What is Omni-channel Brand Intimacy?
Tuesday, May 29, 2018

What is Omni-Channel Brand Intimacy?

Mario Natarelli and Rina Plapler wrote the book on ‘Brand Intimacy’. They expressly key in on defining brand intimacy from a variety of angles and nuances. Also, in a retail context, their four forms model inspires the question of whether omni-channel brand intimacy exists.

Four Forms of Intimacy are:

  • Cognitive
  • Emotional
  • Physical
  • Experiential

In all four, there are examples of omni-channel brand intimacy. What is exciting about this is the notion that omni-channel retailing isn’t just about a transaction. Rather it can create a deeper connection with your customers. Natarelli and Plapler show that companies with greater brand intimacy perform better than low intimacy companies. Graphed below is a comparison of revenue growth and profit growth. It compares a short list of companies focused on creating brand intimacy. They compared it to the Fortune 500 list, and Standard & Poors index. Clearly the place to invest is with the brands that focus on creating intimate customer relationships. Not a shock, but good to confirm empirically.

Plapler, Rina, and Mario Natarelli. Brand Intimacy. Hatherleigh Press, U.S., 2017.

Cognitive Connection

A cognitive form of intimacy is the exchange of ideas with a brand. It can include finding similarities, differences, shades of opinions, and nuances of the ideas shared. Lets compare this with omni-channel brand intimacy. Can you already think of a few ideas? Yes, ultimately merchants are there to sell goods. But, part of the buying journey includes the story. It’s not just about reaching the rational brain. It is about making it a fun journey for shoppers.

Take a retailer like H&M, REI, or Patagonia. Each promotes environmental awareness in retail. They tell the story about where their products are created. They tell the story emphasizing the low environmental impact. So, the intimacy opportunity is to connect a sense of purpose with your retail chain. Do it online, on the mobile app, in-store, and through a retailer’s ads. Wherever you sell, infuse your story consistently. It does not have to be the center piece, but consistency is important. Then do so throughout all of your chain’s channels.

Emotional Connection

The Four Forms of Intimacy
Plapler, Rina, and Mario Natarelli. Brand Intimacy. Hatherleigh Press, U.S., 2017.

Emotionally, we are talking about sharing a customer’s innermost feelings. It is about going beyond a sale. Instead engage the shopper’s fears, joys, and desires. Part of it is about creating a personalized engagement.

From the omni-channel lens it’s about personalizing buying journey. It is about infusing emotional connection, regardless of medium. Part of it is good marketing practices. Make sure that the emotional engagement you worked so hard to achieve on your commercials – flow throughout. It has to be on the website. It has to flow through to the e-commerce side. Add tidbits and reminders in the shopping cart. It has to resonate on your app, on your social media presence, and definitely in your physical stores.

But don’t stop there. Your associates will ultimately help with the emotional wants of the shopper. Many shoppers want to drop into a store to browse, shop, and connect with people. A big part of promoting omni-channel brand intimacy is encouraging employees to engage with customers well. Make sure they are trained on this part. Don’t assume they will know. A vibrant, cheery attitude is not what you want at a a funeral home. But you do want it for your store. Make it an adventure. Make it fresh. Bring in an element sincere interest in helping your customer. Help them where you can. That’s where you’ll capture the element of intimacy that will help any store.

Physical Form

For retail, physical engagement is natural. Physical intimacy is about creating a sensual connection with shoppers. The very fact that your retail brand offers both digital and physical retailing, taps into this element. Bricks and mortar retailing also has an advantage. It lets your shopper see, touch, feel, smell, sense and in some cases taste the merchandise. Physical retailing also includes your surroundings, and environment.

Store managers have a big say in what happens in-store. The demise of Sears, with so many store closings, and the full shut-down in Canada was a great example. Shoppers shared a variety of images online of stores in utter disarray. Boxes were strewn everywhere. Aisles showed product falling off the shelves, sweaters on the floor, new toys broken by careless shoppers. Albeit a sad case, this scenario highlights the worst. This inspired a physical reaction of disgust, sadness and pity. Our point: keep your physical stores attractive, clean, neat and tidy. It makes a difference. Neat and exciting stores inspire drop-ins, browsing and shopping.

Take inspiration from Cabela’s (including Bass Pro Shops). This is a brilliant example of making the physical store a key part of building intimacy. Shoppers want to go to Cabela’s stores. Even if they aren’t outdoors enthusiasts. The physical experience is an adventure. It brings consumers in to be mesmerized by the displays. Even the non-outdoor adventurists end up buying something! It is hard not to let your inner child get excited about the adventure. Ka-ching … yes. But more than a transactional sale, in the Cabella’s case they just engaged a customer’s inner child. Don’t we all want this type of reaction from our physical locations?

Experience Oriented

Bass Pro Shops Location

Omni-channel brand intimacy has many points of experience. There is the sense of adventure. Perhaps it it can about creating a sense of exclusivity. Experience also resonates on social media platforms. You already know your customers are engaging on social. Make it easy for them to express the sense of purpose synchronized with your brand. Letting them find their tribe resonating around a cause you champion, builds camaraderie. It builds a community of shoppers that feel like they belong. They feel a sense of togetherness with other shoppers. When done well, they feel that togetherness with your brand.

Omni-channel brand intimacy takes work on many fronts. It takes effort on social media. Your e-commerce site needs to resonate with the feelings expressed on social. Your brand should convey that same notion on your marketplaces (Amazon, Walmart, eBay…). It also includes that human element.



Make Omni-Channel an Experience

People like shopping online because it is convenient, easy, and quick. But people also like shopping in-store. For omni-channel retailers – this is key. Yes, get the shopper to buy online. But when the customer does an in-store pickup… use the opportunity to build your brand intimacy. It starts with making it an amazingly easy, quick and pleasant experience.

Walk in the customer’s shoes, yourself. There are still too many stories about in-store pickup desks being at the back of the store, basement, or in an obscure corner. This won’t help build customer intimacy. Show where it is boldly (signage). Make it easy to find. Make sure a pickup is FAST. Don’t make your customer wait. It has to be a better experience than regular in-store shopping. If it is not, then they won’t do it again.

Retailers who ‘get it’ will prosper. Retail understands the customer experience is paramount. Getting ir right means planning. Getting omni-channel brand intimacy takes planning. Walk in the shoes of your shopper, and make each step quick and easy.


Charles Dimov - Director Marketing OrderDynamicsCharles Dimov is Vice President of Marketing at OrderDynamics. Charles has 21+ years experience in Marketing, Sales and Management across various IT and Technology businesses. Previous roles include Chief of Staff, Director Product Marketing, and Director Sales. Charles has held roles in brand name firms like IBM, Ericsson, HP, ADP, and OrderDynamics.




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