Brand intimacy: A new paradigm in marketing
by Mario Natarelli, Managing Partner, MBLM

Mario Natarelli unveils the concept of brand intimacy. He emphasises why forming emotional bonds with consumers – and other stakeholders – will lead to growth. 

5th October 2022 Read time: 5 minutes Watch time: 33 minutes

People form relationships with brands the same way they develop relationships with other people. The emotional science that measures the bonds consumers have with the brands they use and love is known as brand intimacy. It’s an emerging theory that Mario Natarelli, Managing Partner of agency MBLM (pronounced ‘emblem’), says, if overlooked, could be scuppering a business’s growth.

The term ‘brand intimacy’ was coined by Mario and his co-author Rina Plapler in a 2017 book named Brand Intimacy: A new paradigm in marketing. One global pandemic later, it seems their theory is more valuable than ever.

He joined the What’s Possible Community sessions to reveal how intimacy can be established, measured, and maintained.

Forming emotional bonds to unlock growth

Mario emphasizes that forming strong bonds with all business stakeholders is critical for recovery and growth post-pandemic. Understanding how to build an intimate brand is key to success.

If you think about a brand less as a ’thing’, and more about the bonds its forming with your stakeholders, that’s a sort of universal truth and a value. The bonds you’re forming can’t be any more important than they ever were. They should be your sole, core focus,” he said.

Brands need to build an ecosystem of their stakeholders and ensure there is a genuine, authentic connection with the brand. Mario stresses it’s not just your customers you want to be intimate with; it’s your employees, your influencers, your partners et al.

He points out that behavioural scientists have proven that humans make decisions based on emotion, yet most of the ways businesses measure, build and manage their brands don’t reflect this. Brand intimacy creates a new and more elevated form of loyalty – one that is based on emotional connection.

Engineering intimacy

Through the extensive research that uncovered the importance of brand intimacy, Mario and his team discovered incredible results. They reveal that intimate brands outperform the Fortune 500, and Standard & Poor’s index.

They also found that the more intimate consumers are with a brand, the more they are willing to spend on a product, and the more they are willing to engage with a brand.

For brands that have not prioritised intimacy, he says they should segment their audiences and measure the strength of the bonds they have been forming. This way, they can find out what stages of intimacy they are in. Mario and his team have developed a model that brands can use to measure the emotional bonds a business has, and how they can leverage them in the future.

The model is flexible for brands in any industry. The point is measuring the bonds that you’re forming, understanding how those compare and relate to your peers or your competitors, and then implementing strategies that you know will improve the intimacy with your brand,” Mario explained.

Learning from the most intimate brands

MBLM this year completed an AI-powered study of more than 600 brands globally, to evidence which was most intimate with their consumers. The agency used natural language processing to look at social media mentions of each brand on the internet, cross-referenced them to their intimacy models, and produced a list of brands consumers felt the most intimate with.

The top 5 brands that achieved the highest intimacy scores were Disney, Tesla, Apple, Sony, and YouTube. To access the report, you can click here. The report also identified emerging industries where brand intimacy is done right: gaming, crypto, and sports.

All of these industries are where the future megabrands will come from. They are bonding with the Gen Z audience. Crypto is interesting because transparency and control is a huge driver of the power of these brands. They remove the middlemen from the role that you have with your money,” Mario explained.

That paradigm shift in that industry is very clearly why people are bonding with those brands. They’re outperforming iconic financial service institutions that have been around, in some cases, for a hundred years. And have built multi-billion-dollar businesses and invested heavily in those brands. Here come these upstarts and they completely jump them in terms of overall intimacy and performance”.

Mario suggests that marketers can learn a lot from the brands that ranked highly in their brand intimacy study. He cautions that in a rapidly changing marketplace, brands must be adaptable to survive. Outdated strategies, methods, and techniques in brand building will not be effective in today’s landscape. Brands need to use innovative thinking to meet tomorrow’s challenges – and become more intimate with all their stakeholders.