Image Source: Flickr user Mark Bonica
I am more than a little bit in love with Netflix. It's just a streaming service — robotic and utterly nonhuman — and yet I feel warm affection for it, as though it were my friend.
Even that bright red lettering on the white background that bounces toward you at the beginning of a Netflix series or movie reminds me of a heartbeat, matching my own.
There's a term for this emotional connection with a faceless corporate entity: "brand intimacy."
Image Source: Flickr user Josh Hallett
Our Emotions Toward Brands Drive Their Economic Success
Of course, there is a direct connection between how emotionally tied people feel toward a brand and how much money it rakes in. And there are companies that study these trends, such as MBLM, which puts together a yearly ranking.
Among other findings, these are the top 10 most intimate brands in the US:
- Harley Davidson
- Whole Foods
Commenting on this year's report, MBLM's managing partner Mario Natarelli stated:
"Brand growth starts and ends with emotion and the quantity, quality, and character of the bonds formed with customers. We found that escapist brands performed especially well — mostly in the media and entertainment industry — due to the melancholy mood of the past year and the need for distraction, control and enjoyment."
In escaping from all the melancholy, consumers are turning to brands that provide them with comfort, nostalgia, and relief. Disney, for example, is ranked highly as a brand with which people feel intimately tied, largely due to the nostalgia factor.
Image Source: Pexels
The Apples of Our iPhones
Speaking of intimacy, there are few items that are more intimately integrated into our lives than our smartphones. These things are constantly on our bodies, cradled in our hands, caressed and touched a hundred times a day. I sleep with my iPhone inches from my pillow. So it may seem obvious that Apple was the highest-rated brand across several considerations in this year's report — including being number one in the "can't live without" category. Because fans of Apple can't imagine living without their products. It's almost romantic.
According to the report, Apple (along with Amazon) is more successful than most brands in crossing age groups and income levels. And despite the fact that many people bemoan the high prices of Apple's ever-changing products, Apple itself was not deemed the most indulgent brand — that title belongs to Hershey.
Image Source: Flickr user Jeffrey
Netflix Is the New Black
Most striking is Netflix's dramatic rise in one year from number 25 on the list of most intimate brands to number five. It didn't just break the top 10 — it surpassed every car company and gaming service to reach the top five. This is in keeping with Natarelli's theory that people are seeking escapism; in fact, the brand's name has become so synonymous with relaxation, it's followed by "and chill."
But why didn't similar streaming services (such as Hulu) see such a spike? It might come down to that amazing (and slightly creepy) algorithm that allows Netflix to predict content you might enjoy and therefore keep you watching. Every time Netflix has a new suggestion for me in that top banner space, I feel like they've personally unearthed a special jewel for me. And I always take them up on the suggestion.
A partner at MBLM, Rina Plapler, believes that Netflix is a brand "designed to be everything to everyone, all the time. As a data-driven company, they are constantly optimizing what appeals and connects most with customers and creating more intimate relationships, recommending and selecting things that consumer prefers."
It's true, this relationship with Netflix is eerily intimate. I trust it to provide me with comfort (the Gilmore Girls reboot arrived just in time last November, right after the election), painfully important information (if you haven't watched 13th, it's really time to do so), and escapist relief (how delicious was it to live in Hawkins, IN, by way of Stranger Things last Summer?). We spend a lot of time together, and it knows me well. Just like a person. Like a friend.