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June 23, 2004

News & Opinion: Lovemarks is a Love Affair, Part 2

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 4:32 PM – Filed under: Marketing & Sales

[Part 1 was posted yesterday. Refresher: I start shifting from being disheartened when I flip through the Lovemarks to "Ah ha...he gets it" once I settle in to read it.]
Marketing people talk about emotion. They present charts and diagrams, even raise their voices and wave their arms, but fundamentally they treat emotion as...out-there, felt by someone else and able to be manipulated. Analyzing other people's emotions and refusing to acknowledge our own dumps us in the same old rut. What a waste. Listening is something that most brands are not great at. They evolved alongside the mass media, and that is where most of them stayed. Talking, talking, talking. The most curious people in business ought to be marketers. Eager to learn, fascinated by the strange passions of human beings, always asking questions, always in pursuit of the strange, the unusual, or the simply interesting. Most marketers, and to my regret many researchers, are not like this at all. The desire to control is tough to relinquish, but that is what we must do if we want to start on the journey towards Lovemarks.
And what if I can't hand this book to a by-the-numbers CEO? So what if we don't get any converts! This "Church of the Customer" sermon did me good. I came out of the two days refreshed, recharged and inspired. And it doesn't hurt to know I'm in good company even if it is the lunatic fridge. Maybe there's something to this customer-centric emotional mumbo-jumbo when it's the CEO of Saatchi and Saatchi and executives at Toyoto and P&G lending their credibility to it. And then it sunk in that yes, this book is clearly a branding (er, Lovemarking) exercise for Saatchi and Saatchi. Duh! They're eating their own dog food! They're practicing what they preach. It evokes mystery, sensuality and intimacy - all elements of a Lovemark. The website elicits customer participation. Since it was launched well before publication readers around the globe related their own stories about the Lovemarks that resonate with them and quite a few are featured in the book. My biggest objection? Tainted Love. Obviously it's already been misconstrued when Fast Company reads like a Cosmopolitan cover: "Make Your Customers Love Your Brand." Yikes! (Or did the author just flip through the book?) Now if you really think you can make anyone love you, you haven't a clue about Love. The FC article doesn't convey the depth of the book as evidenced when they cite examples such as: McDonald's ads blare: "I'm lovin' it!" Anyone who's ever been in a romantic relationship knows actions speak louder than mouthing the words, I love you. Customers have had enough of idle words and promises, Roberts says.
Everyone with a telephone has had a total stranger (aka telemarketer) asking how they are and did they have a nice day. As if they cared...human beings can spot that sort of falseness fast. Real fast.
The book speaks to many layers of meaning for the word love. It's obvious that Roberts' experience is of love with the capital L. And the book works best if you can relate to that. It's not limited to only a precious few but is extended to "total strangers" alike. He's not calling for you to make customers love your brand, he's calling you to love your customers. No strings attached. It's what Tim Sanders of Yahoo (quoted in book) says:
I don't think there is anything higher than Love...Love is so expansive...the way I define Love is the selfless promotion the growth of the other.
Can you twist that around? Sure, but it won't be a Lovemark. If you're looking for a prescriptive book - you won't find it here. That's the whole point. Roberts makes it clear that marketers have become too analytical, too rote and too formulaic. There is no formula. "The cloak of Mystery forces us to find our own meanings, our own sense of what is important in our lives." That is true for our brands. No book is going to hand you the meaning of your company, your product, your raison d'etre, or your unique relationship to your customers.
I lose patience with the wanna-be science of brands. The definitions, the charts, the tables, and diagrams. There are too many people following the same rule book. When everybody tries to beat differentiation in the same way, nobody gets anywhere. As the brand manual grows heavier and more detailed, you know you're in trouble. Making sure the flowers in reception conform to the brand guidelines just shows you are looking in the wrong direction. Consumers are who you should be paying attention to.
You may not find all the solutions buried in a specific case study (and it's chock full of global examples), but you'll feel surrounded by the possibility that you will. The jury is still out on if this the be-all-and-end-all of what's next for brands. But I do think Lovemarks contain all the qualities necessary for a brand to work. I'm afraid the catch is you'll have to stretch your conception of Love first. I write this book review on Father's Day. I was thinking about my dad and what keeps the twinkle in people's eyes. Roberts is urging us as businesspeople to rekindle life-affirming relationships with our customers. (He asks, Have you been invited to a customer's birthday party?) The sale is the destination but the relationship is the journey. Drop agendas and get into their world. That's what people all over the world universally yearn for - and it's what makes them Loyal Beyond Reason (the hallmark of a Lovemark).
Conventional wisdom says that brands are taking over people's lives. And that this is a bad thing. But maybe it works the other way. Maybe life is taking over brands.