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  • Claire Kalikman

How Top Brands Get to the Hearts of Consumers

Three standout trends the top heart brands are doing to become relentlessly relevant to consumers.

It’s no secret that the brands consumers are obsessed with hit closest to our hearts–the ones that make up our identities and help express who we are. The brands we call “magic makers” make us feel true affinity and loyalty: the sneakerheads, gamers, Tesla owners and devotees get it. There is no logical explanation for this kind of love— the kind of love that has lines wrapped around the block at Gucci and people camping out to see the next Marvel movie, even amidst a global pandemic. In the 2022 Prophet Brand Relevant Index (BRI), our annual study which asks 13,500 U.S. consumers which brands are most relevant to their lives, we learned what the top-performing brands do to attract such devoted consumers. For one, they create emotional stories and connections that consumers just have to have and experience. Unlike their counterparts, brands that appeal more to our head and practical side, these brands, fill an emotional need that goes straight to our hearts.

In addition to our overall BRI ranking, we have identified the top brands that speak directly to consumers’ hearts.

Top 25 Heart brands, ranked:

So, what do the top heart brands do to be considered relentlessly relevant to consumers? We discovered three standout trends where brands appealing to consumers’ hearts are excelling.

Bringing the Fantasy to Us

To create “magic,” brands need to do more than fill a need in our life—they must make us feel like part of something bigger and provide connection and stimulation to escape monotonous days. Gaming and platforms such as PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox enable escape and connection, and respondents agree that they could turn to their consoles to engage in new and unexpected ways. Marvel, Disney, MLB and NFL joined our top ten for brands that “Connect with me emotionally,” making us feel part of something bigger than ourselves. The power of these “magic makers” is to transport us out of our lives and into the past, the future or another planet entirely—and recently that transport mostly happened in our homes.

Nothing gets you closer to a shared in-person experience than live sports and the NFL had an especially strong showing in its first year in the BRI. Despite a variety of controversies, the NFL had more viewers in 2021 than in the previous six years. Because the experience of watching a game depends on live viewership, advertisers could count on a present audience, a rarity in today’s TV market. Innovations in adjacent categories also helped NFL: Sports betting laws opened up and a record 45.2 million Americans are expected to bet on NFL games and wager more than $20 billion, according to CNBC.

Inspiring Authentic Expression

2021 was the year the “creator economy” exploded in full force. From Etsy and Pinterest to YouTube and TikTok, extra time at home coupled with the “Great Resignation” led to increased engagement with social platforms for both viewers and creators. There are over 50 million who consider themselves ‘creators’, according to Forbes, especially among younger generations with strong aspirations to maximize their platform as a career. Creators love these platforms because they allow them to monetize their personal brands and connect directly with their audiences in ways that were never possible before.

Ranked 13th on “Heart” and 21st most relevant brand overall, Etsy helped connect makers with products they needed and wanted during the pandemic. Etsy reported in 2021 that they had sold an astounding $346 million dollars just in reusable face masks. These products not only fulfilled a need but also felt special and infused with the maker’s craft and love.

Making Us Feel Special

While still stuck at home during the pandemic with nowhere to go, the 2022 Index shows that we embrace brands that make us feel alive and special, even when they are impractical to our current needs. Some of our highest performing magic makers were luxury brands: Tesla, Gucci, Sephora and Mercedes-Benz were beloved by consumers and rounded out our top 20 for “Makes me feel inspired.” In the last year, luxury brands rebounded faster than many expected. In times of uncertainty, enduring status and quality symbols can feel reassuring.

Luxury brands have seen record levels of growth coming out of the pandemic. “Revenge shopping” or the phenomenon of those with means spending on luxury goods to fill a void left by canceled social and cultural events may explain the quick comeback of high-end brands. Luxury items aren’t just objects—they deliver a transportive experience that activates their brand. Luxury may not solve problems, but in a time when we sacrificed so much, it delivers the fulfilling indulgence that only a wildly expensive, exquisitely designed object or experience can.

What Can Heart Brands Teach Us?

To go from a commodity to relentlessly relevant, brands need to connect with our hearts. Top heart brands have found ways to connect with consumers’ emotions by:

  • Targeting micro-communities of fans who are obsessed with the same sports team or TV show. Instead of trying to appeal to everybody, narrow in on the people who are most likely to connect with the product or service offered.

  • Bringing together commerce and community. The best brands create loyal followers who look for every new product drop and turn up to every store experience: turn consumers into brand evangelists.

  • Delivering on personalization and quality, whether that’s highlighting the stories of artisans and innovators who design products or offering a customized experience through an algorithm or brand design, makes every person who walks through the doors feel special and loved. Magic.

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