Why brand affinity is the secret sauce of effective marketing

Colin MacArthur
By Colin MacArthur | 11 March 2024
Colin MacArthur.

Colin MacArthur – Managing Partner, Consulting, Kantar Australia

As our world becomes ever more complex, people’s reaction to the rapid pace of modernisation and globalisation is manifesting across markets through fear of contamination, pollution and urbanisation, mental health challenges, and the loss of traditional culture and ways of life. As a result, we are all seeking a greater sense of control over our lives and a more intuitive way of living. We are not searching for greater functional utility, but rather seeking out brands that offer a greater emotional utility. In fact, ‘affinity’ means ‘a natural attraction, liking or feeling of kinship’ and increasingly, brands that shift focus from product communications to demonstrating ‘affinity’ are ‘feeling right’ to consumers and with greater relevance than those that simply ‘look right’.

Under these constraints, marketing effectiveness has never been more important yet more elusive. And while marketing’s fundamental principles remain relevant, its prototypical processes are showing their age by driving outcomes and executions that are not keeping pace with the rapid change of culture. This reveals four clear marketing growth strategies now commonly in play:

1. pricing strategy and ubiquity led growth

2. embracing what the brand stands for and believes in

3. celebration of local cultural sensibilities

4. playing to the global mindset of Millennials and emergent Gen Z.

Pricing strategy is about price dominance, product superiority and distribution ubiquity and tends to be utilised by traditional brands that talk about and hero themselves, which can risk somewhat superficial ‘generic speak’ and is often employed by big brands that play to well-established category cues in global communications. The other three strategies are all built on affinity-led growth. For example, Patagonia holistically embraces what it is all about and what it believes in, living and breathing its ethos and encouraging others to engage in debate and dialogue. Converse knows how to play to different local cultural cues across their markets. New York-based skateboard brand Supreme’s connects with the global mindset of Millennials and Gen Z with an ethos based on actively poking fun at the behaviour of international brands.

Affinity-led growth strategies have contributed to a fundamental shift in marketing

They have moved the conversation FROM a core message of ‘demonstrating superiority’ about product quality and process TO ‘demonstrating affinity’ underpinned by the product’s ‘why’ or ethos, which speaks to people, place and passion – and this is the secret sauce of effective marketing today.

Brands that deliver on emotional utility do so by first and foremost building affinity and those that are successful are so because they are more:

  • authentic – being more open, honest and generous, brands sharing who they truly are to their audience
  • rooted – having a clear sense of place and belonging, a deep link to the cultures in which they operate
  • potent – being more useful and impactful to individuals and their lives as they fully understand how to help
  • simple – being easier to deal with and more intuitive, valuing people’s time and making life simpler and easier.

Building affinity is a marketing strategy for our complex world and even more complex audiences. To connect with your core audience today with affinity, you must:

  • Think and act in a way that is more communal and human and less transactional.
  • Not make product the central tenet of your proposition – products are most powerful when used as a ‘reason to believe’ not a USP based on superiority.
  • Not build your brand through dramatising a consumer tension and the functional utility of the product in resolving this tension – focus more on demonstrating cultural fit and the usefulness of your products in your audiences’ lives
  • Not place ‘your’ specialist expertise at the heart of the story rather create a deeper affinity by demonstrating shared values and shared cultural understanding.
  • Recognise that people are increasingly seeking brands that feel close to them and their lives. This does not mean the brand must be a ‘local’ or ‘Australian’, but it does mean people must know that your brand understands and recognises them and their cultural context.
  • Not oversell your brand story. Have a simple, clear hook, supported by a deeper authentic story for those people who seek to explore it.
  • But don’t dumb it down too much. The brand story must be powerfully simple, but not simplistic or basic. It is about having a depth and richness to your story. But ensure to deliver this in a way that isn’t overwhelming or demanding.

With marketing budgets continually squeezed in the current economic environment, and effectiveness becoming even harder to achieve, marketing campaigns must stand out more than ever. Building empathy and in turn affinity with your core target is key to ensuring longer-term effectiveness of your campaign and sustainable brand growth.

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