What’s love got to do with it?

March 1, 2009

“Love” has become a key ingredient in many marketing programs. Some recent rallying cries:

”Get consumers to fall in love with our brand.”

“Reach their hearts as well as th ]]>

”Create intimate, emotional connections. Smother them with attention and affection.”

Does “love” work in marketing? Sure. As a matter of fact, “falling in love” is a good analogy for the branding process.

A young person falls in love and gets married. Now suppose the next year that same person meets someone who better looking, wealthier and more fun to be with. Bingo, he (or she) changes his spousal brand.

Not likely. The surprising thing is not that half of all marriages end in divorce. The surprising thing is that half of all marriages don’t end in divorce. Even Ike and Tina Turner stayed together for almost two decades.

Falling in love with a person is an emotion that has consequences that can last for years. Furthermore, people don’t usually fall in love a second time without falling out of love first.

Falling in love with a brand has similar consequences. Just because you run across a “better”  brand, doesn’t necessarily mean you will switch. Pepsi tastes better than Coke, but most Coke drinkers have fallen in love with the brand and won’t switch.

All across America people are falling in love with their brands. Tropicana orange juice. Kellogg’s corn flakes. Heinz ketchup. Tabasco pepper sauce. Campbell’s soup. Tide detergent. Kleenex tissue. Hertz rent-a-cars. Duracell batteries. And a host of other brands.

Look at the history of Volkswagen, the first small car. People literally fell in love with that vehicle. Disney even made several movies about Herbie, the Love Bug.

Then there’s McDonald’s, the first hamburger chain. “I’m loving it,” works for McDonald’s, but it would be unlikely to work for Burger King.

(Fans at football games might yell out, “We’re No. 1.” But I’ve never heard a crowd cry out, “We’re No. 2.”)

Then “love” must be a powerful marketing strategy.

Not really. What differentiates the winners and losers in most categories is purely a question of who was first in the mind. Kleenex, the first pocket tissue, was launched in 1924 and has been the leading pocket-tissue brand ever since.

Isn’t that what happens when you fall in love with a person? If you are truly in love with that person, then you can meet a million other people who may be superior in one way or another, but still you won’t switch. Loving a person blocks your interest in finding another person to love.

Loving a brand blocks your interest in exploring other brands in the same category. This is an enormous advantage for the “first brand into the mind.” Gatorade in sports drinks. Red Bull in energy drinks.

The iPod user isn’t actively looking for another MP3-player brand to fall in love with. Ditto the BlackBerry user. The Nintendo DS user. The Amazon user. The Twitter user. The Google user.

Of course, there is a way to compete with powerful brands like Google. Consider Baidu and Yandex. Baidu has 70 percent of the Chinese search market; Google has 26 percent. Yandex has 56 percent of the Russian search market; Google has 23 percent.

Baidu was first in China. Yandex was first in Russia. What’s love got to do with it?

(Before I get too much hate mail, I should mention that Google wasn’t first in search. AltaVista was, but it threw away its leadership by turning its site into a portal. GoTo.com was second, but it shut down its destination site and decided to focus on a syndication service which it called Overture.)

Unless you get some help from leader brands that do something stupid, it’s exceptionally difficult for a No. 2 brand to ever overtake a leader. You can’t fall in love with the No. 2 brand in the category until you first fall out of love with the No. 1 brand. That’s why No. 2 brands should not promote “love” or other emotional attributes.

A No. 2 brand has two choices: Be the opposite of the leader or launch a marketing campaign to undermine the leading brand. Years ago, we called this latter strategy “repositioning the competition.”

It’s what Tylenol did to Bayer aspirin. “For the millions of people who should not take aspirin . . .” was the headline of one of Tylenol’s ads. And the copy went on to say that aspirin can cause stomach bleeding.

Today, Tylenol is the No. 1 selling over-the-counter brand in American drugstores.

Too many marketing managers believe their categories are “level” playing fields. May the better product win. Or the better advertising. Or the better Internet strategy.

Unfortunately that seldom happens. The game is fixed and the leader starts with a huge advantage.

Take Google which many people believe to be the country’s most innovative company and it probably is. Over the years, Google has used its innovative people and innovative strategies to launch a host of new products.

Lively was a virtual world that was Google’s answer to Second Life.

Jaiku was a microblogging service similar to Twitter.

Lively was folded and Jaiku was turned over to its users as an open-source project.

Then there’s Google Print Ads and Google Audio Ads. Both scrapped.

I think you’ll find that Second Life users and Twitter uses are in love with their brands. A better, more innovative approach is highly unlikely to loosen the grip those brands have with their audiences.

People brands follow a similar pattern. When you are in love with a person, you don’t continually compare that person with other people you meet. The same holds true for brands.

Most marketing messages are misdirected. If you’re not the leader, then almost everything you say about yourself is totally ignored. The consumer thinks, hey, I’m already in love with a brand and it’s not yours.

Leaders make similar mistakes. They often think a marketing war is an advertising war. The brand that has the best advertising wins. So every year, the advertising agency gets busy dreaming up their latest extravaganza.

“Open happiness” is Coca-Cola’s latest extravaganza. But why do people drink Coke instead of Pepsi? It’s certainly not because Coke makes them happier than Pepsi.

People have fallen in love with Coke because it’s the authentic cola. It was first. It’s the original. It’s the real thing.

Brands that are first in the mind can often effectively reinforce their leadership by using ideas and concepts that relate to their authenticity.

• Hellmann’s real mayonnaise.
• Movado: The museum watch.
• Mikimoto: Originator of cultured pearls.
• Oscar Mayer: America’s favorite bacon.
• Johnson & Johnson dental floss: The one dentists use most.
• Newcastle brown ale, the one and only. (Can you name another brown ale?) What’s love got to do with it? Plenty. But you need to figure out how to create that love. And the best way to do that is to get into the consumer’s mind first.