“Love” is a strong word. Deciding when—or if—to profess it can feel like playing a game of emotional Russian roulette.

It’s a word with high stakes, and it signals a strong emotional response. Even when we use it somewhat flippantly (I love that movieI love the way my butt looks in those jeansI love this chili recipe), it implies something important: intimacy.

A new study from MBLM shows exactly how important intimacy can be not just in life, but also business—especially in emotionally fraught times. MBLM’s Brand Intimacy COVID Update, released in late September as a followup to its 2020 study, reveals how 100 brands across 10 industries have fared over the past year of the pandemic in creating (or maintaining) intimacy with their customers in the U.S.

And it provides some fascinating insights for marketers who want to build a brand that people, well, love.

Brand intimacy on the rise

MBLM found that brand intimacy is up significantly across all industries since the pandemic began, and that makes sense. Since March 2020, we’ve become reliant on brands at a whole new level—turning to TV and movies for comfort, cars for escape, online retailers for supplies (and therapy), and nearly all forms of technology for a link to the outside world.

We’ve always done those things. Now we just do them much more.

The way we interact with brands these days is, by nature, intimate. Still, some brands are better at creating that intimacy than others.

MBLM surveyed over 3,000 consumers to understand the strength of their connection with different brands. Each brand was then scored on a Brand Intimacy Quotient, “a composite measure that reflects the intensity of the relationship between consumers and brands as well as the prevalence (usage and emotional connection) with the brand” that runs from 0-100.

The top four most successful industries listed in MBLM’s study, in order of ranking, are Media & Entertainment, Automotive, Retail, and Tech & Telecom.

Industry rankings

Amongst Tech, Apple reigns supreme

Perhaps predictably, the tech brand that came out on top was Apple, which held its position from the original study last year.

While the average Brand Intimacy Quotient across all industries was 38.3, the Tech & Telecom industry outperformed an average of 45.6—fourth highest amongst all industries, and up 7 percent from last year.

Samsung and Google were tied as the second-most beloved tech brand, with a score of 54.6. Samsung is actually up 7 points from 2020, which is the biggest jump for any brand in the industry.

And then there’s Apple, with a Brand Intimacy Quotient of 73.7. Now that’s love.

It’s unsurprising that Apple’s brand intimacy is so high, considering the near-fanatic loyalty of its customers. Apple has some of the most effective marketing out there, and that held true during the pandemic.

Coincidentally, when broken down by gender, Apple is also the only of the brands to appear in the top five ranking for both men and women.

How language generates intimacy

Getting back to the subject of love, what makes these brands so successful at making us go gaga for them?

One big factor: language.

As part of MBLM’s study, the company analyzed language used on the websites and social media accounts of four leading tech brands—Apple, Google, Samsung, and Microsoft. The results show clear messaging strategies for each brand, unified by a common theme: specifically addressing the concerns their targeted audiences experienced in 2021.

Speaking (or, in this case, writing) to your target audience’s concerns is marketing 101. But in the pandemic, brands have to not only meet customers where they are in their lives and careers, but also in relation to global events.

In 2020, communications from these same four leading brands revolved around words such as “continue,” “free,” and “soon”—language aimed at comforting a customer base living through “unprecedented” times, filled with uncertainty and financial pressure. Messaging promoted sentiments of hope, in addition to special offers such as free deliveries or discounted rates.

This year, communications are still pandemic-oriented, but now the focus is on actively facing both continued and emerging crises, combating misinformation, and getting people back to work. Fittingly, popular words from these brands in 2021 include “misinformation/misleading,” “work,” and, simply, “crisis.”

The takeaway here is that it pays to dig deep with your audience. Intimacy—or, dare we say it, love—is one of the most powerful predictors of loyalty we have, be it with our partners or products. And sometimes, the only way to achieve it is to get emotional.

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