Brand Love – what else?
Most if not all Marketers share (to some degree at least) the same aspirational goal, no matter what sector, geography or business model they operate in…and that is to boost customers’ long-term brand commitment through a deeper personal connection…or as it is more frequently articulated, through ‘brand love’.
Whilst definitions may vary, implicitly brand love is captured by the degree to which customers agree that they identify with the brand….that the brand is an integral part of their lifestyle…or even that the brand helps them present themselves as the kind of person they want to be perceived to be.
Ultimately, brand love is what seemingly makes the difference between customers identifying themselves as your ‘fans’ as opposed to being mere ‘customers’. It is the difference between customers ‘needing’ you versus customers ‘wanting’ to buy from you.
And who wouldn’t want that? If customers experience such a strong personal connection that they are willing to pay more and wait even longer for our products to be released, then this must surely translate into favorable commercial gains?
Yes to love, but…
Make no mistake – brand love is powerful. In fact, recent Gartner research reveals a statistically significant relationship between a customer’s stated level of “Brand Love” and their Purchase Likelihood, with the potential uplift being as high as 13%. However, brand love does present Marketers with three rather sizeable limitations that need attention.
The first limitation is that generating (or increasing) brand love requires heavy investment and offers no guarantee in terms of ROI. It is expensive, it takes time, it requires close coordination across the organization…and it requires delivering a consistent, engaging brand experience over time.
The second limitation is that often the opportunity of brand Love can be a lot smaller than hoped for. Gartner’s 2020 Consumer Buying survey revealed that, out of the 2,093 people that were surveyed, approximately 2.5% stated that it was important for them to feel a personal connection towards a brand. In other words, the risk is that only a small percentage of your total addressable market is likely to want to form a strong connection with your brand.
The third, and arguably more surprising limitation, is that brand love is by nature brand centric. It is the product of companies investing heavily in terms of customer engagement so that people perceive their brand differently. It is about addressing their needs but only in terms of how it relates to “us” as brands.
Ultimately, this begs a rather hopeful question: is there a different way of thinking about customer engagement that generates higher returns, with lower costs, and to a larger addressable market of to our target audience?
It’s not that I don’t love you…but it’s that I love me more
Most brands – whether they have achieved their desired levels of brand love or not – are rightfully focused on better understanding their customers. Indeed, many Marketers have been giving a great deal of thought about their customers, trying to better understand their needs, their beliefs and how they explore and purchase from us.
However, what marketers often find harder to do is to objectively put themselves in their customers’ shoes and to stop thinking about their customers, but instead to think like their customers.
In fact, the need for empathy has never been greater as we progress through the digital age. What used to be a source of customer empowerment (greater access to information, choice and other people or market influencers) is quickly becoming the exact opposite. People feel increasingly overwhelmed and anxious by the sheer volume of information and content that they must process.
This loss of customer agency is also seemingly impacting purchase likelihood. According to Humanizing Digital 2020 Report, a reported “54% of consumers have stopped purchasing products from a brand or retailer website because choosing the right product was too difficult”.
This apparent loss of customer agency presents an interesting opportunity for Marketers to be that little bit more customer centric. Why? In a world where customers are feeling anxious and overwhelmed, they are consequently finding it harder to explore and to choose. Hence, what customers seek is to feel more in control of their exploration journey…and more capable of making the right purchase based on their own needs.
Fascinatingly, Gartner’s recent findings (also generated from the same 2020 Customer Buying Survey referenced earlier) revealed that the impact on purchase Likelihood from Customer Agency is over three times higher than brand love.
But in practice, how can brands deliver greater customer agency? One approach is to design content that helps customers explore their purchase options but within clearly defined boundaries. This can include tactics such as orienting customers towards a specific job or outcome, limiting the number of entry points for customers to explore, providing unobtrusive but logical guardrails, and dividing the purchase journey into manageable tasks.
Fundamentally, the key to driving greater customer agency is to design content that makes customers feel like they are in control of their exploration journey…and capable of making the right purchase for themselves.
So, to cut a long story far too short: ‘brand love’ matters, but ‘customer love’ matters even more. Because in a world filled with too much information and choice, what customers really care about is feeling in control…feeling capable …and ultimately, of making the right purchase for themselves – even if that means not choosing you.