The Business of Belonging

Belonging is a universal human need – it’s also a largely untapped business opportunity.

Belonging has always been an essential ingredient in the business of brand building. This fundamental human need is increasingly on display as the fragile state of belonging in the world mounts.

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What does this seeming erosion of belonging mean for individuals, for society and for businesses?

Less trust in institutions, economic divides, political partisanship and increased levels of isolation –  loneliness due in part, paradoxically, to near constant digital connectivity – have all challenged our sense of belonging.

These cultural forces, combined with complex challenges for businesses navigating digital disruption, prompted us to ask: What does this seeming erosion of belonging mean – for individuals, for society and for businesses? And how have – and will – these shifts recast people’s expectations of brand experiences and the role brands play in their lives?

To investigate the potential relationship between a worldwide belonging deficit and the corresponding opportunity for brands and businesses, IBM iX undertook a global study, Brand Belonging: Human Need. Business Opportunity.

The Six Belonging Experience Drivers.

We enlisted Ipsos as our consumer research partner for the inaugural report to ensure objectivity in our analysis and validation of our new brand model’s financial impact through its proven Brand Value Creator (BVC) brand health metric.

The results underscore that not only is belonging a universal human need – it’s a largely untapped business opportunity.

Our analysis found top performing Belonging Brands grew their revenue at three times the rate of lower performing brands during the six years measured – and saw market share gains up to 10 percent higher than low performing brands.

In addition, there were clear correlations to various marketing measures, including higher rates of purchase, funnel conversion and higher likelihood to recommend.

There is nothing more essential than deeply understanding how evolving human needs continually redefine digital brand experience expectations.

It enables our team to design truly engaging experiences, drive revenue growth and inspire new business models.

The study also found that Brand Belonging is bilateral, comprised of individual and collective behavioral attributes identified through our qualitative research in six countries. Our research identified six Belonging Experience Drivers:

Individual Drivers

  • Everyday Enrichment: Enhances people’s lives through simplifying, continually improving and infusing meaning into everyday moments.
  • Compelling Relationship: Creates a strong personal relationship based on shared values, loyalty and personalization while cultivating a sense of being part of something bigger.
  • Trustworthy Excitement: Is principled, dependable and makes people’s lives more enjoyable through anticipation of the consumer’s next brand interaction.

Collective Drivers

  • Activated Purpose: Commits to social responsibility and behaviors that align to a core brand purpose to benefit a consumer’s well-being, instill optimism and improve the world.
  • Empowered Community: Serves as a conduit for inspiring experiences with others and strengthens people’s interpersonal connections, helping them feel at home in the world.
  • Empathetic Innovation: Creates a continuous set of sensory systems that listen and learn from internal and external groups to improve products, services and experiences.

    Download the Brand Belonging consumer study from IBM iX.

While all these drivers are important, leading brands must leverage them in powerful ways to create exceptional experience strategies that appeal to people’s individual and collective needs.

This article first appeared on the IBM THINK blog and was republished with permission.

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Kelly Mooney is the Chief Experience Officer at IBM iX North America.

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