Brand loyalty or brand betrayal?

Most aphorisms have an equal and opposite one.
“He who hesitates is lost.”
“Everything comes to those who wait.”
A recent study tested a pair of proverbs on brands.
The researchers wanted to know.
Is it, “Out of sight, out of mind?”
Or, “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
What they found may surprise you.
(It doesn’t surprise me at all).
Participants in the study stopped consuming certain brands, like Facebook.
Some substituted, or were prompted to use, an alternative brand, like WhatsApp.
Others simply went cold turkey.
Here’s the “insight.”
How much a person desires a brand depends.
On the length of time that passes before they can find it.
And whether or not they can find a suitable replacement to satisfy their desire.
So it’s “Absence makes the heart grow fonder.”
The longer they go without, the greater their desire.
Unless they find a substitute.
Then it’s “Out of sight, out of mind.”
Is there are lesson here?
Probably three.
First, your brand isn’t as critically important to your loyal customers as you may believe.
Second, make sure they never have a problem finding, purchasing and consuming it.
If you do, they’ll probably remain loyal.
And finally, try like hell not to be substitutable.

The brand identity illusion.

I wrote this, as a slightly different version, seven years ago.
And, based on what I’m witnessing in the world of business and brands, I guess I need to say it again.
So here goes.
Have you ever heard, or been asked, this question?
“If your organization, or brand, were a car, what make or model would it be and why?”
You’re very lucky. I’ve heard it a lot.
In fact, too many times to count.
And not once have I come across the perspective inherent in this response:
“My brand would be a customizable, decked out limousine.
One in which I can give my customers the rides of their lives!”
Most organizations are obsessed with navel gazing.
Trying to discover “who they are” and “what makes them special.”
They hire consultants and spend countless hours pondering their unique identities.
And for what reason?
To help them create their brand personalities and craft their messages, of course.
There’s only one little problem with their approach.
It’s completely backwards.
Business is not psychotherapy.
It’s theater!
It’s not about going “in,” because your audience is interested in you and your unearthed identity.
Sorry, but they’re not.
It’s about going “out,” and ingratiating yourself to your audience.
By making them feel good about themselves, and their decisions, in your presence.
It’s about unearthing what they need to feel good, smart and special, and then giving it to them.
It’s easy to become hypnotized and confused by your own marketplace experiences.
That’s what great brands are hoping to have happen.
They want you to get lost in their carefully constructed brand identities.
And to have you believe that it’s all about their uniqueness and passion.
For their coffee, equipment, motorcycle, phone, you name it.
In fact, it’s really all about you.
Great organizations are like great directors and producers.
They’re obsessed with their brand performance (and pulling you into it).
Before you even know it, you’re rationalizing the purchase of a $4 cup of coffee, a $3 golf ball, a $30,000 Screamin’ Eagle Fat Boy, or a $500 phone.
Because you’re a Starbucks kind of girl.
You’re a champion like Tiger.
You’re a rebel accountant.
You think different, dammit. That’s why!
The present, bemused way of thinking, is a chimera.
“A brand is a promise and engagement is the Holy Grail.
All we have to do is engage people with our communication and deliver on our brand promise.”
What precisely is Starbucks’ brand promise?
How about Nike’s or Harley’s?
Surely you must know Apple’s brand promise?
And do you really believe that GEICO’s brand is all about promising to save you 15% on your car insurance?
Then you’ve been hypnotized, my friend.
Leadership brands don’t make promises.
They create and fulfill expectations through carefully and precisely crafted associations.
Expectations of receiving a particular feeling about your identity.
Starbucks wants you to feel special as you exchange pleasantries with their Barista, and urbane as you hurry down the sidewalk flaunting your overflowing shoulder bag and upscale logoed cup.
Nike wants you to feel like a winner, as you proudly tee up your $4 swoosh-embossed golf ball.
Despite the fact that you’ll inevitably smash it into the woods, where it will land humbly amongst the $1 Spauldings and Wilsons.
Harley wants you to feel like a member of an exclusive, free bird club, as you hang up your pinstripe suit and don a $40 t-shirt, $300 pair of boots and $400 black leather Harley jacket.
And Apple? Well, let’s just say Apple totally gets branding and the spirit of our times.
Dre headphones anyone?
Please don’t get me wrong.
I am not saying that it’s all about image and that product and service attributes are irrelevant.
In fact, it’s just the opposite.
From selecting organic eggs for my children, which tells me that I’m a caring Dad, to driving a Tesla, which tells me that I’m a progressive one.
Today the substance of a brand is as important, if not more so, than the sizzle in creating resonant associations and the subsequent brand “feeling.”
What I am saying is that your products, services, pricing, place of business, promotion, and people are all a means to an end.
And that end is the outward-focused, enhanced identity of your audience.
So forget about trying to figure out whether you’re a Buick or a Bugatti.
It really doesn’t matter.
Instead, get busy ingratiating yourself to your audience.
By helping them feel good about themselves and their decisions.
And after a while, that unique and valuable way of being will become your true, and valuable, brand identity.

Think about it.

Think of a number between 1 and 10.
Multiply that number by 2.
(Stick with me).
Take that new number and add 8.
Divide that number by 2.
Subtract your original number.
Got it?
Great, now find the corresponding letter in the alphabet.
For example, if your number is 1 the letter is A.
2 is B, 3 is C, and so on.
Now think of a country that begins with that letter.
I’ll wait.
Okay, take the second letter of that country and think of an animal that begins with that letter.
Think of the color of that animal.
Now think about that country, the animal and its color.
There are no grey elephants in Denmark.
Wasn’t that fun?
It was designed to appeal to your biases.
The way your mind perceives, retrieves information and makes judgments.
If you think long and hard enough, you’ll figure it out.
But why take the time?
It was just some kind of trick.
There are many more important matters to attend to.
The same is true of our daily decisions.
We don’t really take the time to think about most of them.
To figure out if they’re the optimal decisions.
Yes, we have a subtle feeling that we’re being manipulated.
But why take the time?
It’s just peanut butter, deodorant, bottled water, gum, etc.
But just imagine.
If everyone fully considered every single purchase decision.
And rewarded the companies that best reflected their values.
Of fairness, inclusiveness, sustainability.
It would change the world.
Think about it.

Fast and right.

I’m going to let you in on a secret.
Something that has been bothering me.
For the past several months, I’ve been working on a screenplay.
And, to put it mildly, it hasn’t been going very well.
So I’ve decided to call it quits.
It’s upsetting, because it goes against my grain.
The story I tell myself about myself.
That I can create whatever I want to create.
That I am who I choose to be.
But this particular challenge wouldn’t bend to my will.
Its pattern simply would not emerge.
Most likely because my brain is wired differently.
I don’t have a visual memory.
I can’t see images in my mind.
I see concepts and connections.
And writing a screenplay is not like writing a blog post or a book.
It’s not about words and concepts.
A screenplay is about images.
It’s a blueprint for what an audience sees, moment-to-moment, on a screen.
It’s even difficult for me to describe (click here if you’re curious).
Great screenwriters see the entire movie unfold in their heads, scene by scene.
And they create a compelling, integrated whole from those scenes.
Typically in less than three months.
Frank Darabont wrote “The Shawshank Redemption” in only 8 weeks.
This got me thinking about business coaches, consultants and baseball.
(See how my brain works?)
It’s rumored that Ted Williams could see the seams on a baseball.
As it rocketed towards him at over 90 miles-per-hour.
It’s not true.
But, “The Greatest Hitter Who Ever Lived” could see what others could not.
A slowed down, holistic version of the game.
What others missed, he saw in an instant, as a gestalt.
Score, pitch count, the pitcher’s idiosyncrasies, player positions and movements.
He could see the connections, the relationships.
Between his objective, as a batter, and everything else.
Less experienced and less skilled batters simply can’t see that reality.
So everything speeds up, in their minds.
And so do their judgments.
And those narrow, rushed decisions lead to suboptimal performance.
It’s the same in any domain.
And that’s why, in today’s hypercompetitive environment, winners hire experience.
Everything slows down for experienced people.
They see things in an instant.
Which allows them to do it fast.
And do it right.
There’s an often cited William Goldman quote about Hollywood.
“Nobody knows anything.”
It may be true that there is no formula for predicting success.
But there sure as hell are experienced and talented people who can help you attain it.