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Building a Brand Marriage That Lasts
Business Journal

Building a Brand Marriage That Lasts

by William J. McEwen

For well over a half century, Gallup has been listening to consumers talk about brands - and about the special brands with which they've formed enduring emotional connections. And, in these millions of consumer interviews, we've also heard about initial relationships that turned sour.

What we've learned from digging into our consumer conversations will surprise some company managers, while reinforcing what others may have believed but haven't been able to prove. . . . The following conclusions summarize what we've learned:

  • Brand marriages aren't created overnight, regardless of how much money is spent on marketing programs or high-profile Super Bowl ads. True brand relationships aren't built in a day -- even in the age of the Internet.
  • There's a crucial difference between a customer and an engaged customer. Gaining customers should never be a company's objective; building customer engagement should be.
  • Customer satisfaction programs haven't increased the numbers of healthy brand marriages; neither have most loyalty programs. This isn't because companies won't spend the money on these programs, or that they aren't serious about them. Rather, it's because programs like these have either missed or ignored what really drives the relationship. Besides, loyalty programs are readily duplicated by competitors, so they simply increase the cost of doing business while failing to address what it takes to make a brand marriage.
  • What it takes to initially attract a first-time buyer or user is often quite different from what it takes to turn that prospect into a fully engaged customer. Dating is different from marriage. But both involve essential emotional connections that must be understood if they're ever going to be managed.
  • Married to the Brand -- Book Center

  • Activating a new brand relationship (a first date) requires conveying a brand promise that is not just credible and compelling, but also establishes a personal connection with the potential customer. If the goal is an enduring brand marriage and not just a one-time fling, the brand has to begin building a platform for passion.
  • Products alone can't support a passionate brand relationship, nor will low prices, great advertising, stunning packaging, or a superb location. They must all work together, since it is the total brand experience, and not just one isolated element, that determines the health of a brand marriage.
  • Keeping customers (a brand marriage) involves adding meaningful depth to the bond that initially connects the consumer to the brand. Retaining customers goes beyond merely making a promise -- it requires the performance of a total brand experience. For a healthy brand marriage, the company's brand promise must be kept on every subsequent date and at every brand touchpoint.
  • In most cases, it's not enough that consumers trust a brand. That's because they may trust many brands -- but somehow, the emotional connection goes no deeper than that. Trust is the essential foundation, and marriages won't last without it. For a lasting relationship, though, there must be brand passion.
  • Most companies have strong brand relationships with only a small minority of their customers. Even great brands typically have healthy relationships with only about half of their customers -- and they probably don't even know which ones they are.
  • Companies in every industry have large numbers of customers with whom they have absolutely no relationship. Customer relationship management (CRM) programs and marketing promotions aren't shrinking the numbers of disaffected and disconnected customers. In many cases, they're actually creating more of them. They're not building brand marriages; they're creating climates for divorce.
  • Emotions aren't merely warm and fuzzy concepts suitable mainly for greeting-card poetry and Hollywood scripts. Emotions are both powerful and profitable. Whether a company is marketing hamburgers or microprocessors, there's a demonstrable financial return that results from emotionally engaging customers -- and there's a substantial cost that results from disengaging them.
  • Every time a customer comes in contact with a company -- with its products, stores, people, or ads, or with the stories that appear in the newspaper -- the brand relationship can be enhanced. Or it can be diminished. Brand marriages aren't static; they continue to evolve.
  • Brand relationship management isn't just a marketing challenge, nor is it a challenge that can be met solely through operational, product-development, or information technology enhancements. Successful marriage management can be achieved only by company-wide commitment and aligned, integrated efforts.
  • Top-down corporate solutions to brand marriage management may offer great efficiencies -- but they won't work. Relationship management begins not in the boardroom but at the individual customer interface.

Gallup's research has revealed that customer satisfaction isn't nearly enough to ensure an ongoing brand relationship. We've also learned that "loyalty" isn't enough and that "good" performance is woefully inadequate. That poses a huge problem. As Jim Collins has pointed out in his book Good to Great, too many companies become satisfied with "good" -- and, he writes, "Good is the enemy of great." Marriages require more. Loving involves a whole lot more than liking.


William J. McEwen, Ph.D., is the author of Married to the Brand.

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