Our lives are built around relationships – with our families, spouses, partners, friends, friends of friends and colleagues – relationships that shape who we are and who we are becoming. As we grow up and have more choice over who is present in our lives, we take building those relationships, especially friendships, more seriously. We strive to find and keep the right people in our lives: those who make us better, who make us laugh, who can support us and help us grow. And the older we get, the more important and selective this process becomes.

While finding great friendships is not an exact science, we know instinctually that it’s important because the people we surround ourselves with are a reflection of who we are. Whether we realize it or not, we approach decisions about which brands to buy in many of the same ways we think about the friendships we choose to cultivate. From selecting a brand for the first time to becoming a loyal repeat-buyer, purchase decisions are personal and important, just like building relationships. As emotional creatures, we seek out and reward particular qualities, whether they’re in a budding friendship or a new-found favorite on the shelf.

Familiarity

First, we look for familiarity, what feels comfortable. When making friends we look for people we feel comfortable around, often those with similar character traits, behaviors, or interests. With brands, this takes the form of recognition or awareness. You see the brand name and recognize something that makes you feel more comfortable with it over the others. Perhaps your parents used it growing up, or a friend of a friend mentioned it. Either way, a level of familiarity gives this brand a leg up over all others on the shelf. In fact, according to PR Daily “word-of-mouth is directly responsible for 19% of all purchases, and influences as much as 90%.” The same also could be said about our friendships. Familiarity and a word of encouragement from others can give us the push we need to give a new friendship a chance.

Values

Next, we look for shared values. Do we share a similar moral compass? Do our views of the world conflict? In potential friends, we seek out people who support our goals and growth as a person and ultimately make us a better version of ourselves. More and more, people are searching for that same feeling from the brands they purchase. We want the products we spend our money on to have an opinion and stand for something that we believe in. According to Harvard Business Review, “64% of consumers cite shared values as the primary reason they have a relationship with a brand.” No longer do you just buy a sponge because it is the best sponge on the market, but rather, you buy the best sponge suited for YOU. Maybe a nontoxic sponge or one made from recycled materials; maybe it has a particular political stance or donates a portion of its sales to a charity you believe in. This has become more and more important as brands are no longer just something we buy but rather something we represent and, by association, something that represents us – like the friends with whom we surround ourselves.

Trust

Finally, and most importantly, we want to be able to trust the people in our lives. Trust their words, their actions, their opinions. For brands, the idea of trust is grounded in function but has become so much more. Originally, trust was, “Can I trust that this product will do what it says it will?” Now, brand trust operates on many levels. A product functioning according to its claims is table stakes. People want to be able to trust its words and actions as well, making sure its mission and vision ring true in its messages and its activities. Expectations are greater but when met, we feel we can trust a brand, and that trust pays off in loyalty. Consumer Thermometer notes that “59% of shoppers prefer to buy new products from the brands they trust.”

Shopping for brands the way we pick good friends indicates that the importance of brands – and the experiences delivered through them – is at an all-time high. No longer are we just buying a sponge in the aisle, but we are having internal debates about which sponge feels the most familiar, shares our values, and can be trusted. At Joe Smith, we think of a brand as a company’s business strategy made human, so the responsibility is on brand-builders to focus on crafting the best strategy and bringing a brand to life in the customer’s experience. Being able to clearly communicate who a brand is and what it stands for could be the difference between a one-off purchase or a loyal lifelong friend.

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