Forget Brand Love; Let’s build Brand Friendships™ instead

By Jenni Romaniuk 

Research Professor at Ehrenberg-Bass Institute

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Professor Jenni Romaniuk,

Ehrenberg-Bass Institute for Marketing Science, University of South Australia

As Valentine’s Day approaches its only natural that a marketer’s thoughts will turn to love. Do our customers love us? How can we get them to love our brand more?

Given the vast wealth of evidence shows Brand Love is a distraction, that is of very little value to a marketer who wants to grow their brand, I’d like, instead, to put forward the idea that marketers should instead try to develop Brand Friendships ™.

We all like to have friends, and friends are important to our health and wellbeing. There are many different types of friends, which we call on for different occasions. We have our best friends who are always there for us, my favourite description of which is:

“A good friend will help you move, a true friend will help you move a body” Stephen J. Daniels. Weeds in the Garden of Love

But we also have work friends, exercise friends, expertise-specific friends, childhood friends and many other subsets of people in our friendship circle. Some we meet or talk to every day, others we might check in with once a year. Our social behaviour is so predictable that there is a number that represents the natural maximum amount of friends we can have, Dunbar’s number, which is 150.  This maximum, which holds even in today’s social media age, is because keeping friendships requires attention, and we all can only remember so many people. 

Rather than the restrictive, til death do us part, model of brand love, I suggest we adopt the more flexible ‘horses for courses’ model of Brand Friendship™. This allows customers to be friends with multiple brands, but still have ‘true’ friends they are constantly in touch with as well as distant ties they interact with rarely: which pretty much describes most normal repertoire buying behaviour.

A model of Brand Friendship™ also fits better with advertising models that work. Many friends need a reminder to catch up and fit someone into their busy lives, and without that reminder you can go for 2 years without seeing someone. Most friendships don’t require you to be there all the time, just when you are wanted/needed. Just like most brands.

Friendships erode more so from lack of attention, than the emergence of animosity. Have a flick through your Facebook friends, and see how many you have forgotten about? Well this happens to brands too – if they don’t advertise. If you want your friends to remember you, reach out to them. 

Finally brands that want to grow can follow a key piece of expert advice on how to gain more friends – reach out beyond your current circle and engage in activities that introduce you to new people. So while a brand might not enrol in that pottery class, it might want to advertise in that class, if it will reach category buyers that it normally doesn’t speak to. 

Putting my consumer hat on, I for one, find it much less creepy that a brand might want to be friends with me, than a brand wants me to love it. And so a personal note to the brands I buy, sorry no Valentine’s day cards from me – but lets catch up sometime – just message me!

Note: While the author is a serious marketing scientist, who works for the Ehrenberg-Bass Institute, a serious Institute devoted to Marketing Science, this piece is written in jest.  She takes no responsibility for anyone who tries to employ this strategy but demands a cut from anyone who makes money from it!

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