• February 2, 2016
  • By Marshall Lager, founder and managing principal, Third Idea Consulting; contributor, CRM magazine

What Is Brand Love?

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When we talk about the engagement, loyalty, and advocacy of customers, we typically combine all those words into one: love. It's usually the same with the customers themselves—somebody will simply say "I love Hot Pockets," not "I am pleased by the value I receive from Hot Pockets and am happy to recommend their consumption to people around me." That would be silly, and not just because Hot Pockets are nasty.

But the love most customers have for a brand is superficial. If you offer them an alternative, like Pipin' Pouches or Savory Satchels, and they like it better, the beloved Hot Pockets are getting the old heave-ho. If their favorite brand can be improved upon, most customers won't go far out of their way to suggest changes to anybody who can make them happen.

Real love of a brand comes from within the brand itself, namely the employees of the company that provides it. I'm not just talking about the development team and product managers—if there wasn't love in those roles, the product likely wouldn't have made it to market. A company that loves its brands infuses that love in every employee, from the C-suite to the janitor's closet.

The kind of love I'm talking about is more than just enthusiasm or appreciating that it is what gets you paid. It's a deep love, one built on an understanding of what the product does and who it's for. Customers might get there after years of interaction with the brand, but company people have to feel it from the beginning. If they feel it, it will always be on display.

When you call a company agent with a question or problem and get into a conversation that covers the product's faults as well as its strengths, personal experiences, and advice, that's love in action. When you end the dialogue—even if you were calling with a complaint—you feel good about it. Good salespeople might be able to sell effectively, but salespeople with love will never leave a customer with buyer's remorse.

To benefit from this degree of love, a company has to value and encourage input from everybody involved with the brand. Nobody ever started or sustained a romance by sticking to a script. Sting once sang, "If you love somebody, set them free." If you love your brand, set people free to speak honestly about it. This doesn't clash with having a consistent message nearly as much as it sounds—in fact, it frees people to provide the feedback you need to stay current and make sure you're providing exceptional experiences.

Freedom of expression about one's own brand is great, but what about the competition, which have adherents of their own? There are lessons to be learned from romantic relationships here as well. You don't compare your spouse to another person's, especially not to tell him yours is better. The same goes for brands. Ideally, you should keep the focus on your own, but that's not always possible. There is nothing wrong with admitting you personally prefer the chicken fajita flavor of Warm Wallets if you eat them while drinking beer. I might think the Police are a superior band to the Wiggles, but I'd never suggest the former as a booking for a child's birthday party. (Nor the latter, but that's because I hate children.)

The results of building brand love among your people are even more far-reaching than this overworked metaphor. The love will rub off on customers and help to attract more of them, which means market share and revenue. It also means your entire team is invested in the health of the brand as more than a means to a steady income. They will help the brand survive and evolve, often in unexpected ways. And, like parents, they'll also contribute to your brand's next generation.

If you think I'm going to describe the parenting process, or what happens when two brands love each other very much and want to be very close, think again. This isn't that kind of magazine.

Marshall Lager created Third Idea Consulting via parthenogenesis, as far as you know. Ask him what that's all about at www.3rd-idea.com, or http//:twitter.com/Lager.

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