Brand Love

Brands and branding have taken over my brain recently like an addiction.  Began with @berniebay emphasizing the need for personal branding in the ever-expanding social media environment and still uncertain economy. His message struck a chord:  moved to a sunny clime almost 18 months ago; bought a place and worked from home on a ‘Big Brand’ project until they didn’t renew.  So I was laid off in an area with 12+% unemployment, where no one knew me professionally.  Clearly a testament to the need for personal branding!

Then the Social Fresh Tampa conference outlined how brands are using social media to create community and flourish. @paulaberg brought Brand front and center; her organic passion for what she did at Southwest Airlines was so obvious that it made me think about ‘Brand Babies.’  She’s created her own personal brand from that experience.  What makes social media so interesting is that it takes traditional marketing, PR and customer service and turns them upside down.  There’s instant communication now between brands and consumers with conversations and feedback occurring on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and You Tube.  This creates a bond and becomes another part of the brand experience.  How well companies listen and respond influences brand image.

Shortly after Social Fresh, a LinkedIn email arrived from the Marketing Communications group with this question posed by Dr. Brian Monger, “In your opinion, what are or what have been the marketing world’s best slogans?  Most effective?  Most memorable?  Quote them.  Why do they work?” That post has over 900 comments now; it was less when I commented and perused existing comments.  One universal answer was Nike’s “Just Do It.”  It’s a brilliant slogan because it doesn’t matter if you’re a football, hockey, basketball, soccer, golf or tennis fan … it’s both aspirational and inspirational when you think of your favorite (insert sport) star.  The responses to this question show exactly how attached people are to brand logos and slogans; the brands themselves.

Patti Streeper, VP of Corporate Innovation Group at Hallmark Cards, spoke at a Tampa American Advertising Federation event last week.  Patti presented how the 100 yr. old privately held brand is reinventing itself for the next century.   Their mission statement includes the term “emotional connection.” Since the last company I worked for measured emotional connection, it made me smile and think ‘a company that gets it!’  She indicated they see themselves as a ‘relationship’ brand whose main goal is connecting people.  Patti listed Oprah and Starbucks as relationship brands as well.  Ironically, their Gold Crown logo and slogan “When you care enough to send the very best” were two of my many responses to the LinkedIn question, before I had a clue I’d soon hear one of their 30-year employees speak.

Sue Phillips, President of Scenterprises, spoke about environmental scenting as a part of branding at a Luxury Marketing Group event this week.  Hotels, casinos, stores, etc. scent to make their brand more unique and enhance the experience.  The event was held at a Westin, whose signature scent is called “White Tea.”  It’s obvious brands like Hollister and Abercrombie & Fitch scent (you can smell them just walking by), but you may be surprised to know that Apple did as well.  I asked Sue and her reply was, “They used to.”  You can actually buy scented USB plug-ins!  It’s all about the experience.

This laser on Brand made me think about when I’ve said “I love (brand)!” Costco, Google, Grey’s Anatomy, Oprah and Starbucks lead the list.  They have nicknames:  Costconian, Googlicious, Grey’s, Lady O and Starbuckeroonies.  My apologies to each, but a nickname means I really like you!  Why do I love them?  Costco appeals to my need to get a good deal and be efficient.  Buy more, shop less.  A good friend dubbed me “the Costco Queen” when I lived in San Diego ten years ago.  Google satisfies my intense need to know and appeals to my morals: “Do No Evil.”  (I recently felt the need to post on their FB page:  “Google, I still love you best … and your Doodles!” in response to all of The Social Network buzz.  Yes, I noted the irony.  Let’s face it, we all like Facebook too, but as a brand they make it so hard to love them!)  Grey’s stokes my love of medicine, psychology and Seattle.  Oprah is free therapy; I’ve kept shows on my DVR to have people over for an Oprah party.  When Piers Morgan interviewed her (probably his biggest until #winning) he asked: “Really, you’ve never been in therapy?”  Oprah replied:  “Piers, I do The Oprah Winfrey Show!”  She herself was saying, “Dude, my show is therapy!” My love affair with Starbucks started when I lived in Seattle.   More recent additions:  American Idol and So You Think You Can Dance (love music & dance and hopes & dreams), ReadWriteWeb and Mashable (information and more information ~ yippee!) and Twitter (communication, connection, information).  So what’s the point?  People connect to brands based on their individual values.

There’s been a lot of interesting discussion lately about the ROI of social media.  Who calculates ROI for phones, websites or systems administrators?  They’re simply a cost of doing business.  Funding resources to incorporate social media is quickly becoming another cost of doing business.  It may make more sense (and cents) long-term to do it in house since those are the people who know and love your brand. @paulaberg said in a Blogging for Business webinar this week a hangar employee wrote one of Southwest’s most popular blog posts about a swarm of bees that decided to visit his hangar.   Not a story an agency rep would know, or even a community manager, which is why having a vehicle for all employees to participate in your social media strategy is a great idea.

@jowyang recently updated his blog post about brands punk’d by social media.  I reference it for two reasons:  Chrysler and The Gap.  The Chrysler F-Bomb Tweet is case study material. Chrysler debuted an ad featuring Eminem during the SuperBowl, whose underlying message was they’d ‘Recovered,’ just like Detroit born Eminem, who with gritty determination and passion has recovered from many things, including addiction.  The psychology behind that ad is phenomenal … it not only speaks to Detroit, but to all of the U.S. trying to recover from the economic meltdown.  Eminem’s “Recovery” won the Grammy for Best Rap Album a week later.   Fast forward a month and a Chrysler agency rep mistakenly tweeted from the corporate account rather than his personal one about how badly people drive in Detroit.  @jowyang nails it in #5; it would have been better for Chrysler to deal with it humorously.  Tweet something like “Apparently yet another thing we need to recover from; we’ll look into driving lessons for Detroit!”  It would have made them instant Twitter stars rather than the target of many blog posts.  The official company statement is that the tweet demeaned their brand and their beloved city; back to values.  I get it; the company and city (and man) have overcome great adversity but are still fragile in their Recovery.  The irony of course is that Eminem’s music is laced with F-Bombs and the large majority of Twitterati are immune to it.  Chrysler’s response diminished the very strong bond created by using Eminem, his music and message in their ad.  It was old school corporate rather than new community reality. How many people in Detroit over the past decade haven’t used that word?

The Gap logo redesign misfire from last year proves two points:  1)  It’s the people who love your brand who ‘own’ it and 2) social media quickly makes their response clear and unmistakable. To quote @jowyang:  “We once thought logos were owned by the brand, but clearly we’re finding that the consumers take just as much ownership in the logo.”  To dissect it:  we once thought logos were owned by the brand (aka traditional marketing) … but we’re finding consumers take just as much ownership in the logo (that’s what I call brand love, pure and simple.  This IS what you want!) So a quick suggestion for Mercedes, Jaguar, BMW, Lexus and Porsche, don’t think about changing your brand logos anytime soon.  Or ever.  It’s going to be very interesting to see the community reaction to the new 2011 VW Bug redesign, since Bug love runs deep.  Can’t you just hear the sighs of relief coming from Coca-Cola headquarters because social media didn’t exist yet when they introduced New Coke?

Some of the big personal branding stories are negative, with #winning, LiLo and Tigergate getting plenty of print.  Instead, a positive story:  one of the people I follow on Twitter often tweets about his daughter, whom he calls @baby(lastname), which I find totally endearing.  He doesn’t know I believe America needs fathers who are way more engaged with their kids (values again) but his tweets tell me he is and that it’s important enough to share.   That’s how easy and hard it is to create emotional connection.

So what brands do you love?  Why do you love them?  Which ones can’t you live without?  Whatever your answers are, they are the “je ne sais quoi” of brand love or, as market researchers like to call it, brand loyalty.  They are why people bond, emote, post, call, tweet and video.  Brand Love is what the ultimate goal should be, not ROI.  There’s a concept that says, “Whatever you focus on, expands.”  I wonder if focusing too strongly on cost containment actually creates the environment where it becomes more and more necessary to survive.  I am a Brand Girl (or baby, whichever you prefer) and wherever I land next, be it writing copy, blogging, tweeting, researching or managing, my intention will be to foster some big brand love … to increase the connection that keeps ‘em coming back for more.  What are you doing to increase the love for the brand you represent?

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