Loves me loves me not

“I’ve wanted Sky for as long as I can remember,” the young girl said. “As soon as I could afford it after my pay rise, I had to have it.”

I’d forgive you for thinking she ‘loved’ Sky (TV & telecommunications company). It certainly sounds like an unrequited love affair.

But as she spoke, more about her relationship with Sky was revealed. And what became abundantly clear was that it wasn’t a love for the brand: it was a super fandom grounded in social acceptance, a sense of being cool, part of the popular crowd, someone who’s made it.

There are many brands that successfully manage to create this sort of fandom, by creating meaning, something consumers can identify with. But is it love? And to hit the bottom line, can you grow your brand through this love?

This was the topic of debate at a recent event and half the panel stood to present for brand love and the other half for penetration (inspired by Byron Sharp’s ‘how brands grow’). Like any good debate they stood fiercely in their corners, but I couldn’t help thinking that the two aren’t mutually exclusive, it’s not a binary discussion.

At the same time, love is probably too strong a word. I sit writing this on my MacBook Air, with my iPhone within arm’s reach and music playing through Spotify on my iPad. I’m definitely drinking the Kool-Aid but even I have to admit that if it no longer existed, well, my life would go on and there’d be something else. If you ask me, then, I’m a pretty fairweather friend. And maybe I am, maybe I’m fickle and not actually a hardcore user. Yes, I might appreciate the simplicity that Apple offers but if I’m totally honest I’ve attached meaning to Apple – whatever that meaning is - and therefore my relationship with it. And that’s really the important point isn’t it: brands need meaning, they need to stand for something because those associations build into positive associations.

Of course this varies with category. Even if we take a seemingly innocuous category like mineral water, I’m sure we could all not only name at least 3 brands (arguably our preferred ones), but quite possibly ascribe (minute) differences to each. That’s because they’ve each created a brand identity around something. Not quite love, but they have meaning.

If we assume then that it isn’t love as such, I think we all agree that this doesn’t have to exclude an emotional relationship. Brands will always have meaning because we as humans attach meaning to things. The extent of that meaning and attachment will vary from the super Apple fans to the repertoire Evian water drinkers but having that relationship goes a long way to helping the lazy human brain make a quicker decision at the end of the day.

As for penetration, well a brand simply can’t grow if it isn’t available and isn’t reaching more people. In today’s world the added challenge is finding new and unique ways to reach those consumers, to cut through all the clutter, and, then when you can, using that as a means to continue delivering meaning.

Some may argue that scarcity is a strategy but I’m going to agree with Mark Murray of Diageo when he says loyalists don’t grow your brand, new users grow your brand, even if it’s a niche brand.

Ultimately I second Laurence Green’s opinion (from 101) when he says love is an outcome, not an objective. Your brand needs both meaning and penetration to grow: if it has no meaning, then 100% penetration won’t do anything for it; if it has no penetration then all the positive emotions in the world won’t grow your bottom line.

So what’s your opinion? I’m going to be challenging my agency on their opinions and I think you should too!

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