Calling Bullsh*t on Brand Love: My Episode of the Brand Tuned Podcast
Listen to my 15-minute masterclass on why brand love is a myth, followed by an interview with the host of the Brand Tuned Podcast, Shireen Smith.
Want to chat about your brand? Schedule a free intro call.For anyone new here, I’m the founder of Woo Punch, a brand consultancy rooted in evidence-based brand design. I write about the evidence that debunks brand purpose, differentiation, brand love, loyalty marketing, customer personas, color psychology, mission statements, customer engagement, AdTech, and “hustle culture.”
Want to chat about your brand? Schedule a free intro call.
About the Podcast
The Brand Tuned Podcast is all about the 'what and why of branding' and how to avoid commoditization through better differentiation and positioning. It also discusses why distinctiveness involves intersecting brand creation with intellectual property (IP) and brand protection.
About the Episode
In this episode, I share why the old notions of brand love are outdated. I deliver a 15-minute masterclass before being interviewed.
The episode includes:
A 15-minute masterclass about brand love.
Why old notions of brand love are outdated.
Why Simon Sinek, Seth Godin, and Howard Schultz sound ridiculous in the context of marketing effectiveness research.
Why distinctiveness is not synonymous with differentiation.
The reality and the evidence-based insights into how brands grow.
A comparison of two Super Bowl ads; one considered to be the greatest of all time, yet ineffective, and the other written off, despite being highly effective.
My thoughts on word marks vs symbols for logos.
Why I believe some designers are not cut out to be brand strategists.
My Masterclass Transcript
Our industry has become flooded with what we're told is a new, revolutionary approach to branding, and yet its core idea has been around and consistently debunked for decades. I'm talking about brand love.
Brand love is the idea that, if you can identify an ideal customer for your brand, then market to them with emotional appeals, you can create a loyal following. Those loyalists will then evangelize your brand to their friends, and your brand will soar as a result.
We are told you can build brand love through loyalty programs, differentiation, customer personas, interactive advertising, hyper-targeting, quality products, and advertising your company's values.
Seth Godin tells us “People do not buy goods and services. They buy relations, stories, and magic.”
Simon Sinek tells us “The relationship that someone has with a brand, is the same as a relationship that someone has with a person.”
Howard Schultz, CEO of Starbucks, tells us “If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.”
But be honest with yourself. Does this ring true to your experience?
Is it true for a handful of brands you buy? Possibly.
But what about the other hundreds of brands you buy each month?
Do you share the same values with Heinz? Or do you buy it because you don't know any other ketchup brands?
Do you have a personal relationship with Netflix? Or do they simply have a wider selection of movies and TV shows than AMC+?
Would you ever use the word "magic" to describe your auto insurance provider?
Take even your experience with Apple if you consider yourself an enthusiast. Do you really buy Apple because they identify with your values of thinking differently? Under Tim Cook, Apple hasn't had a single revolutionary product, and yet shares of Apple have soared over 1,000% since he took over from Steve Jobs. No one has ever accused Tim Cook of thinking differently.
Simon Sinek may tell us that Apple is wildly successful because of the Why behind the company. But he conveniently ignores the fact that Microsoft and Samsung have dominated the computer and phone markets without any discernable why behind their products. Maybe that's why he used Gateway and Dell in his infamous Ted Talk.
For a rare few, in even fewer buying situations, brand love could exist.
But it's certainly not the normal pathway to brand growth. In fact, it's not even the pathway of growth for most brands gurus like to use as models of brand love.
20% of Apple users, don't perceive Apple as any different from competitor brands when asked. Despite having completely different operating systems.
Harley-Davidson riders buy Honda motorcycles twice as often as they buy Harleys.
-In fact, Harley enthusiasts only make up an estimated 3.5% of Harley's annual revenue.
The vast majority of Coca-Cola's annual revenue is generated by customers who bought a single can of soda or less in a year.
These are the inconvenient truths brand love promoters have to wrestle with.
The reality is most consumers are distracted when buying. They don't have relationships with brands, they are loyal to a handful of brands they have simply heard of or bought before. Not individual brands they are enthusiastic about. Customers don't want to be part of a "tribe" with other brand buyers. They don't care about your company's values and they certainly don't buy magic; whatever the hell that means.
Instead of attempting to change the nature of consumer behavior, marketers, advertisers, and brand strategists must accept reality and act accordingly.
Is it nice to have some customers "love" your brand? Sure. Is it helpful? There seems to be little to no evidence suggesting it is.
To grow your brand distracted consumers need to know your brand exists and consistently be reminded of its existence.
That's 90-95% of marketing.
Instead of marketing to a specific ideal customer with emotional appeals, remind every category buyer you exist by executing on 5 principles that are proven to influence purchase behavior.
1. Be Distinctive
Distinctive means two things here.
a) If your brand is not sonically and visually distinctive consumers will confuse you with your competitors.
b) If your distinctive brand, once you've created it, is not prominently displayed throughout your advertising from beginning to end, distracted consumers won't process your brand when they're exposed to your ad.
You can't afford to jump on design trends, attempt to infuse deep meaning into your brand assets, and you certainly can't afford to tease your brand out until the end of your ad.
2. Be Consistent
Again, consistency means two things here.
a) You should advertise frequently, over long periods of time.
b) Your advertising should consistently use the same well-established brand assets.
You can't afford to invest in short bursts of advertising, then silence, and you can't afford to get bored with your logo or brand character if they're well-established.
3. Reach Everyone
First, if your budget allows, you should invest in broad-reaching channels like TV, Radio, and Out of Home channels like billboards and digital displays. If you are restricted to online advertising, reach as many consumers as possible, as often as possible, as your budget allows. Broad-reaching advertising channels are cheaper in the long run than online channels. If you can afford to do both, do so. But invest most of your resources into traditional advertising and avoid hyper-targeting online.
Second, you must attempt to appeal to all category buyers, not ideal customer personas. Light buyers, those who rarely buy your brand and even from your category as a whole, are your workhorses for brand growth. Just like they are for Coca-Cola.
4. Get Noticed
Research has demonstrated that efforts at getting consumers to pay conscious attention to advertising are rarely effective. The conventional persuasion model of advertising (rational or emotional) rarely works and can even backfire with overt or cheesy emotional manipulation, brand purpose appeals (especially if an ad leans one way or another politically), or rational messaging.
It's better to simply get consumers to look up at your video ads (or perk their ears up with radio or podcast ads). Then, make sure your brand assets are on full display when they do.
By getting consumers to notice your advertising and by repeatedly exposing those consumers to your brand assets when they do, your brand will become familiar over time. That familiarity is the strongest gravitational pull there is for brand choice. We don't buy brands we are not familiar with.
5. Be Relevant
Consumers rarely pay attention to the differences between brands. They are too distracted when buying and most brands are not different from one another anyway. Instead, individual consumers search their memories for a handful of brands that are linked to their specific buying situation when entering a category. These situations are called Category Entry Points. Brands must be linked in consumer memory to these situations.
There are two approaches brands could take here. Brands could attempt to "own" a category entry point (or even a personality and/or attribute) that very few other competitors own (this is the differentiation method), or they could link their brands with as many common category entry points as possible. This approach takes much more time and patience but wins every time in the end. Research demonstrates that market leaders are linked to more category entry points than smaller brands. They are not linked more strongly with one category entry point over others. This evidence flies in the face of differentiation.
I would like to wrap up by comparing two Super Bowl commercials.
One took a brand love approach in 2011. Its aim was clearly to engage consumers, get talked about the next day, link positive emotions with the brand, and win creative awards. While this ad isn't as obvious as many ads we see today; in particular, ads that exploit trendy social causes to let us know they care; it's clearly of the brand love ilk.
The ad features a little boy, dressed up as Darth Vader from Star Wars. He attempts to move various objects with his mind, and of course, fails, until he finds himself in front of his dad's car. As a practical joke, the boy's dad presses the remote start feature on his key fob. The car starts. The boy is left amazed.
It's cute, hilarious, emotional, and sweet. As a short film, I love it.
While this ad is widely considered to be the best Super Bowl ad of all time, in reality, it fell flat. Why? Most people remember the ad. No one remembers who the ad was for. Even those that might within a month of seeing it, will have forgotten in 3 years when they finally enter the car market...
It was for Volkswagen by the way...
While the ad did get noticed and succeeded in reaching and appealing to all category buyers, it teased the brand assets out (which were also quite weak at the time) until the very end, was inconsistent with all prior VW advertising, and centered on a feature; not a category entry point. No one decides to buy a new car just for remote start.
The second ad aired at this year's Super Bowl. It has no shot at winning any creative awards, it has no chance of going viral, and it wasn't cute or clever, but its logo is plastered on almost every frame throughout.
The ad featured a team of operatives repelling down from helicopters and popping up out of ponds to install a random guy's new floor mats, mud flaps, bumpers, seat protectors, and a cupholder phone stand for his truck.
This ad won't turn heads, but when consumers enter the market for truck accessories, the WeatherTech logo will likely stand out among others. Without them even knowing why.
I'm going to end finally with a quote from the ad contrarian Bob Hoffman to put things into perspective. He's really good at that.
He said once:
"Let me state the obvious. Yes, having a strong brand should be every marketer's primary objective. And yes, the highest goal of advertising is to create a strong brand, but that's it. For the most part, consumers are not in love with brands despite all the bologna we hear from social media experts. For the most part, consumers do not want to have a conversation with your brand, or an authentic relationship with it, or engage with it, or co-create with it, or spend a romantic seaside weekend with it. Of course, brand preferences exist...but brand love is a juvenile fantasy."
"I swear, if Pepsi were to disappear tomorrow, Pepsi loyalists would switch to Coke with very little psychological damage, Big Mac lovers would cheerfully eat a Whopper without the need for counseling, and Nike loyalists would throw on a pair of Adidas without having to enter rehab."
Listen to Previous Podcast Appearances
Stef and I discuss our shared journey in discovering everything we thought they knew about branding was wrong.
I am now collaborating with Stef on a YouTube series where we rant about branding, marketing, and advertising, called The BS Show!
I have some healthy disagreements with the hosts of this industry-leading podcast, who are rooted in branding guru Marty Neumeier's approach to brand design.
I talk with fellow Catholics who run small businesses about how I approach branding and work.
I speak with Jodi Krangle, a voiceover artist, about the importance of distinctive audio in branding.
I speak with Steve Coombes about what branding gurus and small business owners tend to get wrong about consumer behavior.
Want to chat about your brand? Schedule a free intro call.
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