Saturday, August 1, 2009

August 09 - Brands & Relationships

When Kevin Roberts coined the term Lovemarks a couple of years ago, I believed he’d stumbled onto something interesting. I still do. I just don’t think the idea can apply to each and every brand in the world.

Spend time in the company of so called social media experts however, and they’ll tell you that all brands need to have a close relationship with consumers in order to survive.

I’m just not buying it.

For me there are essentially three brand categories: There’s the brand I buy regularly but don’t particularly care about. I’d put toilet paper and petrol in this category. I do not have an emotional connection with these brands.

The second category is brands that I never waver from. I’d put my favourite brand of underwear in this category. I have no emotional bond with this brand, I buy it because no other underwear fits as comfortably. As the saying goes, when you’re onto a winner, stick with it.

My third category of brands is those that I am an advocate for. My Lovemarks. In this category I’d include Apple, Paul Smith, Adidas and Vespa. I’ve had a relationship with these brands for a long time. I know it may sound silly, but these brands help define me. And I definitely have an emotional connection with them.

What I look at my repertoire of brands, only the third category are brands that I actually buy as brands. The toilet paper, underwear etc are brand-name products, but my loyalty is, I think, to the product itself, not the brand.

Much as I love my brand of underwear, I am not interested in any kind of relationship with it as a brand. I definitely can’t see myself joining a Facebook group or talking about them on Twitter.

Yet many social media people see this as essential if brands are to survive in the age of conversation.

Luckily there are still some sensible people out there in marketing and advertising land. People who are definitely not falling for the pitch of the digital snake oil salesmen. One such person is the man behind the Grumpy Brit blog.

“If I think about brands with which I have some sort of relationship,” says Grumpy Brit, “it’s akin to the relationship I have with a good waiter. He doesn’t drone on about his kids or tipping trends, he doesn’t ask me what I think of his new apron or recite his resume. He’s there when I need him and melts into the background when I don’t.”

Spend any time in social media circles, as I often do, and you’ll come across plenty of people who claim to be experts in managing brands online. Their general spiel will always centre on how brands need to have some kind of relationship with consumers to survive and prosper.

Grumpy Brit says, “Suggesting that with a bit of social media savvy brands can create relationships with their customers is hyperbolic twaddle.”

Now don’t get me wrong. I do believe brand relationships are both possible and important. Brands couldn’t exist with them. But, in the words of Grumpy Brit, “The best thing we as communications people can do is help brands not to destroy their customer relationships with extraneous babble and generally over staying their welcome.”

This is particularly true in social media.

Yes I love Apple and Adidas. I love to engage with them and I am interested in hearing about their products and services. But to me these are Lovemarks not brands.

I couldn’t care less about my toilet paper or underwear brands. In fact when my underwear brand started laying off workers and shifting its manufacturing to China I decided to take a stand and stop buying it.

At least until I needed new underwear. Because even though I was unhappy with the brand, and its treatment of its workforce, they make undies that fit me like no other brand.

Which makes me think that not all brands are right for social media.

And social media isn’t right for all brands. And that many of the people passing themselves off as experts in social media are not experts in brands at all. Oh, and Kevin Roberts was definitely onto something when he coined the term Lovemarks.


Grumpy Brit