Are you having a Meaningful Relationship with a Brand?

Two things happened to me at about the same time, so they must be related. Right?

Ok, both were about customer service. One was kinda theoretical, the other a real-life experience.

Theory and real life intersecting? There’s always a fundamental interconnectedness.

Here’s what I experienced:

#1. I’m reading the book: ‘If you are in a Dogfight, become a Cat!’ by Leonard Sherman. A great read about business strategy. Page 155 presented me with: “87% of consumers would like to experience a more meaningful relationship with their favourite brand.”

Due to circumstances beyond my control, I didn’t read any further until much later, so I was left to ponder what the heck that meant. I have favourite brands: Apple, Tim Hortons, Lululemon. I can’t fathom how I would develop a more meaningful relationship with them1.

I have relationships with people. We interact in ways that express our mutual affection for, and concern about, each other, and have common goals, interests, and values. How does that translate into something I would do or feel with a brand? If I used the product in the way it was intended and it worked out well, I’d be happy. I can sip my coffee, lean back and enjoy how fabulous it tastes, but that isn’t the same as confiding my fears about funding my retirement with a friend who understands the situation in exactly the same way I do. I don’t get the relationship part. Perhaps I am part of the other 13%.

#2. While still mulling this over, I dropped into a fast food restaurant for some fries and a burger. It was chaos. A special kind of Canadian chaos, with 20 people eagerly anticipating that their order would be delivered next, while bobbing and jostling to stay out of each other’s way but failing because it wasn’t clear where to wait.

We’ve learned to wait in line, confident in the concept that each of us will be served when it is our turn. Most of the time, this is accepted to be in the order we arrived. But that isn’t how it works currently in this food emporium, because there are least four ways to place your order, or perhaps have a meaningful relationship with this brand. Food can be ordered via: drive thru, ordering kiosk, talking to a human the old fashion way, mobile ordering, and using a food delivery service like UberEats or Skip the Dishes.

Experience #2 was distinctly weird. It felt like there was choice but we were all waiting for the same thing (the restaurant’s fare). I didn’t want choice in how I ordered, I wanted the most efficient way to get my food. I was hungry. I parked rather than go through the drive thru to avoid the long line of cars. I ordered at the kiosk because I thought it would be quicker (I can’t explain why I thought it would be quicker – perhaps a belief that is technology is more efficient than humans). Had I know how long I’d have to wait, I might have paid the fee to have the food delivered.

The experience wasn’t meaningful, it was like picking a line at many places -grocery store, customs at the airport, toll booth. You pick the slow one. We all pick the slow one. And that doesn’t suggest to me that the brand has the same goals as I do. The brand appears to be trying to be everything to everyone, despite delivering the same options and product to all customers, regardless of how they order. It’s like a gloss of customization smeared over mass production. Mass production isn’t so bad, as long that’s what you’re looking for, like a tank of gas, reinforced concrete in the hockey arena where your kids play little league or enough data to stream all the sports, teenage drama series of choice and pilates videos desired by a family of five simultaneously.

When I got my order, I returned the straw and stack of napkins packed into the bag before I left. That was an opportunity to made a connection with the brand for me – minimizing both plastic and paper waste – things I value, along with the occasional feed of french fries.

The interconnection: I later learned there are many ways for customers to have a meaningful relationship with a brand. The right one depends on the brand, or relates to the customer’s expectations. Companies must understand what the customer wants, rather than offer a bunch of options and hope that provides mass customization. Find out which is most important to customers – choosing how to input their order, being treated fairly, or getting their food quickly. Then develop ways to deliver.

Old fashion values still rule. A devoted customer has a great relationship with the brand, even if they would never describe it that way. They’d say ‘I like the everything about X’, as you might say about someone you had a meaningful relationship with.

1 If asked ‘what do I want from my favourite brands?’ I’d say, more great stuff. The best functional, easy to use, attractive technology, the same coffee and donuts, and athletic gear that looks great on, is stylish and good to exercise in.

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