Every relationship evolves over time. A romance starts with attraction, moves onto infatuation, negotiates a “getting to know you properly” stage and moves to stability, commitment, trust and lasting love (we hope). Relationships with friends, even colleagues, move through similar – if less well observed and documented – stages.
Every relationship has a series of stories. Some of the great moments that we have experienced together, the difficult times that pulled us together or drove us apart, things that we have done/achieved together. Not only are these entertaining tales, they are often defining moments of the relationship, they are important to us because they speak of who we are together, because they bonded us as friends and partners, because they are part of that which has built and shaped our relationship.
This is true not only of our relationships with our partners and friends, it is also true of our relationships with brands.
What was it that first attracted you to the product? Why did it stand out from the competition? How did your relationship with the brand build and evolve to how it is now? How does the brand keep you interested, keep you from the temptation that is all around? What are the stories about you and the brand? What were the incidents that formed your relationship with the brand, that built and shaped that relationship? That created the affection and loyalty that now exists? Or that eroded and destroyed the relationship, that led you into the arms of the competition?
In the same way that we understand our own relationships by understanding how they evolve, and we deepen these relationships by sharing, enjoying – and understanding – the stories that we share – and by creating new experiences, and stories, together. We, as Brand Owners, also need to understand how the relationship between the consumer and the brand is created, how it evolves, builds and deepens – or disintegrates.
True comprehension comes from sharing and understanding the stories. An understanding of the emotional connections our consumers have with our brands, of the incidents that form, strengthen – and erode – these connections. This cannot be extracted from the quantitative data. It comes from listening to, and understanding, the stories that consumers tell.
I was debriefing a research project to a major global client recently. Building for them the consumers’ story behind the market performance figures that had them so confused. I knew that my final slides would be explaining why their current advertising, while showcasing the traditional strengths of their brand in a modern and contemporary way, was in fact growing the category and supporting the growth of their competitor. But as I explained the emotional connections that they had built with their consumers and how now their competitors were exploiting those very connections to steal market share, the discussion in the room quickly turned to an understanding of what was happening and – before I had the chance to break the news myself – to how and why their current advertising was not right and how it needed to be changed.
As Brand Owners and Marketers we are, in fact, Relationship Managers. If we are to guide our brands and consumers towards deeper and more meaningful relationships we need to understand what the consumers want from that relationship (as opposed to just what we think we have to offer), how the relationship has evolved and where they want it to go. We need to share in and understand their stories