December 1, 2005

Excerpts: Married To The Brand - Part IV

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 2:34 PM – Filed under: Management & Workplace Culture


When researchers dug into what it takes to build brand Passion, there were three obvious conclusions:
  • First, the particular drivers of Passion vary by category and by brand. What passionately bonds a car owner to a BMW is not the same thing that forges relationships for Lexus, Jaguar, or Volvo owners.
  • Second, it's never just one thing, like the styling or the handling for an automobile. Not when we're talking about Passion.
  • Third, the key in every instance is differentiation -- being meaningfully different in the signals and cues that tell customers that their brand experience is something unique and really special.

Research among recent fliers shows that Passion doesn't result from schedule convenience, memorable commercials, or the age and condition of the aircraft. Though these are relevant factors, they're not what creates brand Passion.

When it comes to airline customers, Passion stems first from exceptional people in the air, followed by exceptional people on the ground, and last, by dependable arrivals and departures. That's interesting, especially because that's precisely the performance profile pioneered in the United States by Southwest and now also pursued by carriers like Ryanair and JetBlue. Small wonder, then, that these newcomers have outperformed the larger airlines, which have had difficulties in their attempts to deliver a warm and welcoming brand experience. Small wonder, too, that the larger legacy airlines have had to rely on discounts, sales, and frequent flier programs to bribe their customers
into returning.

When there are no people to serve as brand ambassadors, companies must rely on other factors to build brand Passion. But it can be done - and we've seen evidence of that fact, in ketchup, coffee, hand soap, and face cream. Passion derives from meaningful differentiation in the experience of using the brand, which is what brand greatness is all about: a truly unique flavor, as we found in a study of salsas in Latin America and a study of beverages in the United States; a distinct and refreshingly clean feeling, as we discovered in a study of bath products in Asia; or a uniquely satisfying experience, as we noted for a food product in India. To build customer Passion in any country, the brand experience must be uniquely different.

For products like ketchup and coffee, great advertising and distinctive packaging help frame and support the distinctive brand experience. Again, the fundamental requirement for Passion is greatness, not "good enough." Therefore, the marketing challenge is to create, communicate, and consistently reinforce a distinctly different feeling, one that can come only from buying and using -- and from being married to -- the brand.

But this requires understanding the total brand experience from the customer's perspective, not just the company's. Is the Starbucks brand experience the coffee, or something beyond that? Is the Starbucks experience replicated in the aisles of a United flight from Denver to Chicago -- or is it just the coffee that's replicated?

The elements that signal a differentiated brand experience are often subtle. But they are crucial cues to the customer, because they're the aspects of the total brand experience that set it apart. In his book Clued In, Lewis Carbone addresses the need to identify the clues that trigger emotions. And in his recent book Brand Sense, Martin Lindstrom points out how each of the five senses serves a vital role in building the emotional associations that separate strong brands from weaker ones.

Companies can use a number of qualitative tools to probe the potential triggers of a customer's brand experience. But one key question remains: Exactly what emotions should the brand be triggering? Here's an answer: Confidence, Integrity, Pride, and Passion. Focus on the clues and sensory signals that convey these four, because these are the
essential ingredients for a brand marriage.

Importantly, building Passion isn't just a challenge for the company's ad agency. It also confronts its product developers, store and package designers, flavor profilers, merchandising managers, process engineers, and everyone else involved in crafting and executing the brand experience.

Customers cannot simply be told that a consumption experience is uniquely pleasurable, regardless of how much advertising weight is placed behind "bite and smile" ad campaigns. A promise demands delivery. Customers must experience the brand's uniqueness. They must feel the difference -- because emotions are all about feeling.

Identifying the subtle but important signals that reinforce the platform for brand Passion isn't a simple task. Neither is the creation of a unique product experience that consistently conveys those differentiating signals. It's all easier said than done. But there's no Passion without it, and marriages without Passion will drift ultimately, and sometimes speedily, into separations.