I don't really like doughnuts. I wouldn't eat a Krispy Krème if you paid me. However, I will go hysterical with happiness if someone puts me in front of a box of Tim Horton's Apple Fritters (for those not aware of Tim Horton's, it is a Canadian chain of coffee shops/bakeries). Every time I go to Canada I live off Tim Horton's produce - it is unexplainable. Or is it?
Actually, it is completely explainable. We live in a world where emotionally driven purchases are commonplace. Simply put, often we rationalise the purchases that we need, but we are emotionally driven towards the purchases we want.
I don't need Tim Horton's doughnuts, but I do want them. Consistently. Therefore there is a positive emotional connection. Clearly there are different levels of emotional connection between consumer and brand. The pinnacle of positive emotion is arguably love. But is it possible to love a brand?
We talk about brand advocates (consumers who essentially market a brand via word-of-mouth to their social circle), so is a brand lover the next step? Saatchi & Saatchi's Kevin Roberts has been arguing that love is needed to rescue the idea of 'brand' since 2004 - clearly commercial thinking sees something in this. Roberts sees high love as being emitted across 3 ingredients:
Mystery - the drawing together of stories, metaphors, dreams and symbols.
Sensuality - keeping all of our senses on alert for new sensations.
Intimacy - empathy, commitment and passion.
I put my own relationship with Tim Horton's into this framework and what do I get?
Q. Do I understand the Tim's Horton's story and iconography? A. Yes.
Q. Am I on the lookout for new Tim Horton's products I may like? A. Yes.
Q. Would I buy any doughnut in Canada other than Tim Horton's? A. Categorically no.
Clearly there might be something in this idea of loving a brand - but that is only from a fairly modern, commercial perspective.
Let's put a consumer-brand relationship into one of the more traditional, academic models of love to see what that uncovers - in this case my relationship with Tim Horton's in Sternberg's Triangular Theory of Love:
Intimacy - feelings of attachment and closeness
Consumers are attached to the brands they buy - through cravings, habits and associated occasions. This does not have to be intimacy on a geographical level, but on a cognitive basis. The nearest Tim Horton's might be on the other side of the Atlantic but I associate it explicitly with engulfing in Canadian culture and can be sure to make it my first stop upon touch down.
Passion - the feeling of excitement and energy
A brand has to excite a consumer if it is to achieve brand/consumer bliss. This excitement spurns positive memories which can have a lingering resonance with consumers - once this is achieved a brand is etched onto a consumer's mind, no small feat in the communications-filled digital era we live in. This could be no truer than with my own relationship with Tim Horton's - flights to Canada are no longer about distance to landing or travel time, but an 8 hour build up to the first indulgence in Duchy Doughnuts.
Commitment - the decision to remain with one another
True brand fidelity - i.e. only ever buying one brand in a category - is almost virtually impossible to achieve, given the breadth of product categories and the aggressive price promotion that occurs within them. However, being as close to this as possible is a hallmark of brand love. Given the choice, I would never again eat a doughnut that wasn't Tim Horton's. However, the reality is that the option won't always be there, and I am one sugar craving away from doughnut adultery.
Despite this being an n=1 sample with arguable objectivity, the potential for brand love clearly appears to be present. This leaves us with three points to consider taking forward:
• Marketers - start looking beyond ROI and market share and see how much 'share of heart' you can garner.
• Consumers - place yourselves in the commercial and academic frameworks in this article with brands you buy, how many do you love?
• Tim Horton's - I am clearly showing you the love, send some back this way!