#14, April 2004
Passion for Brands
We have been
talking about the third age of branding for some
time. The BrandLoop newsletters have looked to
discuss some of the elements of such branding
practices. One key area is that of
differentiation. In the current marketing
environment it is all too easy for new products
and services to be copied, rendering competitive
advantage often only short-term. One area that
enables brands to stand apart from the crowd is
a passionate set of consumers, or possibly even
brand owners. Moreover, the consumers or brand
owners are definitely champions of the brand.
A brand that is
able to generate a level of passion will have a
distinct advantage as it makes a stronger
emotional connection with its target audience.
For instance, does an Apple user have a
different relationship with the computer than a
Windows user? Why are some drivers passionate
about their cars while others are not?
Consequently, a passionate brand offers the
brand owner the possibility to market the
product or service in different ways. Brand or
line extensions may be easier to launch; a
higher level of feedback from consumers enables
better brand development. Importantly,
passionate consumers may undertake a lot of the
marketing for you through generating word of
mouth or “buzz” about the brand.
Defining a passionate brand
In order to
define a passionate brand we need to uncover
some of the traits that they may display. Some
The brands are
most likely to generate buzz, to get people
talking about them.
They may enjoy
They could be
They could be
They may be a
“badge” for the consumer’s lifestyle.
passionate brand does not need to be expensive,
luxurious, aspirational or even individual. A
key trait is the very high level of emotional
engagement with the consumer. A driver who is
passionate about his or her car may not be
driving an Aston Martin or a Ferrari. He or she
may have an inexpensive mass-produced vehicle
but the attachment to the car is emotional for
different reasons such as a relationship with
events that have taken place with the car or the
role the car plays in the driver’s life.
Therefore a definition of a passionate brand
could be as follows:
brand is a brand that possesses a level of
emotional engagement with its target audience
far beyond the level that would normally be
does engagement mean?
This high level
of engagement is loyalty to the brand taken to
the extreme. These are consumers who would
probably not buy an alternative if their brand
was hard to find. They consume the whole of the
brand, not just the product. An example of this
loyalty is clear in the consumer outrage when
Coca-Cola changed the formula of its core brand.
Soon the original, Coca-Cola Classic, was back
on the shelves of retailers. Fashion brands such
as Nike or adidas may also experience these
levels of loyalty when consumers tattoo the
“swoosh” icon or the three stripes onto their
bodies. It is as if the brand has its own fan
also mean having a substantial impact or
encouraging a major change in consumers’ lives.
The brand adds something different.
brand says something about the person. The brand
forms part of that person’s lifestyle. By using
a particular brand, the consumer is saying
something about himself or herself. The brand
adds to their personality.
passionate brand can also indicate that the
owner of consumer belongs to a select group.
This could be a fairly exclusive group but not
necessarily so. Sports brands such as football
clubs could fit this description. Another area
of interest could be fashion brands where the
brand encourages a level of passion amongst
their wearers. Again, the brand acts as an
identifier for the consumer and firmly places
them within a select group, making a statement
about their lifestyle.
The growth of Web
sites, mailing lists and other communities built
around brands is an example of how a passionate
brand can act as a bond between consumers. Some
marketers actively encourage the development of
communities around the brand. This has the
advantage of not only keeping their best
customers happy but it can also be used as part
of an opinion leader strategy, helping to
develop new products and services and gaining
critical feedback from the most important
Focused or generalist
Is a passionate
brand highly focused on one particular category
or can the brand span different, unrelated
categories? Apple is highly focused. Its area of
expertise is not computers but creativity and it
targets specific niches within the computer
market that require a higher level of
creativity. This contrasts with the generalist
approach of the Intel/Windows PC. Consequently,
Apple’s focus provides strength within those
sectors and helps to develop passion for the
brand amongst its users.
Could Virgin be
described as a passionate brand? Certainly, its
challenger approach and ability to move almost
seamlessly across product and service categories
suggest a high level of consumer engagement.
The other side of
a passionate brand is where the brand owner is
passionate about the brand. We suggest that
where a brand owner is able to demonstrate this
level of passion, he or she will be in a much
stronger position to deliver a great customer
experience. Often a company’s founders can be
seen as possessing that level of passion.
Sometimes when a brand or company is sold, it
loses that passion and therefore the inertia it
has as the new owners may acquire the assets but
not the passion of the original owner.
A brand owner who
is passionate about the brand is energetic and
enthusiastic. In an ideal world this is radiated
throughout the company so that the whole
workforce is engaged and able to deliver an
enhanced customer experience. This has major
implications for the way in which internal
marketing is handled in the organisation. Good
and effective internal marketing has the
potential to engage employees and make them
passionate about the brand.
wish to deliver passion must work to ensure that
they recruit the best staff and use internal
marketing to help to develop that passion. It
may be more effective to recruit staff who are
able to communicate passion for the brand and
then train them in the brands. The sandwich
chain Prêt à Manger is an excellent example here
of how the organisation can employ staff who are
“on-message” from the start and are therefore
passionate about the brand. Such an approach
means that the staff deliver a higher level of
have passion brands are in a very fortunate
position. The task is to identify whether there
are any such brands in the portfolio and, if so,
how this aspect can be developed and encouraged.
Not all brands can be described as passionate so
it is important which brands possess this trait
and how the brand marketing can be developed to
Can a new brand
be developed so that it becomes a passion brand?
There is no reason why this cannot happen as
long as the conditions are right. The brand and
its marketing need to make that necessary
emotional engagement with consumers. This could
start by following the Brand Experience route so
that the brand has multiple consumer
touch-points and allows genuine dialogue between
the brand (owner) and the consumer. Product
performance and customer service must be
exceptional. Product failure or disinterested
staff do not encourage the development of
At the same time
it is important to identify something that is
unique in the brand. This is beyond a USP and
beyond its features and benefits but something
that is almost loveable. This starts to help
form an emotional attachment beyond the mere
functionality of the brand. Furthermore, there
should be something inherently enjoyable about
consuming the brand. For example, using an Apple
computer makes you more creative, driving an
Aston-Martin is a driving pleasure, wearing
certain brands of clothes or jewellery makes you
Can any of your
brands be described as passionate?
What brands are
unique in an emotional way?
passionate about the brand?
consumers be engaged on an emotional level?