Corporate Eye

The Path to Creating a Relationship Brand

Last week, I wrote a post called “Creating a Relationship Brand” that discussed what a relationship brand is and how creating a relationship brand can bring great rewards in the long term. Today, I’d like to talk about the steps marketers can take to turn their brands into relationship brands.

First as a reminder, a relationship brand is one that holds widespread appeal among consumers but still allows each individual consumer to experience the brand in his or her own unique way. In other words, relationship brands allow consumers to make personal connections with the brand while still feeling like they’re part of a larger group. The success of relationship brands lies in the shared experience of consumers. Think of Harley Davidson as a classic relationship brand example. The marketing behind Harley Davidson leverages its relationship brand status, including targeted messages that embrace the shared brand experience.

Creating a relationship brand starts with researching your customers in order to learn how they experience your brand and find similarities in those experiences. Using this information, you can create sub-segments of your audience based on those similar experiences. For example, Apple is one of the best known relationship brands. Apple customers can be broken down into several sub-segments: designers, students, families/home users, small businesses, etc.

Once you identify your sub-segments, you need to develop marketing messages and tactics that speak directly to each sub-segment within your overall audience. For example, Apple has a series of PC Guy vs. Mac Guy commercials with each speaking directly to specific sub-segments of its overall audience. I saw a PC Guy vs. Mac Guy commercial last night that featured cheerleaders and spoke directly to students. Other PC Guy vs. Mac Guy commercials speak directly to business users.

The key to successfully developing a relationship brand is to allow customers to freely experience the brand in their own, individual ways and allow them to develop loyalty to it, which in turn, will lead them to talk about the brand and their experiences with it. That kind of word-of-mouth marketing is essential to relationship branding as non-users hear about the brand and feel like they’re missing out or not part of the club. This appeals to the emotional trigger of having a need for belonging that can be a powerful marketing message. For example, millions of people love the Harry Potter brand, but each person has his or her own reasons for loving it and their own ways of experiencing it. There is no doubt that word-of-mouth marketing from loyal customers drove the Harry Potter brand from a popular brand to a global phenomenon.

Relationship branding is an excellent option for market followers with a strong brand that people have already experienced as it allows a market follower to effectively differentiate its brand from the market leader. However, building a relationship brand takes time. Let me break the process of creating a relationship brand into 5 loose steps:

  1. Establish the brand and allow customers to experience it individually.
  2. Allow brand loyalty to develop.
  3. Brand loyalty will lead to word-of-mouth marketing.
  4. Research customers and identify sub-segments.
  5. Create marketing messages and tactics that speak to each sub-segment personally while still leveraging the power of the larger group.

Once a relationship brand is established, it’s important for marketers to maintain the momentum of the brand as part of the larger group. In today’s world of Web 2.0 and social media marketing, the Internet can play an important role. Tactics could include Facebook groups, contests (ask customer to make a YouTube video showing how they experience the brand), customer blogs and more. The opportunities are endless as long as the messages are two-fold: they speak directly to the sub-segments and reference the larger group at the same time. The most important thing to remember is to allow customers to experience the brand in their own unique ways even if those ways are completely different than what was originally envisioned for the brand.

Image source: Flickr

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Susan Gunelius is the author of 10 marketing, social media, branding, copywriting, and technology books, and she is President & CEO of KeySplash Creative, Inc., a marketing communications company. She also owns Women on Business, an award-wining blog for business women. She is a featured columnist for and, and her marketing-related articles have appeared on websites such as,,, and more. She has over 20 years of experience in the marketing field having spent the first decade of her career directing marketing programs for some of the largest companies in the world, including divisions of AT&T and HSBC. Today, her clients include large and small companies around the world and household brands like Citigroup, Cox Communications, Intuit, and more. Susan is frequently interviewed about marketing and branding by television, radio, print, and online media organizations, and she speaks about these topics at events around the world. You can connect with her on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, or Google+.

You’ve made some very interesting points, I especially liked these:
– Let users experience the brand individually
– Research customers and identify sub-segments and talk to each sub-segment
– non-users hear about the brand and feel like they’re missing out or not part of the club (which I feel is one of the most powerful drivers to get new converts)

Harley Davidson and Apple are great examples. Others worth mentioning are Pepsi and Coke.
– Pepsi for their youth campaign which helped it surpass Coke
– Coke for connecting with their original base after that debacle, capitalizing on and building brand loyalty and regaining market share.

Sachendra, I’m going to make this “Relationship Branding” week and follow up with a couple more examples of relationship brands. Thanks for joining in the conversation!

How do you think Flamingo Land creates a Relationship Brand and why? i have been puzzled over this for ages

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