Branding agency MBLM has released the full results of its 2018 Brand Intimacy Report. The report, distilled from a survey of 6,000 consumers across three countries, examines the bond between consumers and the brands that they feel the deepest connection with.
"Our collective need to escape, cocoon and be entertained is growing, particularly with those 35 and under," said Mario Natarelli, managing partner at MBLM. "Brands that are optimizing content for our preferences dominated in 2017 by creating strong bonds and powerful connections. We expect this trend to continue in 2018."
Here are the top five companies that have succeeded in creating the most intimate bonds with consumers.
The Walt Disney Company (NYSE:DIS) is a perennial favorite and much beloved by consumers, achieving an overall score of 60.5. It shouldn't be surprising that Disney achieved the highest score of any company on the list in terms of nostalgia, or "memories of the past and the warm, poignant feelings associated with them." Disney has been a staple in the lives of kids going back generations, and when they grow up, they tend to pass down their love of Disney to their children.
In the last decade, the company has expanded its treasure trove of beloved characters, acquiring fan favorites Pixar, Lucasfilm, and Marvel. The House of Mouse was the No. 2 brand among millennials, and ranks higher among women than among men.
The iconic Jeep, a product of Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (NYSE:FCAU), has had a cult following for more than 75 years, and is a revered piece of Americana that has retained the DNA found in the original model. The vehicle was developed as a general purpose (GP) mode of transportation for soldiers in World War II. Before long, the "GP" became "Jeep." The original Jeep CJ, short for "civilian jeep," was sold to the general public and was popular among returning soldiers. This model was eventually rebranded as the Wrangler.
Jeep moved up considerably over the last year, from No. 15 to No. 4, achieving a score of 61.7. The brand, which is synonymous with adventure and the outdoors, bonds most strongly with consumers in terms of fulfillment. It also inspires some degree nostalgia, which understandably occurs with brands a person has grown up with.
Among all companies, Jeep had the second-highest score for "fusing," the highest stage of brand intimacy. This shows that customers feel inexorably linked to the brand, seeing it as part of their identity and as a form of self-expression. Jeep also ranked more highly among women than among men.
The second of two car brands to make the list was German luxury-vehicle maker BMW (NASDAQOTH:BAMXF), scoring 62.1. The company placed at the top of the rankings in the automotive category, was No. 3 among men, and No. 3 among users aged 45 to 64.
The carmaker scored most highly in fulfillment, for exceeding expectations and delivering superior service and quality. It also earned high marks in the category of indulgence, which focuses on pampering and gratification.
BMW saw significant gains across a number of metrics measured by the study. Its "net promoter score," which measures a customer's willingness to recommend a product to others, jumped to 57%, an increase of 119% year over year. It also enjoyed a dramatic increase in the "can't live without" score, which rose to 39%, a 95% increase over 2017.
E-commerce leader Amazon.com, Inc. (NASDAQ:AMZN) has made consistent appearances in brand intimacy rankings, and Jeff Bezos' empire moved from third place in 2017 to second place this year with an overall score of 66.5.
The company successfully built emotional bonds with customers across all age groups, and was one of only two companies that scored highly across all income segments. Amazon placed near the top of the list in the category of enhancement, a measure that looks at whether consumers feel better through use of the brand. The company also excelled in fulfillment, for exceeding expectations and delivering superior quality and service -- which is not surprising given Amazon's relentless focus on its customers.
Amazon was the top performer in the retail category and took eighth place in entertainment for its Prime Video streaming service. It's important to note that three Amazon brands placed in the top 25 overall, with Whole Foods taking the ninth spot and Prime coming in at No. 25.
For the third consecutive year, iPhone maker Apple Inc. (NASDAQ:AAPL) topped the list with a score of 83.4, which the report noted was "considerably ahead of all other brands." Apple is famous for its cultlike following, and the study concluded that the company has built strong bonds that cross all age groups and income segments. Apple was the top scorer for both men and women.
Apple scored most highly in a variety of connection measures, including enhancement, for making users feel smarter and more connected; ritual, which occurs when a brand is ingrained in our daily lives; and fulfillment, for exceeding expectations and delivering superior service, quality, and efficacy. Apple also extended its lead over the competition compared to prior years, with a 25% lead over Amazon and a 34% lead over BMW overall.
Investors take heed
One of the key findings for investors is that "intimate brands continue to outperform established financial indices for both revenue and profit growth over the last 10 years." In the preceding decade, the report found that the most emotionally connected companies produced, on average, more than double the year-over-year revenue growth of the top companies in the S&P 500 -- and more than four times their profit growth.
Not every one of these companies will produce returns of that magnitude, but being much beloved by consumers sure gives them a head start.
John Mackey, CEO of Whole Foods Market, an Amazon subsidiary, is a member of The Motley Fool's board of directors. Danny Vena owns shares of Amazon, Apple, and Walt Disney and has the following options: long January 2019 $85 calls on Walt Disney. The Motley Fool owns shares of and recommends Amazon, Apple, and Walt Disney. The Motley Fool has the following options: long January 2020 $150 calls on Apple and short January 2020 $155 calls on Apple. The Motley Fool recommends BMW. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.