Dream of a sweet romance. A delicate balance of familiar stability and novel excitement. Neither too fast nor too slow. Well-paced. Careful. In many ways, branding is a love story. Starting with infatuation. Blossoming into romance. Now, Think of a brand that you have fallen in love with. Why did you fall in love with this particular brand? What keeps you in love? And loyal to this brand? In essence, it is a romance between the brand and the customer.
Imagine a brand as a person, transcending its graphic logos and corporate colours. Former Vice President of Brand Design, Yasushi Kusume, in his book “Brand Romance” highlights that, “...when you compare the steps required to build a truly loved brand to the steps you might go through in finding a partner – it’s fair to accept that a brand closely resembles a human being: it has its own values and beliefs, and they manifest themselves in the brand’s personality and behaviour.” If the brand were “he” and the customer were “she”, is he a gentleman or a brute? Similarly, is she like an individual seeking “out a brand ‘partner’ who provides new experiences, insights and perspectives, not unlike a romantic relationship in which partners progressively discover each other”? The discovery process is mutual. He changes. She changes. The brand, like the customer, is constantly adjusting as the couple gets to know each other and grows old together.
In this discovery process, there are many suitors, and customers can be choosey. Fidelity to a brand is not a given. Branding authority Alina Wheeler notes, “As competition creates infinite choices, companies look for ways to connect emotionally with customers, become irreplaceable, and create lifelong relationships. A strong brand stands out in a densely crowded marketplace. People fall in love with brands, trust them, and believe in their superiority.” Thus, the onus in on the brand to establish a heart level connection. An unwavering faith can only be achieved if the customer instinctively thinks of the brand first, surpassing all others. In order to beat the competition and win her heart, the brand must thoroughly understand his target of affection.
Some reduce brand loyalty to a science - how calculating Brand Pleasure, Brand Arousal and Brand Dominance must work together to form a lifelong attachment – a brand loyalty. But such a framework, though useful, can become cold and formulaic. To understand brand loyalty by favouring quantitative over qualitative evidences ignores emotional subtleties. A romantic relationship exceeds concepts. Although not simplistically reduced to frameworks, that does not mean a brand’s relationship with his customers is haphazard. Merely having a company Facebook or Instagram is not a guarantee of a strong relationship with your customers. There are many touchpoints along the customer journey and many steps to build a close relationship. Copying what others do, in social media or other means, is akin to leaving it to randomness. It must be a concerted effort.
Commenting on happily ever after brand stories, Budelmann, Kim and Wozniak said, “Modern-day brands are promises, and every promise naturally sets a plot in motion: Will the promise be kept or broken? It goes without saying that a brand should keep its promises.” Promises kept strengthen romance. Promises broken strain relationships. Companies like Southwest Airlines and Zappos are known for keeping promises while delivering happiness.
A note of caution concerning complacency. Familiarity breeds contempt. After the infatuation stage, the brand must have periodic moments of delight to keep the relationship warm. Speaking of emotional attachment to brands, Patwardhan and Balsubramanian state that, “Yearning would be highest upon initial experience, but will subside over time as greater experience is acquired. In consumer-brand relationship contexts, as brand familiarity increases, the felt attraction decreases. That is, increased familiarity weakens the brand relationship.” Keeping a constant pulse on the customer can never be overstated. Singer Harry Cornick gives some timeless advice in his song “Recipe for Love”:
And if you've made it right you'll know it
It's not like anything you've made before
And if you've made it wrong you'll know it
'Cause it won't keep you coming back for more
How is your brand romance? You want to win her heart, but it’s not enough for your customer to fall in love with you brand. Romance her, and she’ll stay in love. Love and be loved.
Dr. Jawn Lim, Assistant Professor, Design & Specialised Business Deputy Director,
Office of the Vice President (Planning) Singapore Institute of Technology