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Chapter 3 | exponential brands Guidebook

Generate Brand Gravity

Discover strategies to keep people in your orbit.

Exponential brands create a gravitational field that pulls customers into their orbit and keeps them close. They go beyond customer loyalty to build brand gravity.

Competing on gravity

The future of competition is who can generate more brand gravity.

Apple and Google demonstrate the role brand orbit plays in differentiation. How did you choose between iPhone and Android for your smartphone? It probably wasn’t just about the camera's megapixels.

Apple and Google have created competing gravity systems.

  • Apple has tools like Apple TV, iMessage, Genius Bars, Facetime, and Siri and is particularly popular amongst influencers, creators, and youth.
  • Google has Search, Maps, Gmail, and YouTube and a more open platform that attracts tinkerers, techies and device-makers.

Each of these ecosystems creates an ongoing relationship that extends far beyond the purchase or use of the phone. You have probably even heard people describe themselves as an "Apple person" or "Android person."

The choice between Apple and Google is not “Which product will I buy?” but “Whose orbit will I be in?"—and what that implies about its users.

Gravity generators

The more generators you can assemble, the more gravity your orbit will generate.

These five components can activate Shared Purpose as a gravitational force of attraction and connection.

  • Intrinsic Value: Provide value regardless of whether a prospect becomes a customer.
  • Peer Connections: Foster communication between community members.
  • Social Transactions: Provide or enhance mediums of value exchange between community members.
  • Little Data: Tell community members something they don’t know about themselves.
  • Return on Engagement: Look for ways to combine transactions and relationships around Shared Purpose.

Gravity Generator 1 of 5

Intrinsic Value

Provide value regardless of whether a prospect becomes a customer.

Most interactions with a brand are about the transaction: what you should buy, why you should buy and how you can buy.

These communications have extrinsic value.

They're only valuable to a prospect or customer when and if they choose to buy something from you.

You can’t create pull when you are pushing your product. To create gravity, you need to deliver something that is of value even if the person isn't making a purchase.

Intrinsic value creates a relationship with prospects and customers outside the context of the transaction. Good content has intrinsic value. So do "freemium" apps and services that offer free consultations without a commitment to purchase anything.


Nike+ and Run Club

Nike's Run Club is at the center of Nike’s orbit strategy.

The Run Club app doesn’t push Nike products. Anyone can join the community, even if you haven’t bought Nike gear.

There’s intrinsic value in the ability to “track runs, challenge friends and get motivated to keep going.”

One cool feature is called Cheers. Friends who are also Run Club members get a notification when you are running and can record an audio message encouraging you in real time through your headphones.

Nike+ has grown into a comprehensive ecosystem including a Training Club app with free workout videos and personalized coaching and integrations with third-party wearables like headphones and smartwatches (including its longtime partner, Apple). Nike realized their brand is not just about their products, but the experiences surrounding them. By offering lots of ways to get value from its ecosystem, Nike continues to strengthen its orbit.


Intrinsic value

In this simple worksheet, fill in the blank spaces to think through your brand's intrinsic value opportunities.

For example, Nike might say, “Since we know our customers value tracking their runs and staying motivated it makes sense for us to offer people a free and easy way to track runs and connect with other runners for encouragement, even if they aren’t making a purchase.”

Now, try completing this sentence with something that you know your customers value (noun 1), and something you could offer people that provides or enhances that value without relying on a purchase (noun 2).

“Since we know our customers value [noun], it makes sense for us to offer people [noun] …even if they aren’t making a purchase.”

Gravity Generator 2 of 5

Peer Connections

Foster communication between community members.

Which has more pull to you: a promotional event or a party? The party, of course.

One big difference between the two is that while promotional events are one-to-many, parties are many-to-many. Rather than talking about themselves, the best party hosts focus on making connections between guests based on their common interests.

In our social age, brands need to stop giving speeches and start hosting parties.

You can go where the party is already happening, like Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. Or you can throw a party by creating a platform of your own.

Regardless of location, remember the quality and amount of gravity are ultimately a result of how people connect with each other, not with you.


Peer connections

Here are some ways to tap the power of peer connections.

Leverage other platforms.

Fitbit enables users to share their wellness accomplishments on Facebook.

Foster more personal relationships.

American Express’ Small Business Saturday encourages people to shop local stores and support local businesses.

Create your own platform.

Adobe’s Behance platform enables creatives to build online portfolios, showcase their work and find jobs with potential clients.

Enable anonymous connections.

Amazon makes recommendations based on what other users like you purchased.

Gravity Generator 3 of 5

Social transactions

Provide or enhance mediums of exchange between community members.

To transform an audience into a community, you need three things: shared identity, shared purpose, and social transactions.

While financial transactions are of course at the heart of every for-profit organization's marketing strategy, an enormous investment of time and effort is spent trying to encourage and persuade customers to buy things—and often only nets incremental results.

Social transactions take place naturally, as people share and trade social objects like photos on Instagram or recipes between family members, and they build (or draw upon) social capital like reputation and influence.  

The purpose of a social transaction is not to buy or sell something, but to express and deepen a relationship. Social transactions don’t have a price set in the market.

For example, when you’re moving, you can hire a professional mover and pay them in cash—or you can ask your friends and give them pizza and beer. You can’t pay the mover in pizza. And your friends would find it awkward to take your money.

Similarly, in academia people are (hopefully) paid for their time in salaries and stipends, but often the most value is derived from attributions—highlighting others' good thinking.

To accelerate the “liquidity” of relationships in your social system, either create your own social objects or facilitate the exchange of existing ones.


Social transactions

In each column, list ideas for generating brand gravity through orbit activities, social objects and enabling connections between users.

Brand orbit activities:

What rituals, traditions, or social conventions involve your product?

Social objects:

What do people talk about, share or exchange in these activities?

Enabling connections:

How might your brand participate in, enable, or improve that experience?


Adobe Behance

Adobe’s Behance community illustrates how the elements of an orbit strategy can fit together. The business goal is to engage creative professionals around Adobe software such as Photoshop.

The Shared Purpose of Behance is “to empower the creative world to make ideas happen.”

The strategic narrative is based on the idea of “putting control into the hands of creative professionals.”

Behance addresses professionals not only as artists but also as entrepreneurs.

To enable peer connections, the Behance platform connects professionals with each other and with potential clients.

The social currencies are jobs, projects and portfolios.

Gravity Generator 4 of 5

Little data

Tell people something they don’t know about themselves.

Big data is what companies know about us that we don’t know they know, but little data is what we may not know about ourselves.

Big data creates push. Little data creates pull.

When you land on a website and big data. When Nike Run Club shows you your history of running times, routes, and playlists, that’s little data.

Ideally, big and little data combine to deliver experiences that are personalized and reciprocal. This creates a virtuous circle of transparency and trust.

When little data is used as a social object—for example sharing your run times from the Run Club app to Facebook—it also generates gravity to pull others into the brand orbit.


Coke Freestyle

Coca-­Cola’s Freestyle machines are more than a self­-service drink dispenser. Customers can not only create custom mixes with over 100 combinations, they can benefit from the machines' digital capabilities in other ways too.

  • Each Freestyle machine is connected to the Internet, telling Coca­-Cola which flavors are the most popular (Big Data).
  • With the mobile app, you can save your favorite mixes (Little Data).
  • You can connect to the machine with your smartphone and have it automatically make your favorite mix. That lets the machine play the role of neighborhood bartender making you your "usual" (brand relationship).
  • You can also share your mixes online, in fact the company launched a "Make Your Mix" contest in 2019 to encourage customers to show off their favorites  (social transaction).

Gravity Generator 5 of 5

Return on engagement

Look for ways to increase value with every interaction.

Companies measure return on investment, but usually not the customer’s return on what they invest in money, time, energy, ideas, trust, social capital, etc.

In the context of orbit, a better measure is return on engagement.

Are customers getting value from the relationship with the company beyond the products they buy? Does their experience engaging with you and your orbit get better over time?

Personalization is one way brands provide return on engagement. For example platforms like Netflix and Spotify improve their recommendations as they learn more about you. All the time you spend scrolling through options is teaching the platform what it should—and shouldn't—suggest for you. And the better its suggestions become the more likely you are to go to those platforms first when you're not sure what you want to watch or listen to.



Beauty retailer Sephora has a vibrant social system that incorporates many orbit principles. A rich portfolio of experiences embeds cosmetics purchases inside an ongoing relationship with Sephora’s “beauty consultants.”

  • Peer connections: Sephora’s online social platform, the Beauty Insider Community, enables anyone to ask questions of experts and peers.
  • Social transactions: One feature on the platform, Beauty Board, enables customers to post their looks and the makeup used to create them.
  • Intrinsic value & little data: Color IQ is Sephora's portable technology that measures the exact color of one’s skin, enabling a perfect match to the right foundation color.
  • Return on engagement: Over 80% of purchases are made through their Beauty Insider loyalty program. The data those purchases generate enables Sephora to fulfill its mission of “personalized beauty.


Brand orbit sightings

To practice an orbit mindset, just browse your favorite business news.

Look for articles talking about new business or marketing strategies of various brands.

You will start to notice that some companies are more push and others are more pull. Some are building brand orbits, and some are still pushing products.

When you find a sighting that seems like a brand orbit strategy, look for the gravity generators we’ve explored in this guide:

  1. Intrinsic value
  2. Peer connections
  3. Social transactions
  4. Little Data
  5. Return on engagement


Discover strategies to keep people in your brand orbit.

  • The future of competition is who can generate more brand gravity.
  • The more gravity generators you can assemble, the more pull your orbit will have.
  • Intrinsic value: Provide value regardless of whether a prospect becomes a customer.
  • Peer connections: Foster communication between community members.
  • Social transactions: Offer or enhance mediums of exchange between community members.
  • Little Data: Use data to tell community members something they don’t know about themselves.
  • Return on engagement: Look for ways to combine transactions and relationships around a Shared Purpose.

Begin your brand orbit journey

Simple steps can help catalyze your brand orbit strategy.

The first steps toward an orbit strategy don’t have to be elaborate and expensive. You can:

  • Re-­invigorate your content marketing with a Shared Purpose and narrative.
  • Participate in existing communities of your users and customers.
  • Host events or forums for your customers on matters of mutual interest.
  • Update your positioning and messaging to emphasize relationships.
  • Collect data that can be delivered back to customers in ways they find useful.

Becoming an exponential brand is a journey as well as a destination. You will learn as you go. You just need to start.

Did this guidebook get you thinking? Let's talk about how to bring new mental models into your organization for exponential results.

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