Brand devotion can be hard to earn, but once a company wins over a consumer, that relationship can evolve past fandom and into a passionate love affair. Tim Halloran, president of Brand Illuminations and author of Romancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers, argues that the connections people make with brands can be as deep, emotional, and dynamic as the relationships they have with people. How can brands make their customers fall in love? Halloran shared some key brand relationship advice with Associate Editor Maria Minsker.
CRM: Where did the idea for Romancing the Brand originate?
Tim Halloran: I was sitting in the back of a focus group of eight women tasked with evaluating Diet Coke. One woman picked up the soft drink and said, "I drink eight of these a day. It was with me a month ago when I got my promotion; it was there three months ago when my cat died. In short, I like to think of it as my boyfriend in a can." We were just dumbfounded. This woman really thought of this Diet Coke as much more than a product. So I did some research and [found that] a number of academic studies show that we do form bondsx and relationships with brands, and they're very strong, committed relationships. This was the idea for Romancing the Brand: As a marketer, your ultimate goal is to get consumers to fall in love with your brand.
CRM: What are some mistakes that you see companies making when it comes to building relationships?
Halloran: One major problem is that brands start thinking of consumers in a transactional way, and they get away from the relationship. JCPenney is an example of this. One day they offered discounts, and the next day they didn't. Now they're back to offering them again. They've turned the consumer relationship into a value-based relationship, and that's not something you want to do. The other thing I see is brands not staying focused on their message. If you don't stand for something, you get lost in the shuffle. Brands really go off track when they lose their focus and their positioning in the marketplace. [Editor's note: The rest of the Q&A continues below the video.]
CRM: You outline eight secrets to romancing the brand. Which do you consider to be the most important?
Halloran: The most important is understanding your consumer[s]—and I don't just mean grouping them into a demographic. An example I highlight in Romancing the Brand is a case study of Dos Equis and their "Most Interesting Man in the World" marketing campaign. The reason that campaign was so successful was because that brand team spent months sitting around in bars with guys, talking to them and trying to understand them. What they found was that these guys loved having a story to tell to their buddies, so Dos Equis latched onto this concept and designed their marketing approach around it.
CRM: In the age of social media, one disgruntled customer could mean a publicity nightmare. How has this consumer empowerment affected brands?
Halloran: Tools such as social media have given brands better opportunities to start engaging in conversations with consumers, but they have also given consumers more power to talk back to brands. Just think about what a traditional advertising campaign would look like without social media: It would mean talking to your customer two or three times per year. That's kind of like giving your significant other a gift on Valentine's Day or on his birthday and then not talking to him again all year. With social media, there's more of a day-to-day conversation with consumers, so it's becoming a strong platform for a number of brands.
CRM: For some time, social media has been considered the future of marketing, but now mobile is stealing some spotlight. How can brands leverage this up-and-coming channel?
Halloran: Mobile is just another way of communicating with the consumer. To get the most out of it, mobile has to be used in context, which is the brand-consumer experience. While mobile marketing and social media marketing are interesting new ideas, neither is a panacea, and marketers who think of social media and mobile as being the only ways they're going to communicate with their consumer are missing out. The best way to leverage these new channels is to create a holistic message that involves a brand-to-face interaction, and implements mobile and social to simply augment what's already being done.