Building Brand Affinity in Japan by Connecting Users With “Magic”

Keiko Hirayama / August 2016

Crafting a campaign that makes a lasting impression on audiences takes more than fancy graphics or a quippy headline. To make a true impact, brands need to focus on making deeper, more emotional connections with consumers. In this chapter of our Harvard Business Review series, we dive into Google Japan’s approach to connecting with customers.

In the quest to connect with consumers, agencies and brands all have their own best practices for crafting effective marketing messages. At Google, our goal is to “connect users with magic.” For us, finding the “magic” is key to building and maintaining meaningful relationships with our consumers.

When developing a new product or technology, engineers and managers have a vision of its value and potential impact on the world—that’s the magic. Marketers need to work with engineers to understand that vision so they can translate the product’s value in a way consumers find relevant and impactful in their everyday lives.

To fully understand how that magic can improve a person’s life, marketing managers need to know the consumer from the inside out: their likes, dislikes, values, and needs. With the user and the magic in mind, marketers can then focus on connecting the two through compelling and meaningful ads.

Once we know the magic, our three-step approach is: tell a story, invite the user into the story, and show the connection to the brand.

1. Tell a story that has personal value

Marketers should start by thinking about a person who would use the product in his or her daily life. When marketers know what a product can do for their target audience, that value can be translated into a compelling story that paints a clear picture of the product’s benefits and significance.

Knowing how a product can play a role in a user’s life—and whether they’ll find the story relevant—is exactly why marketers need to understand their audience so closely.

Google Japan’s team painted such a picture through an evocative video story about voice searches on the Google app. The video showcased the app’s hands-free voice search option that lets users ask spontaneous, on-the-go questions, just like they would ask another person. In these I-want-to-know micro-momentssearch results have the potential to trigger further curiosity, new searches, and lead to enlightening discoveries. And at the heart of that curiosity is the Google app, ready and waiting at the user’s fingertips.

This type of story shows how the Google app is more than just a search tool; it has the power to change the user’s daily life. Knowing how a product can play a role in a user’s life—and whether they’ll find the story relevant—is exactly why marketers need to understand their audience so closely.

2. Invite users into the story

Simply trying out a new product isn’t likely to create a strong bond between the consumer and a brand. Brand affinity comes when a user feels a personal connection to the brand and the mission driving the magic of its products.

When users feel aligned with a company’s guiding principles, they’ll be more eager to share their excitement about the products themselves, which is why an effective story is one that allows the user to play a part. We call this “inviting the user,” and it’s key to creating brand advocates.

One example is the “Search With Google” campaign, which featured TV commercials with the message "there is a reason behind every search." For viewers to experience the deeper value behind online search and get involved with the campaign, Google created the "Search Stories Video Creator," a device that allowed people to use their own search keywords to create and share a video telling a unique story. More than 10,000 videos were created and the most popular video was released on YouTube and broadcast as a television commercial.

Even with an entertaining story or immersive experience, consumers won’t feel emotionally connected to a brand if they don’t buy into the magic.

To showcase the Chrome browser’s possibilities in an entertaining and interactive way, Google also launched the Chrome Experiments project. On the site, people can submit any message and watch members of the band OK Go spell it out as they dance to their song "All is Not Lost." Users are free to play around with different messages, send them to friends, and publish their favorites to a gallery of shared messages from users around the world.

In these examples, users were invited to play a part in the brand’s story, connect to the products’ deeper values, and respond with their own stories. Setting up experiences like this allows consumers to get excited about the brand and share that excitement with friends, family, or the entire world.

3. Show how the story connects with the brand’s identity

Even with an entertaining story or immersive experience, consumers won’t feel emotionally connected to a brand if they don’t buy into the magic.

Google's mission is "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful." At the root of every product and service is the idea that people's lives can be improved and major world issues can be solved by using technology. Google’s Japan team exemplified that idea by releasing "The Year in Search: Looking Back on 2014 Through Search" and "Search With Google: New Year, New Challenge, New Mistakes."

Both campaigns reflected the goal of discovering people’s interests around the world through Google products and technologies. The team also launched "Innovation Tohoku," which highlights efforts to assist the Tohoku region following the Great East Japan Earthquake, and "Women Will Project," which uses technology to support female empowerment across the APAC region.

Delivering consistent marketing communications in an evolving digital era

The growth of digital technology has made it a lot easier for consumers to learn about brands. With technology connecting people around the world, users have tremendous power to influence others with their own perception of a brand. For that reason, it’s crucial for brands to have a clear, consistent mission and to create trusting relationships with consumers. And marketers need to make sure those values radiate through every story the brand tells.

Building brand affinity doesn’t have to be a mystery. By crafting an inspiring story that connects with users at a personal level and tying that story to a brand’s identity, marketers can develop meaningful, lasting relationships with their audience.

Measuring the Effectiveness of Brand Ads in Japan: Agility (Part 2)