When Your Brand is Liked but Not Loved

Don’t feel bad about being at the Like It stage, because that’s where most brands are.

You have been able to successfully carve out a niche and be a chosen brand against a proliferation of brands in the category.    And you have good share results, moderate profits and most brand indicators are reasonably healthy.  It’s just that no one loves you.

Does it really matter?   Brands move from Indifferent to Like It to Love It to Beloved Brand for Life.  But isn’t being Liked Enough?   If you could move to a Loved brand, you would have a very tight connection with consumers.  That connection becomes a source of power that you can harness, and then use to drive higher growth and profits.  How can you harness the power Love in the market?  If you are loved, you’ll have power over retailers generating preferential treatment, because they know their consumers will switch stores before they switch brands.  You can push suppliers for lower costs because they’ll want to tell others they supply you,  You can generate free press, because your brand is now all of a sudden newsworthy.  You’ll have cheaper real estate because malls will want your brand to anchor the new mall.   Employees will sacrifice wages just to have your brand on their resume.   And loved brands can even use that power on the very consumers that love you already:  new products will generate early awareness and trial.   All this power, derived from the connectivity to consumers, can be harnessed to generate higher growth rates and added profits.  Ask Apple, who is the most loved and the most profitable.  They understand the formula:  Beloved = Power = Growth = Profit.

Many times I find it hard to convince logical brand managers that being more loved matters.  They stick to the safe logic of claims over benefits, stick to the rational of side-by-side demonstrations and they settle for likeable execution instead of pushing for loveable work.  They worry going emotional feels risky.  Unsafe.   I’m a logical profit driven marketer.  I believe in proof.  Emotional is silly agency talk.  You might be right because the only advantages a Loved Brand offers is higher growth rates, higher margins, lower costs to serve and overall higher profitability.  So stick to being liked and your modest results.

How the consumer sees your Brand at the Liked Stage:  

Consumers see your brand as a functional and rational choice they make.   They tried it and it makes sense so they buy it, use it and they do enjoy it.  It meets a basic need they have.  They likely prefer it versus another brand, but they think it is better, cheaper or easier to use.  Or your mom told you to use it.  But, consumers don’t have much of an emotional connection or feeling about the brand.     Where Indifferent is really bad, you’re ordinary, which is just a little bit better.  Overall, consumers see you brand in the “it will do” space.

Why is your brand Stuck at the Like It stage?

There are seven possible reasons why you are at the Like It Stage:

  1. Protective Brand Leaders means Caution:  While many of these brands at the Like It are very successful brands, they get stuck because of overly conservative and fearful Brand Managers, who pick middle of the road strategies and execute “ok” ideas.  On top of this, Brand Managers who convince themselves that “we stay conservative because it’s a low-interest category” should be removed.   Low interest category means you need even more to captivate the consumer.
  2. We are rational thinking Marketers:  Those marketers that believe they are strictly rational are inhibiting their brands.  The brand managers get all jazzed on claims, comparatives, product demonstration and doctor recommended that they forget about the emotional side of the purchase decision.   Claims need to be twisted into benefits—both rational and emotional benefits.   Consumers don’t care about you do until you care about what they need.  Great marketers find that balance of the science and art of the brand.   Ordinary marketers get stuck with the rational only.
  3. New Brand with Momentum:  Stage 2 of a new brand innovation is ready to expand from the early adopters to the masses.   The new brand begins to differentiate itself in a logical way to separate themselves from the proliferation of copycat competitors.   Consumers start to go separate ways as well.  Retailers might even back one brand over another.  Throughout the battle, the brand carves out a base of consumers.
  4. There’s a Major Leak:  If you look at the brand buying system, you’ll start to see a major leak at some point where you keep losing customers.  Most brands have some natural flaw—whether it’s the concept, the product, taste profile ease of use or customer service.   Without analyzing and addressing the leak, the brand gets stuck.  People like it, but refuse to love it.
  5. Brand changes their Mind every year:  Brands really exist because of the consistency of the promise.  When the promise and the delivery of the promise changes every year it’s hard to really connect with what the brand is all about.  A brand like Wendy’s has changed their advertising message every year over the past 10 years.  The only consumers remaining are those who like their burgers, not the brand.
  6. Positional Power–who needs Love:  there are brands that have captured a strong positional power, whether it`s a unique technology or distribution channel or even value pricing advantage.  Brands like Microsoft or Wal-Mart or even many of the pharmaceuticals products don`t see value in the idea of being loved.   The problem is when you lose the positional power, you lose your customer base completely.
  7. Brands who capture Love, but no Life Ritual:  There are brands that quickly capture the imagination but somehow fail to capture a routine embedded in the consumers’ life, usually due to some flaw.   Whether it’s Krispy Kreme, Pringles or even Cold Stone, there’s something inherent in the brand’s format or weakness that holds it back and it stays stuck at Loved but just not often enough.  So, you forget you love them.
There are lots of reasons your brand is stuck at Like It, mainly because so many of brands are at the Like It stage.  And there’s nothing shameful in it, but just know you could get more from your brand.

Indicators that Your Brand is stuck at the Like It stage

  • Low Conversion to Sales.   While the brand looks healthy in terms of awareness and equity scores, the brand is successful in becoming part of the consumer’s consideration set, but it keeps losing out to the competition as the consumer goes to the purchase stage.  It usually requires a higher trade spend to close that sale which cuts price and margins.
  • Brand Doesn’t Feel Different:  A great advertising tracking score to watch is “made the brand seem different” which helps to separate itself from the pack, many times speaking to the emotional part of the messaging.
  • Stagnant Shares:  Your brand team is happy when they hold onto their share, content to grow with the category.
  • High Private Label Sales:    If you only focus on the ingredients and the rational features of the product, the consumer will start to figure out they get the same thing with the private label and the share starts to creep up to 20% and higher.

How to get past the Like It stage and move towards the Love It stage

  • Focus on action and drive Consideration and Purchase:  stake out certain spaces in the market creating a brand story that separates your brand from the clutter.  Begin to sell the solution, not just the product.  Build a Bigger Following:  Invest in building a brand story that helps to drive for increased popularity and get new consumers to use the brand.
  • Begin to Leverage those that already Love:  Focus on the most loyal consumers and drive a deeper connection by driving the routine which should increase usage frequency.  On top of that, begin cross selling to capture a broader type of usage.
  • Love the Work:  It is time to dial-up the passion that goes into the marketing execution.   Beloved Brands have a certain magic to them.  But “Like It’ brands tend to settle for ok, rather than push for great.  With better work, you’ll be able to better captivate and delight the consumers.  If you don’t love the work, how do you expect the consumer to love your brand.
  • Fix the Leak:  Brands that are stuck have something embedded in the brand or the experience that is holding back the brand.  It frustrates consumers and restricts them from fully committing to making the brand a favourite.  Be proactive and get the company focused on fixing this leak.
  • Build a Big Idea:  Consumers want consistency from the brand—constant changes to the advertising, packaging or delivery can be frustrating. Leverage a Brand Story and a Big Idea that balances rational and emotional benefits helps to establish a consistency for the brand and help build a much tighter relationship.

Brands at the Like It stage get complacent.  You need to drive the Love into the work, and find the balance between rational and emotional benefits. 


About Graham Robertson:  I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do.   I have walked a mile in your shoes.  My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  I’m now a marketing consultant helping brands find their love and find growth for their brands.  I do executive training and coaching of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability.  I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc. and can help you find the love for your brand.  To read more about Beloved Brands Inc, visit http://beloved-brands.com/inc/

How to Differentiate your Brand through Product Innovation

“Everything that can be invented has been invented.”

Charles H. Duell, Commissioner, US Patent Office,  1899

The quote above may have missed out on the airplane, radio, TV, microwave, car, computer, internet, nearly every cpg product and of course my beloved iPhone.  Maybe the sentiment of the quote was just about 100 years too early.  In the last decade, most of the great innovation has been relegated to social media and electronics.  I hope this century brings us much more than just Facebook, BBM and Twitter.  In the consumer goods area, we must be on the 197th version of “new” cherry flavoured bubble gum since 1955, we’ve now seen hundreds of “new” peach yoghurt and I hope I never see another “new” laundry soap telling us that their little blue beads get their clothes really clean.  

New products that truly solve a consumer problem in a unique way are rare.  This is the generation of marketing incrementalism.  On most brand plans I see “launch innovative new products”  sits comfortably in the #3, 4 or 5 slot on the plan, while #1 is fix the advertising and #2 is get more distribution.  

There are four key stages to innovation:  1) Invention 2) Differentiation 3) Experience and 4) Perception.  And the marketing is different at each phase.

Stage 1: Invention of the Core Product:  The challenge of a truly new product is to finding something that is truly different: a new technology, delivery, format or process.   Rarely, do we get to work on a game changing “invention”.  
Stage 1 of a new product usually focuses all of their efforts on launching and explaining why it is needed.  The product at this stage is usually just the core product, not yet perfected, higher costs and limited sales with no profits.   The advertising is about awareness and the message is simple:  you have this problem, we solve that problem.   There’s an effort to the distribution, because many customers are risk averse and afraid of new products.   Consumers are willing to pay a little more to solve the problem, they overlook all the flaws and limitations, and they think “why didn’t I think of this”.  While some consumers love the new product already, most consumers still sit at the sceptical and indifferent stage.  

Stage 2: Product Proliferation means Differentiation:  With a little bit of success in the market comes copy cats.  With more consumers buying, there becomes room for some differentiation, but mostly limited to product still:  new features and added services on top of the core product.  They might have found a way to make things cheaper, easier to use or better tasting.  Prices come down and brands offer more variety.  Distribution becomes a battle ground and getting full distribution becomes the goal.  Customers try to line up behind certain brands–looking for preferential treatment.  The advertising is about consideration and purchase, trying to stake out certain spaces, shifting from product to brand and separating your brand from others. Brands now sell the solution, not just the product.  And consumers start to choose, one brand over another.  While some consumers prefer one brand over another, most consumers are at the like it stage.

Stage 3: It’s all about the Experience:  In order to establish leadership or challenge for leadership, brands begin to talk about the experience consumers will have with their product.  It becomes no longer about the brand or product but about the consumer and how your brand fits into their life.  Brands look to use positioning strategies to separate themselves, focusing on key targets, with unique benefits–a balance of emotional and rational benefits.  Advertising brings the consumer front and centre, trying to establish a routine with your brand in it.  Brands try to move to the love it stage, some do, but most will be stuck still at the like it stage.  Those that get stuck are forced into value and focusing on price, promotions or value.  The brands that reach the love it stage can command a premium, drive share  and establish leadership in the category.

Stage 4:  Managing the Perception:  As the market matures, any share point movements become difficult gain any traction on real quality so the shift moves to perceived quality.  Strategy shifts to brand personality where tone and manner in the execution are paramount so that Consumers connect with the brand and begin to see themselves in the brand.   Brands push to become a Beloved Brand, where demand becomes desire, needs become cravings, thinking is replaced with feelings and Consumers become outspoken fans.  The brand becomes powerful, with power over distribution because consumers would switch stores before they switch brands and power over competitors who are stuck trying to establish their own point of difference.  Profits are at their highest–revenue, margins are both strong and spending is focused and efficient on maintaining the relationship.  While at the top of the mountain, with firm leadership in the category, the brand is always at risk of losing that leadership.  Challenge yourself continuously the stay at the top.  Avoid becoming complacent.

Ask Gap Clothing, Cadillac, IBM computers, Levis, Sony or Kodak who have each reached the Beloved Stage only to be replaced by new products and brands and moved back down the love curve towards Indifferent.  Most recently, Blackberry.  Only 18 months ago, people jokingly used the term “crackberry” to describe their addictions.  No longer.

The four stages can easily be matched up to the Brand Love Curve and help establish strategic focus for the brand.  At the Invention stage, consumers remain indifferent until you build awareness and explain how your product solves a problem in my life.  At the Differentiation stage, some like it, but you are now facing proliferation and attack forcing your brand to stake out a claim.  At the experience stage, you need to become part of your consumers life and balance the emotional and rational benefits that can move you to the love it stage.  And finally, you have to tightly manage the Perceptions to become that Beloved Brand for Life stage, it’s about connecting with consumers so they see themselves through your brand.   You need to establish your personality and begin to wield the power of being a Beloved Brand.

But be careful: very few brands remain at the top for very long.   

About Graham Robertson:  I’m a marketer at heart, who loves everything about brands. I love great TV ads, I love going into grocery stores on holidays and I love seeing marketers do things I wish I came up with. I’m always eager to talk with marketers about what they want to do.   My background includes CPG marketing at companies such as Johnson and Johnson, Pfizer Consumer, General Mills and Coke.  I do executive training of executives and brand managers, helping on strategy, brand planning, advertising and profitability.  I’m the President of Beloved Brands Inc and can help you find the love for your brand.