Why I love Lovemarks (and you should, too)

Awhile back I read a book that made me realize that commerce doesn’t have to be about making money. It doesn’t have to be about profits or sales or annual reports or anything like that. Don’t get me wrong, those things are necessary to maintain a thriving business, but they’re not what’s really important. People are what’s important. I’ve always believed that, but until I read this book, I wasn’t sure if anyone else did, too.

The Lovemarks Effect by Kevin Roberts is the second book about Lovemarks. The first book, Lovemarks: The Future Beyond Brands, was a smash hit. Most smash hits get rave reviews in the Times. Lovemarks got such enthusiastic feedback that author Kevin Roberts published a book, this book, dedicated entirely to how much people love his awesome idea.

I read this book thoroughly and glossed over the first. I like this one much better because it’s better written, better designed, and its interviews have a lot more impact.

But let’s get right to it. What the heck’s a Lovemark?

To put it in my terms, let’s look at my favorite brand: H.E.B. No other grocery store can compete with their attentive customer service, quality food, low prices and down-to-earth, knowledgeable tone. When I came to college, I said goodbye to my family, my old high school friends, and my H.E.B. To put it simply, I love H.E.B. If you think the name Lovemarks is a little silly, well, I kind of agree with you. But don’t we already talk about brands in terms of love? As far as I’m concerned, H.E.B. is definitely my Lovemark.

According to Roberts, the Lovemarks concept is the next step in the brand evolution. It only makes sense. Consumers are tired of being shouted at. Tired of being told what to buy. Tired of being thought stupid. Instead, they want to be engaged and entertained. After all, do you shout at your dates? Of course not. You’re trying to attract them. That’s the fundamental logic of what Roberts calls the Attraction Economy.

To be perfectly clear, Lovemarks are different from what we commonly refer to as brands. Lovemarks are brands, but not all brands are Lovemarks, like the geometry lessons we learned about rectangles and squares.

Using something Roberts calls a Love-Respect axis, Roberts demonstrates that Lovemarks must have both a consumer’s love and their respect.

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Now, I respect H.E.B. because the stores sell quality food at great prices, but I love H.E.B. because I feel like the company understands me. We have a connection.

On the other hand, I’ve been banking with Wells Fargo nearly as long as I’ve been shopping at H.E.B. They’ve always treated me well. And, unlike H.E.B., Wells Fargo followed me to college. They have earned my respect a million times over. But compared to H.E.B., Wells Fargo and I are the relationship equivalent of “just friends.” You might even say “just coworkers.” Something just doesn’t click. Although Wells Fargo is a great brand, it’s not a Lovemark.

So you’re probably wondering what the heck Wells Fargo needs to do to earn my affection. It’s the age-old question: how do you create love?

According to Roberts, it can be done. For brands, at least. Lovemarks have three characteristics: Mystery, Intimacy, and Sensuality. Mystery is the element of surprise, Intimacy is feeling that a brand understands you personally, and Sensuality is the physical experience of a brand. When I go to H.E.B., I feel welcomed (Intimacy), I’m surrounded by aromas, sights and sounds (Sensuality), and their in-store samples are always foodie-hip (Mystery). I couldn’t attribute a single one of these characteristics to Wells Fargo.

To make these three areas a reality, Roberts says brands should focus on storytelling. Whether it’s the story of your brand or the consumer-generated stories, stories connect us. (Maybe stories are like Facebook, too, hmm? lulz.) Successful Lovemarks tell stories and encourage their consumers to do the same.

Lovemarks might seem kind of idealistic. You’re right. Things won’t change overnight.  But I’m hopeful, because this book tackles a great idea’s biggest obstacle: research.

Historically, researchers treat consumers as if they’re logical, rational beings. However much we might want this to be true, a glance at any woman’s Pinterest board would prove us wrong. (“Somehow I only remember that I want to lose weight after I eat 12 cookies…”) Howard Roberts of Saatchi & Saatchi says “researchers have to stop measuring what is easy to measure, and grapple with the powerful drivers of behavior that lie beneath the surface” (192). Finally. Work by research group QiQ International not only discusses how to measure emotions and relationships, but they include a study that says consumers are about twice as likely to purchase from a Lovemark than a brand. Show that to your stubborn client.

I still feel like I’m somewhat of an idealist, but after reading this book I feel like I’m part of an idealistic crowd that will soon reach critical mass and overthrow the evil, greedy, self-centered corporations. I’ve always said I want to work with small businesses, but really I just want to work with people. That’s why I like Lovemarks. Lovemarks are all about people. Even in a huge corporation.

Maybe Lovemarks will catch on worldwide, maybe they won’t, but this book encouraged me to hold onto my idealism. And if it encouraged me, maybe it encouraged others, too.

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