I'm in the relationships business; primarily, the business of building, shaping and nourishing a brand's relationship with its audience. Whether that's customers, fans, clients, followers, readers or groupies, your audience is the most important relationship you'll develop in your business.
When you think about brands that do this really well, capture the hearts as well as the purchasing power of an audience, there are a few examples that tend to pop up. One of these is, unsurprisingly, Apple.
Think about Apple brand advocates - they line up over night for launches, they're devoted users of its products, and they are the best marketing tool (all that word of mouth advocacy) Apple has.
Apple is dedicated to developing its aspirational positioning, so people buy its products because they like what 'being a Mac user' says about them. It pushes the boundaries and takes a 'blue ocean' approach to R&D.
As a much-loved brand it's often been held up as the best-practice case study; but does that brand equity equate to anything more than preference in a buying decision?
A lot of people would say that preference is at the top of brand heath measurement; but does that really ring true in this day and age? Does Apple activate its audience? Does it build that 'I'd follow you to the ends of the earth' kind of relationship with its peeps? Does it call on its audience to stand with the company as it stands for something more? Does is actually build an emotional relationship with its audience, or is it truly just, an admittedly very deep, brand preference?
The difference between brand advocacy and brand love is what stood out for me recently when the Apple v Taylor Swift news hit the stands.
As one of the worlds most equity-heavy brands, you'd think Apple, with its dominance in the music industry, as well as tech, would be pretty impervious to a bit of argy-bargy with a single artist.
Oh, not so! The Apple brand behemoth has had a taste of Spotify's medicine when it came into Taylor Swift's sights.
Now, love her or not, (I personally love her! Huge Swifty, right here!) that lady is the master of audience relationships! Her fans are passionate supporters, and actively follow her lead on trends and issues, taking their mass buying power with them.
When Taylor pulled her music from Spotify before the launch of her latest album, rather than seeing any kind of diminished response because it wasn't accessible for free, Swift broke records with the number of album downloads. This week, when Apple launched its new streaming service the brand came under Swift fire, and very quickly felt the power of her mass audience activation. In standing up for something she believes in, and authentically backing her own position, she's proven she'll put her money where her mouth is, and her fans follow suit.
So what can you, as a brand, learn from the indomitable Ms Swift? How many of her fans do you think are also Apple fans? Well, in my focus group of one, I'm both an Apple and a Taylor fan, but as we've seen, Taylor obviously holds more sway with the masses.
Why? Apple approaches its relationship with its audience as a brand. Yes, it executes this flawlessly and does an incredible job, but it's still brand to consumer communications. Taylor, on the other hand, builds personal relationships with her fans. She goes above and beyond that of any of her peers and has really redefined the much worn industry catch phase of 'surprise and delight'.
Apple thinks about delighting people en mass; Taylor delights individuals in a way that appeals en mass.
Your relationship with your audience is the most important piece of equity your brand has. At the extreme, like in this example, it can help to achieve social change and bring issues and causes to the awareness of a broader market. In day-to-day terms, building brand love will help to future-proof your business; your advocates are the ones who will stick by you through thick and thin, and who will be your most loyal, repeat customers. Like with any relationship you only get out what you put in!
Delight people on an individual level, treat them as a person (one of my brand values is 'everybody is somebody') and show them some love.
Here's my challenge for the day; what can you do to make individuals within your audience feel a bit more love?