Oh love! A word so deep and a feeling so magical in a person-to-person relationship that it is being sought in consumer-brand relationships as well.
--BY DEEPTANGSHU THAPA
Brand love, the backbone of long-term consumer-brand relationships, is a difficult one to elicit. Defined as ‘the degree of passionate emotional attachment a satisfied consumer has for a particular trade name’(Carroll & Ahuvia, 2006), brand love has been studied with great interest by academicians and researchers since 1988 when the theories on interpersonal love were being founded. Adoption of such theories from person-to-person relationships as a backdrop to drive person-to-brand relationships has made the concept very substantial for a brand looking for sustain and survive.
Measured with various attributes of the brand, such as passion, quality, attitude strength, emotional attachment, positive affect, self-brand integration (Batra, Ahuvia, & Bagozzi, 2012), and trust, brand love has grasped the interest of academicians and practitioners alike. While the truth about brand love is studied and researched by academicians, practitioners are switching stakes and becoming marketing novelists and writing on the need and hour of brand love for today’s businesses while planning their survival kit. One such author, Kevin Roberts (ex-CEO at Saatchi and Saatchi) has highlighted in his famous book, Lovemarks, the truth about the concept while reiterating many facts that hold in academic research with quantitative evidence as well.
Brands showcase certain attributes and personalities which are the identity of the brand and if that is in line with consumers’ perception of self-image, strong brand ties are formed. Such brand ties are the founding grounds for consumer-brand relationships. As humans, consumers look for love and if a brand can tell terrific stories that earn respect for it while it inspires the consumer and powers them due to the emotional connection (Roberts, 2004), then falling in love is bound to happen. However, brands must focus on branding and management from day zero to ensure they can generate a twinkle in the eyes of consumers eyes while filling their hearts with love for a brand.
Brands and branding
In the eyes of a consumer, the brand is equivalent to the product. For an organisation, its product is simply produced, its features and design, and its augmented level, while everything enhanced with various add-ons like a distinct name, logo, tagline, packaging, etc., make a brand. Organisations spend millions as they fare their way to portray themselves as different with a distinct problem-solving ability in consumer’s life. Their marketing strategy is aimed at crafting a distinct identity, that is where the brand-building begins.
The series of steps carried out to build a product into a brand that will be easily identified by a consumer, while sensing the experience it promises before direct interaction or usage is what branding is all about. In reality, brand building is something that an organisation must take up pre-launch and build on to grow and sustain. Branding one’s offer as different from the competition, while defining a vision and mission statement that makes it connected to consumers is indispensable. However, with the advent of the ‘start a start-up’ culture, the practice of branding and brand management has become secondary. The attention and effort are mainly restricted to the product.
Start-ups and branding
The competition necessitates a brand to plan for survival and growth with brand building. The activities around the management of the marketing mix, i.e., product, price, place, and promotion without hesitation are branding and brand building. But the myopia state the start-ups have when viewing the mix leads to the ‘product’ element being the focal point while other elements are ignored. For a new brand steering through the competition and introduction stage in their product’s life cycle, eliciting brand love may be difficult but not impossible. Brand love may pave the way for its success. The investments, not only money but time and energy, into all the elements of the marketing mix along with a vibrant identity that connects consumers with the brand, go a long way. Adoption of such branding measures results in a long-term relationship between the brand and the consumer.
Enduring the relationship could elicit brand love which may seem like the fate of affluent businesses only. However, some start-ups that begin sowing the seeds towards consumer-brand relationships during the pre-launch and introduction phase in the product life cycle stage have reaped loyalty in consumer relationships. The unfolding story of a start-up is a difficult one to track. The number of start-ups that open gates and shut doors each year is driven by various reasons for success and failure.
Nepal-based start-ups aim to drive consumer-brand relationships with a focus on numerous factors. The country of origin is one such factor that is considered by a vast majority. The country of origin branding effect majorly targets to increase the consumption of domestic products while leveraging on the feelings of fraternity - an emotional benefit for a brand. However, with every new brand highlighting ‘Made in Nepal, ‘Brand of Nepal’, ‘Nepali brand’, and so on, the edge seems to be lost.
When I ask Generation Z business management students about their career aspirations, founding a start-up upon graduation is the reply of a majority. It seems like the advent of the culture of founding a start-up is here to stay for sometimes. With so many ideas and viable solutions mushrooming as a registered start-up business, letting go of the importance of a brand that helps foster a community-like feeling is inevitable.
Start-up founders focus on launching a product/service that solves problems in a consumer’s life while they, as founders, monetise from the solution. The first impression from a new brand demands the identity portrayed by the brand match the image perceived by consumers. However, a lack of branding often results in a gap between identity and image.
Brands can begin with touch-points about their offer, which can foster feelings of belongingness, or community that routes toward consumer-brand relationships and ultimately, in the long-run, brand love. There is a need to rejuvenate the plain seller and buyer relationship due to intensive industry rivalry. Cultivating an atmosphere of ‘love’ in consumer-brand relationships has become necessary. When such affinity is developed between a person and a brand, the consequences are immeasurable.
Some of the strategic consequences are loyalty, willingness to pay a premium, and resistance to negative information (Aro, Suomi, & Saraniemi, 2018; Albert & Merunka, 2013). Such consequences nurture long-term results for the brand, increasing the odds of sustaining the business.
A new solution provider can begin branding their offer by speaking to consumers during the pre-launch period and setting the tone of the offer in a manner that matches consumers' lifestyle, personality, and psychological needs. Learning from consumers’ interaction with the brand during the introduction and adjusting the marketing mix elements according to market demand could be the next step. Brands benefit during this time, by having consumers talking in one space, thus community also develops. The first impressions are likely to set the tone for the longevity of the brand in the consumer’s life. The start-ups give birth to a new brand and as a new brand centering their brand-building efforts away from the common practice of simply setting daily targets on social networking sites with digital paid for promotion for an ad made at the office or rather locally should be avoided.
A very interesting set of branding stats that will probably convince you about its importance for a new brand is given below (Nico, 2022).
Reasons for success and failure
The overall scenario of start-ups in Nepal that are coming and going is in disarray. The objective that they set is simply revenue earnings, which, if not met, means closure. Understanding from theory about success and failure is being ignored, which is sad part of it. When looking into common reasons for closure, technological challenges, lack of support – financial and policies, government’s infrastructure, etc. top the list. However, branding could have been the primary reason.
For many brands, the focal point may be the product’s features and design, its beauty, or the fine-tuned social media message. This drill is taken up like a start-up custom among new brands because that is what every other brand is doing. Sometimes, the consideration of ‘consumer drive brands’ is an afterthought, leading to a gap in the way brands are talking and the way consumers are perceiving. This, as a marketer, I would say, is one of the foremost reasons for failures. Putting consumers at the core is necessary. No consumer will keep coming back to you because you offer functions. Well, you are supposed to! But whether you meet their complex and personal expectations is the question. The offer should excite the process of interaction where sensorial marketing often plays an important role. The direct interaction or usage of the offer is a grand experience that a consumer looks forward to and when the product meets the consumer’s intuition or expectation, it wins.
Simply lending ear to the potential consumers or the ex-consumers of your competition and paying attention to their thoughts on the marketing mix aspects could reward your brand with success. Know if it is just the product, they were unhappy with, or was it the price, point of purchase, after sale customer care, and the promotion aspects? Higher the fit, more consumers will flock, meaning the opportunity for the economies of scale as well for your brand. Economies of scale play a major role in maintaining pricing that could say your offer is value-based. However, making someone fall in love is not a decision to be rushed. One should always start with genuine initiations and allow reciprocal reactions to take time. Series of trials and interactions also must take place.
Love is not struck in a day, but with availability and proper distribution networks when the interaction during a moment of need happens, then a love-like feeling is amplified. Over time, communication with customer-centric messaging spawns positive signals and emotional attachments, eventually leading to a long-lasting relationship. Thus, market research before the launch to understand the segment, target the right set of consumers, and position the offer as an ideal one is unavoidable. Incorporating the voice of consumers from stage zero through internal planning is necessary due to the abundance of brands. When mission and objectives are set, and the strength, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats are studied, a brand gains an understanding of how it can create something that will have a point of difference against a similar offer. Then it can work towards building a long-term partnership. Such partnership goes hand in hand with trust and transparency.
Ms. Thapa teaches Marketing and Branding at Kathmandu College of Management. She can be reached at [email protected]