What do these companies have in common? Lego. Harley Davidson. Disney. Coca-Cola. Apple. YouTube. Amazon Prime. Google. Target. Salesforce. They are in different industries. Some sell products and others provide a service. Some are very old and others are fairly new. But they have two things in common. Besides being incredibly successful companies, the other big thing they share is that their customers love them. They have “brand love.” And the word love is not being used loosely, as in “I love coffee”. These are brands that people use loyally and regularly, handing over their hard-earned money, month after month, year after year. These are companies that customers rave and gush about to whomever will listen. They willingly join brand fan clubs and loyalty programs… and support and defend their brand unfailingly to others. They are willing to pay more for those products and services. And customers won’t even think about abandoning a brand they “love” for a competitor. They exhibit the kind of unwavering, faithful regard that is typically used to describe a dog’s besotted devotion to its owner. These brands are so beloved that they become a part of their customers’ lives and identity. Each brand has a kind of bond with its customer base that is usually afforded only to people in one’s inner circle.
To really understand brand love, we need only look at that love in action. Target has so much brand love that fans created a new way of pronouncing the company’s name, “Tar-zhe”, as if it was French. Google is so widely used and preferred over all other search engines that it has actually become a recognized verb in Webster’s dictionary. Harley Davidson enthusiasts are so in love with that brand that it is a part of their identity. In fact, many loyal Harley customers tattoo the logo or name on their arms and it literally becomes a part of them. Disney brand love is so intense that people move from all over the world to live in Orlando, FL or Pasadena, CA, and name their children and pets after Disney characters. The cult-like following of Apple brand lovers is so intense that they actually bad-mouth and flat out reject other tech brands. No self-respecting graphic designer would be caught using anything other than a Mac. And Salesforce is so beloved that it continues to dominate the CRM software space even though it is considerably more expensive than hundreds of competing programs.
How does that happen? How does a company go from being a maker of products or deliverer of services to being an integral part of people’s lives? What does it take to become a brand that is “loved”? Obviously, the brand must be recognizable, competitive, reliable and credible. But that is true for most any company today. What else? Here are some of the qualities that inspire lasting brand love.
1. Embrace a Worthy Mission — A company must be purposeful, with a clear and resounding mission statement and it must be tied to an end product or service that consumers value and trust. Beloved companies stand for something. They have an opinion, a point of view and often even something more powerful – a vision of what it wants to be and see.
For example, Disney aims to be the happiest place on earth. From the moment a customer enters a Disney park, everything they see aligns with that mission. Cleanliness. Excitement. Wholesomeness. Beauty. Politeness. Smiles. Music. Orderliness. Tradition. Playfulness. Every aspect of the Disney experience is carefully curated to make their products (movies and merchandise) and their services (theme parks) all inspire happiness. While happiness may not seem as altruistic a mission as Patagonia’s mission of saving the planet, it is certainly a noble and endearing mission.
More and more companies are using business as a force for good, a platform to draw attention and possibly resources to a cause. In short, they have a purpose beyond just making a profit. They don’t do their thing to sell more. They sell more so they can do their thing. This resonates especially with Millennials and Zellenials, who are willing to pay a premium to do business with companies that mirror their values.
2. Live their Values – These are companies that don’t just talk the talk, but also walk the walk, of what they say. They not only have something to say, but act on it. The company’s values actually guide the decisions they make. Sounds logical, and yet too many companies say one thing but do something else entirely.
One example of a company that lives its values is Salesforce, a customer relationship management tool that combines data from multiple departments to create a shared view of every single one of their clients’ customers. Given what they do, Salesforce’s values are heavily focused on the customer and employee experience. They refer to their employee and customer base as their “Ohana,” or family, and are passionate about delivering on the values of: trust, customer success, innovation, and equality. One way that they deliver on the issue of equality has been to conduct annual audits to determine if there is parity in the compensation of male vs. female employees doing the same job. When inequality in equity is discovered, they raise salaries to ensure a level playing field for all employees regardless of gender. This has cost the company millions of dollars in compensation adjustments. Salesforce also has a Chief Equality Office and an Office of Equality to foster equality internally and externally, with the chief purpose of driving innovation.
3. Be Authentic. Customers can tell if a company is genuine or is putting on a show. As companies have increasingly realized that consumers desire more authenticity from businesses, they’ve also become increasingly skeptical of brands that appropriate beliefs into their brands with little genuine passion to back up those claims. Brands that earn customer love are real, with human qualities and have deep integrity. For example, Harley Davidson’s internal positioning statement actually says that they are:
The only motorcycle manufacturer that makes big, loud motorcycles for macho guys (and “macho wannabes”) mostly in the United States who want to join a gang of cowboys in an era of decreasing personal freedom.
That is an authentic statement that describes who they are and who they cater to without much window dressing or finesse. The brand is unapologetically muscular and obnoxiously loud. And their customer base – predominantly older white males — not only agrees but wholeheartedly embraces that.
4. Evoke Emotion. Brands that are loved are good at making their customers feel powerful emotions (besides brand love). Whether it is through the way they communicate, the design of their products or the customer experience they deliver, they stir up emotions that connect customers to the brand and one another. They create deep bonds. They think carefully about their products and think about how customers feel when they interact with their product. Care and empathy are at the heart of their work.
A great example of a company that utilizes emotions to create a connection with consumers and brand loyalty over time is Apple. Apple’s brand focuses on simplicity, clean design and belonging as its core drivers of emotion. Apple founder Steve Jobs understood that people want to be part of a lifestyle movement… part of something bigger than themselves. As social animals, we long to be a part of something important. This was carried through in every aspect of their brand, including how they released products to market. Instead of sending out dull press releases, Jobs hosted events to unveil new products. It was a production rife with anticipation, excitement and surprise. Apple users were made to feel like they were part of something big and important.
Next week, we’ll look at more drivers of brand love and companies that demonstrate mastery of these values. It is only by understanding how these companies were able to rise above the din to achieve meaningful relationships with their customers that other businesses can follow in those footsteps. Stay tuned.
Quote of the Week
“If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” Howard Schultz
© 2021, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.