Brands Can Be A Love Affair

I met her about 30 years ago. Reluctantly I attended a party and fully anticipated having a terrible time. A friend of mine introduced us. It was one of those immediate attractions. I don’t know if it was the fact that she had the color of a woman who had been tanning in the tropics or the fact that she was a redhead. Although, if I’m totally honest it was her full body that I was most attracted to.

Hard to believe it has been over 30 years. Time has certainly passed quickly. We’ve had some great times together. In fact, she was with me the first time I went to Keeneland to watch the horses race. Redheads and thoroughbreds—in my mind they will always be a winning combination. 

She is with me at parties and in quiet times of reflection. And even when she is cold as ice, she always manages to make me feel warm inside.

Over 30 years and I can honestly say I love her as much today as the day my friend introduced me to her. Who is she?

She is my Maker’s Mark bourbon of course.

You see, brands are like people. They have unique personalities and character. They give us something to relate to. In fact, brand character is an important point of competitive differentiation that helps strengthen brand equity. 

One easy way to think about brand character is to turn the product into a person (like my example). Many marketers have done this well for their products. Remember Mr. Clean? Or, maybe you remember the Michelin Tire Man, Tony the Tiger, the Keebler Elves, the Green Giant, the Cheetah, the Travelocity Gnomes, the Charmin Bear. In each case, the marketers created a relatable brand character for their product. In fact, so relatable they brought the character to life in advertising as the visual personification of the brand. In that context, you might think of brand character as the pre-computer version of a brand avatar.

But not every brand needs to transform its brand character into a literal spokesperson to help strengthen brand equity. Marketers simply need to understand what that character is and then stay true to it in message communication and promotion. For example, consumers typically see Mercedes as “assertive” and “in control” while BMW is viewed as “sexy” and “desirable”. You can see how the marketers carry their brand’s characters through their taglines – “The best or nothing” and “The ultimate driving machine”. All consumer communications for these brands are tested for brand character consistency before going live.

It should be no surprise that the concept of brand character has been formally researched. Douglas Allen and Jerry Olson of Penn State University have studied a narrative theory approach to defining brand character. They drew from the field of psychology to underpin their model. Susan Fournier of Harvard Business School proposes that brands can become a partner in a consumer’s life. She suggests that over time marketing actions create brand personality traits, which in turn impact relationship variables such as commitment, satisfaction and involvement. And, Jennifer Aaker of Stanford University has developed a brand personality inventory based on personality traits from the field of psychology. She studied 40 brands and 114 personality traits and then she used factor analysis to create the “Big Five Factor Structure”. Marketers now have a quantitative methodology to determine a brand’s personality and character.

The underlying premise to the value of brand character is creating another avenue to connect on an emotional level with the consumer. If a consumer makes an emotional connection with your brand, it should strengthen the loyalty bond. My former P&G colleague Kevin Roberts, now CEO Worldwide of Saatchi & Saatchi calls this phenomenon a lovemark. In his book, by the same name, Kevin argues that lovemarks transcend brands, “They deliver beyond your expectations of great performance. They reach your heart as well as your mind, creating an intimate, emotional connection that you just can’t live without.” Similarly, my friend Graham Robertson, CEO of Beloved Brands, created the Brand Love Curve describing the consumers’ journey from indifference to love. Graham likes to use Apple as a classic example of a beloved brand.

To achieve the rare status of loyalty beyond reason, consumers have to relate to your brand on an emotional level. Establishing a distinct and desirable brand personality or character is one way to accomplish the goal.

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