June 6th, 2014 | Chris Lloyd

What a brand “relationship” is not

Not a brand

“Most of us go through life finding it hard enough to have good relationships with the real people in our life. Let alone all the brands we buy.”

-Bruce McColl, Global CMO, Mars

Marketers seem to like the word “relationship.” It’s nice. It means that there is a bond created between your brand and your consumer, that they’re committed to you in some way. However, it’s a metaphor. A Metaphor for the way people connect with other people. It’s often a mistake to use a word like “relationship” when thinking about how your consumer connects with your brand. The great majority of people (77% to be exact.) say they DO NOT have any relationship with a brand.1

Why is this distinction important? When you assume you have a “relationship” with your customer it often leads to the wrong kind of thinking, the wrong kinds of plans. The danger, is assuming they have interest. Assuming they will engage. Assuming they will become loyal. Most often, consumers are none of these things. Just to illustrate the point, 72% of Coke drinkers also drink Pepsi. 4 Not exactly an exclusive relationship for either brand.

Brand is often a one-way street. Your brand makes a promise to a consumer about what kind of product it is. It helps consumers understand what your product promises to deliver. Will it be easy? Fun? Stylish? What kind of person is it for? It’s a relationship based on utility, not love. It’s about meaning anything to a lot of people, vs. meaning a lot to just a few people.

A good example of an appropriate brand relationship is illustrated through a recent campaign for Pacific Place, a client of ours. They’re a shopping center in downtown Seattle that needed a fresh approach to their marketing. The goal was to drive more stylish feet through their doors.

Brand was certainly part of the equation. We laid claim to their urban identity and told consumers they could add variety to their day if they came in. The messaging made for an altogether honest promise from Pacific Place to shoppers about what kind of place it was and broadcast that message in television, radio and sponsored Facebook. No interaction required for that message, just know what Pacific Place can provide.

As an added incentive to spark action, we layered on an SMS campaign. The SMS program allowed the brand to offer shoppers the weekly discounts via text message. Just opt in. Contacting someone via mobile phone would be considered a pretty deep interaction and it might have been a mistake to say we now had a “relationship” with these shoppers. But, there was no mistaking what the “relationship” was about. It was about utility. Delivering compelling discounts was the appropriate type of messaging to get them to come back through the doors. It was never forgotten that a deal or a discount is the number one reason people sign up for mobile programs or become fans of Facebook Pages.1,2,

Pacific Place was able to communicate with shoppers more often, shoppers got a discount on products they wanted, the offers were redeemed at a profit for the tenants. Everybody won. You can see a more complete campaign summary here: Pacific Place 2014

There are 2 takeaways here.

1.) Consider carefully how deep your expect your brand’s “relationship” to be with your consumers. Do not forsake reach for engagement, do not assume that your consumer will participate and do not believe that the “relationships” between consumer and brand are important beyond a mental shortcut for how to buy.

2.) The other takeaway is that creativity is more important than ever. To create these mental shortcuts in the minds of your buyers, your brand must overcome apathy. Creativity that surprises, delights, gets reactions is what will create meaning. Use all the tools available; social media, broadcast media, stunts, events, content, etc., but never lose sight that the role in this “relationship” is to inspire and give more than you ask.


Inspired by “How not to fail”, Martin Weigel, Head of Planning, Weiden and Kennedy, Amsterdam.

1: “Three Myths About What Customers Want.” Karen Freeman, Karen, Spenner, Patrick, Bird, Anna. Harvard Business Review Blog Network. May, 23 2012

2: Spenner, Patrick and Freeman, Karen. “ To keep your Customers, Keep it Simple”. Harvard Business Review. May, 2012

3: “Special Offers Get Mobile Users to Opt in.” E-Marketer. April, 16 2012


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