Brands cannot afford to be friend-zoned by consumers

Posted on Posted in How to Guide for Marketers

Brands need to build a passionate and lasting love for their consumers  

How can brand leaders replicate Apple’s brand lovers who line up in the rain to buy the latest iPhone before they even know the phone’s features?  I see Ferrari fans who paint their faces red every weekend, knowing they will likely never drive a Ferrari in their lifetime. There are the ‘Little Monsters’ who believe they are nearly best friends with Lady Gaga.

brand love

Do you love it?

When I was a VP of marketing, I remember when one of my brand managers brought in an awful print ad for my approval. I looked at this boring ad, wondering where to begin my feedback. It was obvious he saw this ad as a mere task on his to-do list. I sensed he had no passion for the work. I sat there for 3-4 minutes and tried to think of something to challenge him. It was so awful I had no advice on how to make it better.

So I asked one of the best questions I have ever asked: “Do you love it?” He said, “No, not really.” I gently passed the ad back and said, “Bring me back something you love.”

While I hope it was an excellent lesson for him, it was an even more significant lesson for me. My passion has always driven my work. I wanted to see a passion inside everyone on my team.

It was the first time I asked someone, “Do you love it?” but it indeed would not be the last. I began asking that same question to everyone who entered my office. I asked it of myself when I had to make a decision.

We can never settle for O.K. Each time we reject O.K., the work gets better. It makes our expectations higher. When you have to love your work, you will fight for it, with your agency, your boss or anyone in the way.

You need to build emotion into your marketing

No longer can we think about consumers in a strictly functional or logical way. The best brands of today, like Tesla, Apple, Starbucks, Nike, Dove or Airbnb have found a way to capture the imagination of their consumers and take them on a journey of delightful experiences that fosters a deeper emotional and lasting relationship.

Brands must treat their most cherished consumers with the respect that establishes trust, enabling consumers to open up to a point where they replace thinking with feeling. The logic of demand evolves into an emotional state of desire, needs become cravings and repeat purchases progress into rituals and turn into a favorite moment in the day. Consumers transform into the most outspoken and loyal brand fans and ambassadors.

Old-school marketing no longer works, but the fundamentals of brand management matter more now than ever

The old logical ways of marketing no longer work in today’s world. These brands feel stuck in the past, talking about gadgets, features, and promotions. They will be ‘friend-zoned’ by consumers and purchased only when the brand is on sale. The best brands of the previous century were little product inventions that solved small problems consumers did not even realize they had until the product came along. Old-school marketing was about bold logos, catchy jingles, memorable slogans, side-by-side demonstrations, repetitive TV ads, product superiority claims and expensive battles for shelf space at retail stores. Every marketer focused on how to enter the consumer’s mind.

Old-school marketers learned the 4Ps of product, place, price, and promotion. It is a useful start, but too product-focused and it misses out on consumer insights, emotional benefits, and consumer experiences.

The Crest brand knew their “Look, mom, no cavities!” TV ads annoyed everyone, yet they also knew it stuck in the consumer’s brain. No one cared how nice the Tide logo looked, as long as it stood out on a crowded grocery shelf. The jingle “Plop, plop, fizz, fizz, oh what a relief it is” was often repeated to embed itself in the consumer’s memory bank. The side-by-side dish detergent advertising that showed spots on the wine glass of a competitor, just to shame consumers into using Cascade. Brands that continue to follow only a logical play will fail miserably in today’s emotion-driven marketplace.

Consumers have changed

It takes a smart strategy to balance the rational and emotional management of the brand-to-consumer relationship. These beloved brands are so exceptional because of how well they treat their most loyal consumers. They make them feel loved. The consumers of today must be won over. They are surrounded by the clutter of 5,000 brand messages a day that fight for a glimpse of their attention. That is 1.8 million per year or one message every 11 waking seconds.

Consumers are continuously distracted—walking, talking, texting, searching, watching, replying—and all at the same time. They glance past most brand messages all day long. Their brain quickly rejects boring, irrelevant or unnecessary messages. Brands must capture the consumer’s imagination right away, with a brand idea that is simple, unique. It must create as much excitement as a first-time encounter.  

Consumers are tired of being burned by broken brand promises. 

Once lied to, their well-guarded instincts begin to doubt first, test second, and at any point, they will cast aside any brand that does not live up to the original promise that captured them on the first encounter. A brand must be worthy of love. The best brands of today have a soul that exists deep within the culture of the brand organization.

Brands must be consumer focused. 

The brand’s purpose must be able to explain why the people who work behind the scenes of the brand come to work every day so energized and ready to over-deliver on the brand’s behalf. This purpose becomes a firm conviction, with inner motivations, beliefs, and values that influences and inspires every employee to want to be part of the brand. This brand conviction must be so firm the brand would never make a choice that directly contradicts their inner belief system. Consumers start to see, understand and appreciate the level of conviction with the brand.  

Brands must listen, observe and start to know the thoughts of their consumer before they even think it. Not only does the brand meet their functional needs, but the brand must also heroically beat down the consumer’s ‘enemy’ that torments their life, every day.  

Consistency matters

The brand must show up consistently at every consumer touchpoint, whether it is the promise the brand makes, the stories they tell, the innovation designed to impress consumers, the happy purchase moments or the delightful experiences that make consumers want to tell their friends the brand story. The consumer keeps track to make sure the brand delivers before the consumer is willing to commit. Only then will the consumer become willing to open up and trust the brand.  

The integrity of the soul of the brand helps tighten the consumer’s unshakable bond with that brand. Brands have to do the little things that matter, to show they love their consumer. Every time the brand over-delivers on their promise, it adds a little fuel to the romance. 

Over time, the brand must weave itself into the most critical moments of the consumer’s lives, and become part of the most cherished stories and memories within the consumer’s heart. In today’s cluttered brand world, the pathway to brand success is all about how to build relationships with your most cherished consumers.

A brand idea must be interesting, simple, unique, inspiring, motivating and own-able. It must attract and move consumers

The first connection point for consumers with a brand is that moment when they see a brand idea worth engaging the brand. The brand almost jumps off the shelf, draws attention to itself on a TV ad or makes consumers click on a digital ad. The brand has to generate interest very quickly.  

When the brand idea is interesting and simple, it helps the brand gain quick entry into the consumer’s mind, so they want to engage and learn more about the brand. With the consumer bombarded by 5,000 brand messages every day, the brand only has seven seconds to connect or else consumers will move on. 

That’s why the brand idea should be unique and ownable to stand out amid the clutter, and the brand can see enough rich potential to build their entire business around the idea. The idea should inspire the team working behind the scenes to deliver amazing consumer experiences. The idea must be motivating to consumers, so the brand can move consumers to see, think, feel or act in positive ways that benefit the brand.

The brand idea must last

A brand idea must have enough longevity to last 5 to 10 years and enough flexibility to show consistency no matter what media options you choose. The idea must provide a common link across the entire product line-up. Everything you do should deliver the brand idea.

The brand has to show up the same way to everyone, no matter where it shows up. Even as the brand leader expands on the idea, whether telling the brand story over 60 seconds, 30 minutes or over the lifetime of the brand, it must tell the same story. 

When the idea works best, the most far-reaching sales rep, the scientist in the lab, the plant manager or the customer service rep must all articulate the brand idea, in the same way, using the same chosen words. Every time a consumer engages with the brand, they must see, hear and feel the same brand idea. Each positive interaction further tightens their bond with that brand.

Use your brand idea to organize everything you do  

As a brand leader, you have five consumer touchpoints to align and manage, including the brand promise, brand story, product innovation, the path to the purchase moment and the overall consumer experience. The brand idea map shows you how to align all five consumer touchpoints.

  • The brand promise connects with consumers and separates your brand from competitors. The promise must position the brand as interesting and unique, utilizing brand positioning work to define the target market, the balance of functional and emotional benefits, along with key support points.
  • The brand story helps the brand stand out from the pack and gain the consumer’s consideration for purchase. The brand idea must push consumers to see, think, feel or act differently than before they saw the brand message. 
  • Innovation must help the brand stay on top of the latest trends in technology, consumer need states, distribution and competitive activity. A brand cannot stand still. The brand idea should act as an internal beacon to help inspire the product development team to come up with new ways to captivate consumers.
  • The purchase moment transforms the awareness and consideration into a purchase. The brand idea ensures everyone along the path to purchase delivers the same brand message, using retail and selling strategies to influence consumers. 
  • Create consumer experiences that overdeliver the promise, driving repeat purchase and future consumer loyalty. Partnering with human resources, the brand idea inspires the culture and organization, influencing hiring decisions, service values, and motivation of the operations teams who deliver the experience.

It takes a strategic mind to figure out brand love

I created the brand love curve, which shows the differences in how consumers feel about a brand as they move through five stages. It defines their feelings as unknown, indifferent, like it, love it and onto the beloved brand status.

consumer strategy

For unknown brands, the strategic focus should be to stand out so consumers will notice the brand within a crowded brand world. For indifferent brands, the strategy must establish the brand in the consumer’s mind so they can see a clear point of difference. At the like it stage, the strategy is to separate the brand from the pack, creating happy experiences that build a trusted following. At the love it stage, the focus shifts to tugging at heartstrings to tighten the bond with the most loyal brand fans. At the beloved brand stage, the strategic challenge is to create outspoken, loyal brand fans who are willing to whisper to their friends on the brand’s behalf. 

Five necessary ingredients to create brand love

  1. Everything must be about the consumer: You need to know your consumers as well as you know your brand. Dig deep to understand and appreciate the consumer insights, enemies and needs. Emphasize consumer benefits, not features. Since consumers always wonder, “What’s in it for me?” communicate what they get from you and talk about how your brand makes them feel.
  2. Dare to be different: Your brand needs to stand out as being better, different, cheaper, or else it won’t be around for very long. Be the brand that defines your unique value, rather than adding more clutter to the mountain of clutter.
  3. Build everything you do around your brand idea: Your brand idea is the first point of connection and creates the lasting impression. The brand idea is the reason consumers first buy. Every time your brand delivers, the bond tightens just a little more. Whenever you fail to deliver, the consumer goes into doubt mode, wondering if they will stay with your brand.
  4. Breakthrough focus: You must focus your brand’s limited resources to key breakthrough points you believe will tighten the bond with your consumers, putting the brand in a more powerful position to drive higher profits. You have to know your consumer, know what your brand stands for and be willing to focus on the strategies that will pay back in building the brand.
  5. Passion matters: You must exhibit incredible passion in the marketing execution, consistently focused on surprising your consumers, with a goal of becoming one of their favorite brands. Always remember “I love it” is the highest bar you can set for achieving great work. If you do not love the work, how can you ever expect your consumer to love your brand?

This type of thinking can be found in our Beloved Brands and B2B Brands playbooks

Learn to think, define, plan, execute and analyze your brand

  • You will find strategic thinking models and examples for each of the four strategic thinking methods, looking at core strength, competitive, consumer, and situational strategies. 
  • To define the brand, I will provide a tool for writing a brand positioning statement as well as a consumer profile and a consumer benefits ladder. I have created lists of potential functional and emotional benefits to kickstart your thinking on brand positioning. We explore the step-by-step process to come up with your brand idea and bring it all together with a tool for writing the ideal brand concept. 
  • For brand plans, I provide formats for a long-range brand strategy roadmap and the annual brand plan with definitions for each planning element. From there, I show how to build a brand execution plan that includes the creative brief, innovation process, and sales plan. I provide tools for how to create a brand calendar, and specific project plans. 
  • To grow your brand, I show how to make smart decisions on marketing execution around creative advertising and media choices. 
  • When it comes time for marketing analytics, I provide all the analytical tools you need to write a deep-dive business review, looking at the marketplace, consumer, channels, competitors and the brand. Write everything so that it is easy to follow and implement for your brand.

You will learn everything you need to know so you can run your brand. My brand promise is to help make you smarter so you can realize your full potential.

You can find Beloved Brands and B2B Brands on Amazon, Rakuten Kobo or Apple Books