To love or not to love? That is the question

Ken Muench, Chief Marketing Officer at Yum, is renowned for his straight talking when it comes to opinions around what should and should not be classed as marketing. His comments recently in Marketing Week made my pen itch to be put to paper.

Muench’s success illustrates he must get it right, but I totally disagree with his scathing remarks around “brand love” – marketing and marketing strategies that include building an emotional connection with consumers to strengthen brand equity.

His use of a toaster as an example verges on pure sarcasm:

I want to meet somebody that says, ‘I am emotionally connected to my toaster’.

And in my opinion he completely misses the point of ‘brand love’ when he refers to ‘the stuff’ we buy:

Do you do love the brand of your toaster? I’m betting you don’t, but yeah, you bought it. Do you love the brand of anything you own? No, you probably don’t. Maybe you feel a special pride in something. But 99% of the stuff you buy, you don’t feel any brand love for.

Primarily, it’s not the stuff we have an emotional connection with, it’s the revered brand we trust to give us the confidence to buy the ‘stuff’ or service we need. And isn’t the special pride felt with the ownership or use of our valued possessions what emanates from ‘brand love’?

Lovemark thinking

I interviewed former Worldwide Deputy Chairman of Saatchi & Saatchi, Richard Hytner, back in the day when he was UK CEO & Chairman of Publicis. Saatchi’s marketing concept ‘Lovemark thinking’ – designed to replace the idea of brands – had been around for several years and their concept of consumers acting on an emotional connection was proving successful. Hytner explained that for some clients, their interpretation of lovemarks was more about ‘loyalty beyond reason’. This fundamental idea evolved and travelled everywhere; the ‘love’ aspect just didn’t resonate with some cultures.

The attraction economy

So how about an example of brand love? There are the obvious ones such as Disney, Apple, and Google, all respected and ‘loved’ by their consumers. But also brands such as Patek Philippe, Rolls-Royce, Mont Blanc – the aspirational brands for those who feel the ‘special pride’ in owning the physical lovemark. 

There are also the companies that you may aspire to work for, KPMG, PwC or EY, for example, if you were a corporate accountant. Critically, lovemarks are those trusted to deliver on their promises, they always out perform giving consumers, along with stakeholders, the sense of intimacy that the brand belongs to them personally. 

Let’s take an example given to me recently by a friend: Octopus Energy, whose tariffs all feature 100% renewable electricity. He explained that this was one of the best examples of a lovemark for him personally. 

“I like their ethics, what they represent. It doesn’t make any difference as to what comes out of the wall, it’s all the same electricity. So I don’t love the product, but I do love the brand and what it delivers.”

Further evidence that this is fast becoming a national lovemark is Octopus’s 4.8 star rating on Trustpilot, awarded from 54,915 reviews and counting!

Testing the cynics

My mother also thought the lovemark concept was nonsense, but I remember testing her ‘loyalty beyond reason’ to illustrate the point. As a conference ice breaker I often offer two brand alternatives to an audience – they have to chose one without thinking, for example:

Mercedes or BMW, Siri or Alexa, Coca Cola or Pepsi. You ask them why and the majority have no valid reason – they ‘just do’. I gave my mother food shopping choices: M&S or Waitrose, Tesco or Sainsbury’s, Fortnum & Mason or Betty’s – she got the message!

There’s no doubt that supermarket price wars have diluted consumer loyalty, along with the myriad of store choices now available to us, but in our hearts there’s usually one we aspire to.

Reinventing the wheel

Hytner, talking at conference in November 2010, spoke about the importance of loyalty beyond reason as a way to sustain and create more profitable growth for business, but cautioned:

Loyalty as a concept is under serious threat because consumers – according to our exploring research – are very suspicious of loyalty and loyalty programmes. So we have to find a new way to engage with people around this whole concept; this very important concept of loyalty.”

As with most professions, whatever we undertake in marketing and brand management, it needs continual evaluation and exploration to ensure we’re on the right path. However, I personally believe the concept of brand love in whatever guise, is here to stay.