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Chapter 2 | Exponential Brands Guidebook

How Orbit Works

Brand orbit is a simple concept that solves the complexity of modern marketing.

Learn the language of brand orbit to understand how brands are maximizing opportunities for engagement, differentiation and loyalty.

The brand orbit system

To think about engagement in a many-to-many world, start by imagining a solar system with Shared Purpose as the sun.

When they think about what a brand orbit is, most people imagine a solar system with a brand as the sun in the center.

But when we talk about orbit for exponential brands, Shared Purpose is at the center of the system—and you and your stakeholders are orbiting around it together, along with everyone else that shares that Purpose.

Remember, a Shared Purpose is a bigger goal than you can accomplish alone, so other brands and communities will likely be with you in this solar system. That's a good thing, because a Shared Purpose should be so big and inspiring that it takes a lot of different players to make it real.

You can read a more detailed explanation of what we mean by Shared Purpose in the Thinking For A Digital Era Guidebook.

Who's in your orbit?

Stakeholders are like moons orbiting around your brand.

In your solar system—or social system—model, you interact with a variety of stakeholders: employees, customers, influencers, citizens, donors, alumni, investors, etc. All these different groups can have different relationships to and with your brand, and varying reasons to interact with the brand and each other.

Brand gravity is the force that attracts new people into this social system and keeps everyone connected.

The brand orbit experience

Your solar system is made of ongoing relationships that create gravity around your brand.

As stakeholders orbit your brand, you want them to have experiences and interactions that advance Shared Purpose, reinforce shared identity and create shared value—even when there's no transaction involved.

These experiences foster trust, gratitude, and reciprocity which are essential catalysts for brand gravity. That gravity in turn will attract new people into the orbit and keep everyone connected.

From loyalty to gratitude

The purpose of most loyalty programs is to drive repeat transactions. But orbit is built on relationships, not transactions.

In a relationship, loyalty is reciprocal. You want your customers to be loyal to you. But are you also loyal to them?

To build a strong orbit, focus on your Shared Purpose rather than your products. The transactions you want to inspire will occur naturally within the context of the long-term relationship between your customers and your brand. Show customers you're acting on your Shared Purpose—and making it easier for them to do so too.

You will know you are on the right track because your customers will not only be satisfied but grateful.

What could you do to turn your loyalty program into a gratitude program?



This outdoor gear and clothing company invites customers to participate in their Shared Purpose—“to save our home planet”—by giving them the opportunity to trade in their worn-out gear instead of throwing it away.

Once gear is too worn to be used, customers can send it back to the company to be recycled or repurposed into something new. Customers get a credit—and the gear stays out of landfills.

Patagonia activates loyalty and gratitude by offering customers an opportunity to participate in a Shared Purpose—within their brand orbit—by handling their unusable gear in a planet-friendly way. And for eco-conscious customers, purchasing new gear from Patagonia may seem like an easier choice when they know their old gear will be put to good use.

Touchpoints for purpose

For a strong orbit, create opportunities to fulfill Shared Purpose.

The graphic shows examples of touchpoints—interactions, activities and experiences stakeholders can have with a brand or its partners—grouped by how they relate to purpose.

  • Purpose TO interactions are transactional, such as purchasing or using a product or service
  • Purpose FOR activities often relate to exemplary customer service or social responsibility, such as volunteering or donating
  • Purpose WITH touchpoints connect people directly to Shared Purpose and often to each other through activities like educating, listening, co-creation or self-expression. These are the most powerful touchpoints for creating pull.


Audit the touchpoints in your orbit

Look at different touchpoints where you currently interact with customers and partners in your orbit. For each, identify what you do, what your customers do, and what partners and other stakeholders do. Notice where you could be doing more to create opportunities for stakeholders to engage around Shared Purpose within your orbit.

Social gravity pulls others in

People in your orbit naturally pull in others who share their purpose, identity, and values.

If your brand orbit is authentic and strong, customers interact with it because of the value they get from the relationship, not just because of transactions they need to make.

As with any strong relationship, this means people are more likely to talk about you to their friends, family, and social media followers. But this isn’t just about how many likes you can get on Facebook.

It’s about building enduring, meaningful, and authentic relationships with your customers and the people in their lives.

From segments to personas

Instead of market segments, think of customers as whole people with social, emotional, and practical needs.

To segment is to divide something into parts, like segments of a grapefruit. Customer segments divide people by gender, income, location or geography.

The reality is that people are multi­-dimensional. Your customers are more than their demographics: they are motivated by identities and relationships.

For example, in addition to being a "woman aged 30-45,” a person might be deeply invested in their identity as a mom, environmental activist, daughter, sister, foodie, executive, cyclist, baseball fan, and vegetarian.

Social transactions involve relationships that are important to your customers. Look for ways to enable and empower them.


Map social facets

For each customer or stakeholder type, identify different social facets. What social roles do they play? What identities do they hold? For example, a customer may be a parent to children, a colleague to co-workers and a teammate to other athletes.


Brand orbit is a simple concept that solves for the complexity of modern marketing.

  • To think about engagement in a many-to-many world, start by imagining a solar system with Shared Purpose as the sun.
  • Make sure to put Shared Purpose at the center of your orbit (not your brand), or your strategies will tend towards promotion rather than reciprocity.
  • Stakeholders are like moons orbiting around your brand.
  • Brand orbit relies on ongoing relationships to create a gravitational field that attracts and keeps customers.
  • For a stronger orbit, create opportunities to fulfill Shared Purpose together.
  • People in your orbit will naturally pull in others who share their purpose, identity, and values.
  • Think of your customers as personas, not segments.