I’ve said innumerable times that the relationships we have with brands are in many ways like those we have with each other. I call them brandships rather than friendships. However, despite the similarities in the emotions involved in these connections I see brands not as individual people, but as communities.

You choose your brands using the same criteria that you use to select your friends, but you occupy them as you do the district where you live. Some of us are city livers, others urbanites and village people. Some folks like to see trees outside their windows, others skyscrapers some places are just right for families, but there are places where only a singleton would feel at home. The other people inhabiting the place (your neighbours) are part of the story of course. The places we choose to live are defined by and also define them and it’s the whole package that represent your values and beliefs.

I know that a there are still business people out there who think this is all a bit to touchy-feely and feminine, but there is no denying that brands are very emotional. It’s not news. Kevin Roberts already told us about “Lovemarks”, Seth Godin introduced us to the concept of “tribes” and no end of people, including myself have presented brand theories based on all manner of emotional stuff.  Brands aren’t about rational thought, but primal instincts, our inherited need to belong, to live in groups and there’s no way we are going to change or deny it. Nevertheless, if you are still not convinced, science has now pledged its support to those of us who are in touch with the feminine side of brands.

This week B&T published an article by Jennifer Faull about a piece of research by the London creative agency Hey Human that looked into the relationships we have with some of the world’s best known brands. The results aren’t surprising and, though I’m sure there are aspects of it that need to be taken with a pinch of salt, but the interesting thing for me (and the thing that underlines emotional nature of these relationships) is the language people use to describe their brandships. Terms like “a friend with benefits” which was used to describe Stelios Haji-Ioannou’s airline EasyJet or “enemies”, the term used to describe O2 HSBC, British Gas, Visa and Barclays (unsurprisingly the demon telco and a load of financial businesses dominate here) underline the way we relate to the brands we use and endorse the concept of “brandships” and the personal connection integral to my Brand Discovery philosophy. This not rational, it’s all emotional talk.

The agency employed neuroscience to understand the behaviour of customers at the point of sale. One point that I certainly agree with and which was highlighted by Hey Human’s Neil Davidson was that brandships are complex and brand managers need to get wise to this. They need to stop treating the subject as a simple, rational, process-driven affair and delve into a few subtleties if they want to achieve brandships with the strength to enable them to stick around in the future.

Phil Darby
March 31, 2015

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