Romancing the Brand: A book review by Bob Morris

Romancing BrandRomancing the Brand: How Brands Create Strong, Intimate Relationships with Consumers
Tim Halloran
Jossey-Bass/A Wiley Brand (2014)

How to identify the right customer with whom to engage in a relationship, then sustain it to mutual benefit

We have learned a great deal about how to establish and then sustain a relationship with anther person. Its essential elements include commitment, intimacy, and dependability as well as mutual affection, respect, and trust. Tim Halloran asserts — and I agree — that the same elements are essential to a relationship with brands, “especially those in categories where consumer passion is particularly strong.” That is why brand managers “increasingly developed and marketed key benefits that are tied into a consumer’s emotional state.” In other words, consumers would feel so strongly about these brands “that they would insist on using them, and if they couldn’t, they would feel deprived emotionally.”

I am reminded of several insights in Bernd Schmitt’s book, Experiential Marketing (1999), that stress the importance of creating, if possible, an especially enjoyable multi-sensory experience associated with a brand. Uniquely positive associations can strengthen the relationship consumers have with a product and, in some instances, also with where the product can be purchased. Years ago while shopping in a mall just before Christmas, I was attracted to a Williams-Sonoma store by the aroma of fresh baked bread during a demonstration of a Breville Custom Loaf Breadmaker. Meanwhile, traditional holiday music could be heard in the background. The decor could not be more festive. I bought one of the machines and the CD.

Halloran cites two especially important marketing thinkers. Jennifer Aaker developed a theory based on research that suggests that “consumers’ perceptions of brand personalities closely mirror their perception of human personalities. In other words, as consumers, we can be attracted to a brand not just be what it does for us functionally…but by how well our personality fits what we perceive to be the brand’s personality.”

Meanwhile, Susan Fournier developed her own theory that would also generate insights into the relationships of brands and consumers. She found that “brands were an inextricable part of their lives and saw that a mutual dependency existed in which the brand’s stories and the individuals’ life stories linked together…She concluded that the strongest brand-consumer relationships exhibited qualities comparable with those of happily married couples.” Halloran focuses on dozens of exempla of this phenomenon while explaining how to “romance” a brand. They include the Atlanta Falcons, Coca-Cola, Domino’s Pizza, Dos Equis, Geritol, Hershey’s Chocolate World, LEGOLAND, Nike, and Turner Classic Movies.

These are among the dozens of business subjects and issues of special interest and value to me, also listed to indicate the scope of his coverage.

o Romancing the Brand (Pages 15-19)
o Determine How You’ll Be Different (23-29)
o Transitioning to Emotionally Driven Connections (39-41)
o The Most Interesting Man in the World (44-55)
o Providing Emotional and Social Benefits (57-61)
o The Essence of the Brand (71-73)
o Nice to Meet You (82-96)
o Crafting the Ideal Experience (115-121)
o Making the Consumer Feel Important (125-129)
o Storytelling (147-152)
o Innovation Enhances Romance (155-158)
o Innovation to Escape Relationship “Ruts”(158-170
o Managing Through Crisis (192-195)
o The Art of Adaptation (210-213)
o The Marketing Blunder of the Century? (215-221)

Obviously, connections and associations can be either good or bad. That same is true of relationships that result from them. To Halloran’s great credit, after carefully identifying the “what” of investing a brand with emotional, indeed romantic appeal, he explains HOW others have done it and, more to the point, what lessons can be learned from those efforts that will be of greatest value to those who read his book.

Customer-centrism is what César Ritz had in mind almost a century ago when, before there was a Ritz Carlton Hotel Company, he made a total commitment to superior service that would be “invisible.” Those within the Ritz Carlton organization in 2014 sustain that commitment, proud to be ladies and gentlemen who are privileged to serve other ladies and gentlemen. Here’s both a challenge and an opportunity: Know who the right consumer is for your company, interact with that consumer in the right context, and — over time — nourish (and thereby strengthen) that relationship with attention to needs that are emotional as well as functional.

Here’s how Tim Halloran concludes his thoughtful and thought-provoking book: “Always remember to keep your customers’ best interest in mind, and never stop learning about them and communicating with them. [The same is true of the cultivation of prime prospects.] It is only by keeping the consumers first, by making them special, that brands live up to the definition of a relationship. It is the way we as marketers will show integrity in our profession, doing right by our brands and our customers.”

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