A new study from Edelman looks at the brand-to-consumer relationship and finds that brands could reap significant gains from improving their relationship with their customers.

Edelman recently released a “first-of-its-kind” index that measures the consumer-brand relationship, and the global average for brands was just 38 out of a possible 100. Titled the “Edelman Brand Relationship Index” it was created as part of the Edelman Earned Brand 2016 study, which surveyed 13,000 consumers in 13 countries and found that brands are missing significant opportunities with their most loyal customers.

“The index confirms that marketers have done a good job getting consumers to preference and purchase, but consumers indicated they are willing to go deeper, to be committed in their brand relationships,” said Richard Edelman, president, and CEO of Edelman. “The study shows when a consumer moves from a relationship rooted in ‘me’ to one powered by ‘we,’ a new world of buying and advocacy potential opens up for a brand.”

The index rates relationships at five levels along a scale of 100 possible points. The categories are: Indifferent (0-6); Interested (7-26), Involved (27-43); Invested (44-69); and Committed (70-100). Consumers in each category still may buy your product, but at Indifferent, they aren’t thinking about it.

By Invested, the consumer thinks of the brand in “we” terms and believes the company shares their values. At Committed, the consumer feels a shared past and future with the company and thinks and acts like the company, making them an active advocate.

The survey also looked at what mediums consumers use to interact with brands and learn about them, paid media (ads), peer media (social media or real life interactions), and owned media (publishers and blogs). For those at the “Involved” stage, 57 percent get their information from Paid Media vs. 54 percent using peer media and 52 percent using owned media. For “Committed,” owned media had the highest at 73 percent, with peer media close behind at 72 percent and paid press at 65 percent.

Primarily, a customer who is “Interested” or “Involved” need to be paid media to spark interest and increase awareness, but as consumers move into “Invested” and “Committed” they should be engaged through peer media and owned media. To develop committed relationships, brands have to be actively engaging, listening to consumers, and reacting to global events.

“Commitment cannot be bought, it must be earned,” said Edelman. “We can quantify that a media mix favoring social and owned media is essential for cementing a committed relationship with a consumer. Conversations help create a community of interest—a virtuous circle of buying, advocating for, and defending a brand—that will protect and promote the brand.”

The study also emphasized the importance of getting consumers to “Committed.” The most committed consumers will help brands improve the bottom line because they will buy first, remain loyal, and advocate and defend the label if it ever comes under attack. All this means that brands still need a healthy mix of paid ads and social media engagement, but that engaging with your most active fans is crucial.

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