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The return of the love brand


Twenty-odd years ago, a popular theme in marketing was the development of a "love brand," but over time that ambition has been replaced by harder standards such as distinctive capability. Research agency Savanta recently conducted a study into the brands that people truly love. What does one have to do to become a love brand?

Research agency Savanta conducted a study among 200,000 British people about the emotional connection that people have with a brand. They then used the results of their study to create a Top 100 of Most Loved Brands. The report explains what exactly a love brand is:
"The power of Brand Love isn't a curious thing. It's clear from our list, looking at the Top 100 Most Loved Brands in the UK, what their key characteristics are and what they're capable of – whether that's providing comfort in a crisis, offering distractions from our real-life dystopia, or simply giving us what we're looking for as conveniently and cost-effectively as possible. Different brands are demonstrating different approaches – some show solidarity by slashing prices, others win our hearts by striving to make more meaningful connections."

The study shows that chocolate brand Cadbury is the undisputed top favourite. It is notable just how many British brands earn high places on the list; Walkers, Maltesers, Galaxy and M&S Simply Food all do very well. Streaming brands also receive a lot of love: Netflix is number two, Disney is fifteenth and Amazon Prime holds the number-five position. Among the supermarkets, Aldi's placement in twelfth position is notable. Marketing professor Mark Ritson wrote an excellent column about the comeback of "love." He describes how beloved brands reigned supreme in the 90s, but then these analyses were replaced by harder factors. The love brand is back, Ritson says, especially when you use Savanta's measurement method; i.e. simply asking people how much love they feel for a brand. "There has to be room in any theory of brand management for affection, love and even loyalty. All three were certainly overplayed and overstated in decades past. But committing the equivalent sin of underestimation today does not absolve the exaggerations of the past." He understands the popularity of Cadbury.
"In Cadbury's case, the brand also has history on its side. Thanks to its founder John Cadbury, the brand's DNA was forged in the furnace of Quakerism and the love for every fellow man and woman. If your aim is brand love, it helps to work on a brand that was set up as a literal act of love. But the current Cadbury team, or rather those at Mondelez, deserve credit for passing the eternal challenge of Not Fucking It All Up."

Love brands
Kieran Best, client director at Brand Potential, believes there are some caveats to the concept of "love brands." "Of course, on the surface being a 'loved brand' is a positive thing, if consumers feel a sense of warmth and connection towards your brand it is going to have an impact on their likelihood to buy your products or services. However, 'Brand love' is a concept that has obviously been around for a while and has its critics. And personally, when I see the term being used, I am always a bit sceptical. While I do believe that as consumers, we can feel close to a brand, I'm unconvinced that anyone truly 'loves' the likes of Amazon or WhatsApp. These are brands that clearly do a fantastic job of understanding and addressing consumer needs, however I'm not sure people feel the same way about Amazon as they do their partner or a close family member."

In other words, he has some lingering questions. "The fact that nearly all of the brands that appear in the top 100 also happen to be the largest and most salient within their respective categories also raises the question; are they successful because they are loved or are they loved because they are successful? Obviously, it is a bit of both, you can't grow to the size of these brands without consumers feeling some kind of connection to your brand, but equally when you get to the sale of these brands the mental and physical availability, they have gives them a significant advantage in the 'brand love' stakes."

Best believes it isn't easy for a brand to focus on becoming a love brand. "It is also of course nuanced and what drives 'love' of one brand might not be what drives love for another. For example; when it comes to Cadbury this is more emotional, the brand is a comfort blanket, there in the good times and bad, with strong associations of generosity, and kindness. But the same couldn't necessarily be said about Google. There is no easy or quick way to become a 'loved' brand – ultimately it boils down to understanding the needs of consumers and solving their problems in a compelling way. All of the brands in the top 10 have been around for a while, but in order to remain where they are they will have to stay relevant, understanding the ever-changing needs of their consumers, innovating, and of course maintain salience and relevance through their advertising and communication."

Advertising & brand personality
He believes advertising affects a brand's personalty. "Advertising obviously has a key role to play in driving awareness and communicating a brand's personality. But ultimately every single touchpoint plays a critical role to play in creating a positive connection between consumer and brand. While advertising is important, it is one of many levers that a brand can pull in order to build a relationship with its buyers. In terms of why Cadbury won, it is a brand that has been a staple in British households for over 100 years, and clearly holds a special place in the hearts and minds of consumers. Ultimately it is a brand for everyone, it has mass appeal, its products command a price premium but remain accessible to most. It has been very good at NPD and innovation over recent years, with lots of new launches, limited editions, format innovation, etcetera. And as I alluded to earlier the brand appeals both functionally and emotionally to consumers with brand and product delivering something that is bigger than the sum of its parts."

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