Loved brands are profitable brands
Is the whole ‘Loved Brands’ thing a fluffy piece of feelgood PR from the branding community or a commercially savvy strategy? That so much cynicism surrounds the brand industry must be a reflection of the inability of the industry to demonstrate the commercial value we provide to business, the inconsistency of quality within our industry, and that role of businesses themselves DIY-ing their branding, or engaging the lowest end of the market and wondering why the results don’t follow. But a glance at the most successful brands in the world – Apple, Coke, and Lululemon to name three – illustrates just how closely attaining ‘loved’ status for brands matches consumer loyalty and passion, bottom line profitability and market dominance.
Not all brands are created equal and not all brands are loved
The good news for brand owners and managers, is that being loved has very little to do with size, budget or marketing prowess; in fact the most critical ingredient is passion. Whilst most of the loved brands we know are larger brands with enviable reputations and intense consumer loyalty, often the consumer love for their brand has been the key ingredient to fast growth and market success.
So what is it with the whole ‘Loved Brand’ thing?
Most brand operate in the ‘functional’ space. They build their brand strategy and reputation around the functional attributes of their product or service and they see their competitive world in the same functional terms. Often this leaves little scope for differentiation other than price, which in terms creates margin tension. But worst of all, as the default for most businesses, this space is intensely competitive.
But for loved brands, the picture is much more rosy. Although requiring more work, brands built around an emotion have better, deeper and more meaningful consumer relationships. Yes there are layers of functional benefit within the brand strategy, but they are part of a stronger glue that connects brand and customer. Brands that are loved have much higher consumer loyalty, they avoid having to compete on price and hold the apex position for their consumers in their category. Put simply, they get to charge higher prices to customers who keep coming back and who wouldn’t consider switching to their competitors.
The benefits for loved brands are many including my top eight:
So what’s the secret to being a loved brand?
Whilst there might be hundreds of different strategies a brand can employ to build stronger, emotional connections with their market, I’ve pulled together a list of the top twelve I believe to be most influential. Few brands will boast all twelve attributes, and for some businesses different attributes may overlap, but as a rule of thumb, the more attributes you can weave into your brand and they way it lives and breathes the more likely you are to be loved.
Brand Personality provides an opportunity for every brand to engage with their customers on a whole new level.
There’s a misconception that brand personality equals irreverent, cheeky and humorous, which is not relevant for many businesses, but that’s not the case. Every brand should define their ideal personality as the meeting point between who they are and what their target audience will best engage with in order to communicate their brand positioning.
Innocent drinks (above) are the UK brand responsible for bringing bottle fresh juice to cafes, restaurants and supermarkets around the world, a trend which in turn has created the pressed juice category. Their brand personality is clearly defined and consistently communicated, coming to life through everything they do. I can still recall reading a label on a bottle of their juice in the UK more than ten years ago from start to finish due to its level of engagement. In tiny print running on the side of the label was written; ‘Shake before opening. Ingredients may separate in storage, but mummy still loves daddy’. The fact I can remember that piece of brilliant brand story telling speaks volumes for the engagement power of brand personality.
Another brilliant example of brand personality is Dollar Shave Club. As an online start-up with a unique value proposition, Dollar Shave Club leveraged their enormous brand personality to create a viral marketing piece that has been viewed 22 million times – enough to accelerate their growth from cheeky start-up to profitable business disruptor.
You might be surprised how many loved brands are built on a foundation of authenticity.
More specifically you might be surprised how many loved brands are built on platform of authentic passion. Cycling Clothes & accessories brand Rapha has built a huge and loyal following of cyclists around the world built on a philosophy of ‘by cyclists, for cyclists’. Rapha’s launch in 2004 included a month-long exhibition at London’s Old Truman Brewery, entitled Kings of Pain. The exhibition featured six icons from cycling’s history: Fausto Coppi, Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor, Tom Simpson, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault – names familiar to all hardcore cycling fanatics. By appealing to this core audience, Rapha launched with enough cycling cred to make them an aspirational global brand in ten years.
Another critical dimension of brand authenticity is to provide a framework for selecting, hiring and training staff who will by their nature become effective brand ambassadors. The best brands provide a framework within which employees can be themselves whilst create engaging on-brand experiences. One of my favorite examples is this YouTube clip from airline brand Lufthansa. The clip was shot mid-flight by a passenger, but with 1.2 million views to-date is possibly the strongest piece of brand marketing for Lufthansa ever.
When was the last time your brand or any of your staff received such a rousing round of applause?
The third attribute of a loved brand is a Unique Brand Experience.
For some brands this is a more obvious opportunity than for others, but trust me it’s an opportunity for all brands. As a rule of thumb, the tougher it is to think of how you could create a unique experience for your brand, the more likely doing-so will make you stand out from your competitors.
When working with the entrepreneurs behind global indoor trampoline center brand; Bounce, we worked hard from the outset to develop a vision for the business centered around a unique experience. What began as a standard indoor trampoline center – a warehouse filled with floor mounted tramps – evolved into a universe of bounce where everything from the floors to the walls and in between was an opportunity to experience a life with more zest and energy. We built the brand around the same vision and launched the most successful business start-up we’ve ever seen. The secret trial night was attended by four times the number of people invited and almost overnight every session was booked-out for the first six months. The concept gained massive media attention and created a new category which has boomed with imitators throughout Australia. Bounce have now successfully taken their unique brand experience to the world and continue to expand globally.
Spanish footwear brand Camper have the same mindset. Their retail stores barely resemble to standard shoe store model, creating uniquely engaging spaces for their customers to visit and trial their product. The store experience imbues their products with a much stronger sense of brand than a regular shoe store ever could. Taking that idea further, Camper have also opened two hotels, that likewise turn the hotel model on its head. A few years back I stayed at Camper Hotel Barcelona and experienced the unique concept first hand. Most rooms were split in two with sleeping quarters on one side of a passageway and living quarters on the other. My room was combined, but featured a hammock in the living area, strung inside the floor to ceiling french doors that opened onto the inner city lane way below. One of my all time favorite hotel experiences was snoozing in that hammock for an afternoon siesta to the sounds of Barcelona floating through the open window. The hotel also features a cafe where everything from breakfast omelets to evening snacks and beers was free (included in room cost) to be enjoyed in the foyer cafe or rooftop lounge.
This quote from Jerry Garcia, front man from The Grateful Dead sums it up really. It is a call to arms to not settle for being the best in your category, but to create something so compellingly unique as to be in your own category of one.
A passionate community is much more than a group of loyal customers with a shared love for the brand.
A passionate community identifies themselves as part of a collective, they engage with their community as an expression of how they see themselves; ie. you’re either an Apple person or you’re not. You might have to use a PC at work, but your ipad, iPhone and iPod, Apple TV and iTunes account are all ways you get to identify yourself with the brand as as part of the Apple community.
The concept of a passionate community is a bit of a ‘chicken or the egg’ question for loved brands. Do they become loved brands because of their passionate community, or do they grow a passionate community because they’re a loved brand? And whilst the answer is; ‘a little of both’ the reality is you can’t build a passionate community around a functional brand. You might build an active community around a brand proposition based on lowest price – in Australia we have JB HiFi who own the cut price home electronics and music/dvd market and we have Kmart who own the cut price department store mantle. But as soon as another brand offers the same product range at a lower price that market advantage will evaporate. As profitable as these businesses currently may be, we don’t rate those relationships as loyal and this is a tough business strategy to execute profitably.
On the other hand Apple and Lululemon are both examples of brands who have very high customer loyalty and are able to make significant margins as a result. Few brands attract overnight queues of customers in front of their stores lining-up to be first to buy a new product release. It might surprise you to know that Apple is the number one retailer in the world for retail sales per square meter – the best measure in my view – and Lululemon is number two.
Another impressive brand community is the one created by Harley Davidson over decades. Harley riders identify themselves as part of the community – picture the open faced, black helmets they predominantly sport. For some joining the the Harley Davidson community is a major influence in their decision to purchasing a Harley. Like all great brands Harley has a belief system that washes over their community. Their belief system is highly emotive and evokes a sense of what it means to belong to the Harley Davidson community.
A key driver of creating a passionate brand community is genuine customer connection.
Connection is more than likes on names on an old loyalty program database who get a monthly mail-out, likes on Facebook or followers on Instagram. Customer Connection is about meaningful engagement through discussions, sharing and giving. Lululemon is a great example of a brand finely tuned to creating strong customer connections. Part of the Lulu business model is building relationships in every market with local yoga and Pilates instructors who not only promote the brand but also run free classes in Lululemon stores on the weekends. Lululemon stores also have a library of books on health and exercise available for customers to borrow. These are just two examples of the many layers of customer engagement Lululemon creates in every store every day.
The world is a small place and brands play in it the same way as the rest of us.
Even more-so than with people, a social conscience is seen as a highly attractive attribute for a brand. Social enterprises such as TOM Shoes often leverage their ‘do good’ status to build the kind of large communities of engaged and loving supporters that most brands can only dream about. For commercial brands who also do good in their community a similar halo adds to their love rating.
Rosa’s Pizza in Philadelphia is a great example of this. The guys at Rosa’s have a passion pizza, and for feeding people – and we’re talking everyone. Their mission is to end hunger in Phily and they leverage their business to help achieve that – it’s what we call their higher purpose. Customers get to donate a slice of pizza (which is how it’s sold in the U.S.) to the hungry. Each donation is represented by a Post It on which they get to pen a short note of support. The homeless and hungry who are free to walk into Rosa’s, grab a post it and swap it for a slice of pizza at the counter. A lovely, heartful idea that has grown a life of it’s own culminating in an appearance on Ellen and global fame. Talk about a shot in the arm for brand love and reputation.
Everyone wants to belong, and the more exclusive (I don’t mean knee socks, country club kind of exclusive) the better.
This dimension of engaged community is all about a shared secret or knowledge. The Masons have their secret handshake, and In-N-Out Burgers have their secret Menu. In-N-Out burgers is an iconic burger chain with more than 300 restaurants in the US who’ve been flipping burgers since the ’40s. If you roll-up to the counter of any In-N-Out and order ‘an animal’ you will get the same, off-menu burger that only the regulars know to ask for. Apparently there are a number of other secret burger options – but being an outside to their passionate community I’ve no idea what they are.
Every brand can deliver World Class Service.
Typically we associate the term ‘world class service’ with luxury brand like the Four Seasons Hotels, and rightly so as they’ve earned that reputation over decades. But the world class service concept is not the sole domain of luxury brands as a stay at The Palm Gallery Hotel in Rome a few years back demonstrated so wonderfully. We’d chosen the Palm Gallery primarily because it was ranked No 1. on Trip Advisor for hotels in Rome. It wasn’t part of a global chain, was located 30 minutes walk from the city center in a quiet neighborhood, wasn’t surrounded by sites or restaurants and had a dozen-or-so eclectic looking rooms. But within five minutes of arrival we were sitting on a wonderful deck, enjoying an aperitivo, chatting with the manager (which turned-out to be our check-in), stress of travel washed away. Every aspect of the rest of our stay from restaurant recommendations and bookings to cruisy breakfasts to check-out were equally as beguiling. The stay was one of the best hotel experiences of my life, and given location and rooms were not necessarily ideal, it was the service that guaranteed I’d never stay anywhere else when visiting Rome.
Interestingly, when researching this article I noticed they had slipped to No. 24 on Trip Advisor – still not bad from 1200+ hotels – but it made me wonder if they’d had a change of Manager.
Stories have always held a powerful place in our lives.
Brands that have an authentic story to tell have a strong tool for creating emotional connections with their audience.
Truly Deeply founder Pete Singline worked with King Island Dairy for many years, developing the strategy that remains the foundation for their brand today. During that time, consumer research was carried out each year, and consistently the same story of King Island Dairy was retold. The story recounted how many years ago a number of the big, old wooden sailing ships from Europe were shipwrecked on King Island. The mattresses on board were filled with grass seeds in those days, and as the water logged mattresses were tossed ashore the seeds spread on the wind across the island. This lead to the best pastures in the country, feeding the cows to create the best quality milk around – in turn leading to the amazing King Island Dairy Cheeses and yogurts.
Interestingly, although there were a couple of shipwrecks in the early years, the story has been created and spread by consumers, who have created their own folklore in which to steep the brand. A sure act of brand love.
Consumer love and loyalty must be built on a foundation of trust.
Like any kind of relationship, trust is critical for brands, even more so if you want to be loved, and keeping promises is the most important dimension to building trust. Branding has been described as ‘the promises you make’ about your products and services. Whether we’re talking product quality, service reliability, ethical standards, or any other part of the consumer/business relationship, doing what you say you’re going to do is critical. That’s not to say you should make no promises to make sure you don’t break them. Likewise, it’s natural that every now and then you break a promise, but so-long as you’ve done all you can to keep it and are genuinely committed to making good, your brand will suffer little. This is doubly true for loved brands.
When we did consumer research for regional health insurer GMHBA we were astounded by the degree of trust consumers had for the brand. Not only did they rate highly compared to the rest of their category, but their ‘trust score’ would have been a stand-out in many categories that are better loved than health insurance. Only when you’re that kind of a promise keeping guru can you get away with tag lines like #peoplenotprofit.
Personal Brand is a huge opportunity for most small to medium businesses.
Often for small to medium size businesses, the founder and their profile in the market will play an ongoing role in influencing the brand. People are drawn to people in business which is an advantage smaller businesses have over their larger, better resourced competitors. The thing is few founders consider their own personal brand in the context of their business brand. However failure to consider personal brand and to manage it does not equate to a neutral influence – it simple means the impact of your personal brand is not strategically aligned and often impacting negatively on your brand perception.
This New York dog walker is a master of the personal brand. A maitre d in his former life, he clearly understands the manner in which his image impacts perception. When starting-up his dog walking business he designed this uniform to build confidence in his ability to take care of his client’s dogs. He wanted his personal brand to say; “If this man is walking our dog and there’s some sort of major disaster, he’s going to survive. He’s going to fish for those dogs. He’s going to build a bunker and shelter those dogs until it’s safe to bring them home”. On his first day of business he dressed-up four friends in the uniforms, borrowed some dogs and walked down 5th Ave. He got five new clients on that first day. There’s a man who understands the value of personal brand.
Arguably the most important of all loved brand attributes is that they are driven by passion.
Having passion at the source of the business and its brand is something shared by most loved brands. It can’t be faked but it can be easily shared by staff and customers alike.
Australian stationery fashion brand kikki.K is an example of a loved brand that wears its passion on its sleeve. Founder, Kristina Karlsson has a huge passion for stationery, organisation and Swedish style. In many ways her chain of retail stores which is set to take on the world is an embodiment of her passion. Whether it is home office organisation or happiness and goal setting workshops held in kikki.K stores, product design that stationer obsessives salivate over, or her involvement in online stationer lovers’ forums, Kristina’s passion rings true and clear.
In a category where the equivalent functional item (say a notepad and pen) can cost a fraction of what they do at kikki.K, the love for the brand and it’s products is the driver for a fast growth and ever-more impressive success story.
Passion drives Love.
The wonderful thing about passion is it’s contagious. Whether attracting the right staff and engaging their heart and mind to exceptional service, or the flow-on effect of sharing passion with a community of customers, passion was made to share.
Not all the examples in this article are small businesses, but that’s the thing about loved brands, they’re much more likely to be fast growth businesses than brands with functional relationships. Ironically, these brands are often eventually bought by larger businesses and the first thing to go when professional management takes over is the passion.
Passion attracts opportunity in all shapes and sizes. It attracts more clients and customers and the opportunities they bring. It attracts potential business partners with all kinds of shared passion fueled ideas, and it attracts the interest of potential investors, buyers and partners who can help grow your business in ways you could never achieve alone.
This framework for building a loved brand is equally as valuable to B2B as it is to B2C businesses. Likewise it’s relevant to social enterprises, P2P (peer to peer) businesses and non-profit organisations. The million dollar question isn’t; “do loved brands work”, but rather; “when do you start building yours?”
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