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Lessons on Building Brand Intimacy from the Apple Watch

Brand intimacy is the essential relationship between a person and a brand that transcends purchase, usage and loyalty. This relationship is becoming increasingly important as technology keeps transforming the way brands thrive resulting in pervasive, information-rich, more socially driven and on–demand experiences. What’s more, how a brand interfaces, influences and stays relevant to its stakeholders today requires an altogether new understanding and a different genetic make-up. Brands are also finding it harder to control their message because people trust one another more than they trust a corporation. Add to that the proliferation of brands cannibalizing each other and saturating consumer attention, and it becomes clear that companies need to invest in building intimacy with consumers. If they don’t, they risk stagnation and erosion, resulting in diminished returns, loss of customers and limited brand strength.

The good news however, is that intimate brands outperform financially driven benchmarks. We know a great deal today about brand intimacy and how it can be built and fostered. Neuroscience has demonstrated that decision making is based on emotions, and behavioral science demonstrates that the way we feel about a brand is the single best predictor of purchase. We also know that brand-intimate relationships occur when an individual bonds with a brand, ultimately leading to a fused state.

One of the brands that has been able to successfully create powerful brand intimacy is Apple, which ranked as the number 1 most intimate brand in our 2014 Brand Intimacy study. We decided to further examine Apple’s newest and most personal product – the Apple Watch. We are conducting a year-long ethnography study that included extensive interviews and diaries about the use of Apple watch, with a panel of real Apple Watch users, aged 13-65.

While our study is underway, we combed through the findings about the Apple Watch to come up with a list of compelling lessons for companies from the most intimate new technology create by the most intimate brand.

  1. Delight: Design and communicate for today’s aesthetic sensibilities

When consumers interact with your brand, their experience should be nothing short of magic. As we saw with Apple Watch users in our study, from the minute they opened the packaging, joy and wonder were the overwhelming emotional anchors experienced. As with all Apple products, the watch was meticulously designed and its ergonomics make wearing it all day long comfortable. It is customizable and enables users to feel a personal relationship. Emotional anchors encourage sharing, bonding and fusing and help promote a strong sense of intimacy between a brand and its consumers.

  1. Build trust

With the Apple Watch, happiness overcomes frustration. Even though the watch has many limitations, users trust Apple will work out the kinks. That kind of good will is built by creating powerful bonds between brand and customer and requires a well-orchestrated brand, design to inform and please customers at every interaction

  1. Find what connects you to consumers

Fulfilment, identify, enhancement, indulgence, nostalgia and ritual are the six archetypes that appear to link at the most essential level with individual psyches and foster patterns and connections that lead to intimacy. They can appear individually or in combinations and tend to have some commonality across industries and cultures. Apple’s most powerful archetype is identity, enabling consumers to project an aspirational image. The watch’s minimalist, subtle style and its sophisticated packaging further deliver on its identity archetype. What archetype most aligns to your brand and how can you leverage it?

  1. Transcend demographic differences

Some products and services are built for a niche, but for others there should be no boundaries. While wearable technology is very much an emerging category, older users are embracing the Apple Watch with as much excitement as the younger ones. For example, in our study, we saw consumer behavior shifting based on demographic differences, but both the 13-year-old and the 65-year-old emphatically loved the watch in different and similar ways.

Companies should care about brand intimacy because it is a powerful way to drive devotion to the brand; forgiveness of brand mishaps; immunity from competition; evangelism for the brand in multiple channels; and ultimately is a potent driver of long-term financial performance.

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Mario Natarelli
Mario Natarelli is a trusted advisor to executives and their companies as he looks to leverage their most important asset—their brands. Over the past 17 years, he has led teams across three continents, working for clients of varying sizes and industry focuses, mostly in the areas of technology, real estate, travel, sports, and hospitality. His love of architecture has inspired his work in destination, real estate, and luxury categories where he has helped shape a quarter-trillion dollars of value. He lives and plays in New York City.
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