Why do people love some brands more than others? Well, the most successful brands manage to develop a very real emotional connection with consumers. They stand for something that resonate with what people believe about themselves, or aspire to.
Nike’s celebrated TV ad (‘Last’) is about a marathon. It focuses not on the person out front, as you’d expect, but on the weary woman who is limping her way in to last place. It brilliantly illustrates the importance of emotional connections. It triggers a strong emotional response. It is the work of a company that has a deep understanding of its target audience. It speaks to us all. It isn’t selling us running shoes. It’s telling people something about themselves. Everyone knows what it’s like to struggle. Everyone knows what it’s like to not be the best but to not give up, either.
Nike’s mission statement is built on a phrase coined by its co-founder, Bill Bowerman: “If you have a body, you are an athlete.” Now that’s something everyone can get behind.
All the best brands, the brands that inspire love and devotion, the brands that motivate us to open our wallets, successfully engender the same feelings in people. They believe in what they do. They aren’t the invention of cynical “marketeers”. They are what they say they are. They have a set of values and every single member of their organisation, from the CEO down, lives them.
The late branding guru Wally Olins was a proponent of the argument that branding should be a kind of long-term strategy, and not just a sequence of TV ads, online activity and press releases. It is more than that. It was about establishing a culture among the people behind the brand. The brand was a result of the behaviour of everyone, from the CEO to marketing department to the call-centre staff.
Take dog food brand Pedigree, for example. “We’re for dogs” is their pay-off line and has been for years. That might, in these cynical times, sound a bit obvious and a bit shallow. But look at the evidence. Staff at Pedigree are encouraged to bring their dogs to work. They even provide free dog treats.
Get your staff to live and breathe your mission statement. If their belief is infectiously enthusiastic, then love of your brand will spread to your customers.
And speaking of customers, make sure that they have a brilliant experience of your company, every single time they interact with you. Keep that relationship open and two-way. Welcome interaction. Share content that is relevant and meaningful. How else can people get to know you and fall in love with you?
London-based creative agency Isobel conducted an independent survey earlier this year to learn what the UK’s best-loved brand was. Hint: it wasn’t Ukip. No, it was Amazon. Isobel’s managing director, Paul Houlding, said: “Affection, it seems, has been hard won. But it’s not just about affection, it’s about relevance and usefulness and what better proof of that formula than Amazon…” Say what you will about their attitude to paying tax in this country, Amazon keep prices low, deliver the next day (even, now, within an hour) and have a no-questions-asked policy when it comes to returns and refunds. They offer a good product and great customer service.
A couple of years ago, strategic communications agency Apco Worldwide conducted a survey of 70,000 customers from 15 of the world’s most important global markets so that they could compile a list of the top 100 most loved companies. They came to the conclusion that eight emotional triggers evoke feelings of love for an organization: understanding, approachability, relevance, admiration, curiosity, identification, empowerment and pride.
Saatchi & Saatchi’s ‘Lovemarks’ is a marketing concept that is intended to replace the idea of ‘brands’. They say, “Lovemarks are the future … because they inspire Loyalty Beyond Reason. Lovemarks transcend brands. They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. They reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without.” Among the Lovemarks are Guinness, Apple, Moleskine, Coca-Cola and Google.
Looking at a random selection of what Saatchi & Saatchi class as Lovemarks, what all of the above organizations have in common is quality of output. The product they are pushing, be it tech, stationary, beverages, or information, is pretty much peerless. Yes, Coca-Cola is sugary, but it’s wonderfully sugary and it’s wonderfully egalitarian too. Remember what Andy Warhol had to say about it: “America started the tradition where the richest consumers buy essentially the same things as the poorest. You can be watching TV and see Coca-Cola, and you know that the President drinks Coke, Liz Taylor drinks Coke, and just think, you can drink Coke, too. A Coke is a Coke and no amount of money can get you a better Coke than the one the bum on the corner is drinking.”
Marketing expert Susan Fournier wrote a respected 1998 study on what she termed brand relationship theory. In it, she identified that the definition of marketing had evolved from being about simple “give and get” to being about relationships. Relationships that are mutually rewarding, and long-term.
And with the advent of social media, allowing for an open, one-on-one interaction, loyalty, trust – and love – are more easily within the grasp of organizations today. “It’s easier to love a brand when it loves you back,” writes American business writer Seth Godin.
It is the way of things that while some brands thrive, others must fail or at least not thrive. No one is sure why MySpace is a bit of a damp squib and Facebook has made its founder one of the 25 richest people on the planet. It seems clear that few people quite knew what to do with their MySpace page, but that Facebook was and remains so intuitive and in tune with what people want, that within thirty seconds of getting on to Facebook, everyone was sold on it. And why did MySpace decide that that needy guy called Tom was the best way of keeping in touch with us? Presumably he is still there, wandering the empty corridors, hearing his own footsteps echo sadly off the walls.
If you can do all of these things – not one by one, but all at once – and you can make sure everyone in your organization is doing the same, then you will discover that something interesting and very powerful will begin to happen.
Behaving in all the right ways will mean that you become a real and meaningful presence in the lives of consumers. And when that happens – you are getting it right.