Building brand – is love really all you need?

Ipad with brand love logo BUSINESS AND LAW

What better time than Valentine’s Day to consider the notion of “brand love” – those products and services we are supposedly passionate about.

UniSA News asked Professor Jenni Romaniuk from UniSA’s Ehrenberg-Bass Institute to share her research around the concept of brand love and unpack how our passions do or don’t impact our spending habits.

On Valentine’s Day, it seems timely to revisit the outdated, but still popular, notion of brand love. John Paul Young sung how ‘Love is in the Air’ but is it something that people who buy brands believe in?

To answer this, let’s imagine a world where brand love is something that is vital for a brand to grow up to be big and profitable.  What would this world look like and how does this imaginary world compare to the real world evidence?

Firstly, if brand love is important to consumers, we should see declarations of love.  Maybe not sending flowers, but if we asked consumers, about their feelings towards the brands they buy, large proportions would say “yes, this is a brand I truly love”.

But real world evidence, even from articles written by proponents of brand love, shows people don’t feel the love.

For example a recent article that examined Australian beer brands found that just four per cent of Australian male beer drinkers said they loved their beer brand (Rossiter and Bellman, 2012).

But perhaps it is that Aussie men are shy, and don’t want to admit to the brand they have a crush on.

So let’s consider the idea further. If the power of brand love is real, we could expect that people would seek out opportunities to engage with the brands they love.

However this too is contrary to evidence. In the book How Brands Grow, engagement levels of Facebook fans for Lovemark brands – brands that consumers are supposed to love to a level that inspires “loyalty beyond reason” – such as Apple and Harley Davidson, are not what one would expect.

Facebook metrics reveal that only about one per cent of the Facebook fan base for Lovemark brands display active engagement with the brand on the site. Not an indicator of undying devotion!

Finally, if love is going to translate into profits, it should translate into higher loyalty.

But Associate Professor John Dawes found that Nike, despite its Lovemark status, had normal loyalty levels.

And in the latest marketing research in the book, How Brands Grow Part 2, we see little or no evidence of brands with unusually high loyalty levels, even in emerging markets such as China, India or Indonesia.

Even brands especially crafted for a specific market, like Safi, Halal-certified personal care products developed specifically for Muslim women and men, have normal levels of loyalty.

So while love might be in the air on Valentine’s Day, I suspect that many brands will be sorely disappointed if they are expecting declarations of consumer devotion.

However, the good news is that this won’t necessarily affect the bottom line, as long as the brand has not over invested in the pipe dream of trying to sprout deep customer affection.

Instead of being distracted by fanciful notions such as brand love, I suggest product marketers focus on the more pragmatic goals of building mental availability, which is about getting the brand more readily thought of in buying situations, and physical availability, which is about making the brand easier to buy (see How Brands Grow Part 2 for more on these).

Yes love is in the air everywhere you look around but when it comes to brands it may well be an illusion … brands flourish better with revenue.