What's Love Got To Do With It? (The Cold Truth About Branding)

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"People don't love your brand - they don't even like it."
     --Joe Parrish, The Drum

A great headline is incredibly powerful. And the above quote certainly grabbed my attention. As someone who is passionate about branding, I was shocked by the harshness of the statement. But as I read the very insightful article that followed and thought about the headline some more, I had to admit the author provides a good dose of reality for all marketers. Most of us have a strong inclination to believe the world loves our brand as much as we do.

Maybe there was a time that the appreciation of customers for certain brands approached love status. Back in the day, brands like Coors, Harley-Davidson and Krispy Kreme had a cult like following. Maybe Southwest Airlines and Apple still have a high level of brand preference, but I don’t believe it is nearly as strong as it once was. And few other brands even come close.

The problem may be as simple as the old expression "familiarity breeds contempt." As consumers, we are certainly bombarded by commercial messages on air, online and on every street corner.

We also live in an increasingly cynical world. Few of our cultural heroes seem to live up to our expectations and few brands do either.

But maybe the problem isn’t societal. Maybe it is us – the people who make our living trying to build love relationships with the brands we represent. It may well be time to accept the fact that Cathy Consumer just isn’t into us. Parrish makes the point very effectively with a wonderful cartoon from brand satirist, Tom Fishburne.

Parrish goes on to say, "Brand loyalty is dead. If it was ever alive. The truth is that a brand’s biggest competition is no longer the competition. A brand’s biggest competition is flat indifference." Ouch!

Lest we start seeing our careers as marketers pass before our eyes, Parrish does offer a glimmer of hope. He references the amazing TED Talk by Simon Sinek, "Start With Why." This is one of my favorite pieces of marketing thought leadership ever. If you haven’t looked at it previously, I strongly recommend you click on this link.  It is the best investment of 18 minutes of your time you will ever make.

Some of you may recall a song by Bonnie Raitt in which she laments, "'Cause I can't make you love me, if you don't." Can we ever make our customers truly love our brands? Frankly, I’m not sure. But if we ever stop trying, we won’t even have Jim Carrey's "one in a million" chance for love. We have to keep courting our customers and putting our best brand face forward at every opportunity. That brings me back to Sinek's TED Talk. We need to know our brand purpose and communicate it clearly and consistently. But it can’t be a one-way conversation. We must engage the consumer in interesting and compelling new ways. Using stories rather than facts and figures. Making our brand relevant to the interests of our specific target audiences. And being resolute that every encounter we have with our customers puts their needs first.

Kinda sounds like love to me.

Thom Villing is chief executive officer of Villing and Co.

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