While knowing what consumers love is helpful, Melnikova says marketers also need to possess a sixth sense about their audiences. During #BlackoutTuesday, for example, Fenty Beauty founder and pop star Rihanna shut down all sales of her clothing, lingerie, and beauty lines to honor the occasion and support Black Lives Matter.

Steve Cody, CEO and founder of Peppercomm, an integrated marketing agency, connects with his employees — and his clients and prospects — through humor. After he started doing stand-up comedy in 2010, Cody used his new gig to become a better listener, communicator, and leader.

"The loved brands are the ones that intuitively know what's going on from a society standpoint and intuitively know their target audience," Cody says. "They just instinctively know that there's this tremendous upheaval, and you can deepen the rapport with your target audience if you understand what makes it tick and if you can mirror what your target audience cares about and become part of their life."

Since 2010, every Peppercomm employee has been trained in stand-up and improvisational comedy. During training, employees create comedic scenarios by building off phrases from their team members to create a storyline. The activity utilizes the method of improvisation to encourage teamwork and heightens listening and communication skills in trainees. Cody says the training is not about being comedic per se, but, rather, being able to tell a story and helping people get outside their comfort zone.

The training program has paid major dividends, garnering media coverage from the New York Post and MSNBC. Several of the agency's clients have adopted its stand-up comedy training program while Peppercomm's brand has also been recognized numerous times by industry trades — the latest being in Crain's 2021 Best Places to Work in New York City.

"Laughter stimulates the same endorphins in the brain as eating chocolate or falling in love," Cody says. "It's a big strategic communications differentiator and it's played a huge role leading up to the pandemic, during it, and into the present."

Constant Feeding

In a similar vein to the Talkwalker Love report, the Ad Age annual list of America's Hottest Brands spotlights "20 buzzy products, people, and services" sparking conversations both online and offline. Clubhouse, Pattern Beauty, and DraftKings are just a few of the brands that made the cut.

DraftKings, the fantasy sports/betting operator, for example, recently upped the ante by partnering with Domino's for "Domino's Carside Delivery 2-Minute Guarantee Over/Under Challenge," which gives Domino's customers a chance to bet on the pizza chain's average carside delivery time.

With live sports severely limited during the height of the pandemic last year, DraftKings moved more into digital, lead-gen marketing, says Josh Linforth, the managing director of media and engagement at Genius Sports, the sports data and content supplier for DraftKings.

Genius Sports, whose clients include the NFL, MLB, and NASCAR, supplies sports, betting, and media brands with data-driven advertising solutions.

"Part of our relationship is that we have access to the fan bases of sports and, ultimately, we can feed that into the programmatic activity that we do for DraftKings," Linforth says. "So, we can ultimately ensure that [when DraftKings] runs a campaign, it's reaching real, genuine sports fans who are highly likely to engage with DraftKings, either for fantasy sports or for regulated sports betting. It's about surfacing the right content to them that will ultimately gain their interest and create a sticking product."

Genius Sports is also sharpening its engagement strategy by integrating brands into live programming and finding ways to use augmented reality and virtual reality technology to enhance the sports-betting experience, Linforth says.

All You Need Is Love

While the world's most-loved brands were able to solve the puzzle of acquiring brand love, consumer behaviors remain unpredictable. However, the more steps a brand takes to connect with and learn from its audience, the stronger the relationship between consumer and brand will grow over time.

"Being on top of the latest trends, consumer trends, and, in general, market trends — this is what makes brands successful, not only from a marketing standpoint, but as a brand itself," Talkwalker's Melnikova says.

By putting his employees first, Cody understands that, like consumers, employees need transparency, engagement, and compassion.

"I always say that Peppercomm is my third child," Cody says. "I have a son, a daughter, and I have Peppercomm, and I think a brand manager has to look at the brand as one of his or her children, and nurture that brand in the same way you would nurture your child."


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