To Be Loved Or To Lead: The Role Brands Can, Should, And Must Play In Today’s Environment

To Be Loved Or To Lead: The Role Brands Can, Should, And Must Play In Today’s Environment
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Matt Sandwell (pictured below) is a brand insights and strategy professional and founder of The Owl Insights. In this guest post, he asks in these tumultuous times, do you want your brand to be loved or, the far more favourable position, to lead?

Press rewind (not so far back) to around 2015, and the concept of ‘Brand Love’ was the dimension du jour. There were books, talks, posts, and plenty of time and effort expended on how can we as a brand get our consumers to love us.

To be honest, I’ve never truly understood the focus on this (not love, brand love!). If I reflect on my relationships, there are probably no more than two handfuls of people that I truly love, borne out of a lifetime of lived experiences and bonds that can’t be broken.

The notion of love for a brand simply doesn’t stack up.

This is particularly true for the vast range of ‘grudge’ purchase cateogries, or poorly differentiated options on the supermarket shelf.

This dimension has thankfully died a quick death, but it is worth looking back to reflect on the hubris that existed at this time.

The notion of a brand seeking to be ‘loved’ speaks to a Trumpian, almost cultish desire for people to come to them, creating a weird power dynamic, and certainly not a meeting of equals (do the brands love their customers as much as they want the customer to love their brand?).

Sure, brand love can be measured, and even relative performance to competitors obtained, however as one client said to me: “Who cares if I am the most loved out of the most hated or most ignored category, it doesn’t really take me any further forward.”

In more recent times, ‘Brand Trust’ has become the buzzword and its various aspects became the key inclusion into everything from strategy days through to survey questions.

I’ll readily admit that I was (and still am) an advocate for understanding and measuring the drivers of brand trust, indeed I have been front and centre in recommending a greater focus on this across the clients I’ve worked with.

Brand’s current focus on trust is important, but not enough. To be trusted is, or at least should be, a right to play in our society, not a point of differentiation.

The fact that it is a key focus for so many brands says more about the deficit for that brand, that category, and sadly for society as a whole.

So what should be the unifying brand construct, that is fit for the times, not lost in the hubris of its maker, nor limited or dimmed down by its own failings?

As has been mentioned across all of society’s discussions and debates in recent times, including those within the marketing world, more than ever we need leadership.

We used to be able to look to a clear set of leaders for our information and inspiration.

Through the rise of a more engaged, informed and savvy society, coupled with a vacuum of leadership from our politicians, media, clergy, business leaders and yes, even our cricket captains, these sources of leadership are being questioned like never before.

However, amidst the flux, there are leaders that continue to emerge.

The RFS leader, Shane Fitzsimmons embodies this like no other in recent times.

  • Through his 35 years service with the RFS, and having experienced the loss of his father undertaking RFS duties, he can bring an empathy and understanding like few others.
  • Through his calm and consistency amidst the crisis, he displays a maturity that helps his team and the community at large stay focused and in control.
  • Through his clarity and transparency he displays a level of respect for his audience, and by passing on this knowledge he empowers others.
  • Through his years of training, experience, and expertise he also provide a credible, evidence based perspective, and a well overdue win for the technocrat over the twittersphere.
  • Through his frank and fearless assessment to Government, and when needed, the resolve to push back, he demonstrates a true commitment to those he serves.

It should also be said that many brands have stepped up to the mark during the bushfires, and more recently the COVID-19 outbreak which is great.

But where to from here, and what does this mean for your brand and business?

Although there is no one-size fits all model (nor should there be), the encouraging news is that there is a wealth of thinking around the principles of effective leadership.

Admittedly this is often within an organisational behaviour/HR context, however, the principles remain the same, so long as brands view those they serve as equal partners in their collective growth rather than stakeholders to be managed or consumers to consume.

Amidst these very uncertain times, the need for nailing your brands distinctive leadership style is more important than ever.

  • As we enter the middle of the storm we will need brands to empathise and understand where we are and what help we need.
  • As we resume within a ‘new normal’, where moods, mindsets and modes of operation will have shifted, we’ll need brands to reflect and respond to this change.
  • As we seek to move forward, we’ll need brands to light the way.

Not seeking to be loved, not simply trusted, and not where ‘leadership’ equates to the most salient brand or the biggest amount of space on the supermarket shelf.

This once in a generation disruption creates an opportunity for each brand to truly reflect on the recent past, think about the future, and come out the other end with a brand that stands for something far more profound, far more impactful, and frankly far more exciting!

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Matt Sandwell The Owl Insights

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