Is Your Brand a Friend?

You know your brand. You live and breathe it 24/7. You know its Pantone colors, its fonts, its position in the marketplace and its main competitors. But do you know what your brand would look like as a person? How it would handle certain situations and what kind of impression it makes on other people? While these aren’t necessarily things you’ll find in the brand guidelines book, it’s important to think of your brand as a component in a relationship — and not just any relationship, a friendship — because friendship is an emotional bond that can translate into significant positive impact for your business.

Your brand needs to relate to target audiences beyond the basic business relationship — it’s about more than a firm handshake and the exchange of pleasantries. This is about creating real meaning between brands and consumers. We call it Brand as Friend®, a philosophy grounded in nine scientifically proven drivers that ladder up to three foundational pillars of friendship: affection, relevance and trust. Think your brand is a friend? Read on for some thought starters, and check out a few examples of brands that are getting it right (and wrong).

First, imagine your brand as a person. Let’s say you’re working in a CPG company on a brand that’s targeted to moms. Let’s call your brand “Brenda.” Brenda wants to make friends with these women who are feeling time-crunched, seeking work/life balance and looking for ways to maintain a healthy lifestyle for themselves and their families. Brenda believes she can help moms achieve this.


One of the key pillars of friendship is building affection. This isn’t about being fluffy, it’s about having the ability to really understand what makes another person tick. How well does Brenda listen to moms? Is she looking for ways to “hear” more about their challenges and needs? Does Brenda know how to bring something unexpected to the table for moms? Everyone loves a pleasant surprise, but it’s hard to determine what that “surprise” might be if you aren’t in tune with the person you’re surprising. Does Brenda really care about moms, or is she just trying to sell stuff to them? How does she show that she cares? If you struggle to answer these questions, you may be dropping the ball on creating affection.

Who’s getting it right: Delta. After learning that many people using online dating sites like to feature themselves in travel pictures, the airline created the “Delta Dating Wall” featuring images from nine Delta destinations (the Eiffel Tower, Leaning Tower of Pisa, etc.) The wall provides an unexpected place to get that perfect picture for your Tinder profile.

Who’s getting it wrong: Old Navy. Last year the retailer attempted to be humorous with a t-shirt for Father’s Day that degraded dads by promoting a design suggesting Father’s Day is really just another Mother’s Day. Research (including our own proprietary study at EMA) shows that dads are increasingly taking on the role of primary caregiver and do not appreciate being cast as secondary citizens in the home.


If the moms were to set up a party to get together with friends and peers, would Brenda be invited? Is Brenda someone that moms can relate to? Maybe moms aren’t aware of Brenda’s background or her experiences with moms — perhaps they wouldn’t think to invite Brenda to their event because they simply don’t see Brenda on their radar. Would she fit in with the other moms? Does she seem like the kind of woman moms would like to spend time with? Does Brenda know other people that moms would get along with? What does she do to help facilitate those meetings? If you’re unsure on how to answer these questions, you may need to work on creating more relevance.

Who’s getting it right: Crayola. How do you take an iconic nondigital brand and make it relevant to today’s online consumers? Create a contest on social media to name the new color. Crayola engaged audiences by making the voting process interactive and fun, and kicked things off by sending people on a mission to figure out which crayon was being retired by determining which color was missing in the box.

Who’s getting it wrong: Audi. In a recent commercial, the luxury car brand compared a bride-to-be to a used car — with the mother-in-law inspecting her carefully prior to the ceremony to ensure she’s up to proper standards. Um, no. This is not the way to connect to women.

Can you TRUST Brenda?

Moms put tremendous trust in people every day when it comes to their children. Is Brenda honest with moms about her capabilities? Does Brenda provide insight into the challenges that moms are facing, and does she have their back if something goes wrong? Trust between people is built over long periods of time, but it begins with simple things like providing good advice and being transparent. If you’re unable to deliver in these areas, your “trust factor” may be suffering.

Who’s getting it right: Budweiser. In a show of loyalty to the armed forces, the brand rereleased its patriotic cans and bottles ahead of Memorial Day. A portion of the proceeds from the Budweiser America bottles sold went to support Folds of Honor, a nonprofit that helps provide scholarships for the families of fallen and disabled service members.

Who’s getting it wrong: Uber. On the front page of the August 4, 2017, Wall Street Journal, a headline above the fold reads: “Uber Knowingly Leased Unsafe Cars to Drivers.” All it takes is a headline to undermine a brand’s ability to deliver on trust — don’t count on consumers to read the full article for more information, the damage was done here in two words: “knowingly” and “unsafe.”

Now that you’ve imagined this CPG-mom-targeted-brand as “Brenda,” take a step back and think about your own brand as a person. Name this person, imagine him or her through the characteristics that describe your brand and ask yourself the same questions we asked about Brenda. Your answers will give you a preliminary foundation for how well you’re doing at Brand as Friend, and maybe even provide inspiration to pursue new opportunities or leverage hidden strengths. If the preliminary analysis excites you, consider diving deeper with one of our Brand as Friend workshops, which provide a full analysis of your brand through the nine scientifically proven drivers of friendship that together generate affection, relevance and trust. That’s information that will not only build a better brand, but a better bottom line.

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