Monday Mornings with Madison

The New Pinnacle for Brands: Brand Love, Part 1

Brand identity has slowly emerged as an integral part of business.    Most business leaders have come to understand that a company’s brand is about much more than a company’s logo, slogan, or other recognizable mark used to promote goods and services.  Brand and company are nearly synonymous.  Seth Godin described a brand as “the set of expectations, memories, stories and relationships that, taken together, account for a consumer’s decision to choose one product or service over another.”  And, Scott Cook said, “A brand is no longer what we tell the consumer it is—it is what consumers tell each other it is.”  It can even apply to an individual if that individual is tied to the delivery of a product or service, as is the case with motivational speaker Tony Robbins.  And, for businesses, brand can be one of its most important assets, if the brand is carefully crafted and nurtured with intentionality.  Brand is why Nike can charge five times as much for a pair of sneakers over unknown brands manufacturing similar sneakers.

Establishing Brand Identity

The days of a company just having a name, making and selling a product or service, and making money is over.  ABC Hardware manufacturing xyz widgets at a warehouse in Anywhere, USA is fast becoming a thing of the past.  In a hyper-connected world, companies big and small must create and cultivate their brand to be seen and heard.

Brand matters in every type of product or service, from the most cutting edge to the most ubiquitous. Consider something as simple and common as cookies.  The most popular brand in the U.S. is Oreos.  But there are several other well-known brands.  Nabisco Chips Ahoy.  Little Debbie Oatmeal Crème Pies.  Nilla Wafers.  Pepperidge Farms Milanos.  Nabisco BelVita Breakfast Bars.  Keebler Chocolate Chip.  Lofthouse.   Barnum Animal Cookies.  And then there are well-known seasonal and bakery cookie brands like Girl Scout Cookies, Entenmanns, Famous Amos, Mrs. Fields, Pillsbury, and Royal Dansk.  These dozen or so brands control the lion’s share of the cookie market.  Even people who don’t eat cookies probably recognize most of these brands.  In fact, branding certainly accounts for why Oreos are the best-selling cookies (by far) even though chocolate chip cookies are actually the most popular type of cookie in the U.S.   Brand even trumps taste.

Because there is power in brand, company leaders have begun to understand that their brand must stand for something.  It must tell a story about the company’s vision and their ‘why’.  And, every aspect of the business must reflect the brand.   From its products and services to its service delivery, identity, story, philosophy, and values, every aspect of the company must align with the brand’s identity or the company will not do well.  Efforts to improve reputation by simply changing a brand’s marketing look/feel seldom works because brand is about much more than the superficial stuff like logo, slogan and advertising.

Case in point.  Comcast Cable is a company with big brand problem.  Comcast has the reputation as delivering the worst service in the industry.  It has tried to revamp its image and reputation though ‘rebranding’ but is fighting a losing battle because their values, philosophy, and products/services don’t align with their facelift.   That is because, for a rebrand to work, every action the brand takes must connect and engage with customers around its features, functions and actions. That said, the simple fact that it is trying to rebrand shows that Comcast understands the power of brand identity to make or break a business.

On the other end of the spectrum are companies who have a brand identity that are far larger, stronger and more successful than the actual companies.  Their brands are bigger than they are.  Case in point.  An Axios Harris poll of 42,935 Americans conducted in May 2021 sought to determine what companies people call “top-of-mind” or best known.   Then they asked another, smaller subset of people about their impression of those companies that made the top-of-mind list. The impression was measured across seven metrics: citizenship, ethics, culture, trust, vision, growth, and products and services.  On a scale of 1 to 100, where 100 was the best possible score, Patagonia finished first with a score of 82.7, up a whopping 31 spots from their position in the same survey in 2020.  Patagonia is a relatively small clothing retail company with less than $1 billion of revenue a year.  Given its relatively small size, it is surprising that enough Americans even know the Patagonia brand and that it made the list at all.  So why is Patagonia so well-known?  The company’s brand is intricately tied to activism… and their customers love that.  (Love, not like.  Hold that thought.)  It has become the primary aspect of Patagonia’s brand identity.


Brand Engagement

With more and more companies embracing the concept of brand identity, the next evolution in brand marketing became engagement.  After all, the goal of a business was, is and will always be to get people to intersect and interact with the brand in the hopes of converting prospects and shoppers into happy clients and customers.  To that end, companies expanded from just establishing a brand identity to taking steps to get people to engage with the brand.  Engagement became the buzz word and the driver of all sales and marketing actions for the last decade.

Customer engagement and satisfaction became the key performance indicators on which companies focused.  The thought was that if a brand engaged with its customers and those customers were satisfied with that engagement, they would visit more, share and advocate more, buy more, return fewer products and cancel fewer orders.  Customer engagement was seen as synonymous with customer happiness.

For most companies, customer engagement focused on regular interactions, communications or other means of creating a relationship between the business and its customers.  Drivers of engagement varied depending on the business.  For example, customer engagement could include:

  • consuming content such as reading a weekly blog or newsletter, listening to a podcast, downloading resources from the website or watching informative videos, etc.
  • interacting on social media such as liking, sharing and commenting on posts, contributing posts, articles and videos, etc.
  • attending and hosting community events, seminars and webinars, social gatherings, exhibiting at trade shows, speaking at conferences or lunch-and-learns, etc.
  • writing reviews (good and bad) and adding comments
  • regularly using an app or service, such as downloading forms, using tools and calculators, etc.

Measuring customer engagement of these drivers was fairly easy.  Tools blossomed that made tracking such engagement easy.  Companies just needed to remember that the number of followers a brand had on a social platform was not the same as actual engagement. A brand could have millions of followers (defined as their social reach), but engagement meant interaction, connection and communication.  It became understood that it was better to have 500 followers who regularly engaged with the brand than 50,000 who did not.  Engagement reflected satisfaction and happiness.

The problem was that happy customers were not always likely to recommend the company to others, refer customers to the brand or rave about the products or services to others.  Engaged customers were not necessarily always loyal, fanatical ones.  To achieve a level of deep commitment between a brand and a customer, something more than engagement was needed.  Enter Entanglement.

Brand Entanglement

Today, sales and marketing efforts are evolving past engagement to something deeper: entanglement.  Entanglement is about a deeper and more meaningful transactional connection between “customer & company”…. one that is so close and personal that it is actually a bit irrational.   Companies should be aiming for entanglement.  With entanglement, brands go from admiration to adoration.  They go beyond connecting momentarily to bonding momentously.   The brand becomes a part of the person’s own identity.  They develop “brand love.”

Brand Love

How do we define “brand love”?  Perhaps we can look to the ultimate wordsmith for a definition of love that explains “brand love.”  In Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116, he wrote:

Let me not to the marriage of true minds

Admit impediments. Love is not love

Which alters when it alteration finds,

Or bends with the remover to remove.

O no! it is an ever-fixed mark

That looks on tempests and is never shaken.

By this standard, brand love evokes steadfast loyalty that will not change, alter or be shaken no matter what.  There are brands that are that beloved.  This brings us back to the Patagonia.  Patagonia’s professed goal is to “save our home planet.”  Patagonia – and brands like it such as TOMS and Warby Parker — have embraced philanthropy and environmentalism as something intrinsic to their brands.   Even the Patagonia name was chosen with that in mind.  Patagonia was meant to denote a far-off place… off the beaten path like ‘Timbuktu’ or ‘Shangri-La’.  The Patagonia website explains that the name is meant to bring to mind romantic visions of glaciers tumbling into fjords, jagged windswept peaks, gauchos and condors.  Unlike other companies that look to grow and be as profitable as possible, then cash out and do philanthropy, Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard believes a company has a responsibility to do that all along, for the sake of its employees and the planet.  It is a part of their identity.  It is their why and drives everything they do.  The company’s employees believe that doing good and protecting the environment are part of who they are.  There is a deep entanglement that far exceeds the fact that the company sells active sportswear, including products like durable rugby shirts and corduroy pants that mountain climbers would wear.  It is not exactly the stuff people buy every day.  And yet the brand is beloved.  Why?  Perhaps the ad they ran on Black Friday in 2012 explains why.  Patagonia ran a full-page ad in The New York Times that read, “Don’t Buy This Jacket.” The ad explained in great detail the environmental costs of the company’s top-selling R2 fleece sweater and asked consumers to think twice before buying it or any other product.  In the final paragraph of the ad, it actually said “Don’t buy what you don’t need.  Think twice before you buy anything.”  It’s a good thing Patagonia is a privately-owned company, because if it were publicly-traded, investors might have had a fit.  Ironically, their subversive ad bumped Patagonia’s 2012 sales significantly, with revenue increasing 30% from the previous year’s Black Friday.  And their customers love them for it. Not like.  Love.  Brand love.

Is your company loved?  How does a company get customers to love them?  We will look at that next week.  Stay tuned.

Quote of the Week

“Too many companies want their brands to reflect some idealized, perfected image of themselves. As a consequence, their brands acquire no texture, no character, and no public trust.”
Sir Richard Branson, Virgin Group Founder


© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.

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