The notion of “brand” has certainly come a long way since the “Mad Men” era.

Back in the 1950s, it took some forward-thinking consumer goods companies like Procter & Gamble and General Foods to seize on brand and develop a discipline called “brand management” as a way to differentiate their products from the competitors. Quality products were one thing, but what about the other characteristics that led consumers to choose one laundry soap, cheese product, or cereal over another?

“Branding” became the strategic basis for growing, nurturing, and expanding a product and product line. Branding has developed as a discipline around the sum total of a brand’s functional and emotional aspects, from personality and performance to how well it lives up to consumers’ expectations and the relationship they’ve established.

Relationship?

If it sounds pretty intimate, that’s because it is. Or, at least, it should be, because there’s a growing school of thought that holds that the more intimate a relationship between a customer and a brand, the higher degree of business and marketing success.

Its led one brand consultancy, MBLM, to explore the entire notion of “brand intimacy” through its annual Brand Intimacy Study. As Managing Partner Mario Natarelli puts it, “How brands rank on this front has never been more important as the ad environment gets more cluttered and sales for the sake of sales becomes less important than attracting the right type of customer.”

Marketers have used the emotional connection to a brand as a basis for their strategies. Over a decade ago, Jim Stengel, former chief marketing officer of Procter & Gamble, told Fortune magazine that intimacy was something his team jumped in the customer trenches to observe. Spending time with consumers in their homes, watching how they washed their clothes, cleaned their floors, and diapered their babies was how the company gained the insights necessary to drive innovation.

Brand intimacy has become more front-and-center today, MBLM’s Natarelli says, because a consumer’s path to purchase has gotten so much more complicated with the influence of technology and explosion of channels. “Just needing a product is not enough for a strong brand relationship,” Natarelli says. “There has to be the clear emotional component that characterizes it.”

MBLM recently released its 2018 Brand Intimacy Report, which is a quantitative research study analyzing top brands, the level of intimacy they’ve fostered with consumers, and how it shapes their associations. The research field encompassed 54,000 brand evaluations and 6,000 consumers.

Overall, the Brand Intimacy Report found that the most intimate brand among U.S. consumers is Apple, with Amazon a close second. Digging deeper, though, the study found that Apple is also the top ranking brand among men, while Disney scores for nostalgia.

MBLM’s Brand Intimacy Report underscores the reality of today’s changing attitudes among Americans toward their money and purchase decisions. A 2014 Gallup report found they’re not based so much on rationality as they are on brand engagement – pride in being a customer, fit with a brand, and how well it delivers.

In measuring brand intimacy, MBLM uses six archetypes that, tapped into effectively, will boost a brand and consumer’s level of intimacy: nostalgia, fulfillment, identity, enhancement, ritual, and indulgence.

The Brand Intimacy Report showcases MBLM’s model for creating, sustaining, and measuring brand intimacy, key to how the firm integrates deep expertise across its three focus areas: agency, lab, and platform.Opinions expressed here by Contributors are their own.

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