Obama, Trump and Rihanna: who your customers are aligning with and what that can tell you

Barack Obama outranks Donald Trump in BFF report

Think of the last purchase you made. Did you just go buy something on a whim, or did someone, somewhere influence it?

Consumers are driven by emotion, and understanding how emotion plays into their affinities and decision making is essential for companies that want to peer into their customers' hearts — and motivations.

Brand intimacy agency MBLM released its inaugural Brand-Intimate Famous Figures (BFF) study to better understand the impact that entertainers, athletes, politicians, and spirituals leaders have on today's trends, beliefs, and culture that ultimately drive purchase behavior. Many of these icons have effectively built personal brands that often hold sway over their fans' opinion on and spending in categories related to those personal brands.

That's why it's important to look at the bigger picture of brand intimacy, MBLM managing partner Mario Natarelli told The Drum.

"Think about the information we consume," said Natarelli. "These people are influencing our lives in ways that are subtle and profound.... What we've been able to demonstrate [in our research] is that we bond with brands like we bond with individuals. We in many ways see brands as a reflection of ourselves."

The report set out to find which celebrity or famous figure is the most intimate brand in the United States today. MBLM surveyed 1,003 people, 18 years old or older.

Barack and Michelle Obama came in first and second, respectively. Actor Tom Hanks landed at third, while current president Donald Trump placed fourth. Pope Francis and Rihanna rounded out the overall top-10 ranking.

Trump did best among those surveyed who are ages 65 and older, while Michelle Obama ranked highest among women who participated.

Athletes only performed well among men ages 18-24. LeBron James, Stephen Curry, and Serena Williams ranked first, second, and fifth among athletes cited, respectively.

In terms of emotional metrics, participants most closely associated 'identity' with Colin Kaepernick, 'indulgence' with Beyonce, 'nostalgia' with Paul McCartney, and 'fusing' – defined as 'this person reflects who I aspire to be' – with Sean Hannity.

Natarelli said the science behind brand intimacy, the emotions that foster connection, can drive tangible business performance.

"How you bond with customers matters, and how you're forming those bonds matter... Emotion plays a role in all of that. The thing is that most models are rationally driven models. They look at things that are more rationally motivated. What we're trying to insert in the conversation is the role that emotion plays in all of this," Natarelli said.

The BFF report also shows that we live in divisive times. Obama, Trump, Kaepernick, and Hannity all make significant appearances. Emotions in America are running high. Consumers are outwardly sharing their core beliefs and motivations; brands just need to pick up on it.

Join us, it's free.

Become a member to get access to:

  • Exclusive Content
  • Daily and specialised newsletters
  • Research and analysis

Join us, it’s free.

Want to read this article and others just like it? All you need to do is become a member of The Drum. Basic membership is quick, free and you will be able to receive daily news updates.