We buy it for a certain reason and we seem likely to continue. We look forward to opening it. We eagerly recommend it in conversation. It’s the brand we like - the lovebrand. Is this goal „dangerous nonsense“ for a brand, as stated by a recent article in a marketing magazine, or is it something that marketers should aspire to in an era saturated by advertising communication?
I was intrigued by the provocative headline in Mediaguru: „The lovebrand is dangerous nonsense that leads marketers astray“. I read it and stared at my shoes for a while. I started reading again, and as my gaze drifted between the article and my new pair of Meindl trekking boots, I realized more and more that something here wasn’t as it should be. Especially when the conclusion is that a marketer should avoid the word lovebrand because „they risk humiliation“.
Forget the constellation of familiar brands such as Harley, Apple, and the one mentioned in the article, Starbucks, and take a look around. Which brand clothes us, which restaurant do we love to go to, which devices do we prefer? In every area of activity, we have simplified life by giving priority to only a few brands. As soon as one product wears itself out, we will either buy it again out of habit or we’ll look for another one. And all the while, its competition is presenting us with many new, attractive alternatives. Or can emotions affect our decision making?
Brand loyalty is the tendency for people to repeatedly purchase and prefer one brand above others. People can retain a product or service simply due to comfort or price, often without feeling any emotional ties to the brand.
In contrast, brand love is the natural result of the ambition of a brand to create long-term emotional impulses with people (emotional connections) which go beyond the scope of traditional communication of product benefits.
Therefore, in terms of brand marketing strategy, driving customer loyalty is a very different goal from winning fans, ambassadors, or advocates.
After the recession of 2007-2009, Prof. Byron Sharp published How Brands Grow, in which he addresses whether a „brand with the desire to grow“ should focus on new or existing customers. He also considers whether it is more worthwhile for the brand to educate people or merely build its distinguishing features (see this article). The numbers clearly reflect that a brand earns far less by preparing loyalty programs, member benefits, or discount sales promotions focusing on existing customers than they would by creating new outreach efforts.
Yet marketers are often led astray by sentences or words taken out of the context of the book as a whole. In particular, they are misled by the oversimplification that sheer reach is more important than anything associated with care, engagement, or emotions. Of course, having a good, recognizable product and communicating that is a good beginning. Most agencies handle this by carefully wrapping the brand in benefits, purchasing media space, and exposing it as much as possible to get the expected reaction. But brands that follow this path alone burn a large portion of their budgets, and their expectations of increased sales are often dashed. After all, what good is reach without attention?
This is why Sharp precisely describes the effect of people screening out advertising, and adds that it is necessary to involve emotions in brand communication. At the same time, he admits that it is the marketer’s task to find a clever way to achieve quality reach, when even mass TV commercials show only 16% effectiveness. Sharp may be giving them a clues, but the solution remains up to them.
We talk a lot about how people see brands, when a better perspective would be how brands see people. Building brand love is about the approach of the brand itself. Instead of drowning people in millions of advertisements announcing „I’m here, I’m great, buy me,“ they instead create worthwhile experiences for people. They internally enhance this emotional connection to the brand and attract a great deal of attention to it – that is, reach. As a result, they bring not only respect, but a sense of connection, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. In other words, what the word „love“ communicates in a broader sense.
After all, it is the path to the lovebrand that leads past NPS scores and the question „How much would you recommend our brand?“ For many brands nowadays, trust, in particular, is becoming just as important as the numbers about attention gained. Here we are referring to the difficult work of brand maturity and its purpose.
One example is Zappos and its promise of Delivering Happiness, which catapulted it from a local shop to among the largest clothing brands in the world. All of this thanks to WOM, engaging people, and without a single crown spent on a massive television campaign. The pursuit of brand love has infused the entire company, its company culture, behavior, communication, even product packaging. Without this aspiration, it would just be an empty claim. Apparently an emotional connection between people and the brand can exist, for example, even with a shop.
While the author of the article in Mediaguru presses on readers the absence of any study that would support the concept of the „lovebrand“ (the proper term is lovemark), the results of the empirical study Understanding Lovemark Brands published in 2018 in the Spanish Journal of Marketing – ESIC confirm a strong correlation between building a lovemark and expressions of loyalty. This indicates that marketers of brands should consider the development of a lovemark their strategic goal, along with:
improving the level of retention of existing customers, as it is highly likely that lovemark customers will remain with the same brand,
attracting new customers using WOM from existing customers who are convinced of the functional and emotional benefits of the brand and recommend it to others,
avoiding price reductions if facing competition and price wars by focusing on the emotional value of the brand.
For this reason, some of the largest brands in the world have grasped acquisition of organic and paid reach through engagement as the main strategy which grows products and entire companies. This discovery can transform the purpose of marketing from creating „promiscuous“ and fleeting acquaintances, as the author of the article so aptly describes them, to creating valuable customer experiences that can be transferred to other people.
We can continue sitting behind the computer, writing enticing headlines and shooting messages at people to say what a wonderful product we have, hoping to be noticed. Or we can get up, go and make something meaningful out of the brand and its fans, and then merely let everyone else in on it. Just like Meindl did for teams of sales managers 20 years ago without the power of social networking. This one powerful moment managed to create a long-term emotional impulse on an adventure hike in the Slovenian mountains. And whenever talk turns to the selection of trekking boot brands, I share these strong stories and enthusiastically recommend them. And by the way, despite their high price, I’m now on my third pair.
It doesn’t matter what we call it. Preferred fit, favorite, or lovebrand. I’d like to be a brand like that.
The glib claims in the Mediaguru article led readers to believe that the lovemark concept is what resulted in the downfall of J.C. Penny. The real cause, however, was a flawed business strategy. Ninety-nine percent of sales consisted of purchases with discount coupons. As soon as the global economic recession struck in 2007–2009, Amazon came in and the demographic conditions changed, and the brand was practically without hope of rescue.
Tying data out of context to misleading conclusions has become a trend nowadays. Everyone should be warned against these outrages – empty yet distinctive, like the blue screen on a monitor pleading for a restart. Otherwise, they will truly be humiliated.
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Jiří Macháček, Innovate Captain & ExM Trainer