Every brand manager would like to believe that the world will love their brand. Given how much time, energy and experience they pour into trying to make that happen, that seems like a reasonable hope. But is that a true measure of the impact of their brand? Is the brand itself what consumers actually respond to?
As Douglas Van Praet has observed, consumers are far from inclined to feel that way. “The human truth is no one wants to connect emotionally to your brand … People want to be [led] to a better life not bond with companies.”
The real impact is emotional
We could debate whether people want to be led at all, but there’s little dispute that, in the light of this idea, brand loyalty is probably not what most brand managers have talked themselves into believing it is. Consumers are not loyal to a brand. That is not the true brand impact. Not really. Buyers are most loyal to the feeling that a brand evokes in them and in those around them. The emotion sways them. Perhaps the company reassures them, but it’s the feeling they keep coming back for.
Most channels aren’t touchpoints. They’re reach points
Loyalty is connected with the hopes people have for their lives, not the companies themselves. People are inclined towards stories and ideas and changes that brands articulate that stimulate them and that attract their interest. All of this flies in the face of how brand managers rationalise what they do: that a brand has impact; that people identify with the brand; that awareness evokes loyalty and familiarity generates action. The thing is, maybe buyers aren’t really looking for the company when they look for the logo – perhaps they’re looking for a sign that the emotion they treasure is present.
This further suggests that brands that communicate but fail to bond people to ideas may not have achieved anything like the impact or the levels of loyalty that they think they have. They may get a response – but that response is triggered by other reasons: convenience; price; happenstance … Buyers may be moved by a stimulus to act. That does not mean they are hooked into the brand. Contact, even action, is not persuasion.
A brand can reach. But that doesn’t mean it has touched. Most channels aren’t actually touchpoints at all. They’re reach points.
Brand impact as value
Hilton Barbour has this equation that says it all: Value = impact. If we apply Van Praet’s observation that must mean: Value (for me) = Impact (for me). Hilton continues – “Contribution is just another word for impact … and impact is another way to measure value”. By extension, brands that don’t contribute to the lives of their customers (through purpose, experiences, story, behaviours) fail to make a lasting impact and therefore cannot have lasting value.
- Forget where are you? Ask: why are you? What do you offer to give people who buy from you that they value (emotionally)?
- What impact do you have on their lives and the world they care about that other brands don’t?
- What’s your greatest hope for them as people? And is it a hope they share?
We’ve tended to see purpose as a directional and ethical compass for companies – the North Star that guides what they aim for, what they consider acceptable, what they judge to be right internally. It’s been associated with the softer, more human side of culture. But perhaps the real impact opportunity for organisations lies in the fact that, increasingly, it’s also the only side with brand loyalty painted on it; it’s the only part that actually has impact for consumers. It’s the brands that articulate a view of life and for life that people bond with. Everything else is just messages. Everything else is just stuff from companies.
You can be a big brand, a known brand, a brand that people encounter and have contact with wherever they go. But if you think that’s enough, it’s not. Because that’s not what kindles and sustains the relationship. Consumers are not buying your brand just to have something in their life. They’re buying your brand to feel something in their life. The minute you stop contributing to that, you start losing value in their eyes and your brand loses impact. Yes, you’re still reaching them. But now, they have less and less reasons to stay in touch.