Brand Engagement: Customers as really good friends
Deanna Francl in Brand Design, Brand Engagement Survey, Retail

Image © Gensler

What’s your favorite brand? Think about it for a moment: there are probably a couple favorites that are so integrated in your life that their absence would actually be quite noticeable – maybe even sorrowful! For me, it’s the visit to Starbucks that kick-starts my day. It’s like the friend I can rely on to be there when I need her, always making me feel better, making my day feel more complete. I’d be lost without her.

What would happen if a brand treated us like a really good friend? Fortunately, some do, but it’s a strategy that I think more brands would benefit from. We recently surveyed over 2,800 U.S. consumers, and the results – outlined in our 2013 Brand Engagement Survey report – underscore the important role that brands play in our lives and the emotional engagement that we often feel. More than half of our survey respondents said they would be devastated if their favorite brand went away. Not just annoyed or disappointed but devastated. It’s interesting to think about what a brand is doing to develop such a deep meaningful relationship with its consumer.

The most successful brands treat their customers as people, even as individuals – and have human characteristics too. In today’s world where we are hyperconnected and measure our time in milliseconds, brands have the greatest opportunity to fill the void of human connection.

When asked to name their favorite brand, answers ranged from Hellmann’s mayonnaise to the New York Times to Wells Fargo to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Surprisingly there wasn’t a landslide favorite. We nearly had as many favorites as respondents which shows us that brand connection is very, very personal. Each respondent was happy to share their personal story as to why a particular brand meant so much to them.

There are very personal reasons why some consumers connect with clothing (“it pleases my granddaughter” is a Lands’ End enthusiast’s motivation) and others connect with car brands (“my family works there,” according to a Ford lover), and our report highlights many similar examples. These very unique, personal emotions need to be respected by the brands we love; an analysis of customer motivations can be much more powerful than demographics in setting marketing strategy. As human beings, we don’t build friendships in bulk, after all; we nurture each individual relationship one at a time, in the unique way that each friend relates to, often over many years. Brands have a tremendous opportunity, even an obligation, to build relationships in a similar way if they want our long-term love and support in return.

What brand do you think is doing a great job of truly engaging its customers? How so?

Deanna Francl
Deanna Francl is a principal in Gensler’s Washington DC office and a leader of the firm’s global Brand Design practice. With a career founded in brand strategy, marketing and client service, Deanna is focused on the deep emotional connections that customers feel with brands, and on the impact that design has on those connections. Deanna is passionate about helping clients articulate their core values through storytelling, and illustrating those values through design. Contact her at
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