“All You Need Is Love” — Lennon/McCartney, The Beatles
Facebook over the past several years has done the unexpected in creating exponentially vast usage of the noun/verb Like. This has been fun for those of us who indulge in broadly stamping our personal approvals on anything from a friend’s single syllable utterance to the launch of a new wave of flavored taco shells. Some argue the Like button has diluted the very significance it is meant to convey by spawning misguided promotions to increase click tallies, while others maintain it is the metaphysical fuel that rocketed Facebook into the stratosphere as the place advertisers have to be to mine explicit commendations. Regardless of the ultimate conviction it conveys, Like is an ultra easy way to express a soft high-five in public without any substantive commitment, and if you change your mind, you can Unlike something just as quickly.
While the full measure in a Like action remains on the light side of hand-waving, for marketers it can nonetheless provide an easy litmus test to note directionally if their intended messages are registering at all. Registering is not necessarily resonating, but it is a decent stride across the starting line. Getting someone to Like your brand for the long haul — on Facebook or along the purchase funnel — will never be a small task, but my sense is there is one constant in consistent success: For star marketers to get a Like, they must first Love.
I wrote about a similar topic not long ago in a post about eating your own dogfood, where I suggested if you don’t use your own products, how could you expect anyone else to pay you for the privilege. This is a tangent to that thread, where of late I have observed entire marketing teams dogged by cynicism. They are charged with brand evangelism, but in their own minds, they are either not engaged in the true value proposition of their products and services or they have given up on their own futures, proclaiming themselves victims of an ice age they believe is imminent and unavoidable. I believe we often refer to this malady as the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Recently in a meeting with a team of executives who had invited me to help them with some seismic strategic planning issues, I noticed a through line where all of the many accomplished marketing executives in the room found a way to get on each other’s bandwagon that their company’s future simply was not bright. I thought this was just a down cycle in the conversation which is normal in brainstorming, but the negative energy was a contagion. Here we were, charged with helping reinvent the company, a blue sky path to infusing new levels of Like into brands that were already broadly embraced, but no consensus was emerging on how past Like could become new Like, or dare I say it, Love. As an outsider, I saw that their brands were certainly challenged in the market place, they had seen some decline, but they had in no way collapsed. Yet here the brand stewards being paid quite well for their presumed passion had convinced themselves their brands were dying — a sickness that was terminal and could not be reversed. Where I really got myself in trouble was asking the team how many of them still loved these brands. The rest of the assignment was awfully quiet.
If a brand steward does not start the day in Love with a brand, by the time that apathy translates and diffuses itself into a campaign of communication tactics, Like is not going to be there with the public. Better the executives hand in the baton and give the assignment to someone else who might find a way to convince themselves there is light ahead, yet throwing yourself on the sword for lack of conviction is not a road well-traveled in business. Instead it is likely that these brands will die, even though they could fight on, because no one behind them has the Love to fight. I wonder if the CEOs at the top of these companies know their chief lieutenants have already surrendered to creative destruction rather than rallied to next generation rebirth. Even if the beaten executives are right and the brand is destined to die, shouldn’t someone else who doesn’t believe that be given the chance to prove otherwise — to try with honest enthusiasm to wrestle imagination and go a different route that might just work despite the naysayers? Perhaps some of the CEOs are biding time as well, but my sense is most of those wouldn’t last too long in a board meeting. Love has to be real, and it has to start at the top.
Can someone in a marketing job walk away nobly from a lack of Love? Sometimes I think it is necessary and essential. A very successful friend recalled for me recently how early in her career she was working for a multi-national corporation on a vastly successful billion dollar brand that had of late stalled in its growth, it had just gone wild and saturated market share. The team brainstormed and came to the conclusion that to reignite growth, marketing programs would have to implicitly suggest that the brand being marketed met the needs of a more healthful alternative already for sale, and that by shifting use from the believed healthful product to the growing brand, nothing would be lost and everything would be gained. Mind you, nothing illegal was being plotted and the campaign would by default have to meet truth in advertising laws, but the very idea that the only way to grow the brand was to pull attention from a more healthy alternative did not sit at all well with my friend. She understood the strategy, but she fell out of Love, and even out of Like. She did the right thing and left the company. Today she runs her own company and I can tell you this, she Loves her brand.
Remember this, a brand is not a logo or a trademark or a pithy name — a brand is a promise. You can stop loving a product line because it needs to change, indeed loving a product line too much can be a trap, but products are directed to evolve because loving the brand is a driving force. A brand is a set of choices that begins and ends with meeting customer needs. The branding process begins with ideation, continues through product development, then translates into communication (these days bidirectional feedback loops, like we see in social media, more than soap box broadcasting) and ultimately does or doesn’t result in customer loyalty. When you make a promise to your customers, you are obliged to make good on that promise. My sense is for that to happen repeatedly and predictably, if you are part of the creative cycle, you must Love, Love, Love your brands. If you don’t, no one else will.
If for some chronic reason you’re convinced a brand truly is at end of life, the right thing to do is protect working capital and advocate to take it out of commission mercifully. It is wrong to shovel high-priced coal into an engine you believe will no longer run because you’re pretending to believe a directive handed down that you knowingly disavow. Don’t try to fake it, if you don’t Love your brand, go find another that you can Love. If you are biding your time waiting to be found out, don’t worry, you will be found out. Your customers will do that for you. You need their Like. They deserve your Love.
Love, Love, Love.